Home2019-12-16T14:19:42+02:00

New parenting phase

I cycled to school this afternoon to pick up Daughter, found out she wanted to play with two of her classmates, and cycled back home without her.

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I passed an exam

If my memory is correct the last exam I took was in 2004, when handing in my master thesis (on blogging and Habermas, when blogging was still new and shiny). That was an oral exam, for two of my professors. I really can’t remember the last paper-based exam I took before being allowed to hand in my master thesis. It probably was not a memorable subject or one of those mandatory statistical analysis exams. Since 2004, I never needed to sit an exam for anything. Not even for an assessment for hiring purposes, as I’ve been self-employed since finishing university.

Today I broke that examless streak.

The program at Techionista is thoroughly sponsored by Microsoft and therefore I’m learning all about Microsoft Azure. And to be able to learn that you don’t just read documentation, you increase your knowledge by practicing for an exam. Today I took my first exam, on the Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900 for insiders) and passed it with a proper score of 820 (700 needed to pass).

To avoid installing proctoring software on my computer I reserved a slot at the nearest test center. That happens to be in my home town and I learned later that it’s run by an institute that teaches IT skills to (young) people who are either on the autistic spectrum or highly gifted (many of whom can’t manage to fit into the standard school system and drop out without a degree). I noticed that the person who took me through the sign-in procedure made sure every rule in the procedure was followed in a kind manner, he properly guarded the silence in the hall next to the exam room, and as a bonus earplugs were available for all examinees. I’ll schedule my next two exams here as well.

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The dilemma of hosting a mailing list inside WordPress

For this site’s automatic e-mail service I use Mailpoet. I love this plug-in. It’s a plug-in that focuses on it’s core service: sending a well designed e-mail in bulk. Before switching to Mailpoet I used Mailchimp. Mailchimp has increased its possibilities up to a point where you would now need to follow a course to understand how to use it. I still have other mailing lists running in Mailchimp and would love to move those lists into Mailpoet as well. There is one big thing that bothers me about using Mailpoet, though. The data is stored in the WordPress database.

As someone whose WP sites have been hacked in the past, I feel uncomfortable that personal data of readers being stored in a place that is known to be hackable. Especially when that data is collected for business purposes. Of course I take precautions to keep plug-ins and WP up to date and I use a solid password for login. My hosting company has proper firewalls in place as well, but is that enough protection when storing personal data inside the WP database? I can rely on a service like Mailchimp to protect their servers, since it’s key to their existence. A breach into their servers means they lose business. On my own website I would never be able to replicate such a level of data security.

On the other hand I feel uncomfortable that Mailchimp, or any other mail service, hosts a list containing personal data of my readers. They, a third party, store my data. With Mailpoet I at least fully own the data that I collect, but that comes with more responsibilities.

Mailchimp proved to store data about my readers that I didn’t ask for. Therefore I will move all my mailing lists out of their service. The dilemma is where to move the data to. I’m thinking along two lines.

Option 1

Use Mailpoet for all my mailing lists. This requires extra security safe guards to be implemented on my WP sites, but I’m not sure what should be good enough. What plug-ins and adjustments are really necessary to increase security on a WP website?

Option 2

Choose a different service, similar to Mailchimp, where I store subscribers and that handles the sign-up and sending part. I’m looking at NewsletterGlue for WP integration.

I would really like option 1, but have this nagging feeling that option 2 is the safer and simpler option.

What would you choose? Am I worrying too much about my website getting hacked? Can you point me to solutions I’m overlooking? Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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Under pressure we act more socially

Have you noticed that social compassion was way less when autumn came compared to the first wave of infections in spring? I read a research article and couldn’t help but think this (partly) explains why. Apparently people share more when put under pressure. These researchers tested whether kids behave in the same way as adults. They do. Children share more stickers with an absent child (represented by a picture) when put under pressure. When they have time to think, they become more selfish.

During the first wave of covid-19 infections we were all overwhelmed. It was a period when I had a lot of online interaction with family and friends. Talked the neighbours quite often. Hung out in the park, chatting to other parents present. Since October? Hardly anything of that. Of course hanging out in the park became less likely due to weather conditions, but talking to friends and family was reduced to a bare minimum. Sentiment towards new imposed restrictions became more and more negative, generally speaking. I heard more people complaining. Nobody applauds for hospital personnel these days. Posters stating ‘we’ll get through this together’ disappeared.

