Homebrew Saves Me Time Every Day

I don’t remember exactly when I started using Homebrew, but I know that I had been using a Mac as my regular computer for a while and wanted an alternative to manage dev tools. Homebrew would turn out to be my first foray into the concept and practice of package management, and it’s been tremendously useful for me.

I keep a personal MacOS setup guide on Github because I swap laptops or reformat my laptop enough that I want to keep track of what tools I use. Adding Homebrew to my software management suite has been instrumental in making this work. I can install and update software and clean up outdated versions. I even wrote a tutorial on setting up a keyword script last week that makes this even easier for me.

What is Homebrew

Homebrew describes itself as The missing package manager for macOS and for good reason. It allows me to install/uninstall/update/downgrade/manage software used on my Mac directly from the command line.

This saves a bunch of time and overhead, and allows me to bulk install programs. I can take a list of install commands, paste them into my terminal, and have them all run at once. Below is a list of programs that I install with Homebrew on a new machine currently, which turns hours of installation into a few seconds of typing and a few minutes of letting the machine run in the background.

brew install arp-scan
brew install asciidoc
brew install brew-cask-completion
brew install cmake
brew install composer
brew install docbook-xsl
brew install ghostscript
brew install git
brew install highlight
brew install imagemagick
brew install lastpass-cli --with-pinentry --with-doc
brew install nmap
brew install node
brew install openssl
brew install php72
brew install php-cs-fixer
brew install phplint
brew install pkg-config
brew install python3
brew postinstall python3
brew install thefuck
brew install vassh
brew install vim
brew install wget
brew install wrk
brew install zsh-syntax-highlighting

Homebrew Cask

Some programs don’t exist in Homebrew, usually the apps that you use with a GUI, as opposed to command line tools. For these there is
Homebrew Cask, an extension of Homebrew for the software that doesn’t exist in core.

So instead of having to open up Safari on a new machine (or IE for the Windows folks, with a tool like Scoop or Chocolatey – The package manager for Windows) just to download Chrome, I can open my terminal after Homebrew is installed and type brew install chrome to get the latest version of the browser installed and ready to use. No more downloading zipped files, unzipping a package, running the package and accepting pages of prompts, and having to eject the package to delete the install files.

Updates are great too. With the script that I shared last week I update all of my apps every morning, ensuring that I have the latest, greatest, and most secure version. This also means that I am far less likely to open an app on my computer as I’m ready to use it, only to be greeted with a “new version available” dialog to either forget or stop my workflow.

Here are the cask packages that I currently install after I reformat my computer, which covers the majority of apps that I use.

brew cask install alfred
brew cask install arduino
brew cask install boostnote
brew cask install calibre
brew cask install cleanmymac
brew cask install dropbox
brew cask install etcher
brew cask install evernote
brew cask install firefox
brew cask install google-chrome
brew cask install imageoptim
brew cask install iterm2
brew cask install nordvpn
brew cask install owasp-zap
brew cask install qlcolorcode
brew cask install qlmarkdown
brew cask install qlprettypatch
brew cask install qlstephen
brew cask install quicklook-csv
brew cask install quicklook-json
brew cask install sequel-pro
brew cask install signal
brew cask install skype
brew cask install slack
brew cask install spectacle
brew cask install sublime-text
brew cask install suspicious-package
brew cask install telegram
brew cask install transmit
brew cask install vagrant
brew cask install virtualbox
brew cask install vlc
brew cask install webpquicklook
brew cask install caskroom/fonts/font-source-code-pro

Followup and Conclusion

I just learned that Homebrew has a Patreon to support development of the project, and I just pledged a token monthly donation. For all that it’s given me, it’s definitely proven valuable.

Read the documentation for Homebrew for all of the cool things that you can do with it. The project homepage has fairly straightforward installation instructions.

You can see a list of the current Homebrew Formulae, as well as search the available Homebrew Casks to see if your favorite tools are available.

Do you use Homebrew yet? Do you have another method to manage updates that I should know about, or some tools that I’m missing? Let me know here or on Twitter!

Creating a Homebrew Workflow with Alfred on MacOS

One of the first suggestions that I was given when I switched from Windows to Mac was to install and use Alfred, a productivity app for Mac OS X. I have to thank Mason James for the suggestion, as Alfred has been an integral part of my Mac usage ever since. Tomorrow I’ll give an overview of what Alfred is and does, but for now I want to talk about a specific workflow that I made. It’s very simple, but that’s a plus for a starting up tutorial.

What are we going to create?

The task that we’re setting up is going to be a keyword that will run a series of terminal commands for us. I use Homebrew as a package manager for software on my Mac. This, along with Homebrew Cask allows me to manage most of the software that I use on my computer from the command line.

Similar to an overview of Alfred, I’ll give an overview of Homebrew later, but for now I’ll assume that you can setup both from those sites. Backwards maybe, but I want to show something simple that it can do before walking through setting it up.

So with Alfred I can set keywords that run commands. In this case, I’m going to make a keyword, brew, that when used will run a series of commands to check for updates of installed software, perform those updates, clean up outdated software versions, and check that everything is functioning properly.

We’re going to have eight commands run sequentially, so instead of having to type each of those commands manually and wait for each to run, we can type one keyword, have terminal open for us, and let it run in the background while we continue working.

Let’s get started

1. Create a new Workflow.

Open Alfred Preferences, and navigate to the Workflows screen. In the lower left of the screen click the plus button to create a new Workflow. To save time, go to Templates > Essentials > Keyword to Terminal Command, and select that template. Give a name and description to your workflow, and add an icon if you want.

Setting up a template Workflow
Starting with a template for our Workflow
Adding details to the Workflow
Setting the details of our Workflow

2. Set the options and commands for your Workflow.

The two nodes of the workflow
The two nodes of our Workflow

When you create the Workflow you’ll have two nodes to work with: the keyword, and the terminal command. Double click on the keyword box to pull up the options for the keyword. We’re going to set brew as our keyword, and change to no argument since we aren’t adding any other commands. If we wanted to we could say setup an argument to update brew, cask, or both, but I just do both by default. I add a title and icon to display when I run the command and click save.

Setting a keyword for the Workflow
Setting the keyword options for our Workflow

Next, double click on the terminal command node. This is where we’re going to put the commands that are going to run after the terminal is opened. The below commands are what I have setup for my Workflow.

brew update
brew upgrade
brew cask upgrade
brew cleanup
brew cask cleanup
brew prune
brew doctor
brew cask doctor

The above updates Homebrew and Cask, then upgrades software that is currently installed and out of date for both. Next we use cleanup to uninstall older versions of the apps that have been updated. Prune will cleanup any outdated symlinks, and doctor will display any notes for potential problems that we can review.

Add terminal commands to the Workflow
Adding terminal commands to our Workflow

Let’s save this series of commands and give it a go!

3. Try running the command.

To use this command we need to type our keyword into the Alfred menu. Use whatever hotkeys that you have set to open Alfred (the default is option+space). When you start typing the brew keyword you’ll see the workflow appear as an option. Click enter when it’s selected to run the command.

Running our Workflow with a keyword
Typing our keyword pulls up our Workflow

If everything is setup properly your terminal application should open and paste in the series of commands. Since each is on a separate line they will run sequentially. You can see the commands as they run and any output they have. Since I ran this command shortly before taking screenshots for this tutorial everything is already up to date for me except for a bit of cleanup.

Commands running in our Workflow
Running the Workflow opens terminal and runs our commands

Awesome! This saves a bunch of time!

This Workflow saves me a bunch of time by updating applications in the background without having to wait for me to open them and have each application run their own update check. Since I’m opening an app when I want to use it the need to update can interrupt my workflow.