Now that the immediate pressure for action turned into a long marathon of social distancing people keep more to themselves. At least that’s my observation.

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Covid confessions

On March 13 2020 I went to Utrecht with Daughter, to pay a visit to the Lego store. I then concluded I live on optimal distance from a Lego store. I would like to say that was the last normal day out with Daughter, but to be honest it already felt uncomfortable to take the train and walk around the shopping centre. We were the only visitors in the store. The shopping centre was relatively empty. We went skiing in France in February and I counted the days since our return and mentally marked our group healthy two weeks after returning. My family celebrated my parents’ birthdays on March 8th. We visited a museum and enjoyed high tea in a restaurant, but I seriously wondered whether we should have cancelled it. The stories from Italy were severe. The first Dutch patients were already diagnosed positively for covid-19.

Two days after our Lego store visit, daycare and schools closed. We were told to work from home. As we’ve done since then.

As a family we adjusted. We adjusted to periods where Daughter was allowed back into daycare. We adjusted to the ritual of going to school. We adjusted to Daughter not going to school. We adjusted to Daughter going to school. We adjusted to outdoor life. We adjusted to indoor life. We adjusted to celebrate things online. We adjusted to not eating out. We adjusted to dinners to go. We adjusted to cycling a lot. We adjusted to cycling less. We adjusted to walking a lot. We adjusted to walking less. We adjusted to not being entertained. We adjusted to finishing all exciting Netflix series. We adjusted to wearing face masks. We adjusted to reading more.

The only thing I didn’t need to adjust to was working from home. I’ve done that since the moment I left university more than fifteen years ago and became self-employed.

Barely anything happened last year. Summer was when most interaction with other people took place. Autumn was the slow recline of social gatherings. Winter was for hibernating. Spring is about to begin and viral spread is on the rise again around Europe, despite all the counter measures we’re still taking. We enjoyed a visit to the museum. We enjoyed a few weeks camping in my brother’s back yard. We enjoyed a few dinners and swims at the Man’s sister. We enjoyed a weekend camping with extended family. We enjoyed a few days at my parents’ around new year.

A lot happened last year. Entire testing infrastructures were built from scratch. Apps were developed. The US got rid of mister T with a bit of a stir. The medical community worked their ass of to produce a vaccine. I listened to an interview with which Dutch virologist Jaap Goudsmit and he explained that the mere fact that we already have multiple vaccines being produced on massive scale is a miracle that couldn’t have happened a decade ago. Despite the slow uptake of vaccination in NL (and EU), the bickering about vaccine deliveries and the rows over which country got the better deal, I fully realize that it is a miracle indeed that my father (79) received his first (Pfizer) jab on March 12 2021. Last year we could only hope for cures and vaccines, now we at least have vaccines.

Still, I feel a bit sad that my mental gap year is now officially extended. It will probably be extended until summer holidays. Until then I expect some more adjustments. Just this morning we received a message Daughter’s teacher needed to get tested before coming to school. Luckily, as of this week teachers are allowed to take a speedy test. The teacher got tested before 8AM, 8:50AM we received a message that the teacher was tested negative and by 9:15AM Daughter was in school, 45 minutes later than normal. On the other hand, testing in general is OK, but nothing more than that. Every runny nose is now suspicious and therefore we got Daughter tested twice already. As we didn’t create an official government approved digital identity for her yet, we had to be called back by a call centre employee with the test results. The first time we tested I had to call the call centre myself after two days to hear the result. It shows that the system is still buggy, to say the least. As a result we requested Daughter’s digital ID, which takes a few days to complete.

I can say a lot about how my government is not capable of managing a crisis, but my main mantra this past year was to focus on my own life. I didn’t want to get tangled up in what ifs and other discussions on processes and events beyond my control. That mindset helped me get through this year. Dealing with the reality that’s in front of me today. It also helped me decide to take the plunge and sign up for Techionista Academy. As boring as this (extended) gap year may be, at least I know I come out of it better skilled than I was in March 2020. And vaccinated as well. I couldn’t have dreamed of such an outcome during all those hours I spent in the park, playing with Daughter in Spring 2020.

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