The benefits of this system include:

  • All applications stay up to date with new features and bug fixes
  • I don’t have to wait until I want to use an app to update
  • I won’t click ignore on an update and forget to do it later
  • I can make sure that my computer stays clean with outdated versions of applications getting removed for me
  • I don’t have to remember all of the commands to run, what order to run them in, or have to wait for each one to run before typing the next one

If you use Homebrew already, I’d suggest setting something like this up to make it easier to manage. It only took me a few minutes to setup, takes a second to run whenever I have time to update (generally every morning for me), and provides the kind of background benefits that save a bunch of headaches over the long term.

My Totally Great Guide to Managing Email Like a Pro

This morning I read a new article from Joshua A. Krisch posted to fatherly.com called “Why Email Is So Stressful, According To Science”. As the headline makes clear, the author believes that email anxiety is one of the biggest causes of stress for the average office worker.

Everyone seems to have their own system for dealing with email, whether it’s treating it like a game, trying for inbox zero, responding to a few at a time and ignoring the rest, or throwing their hands up and declaring email bankruptcy.

The last option is not uncommon, but is also scary since we all assume that somewhere in those unread emails is that exact opportunity that we’ve been waiting for, and it’s through our inability to manage the growing pile of correspondence that we’re missing out.

Another fear is that we’ve waited too long to respond to an email, and as time goes on we naturally want to respond to it less, as our guilt around not responding grows. The podcast Reply All decided to fight back two years ago by starting the holiday Email Debt Forgiveness Day, which was just a few weeks ago. If you missed out you can still find info on their site on how to celebrate, along with a helpful email template.

But does it have to be this hard? I get stress from email time to time, but I admit that it’s never been all-consuming in my life, personal or work. I don’t think that I’m preternaturally disposed to being less stressed by communication, far from it. I have found a few things that make email easier to manage for me, and I’m going to put on my productivity wizard hat to dictate how you should handle your communications.

1. Check Email Less Frequently

This one should be the most straightforward. If you check email less frequently, you have a better opportunity to treat it like a discrete event. Use the novelty of checking a few times per day to provide more focus to what you’re checking.

I keep my inbox clean enough that I’m ok with keeping it in reverse chronological order. I click at the top, and have the Gmail settings for the send and archive buttons as well as the auto-advance lab feature on. I also use keyboard shortcuts on my accounts, allowing me to use my keyboard more, which I’m already using to write.

You can find the Send & Archive button as well as the keyboard shortcuts in Gmail in the settings page located at https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#settings/general. The Auto-Advance lab feature can be turned on here: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#settings/labs

The Send & Archive button on email compose means I save a few clicks and a screen load.
The Auto-advance feature also saves time by letting me move directly from one email to the next.

Using those features I can more quickly progress through email while clearing out my inbox. Every email is acted on and archived.

I start out with a win by making a lot of email skip the inbox in the first place by filtering them to folders if they are automated notifications or newsletters. I currently use Unroll.me to group emails together, but I’m phasing it out as I transition to a new email account.

2. Get off of the Notification Cycle

I’m not a fan of notifications pretty much anywhere. I have a few things that can send me notifications like work messages and texts, but otherwise I let apps and websites stay quiet unless I choose to check on them.

I could expound upon how this relates to email specifically, but honestly it helps reduce stress with a lot of how I use the web. I end up checking some things more frequently than I’d like, but I let them fit to my schedule, not the other way around.

3. Know When to Say No/Manage Expectations

I know the urge to say yes to requests can be powerful. I do this all the time, and I don’t fault anyone else who does. It’s only over the past few years that I’ve started learning how to say no to things that don’t fit my skillset, or that don’t directly help me gain new skills or serve clients better.

I get the idea that you miss 100% of shots not taken, but maybe those aren’t the shots that I should be taking anyway.

I also try to let people know when and how I’ll respond, if I am going to have to pass on something, or if there will be further action taken. Being direct is one of the best things that I’ve learned to do in email both to set expectations for others, as well as clarify my thinking.

If I can put my desires into words, I can have a better chance of making them happen.

4. Treat Email as a Separate Medium

This is a habit that’s hard to make. What I mean by treating email as a separate medium is that it’s not a text, it’s not a letter, and it’s not a social media update. Email has existed in a similar form to what we use now for almost fifty years, yet we still want to write full letters with greetings and salutations.

Chances are I know who you are if I’m responding to an email, and vice versa. I understand that some people feel rude sending short emails, but generally an email that can be answered quickly – or doesn’t require an answer at all – makes recipients feel even better. One hundred people can send me emails that individually take them a few moments to compose, but if they all send in teh same day that equals hours of time dealing with them.

On the topic of emails without response, I’m still looking for a polite way to let people know that emails don’t require a response. Don’t feel obligated to send me a “Thanks for handling this!” email, when all it ends up meaning is another message to manage.

So, that’s my attempt at an email listicle. What email tricks should I be trying out? Make me feel more productive!

Securing Yourself and Your Business – A Basic Primer

I’m giving a talk this weekend at Florida DrupalCamp on some basic personal security tips. The focus isn’t on development security, or on securing Drupal projects, but instead is meant to be applicable to pretty much everybody.

If you spend any time on the internet, this guide can offer some help to you. First:

Why do I need to care about this?

Let’s get one of the common misconceptions out of the way:

I don’t have anything to hide, so I don’t need to worry about privacy.

I honestly can’t think of anyone that this statement is true about. Everyone has something that they don’t want others to see, for whatever reason. If I were to ask you for access to every digital account that you own (not to mention your home and all other personal belongings), you would probably not give me access to any of them, even with my solemn pinky oath to not touch anything. The fact that I’m asking gives you pause. Now how about those that don’t bother with the pleasantries?

You have something of value to lose online. That’s a fact of life now, and while you may be thinking of embarrassing emails or compromising texts, there are other things like workplace data, financial accounts, health records, and more that are vulnerable if you do not maintain some basic web security. With the insidious chaining together of accounts, now you have the danger of one insecure email address allowing all accounts to be compromised.

Even if you still think that you don’t personally need to worry about security, what about those around you? There is a safety in numbers. When someone is alone in using encrypted communications, they stand out to profilers, even if the content of their communications does not. When everyone around them is using encrypted communications as well, now there’s just so much more chatter to stay safe in.

Like inoculations against illness serve to inordinately protect the members of society with the weakest immune systems, the group protection that comes from supporting secure software helps those most vulnerable who rely on these tools. Also, your insecure devices can be used to launch attacks that can affect everyone, and those insecurities are not going away anytime soon.

So now that we’ve covered that it’s important to care about your online security, where do we start?

What’s Your Profile?

We’re looking to define two profiles to start with: your Attack Surface Profile, and your Adversary Profile. These will help us determine where to put effort in building our security profile.

Attack Surface Profile: The ways that you can conceivably be compromised. This is the cellphone in your pocket, the accounts that you have logged in automatically on your laptop, the fact that your email address is linked to your Amazon credit card. You will miss some of these, but the major ones are where it matters most.

Adversary Profile: Who conceivably cares enough about you that you need to secure yourself against? Are you going through a divorce or custody battle, with lawyers watching your every move? Are you exploring your sexuality or religion in a setting where harm can come from exposure? In addition to these or other specific threats, you have the general drive-by attacks done on accounts related to data breaches to worry about.

Security Profile: Now that you’ve defined your Attack Surface Profile and your Adversary Profile, you can create your security profile. You’ve identified that you use your laptop at coffeeshops regularly, and commit to avoiding using financial services there. You want to avoid being tracked while going to a sensitive meeting, so you leave your phone at home. You want to learn more about things that may be socially unacceptable, so you use TOR browser to hide your browsing history.

How Can I Get Started?

There are a wide variety of tools available with varying degrees of complexity and protections afforded. A few suggestions:

  • Use a password manager. There is the possibility that these tools can be compromised, but they are much better than memorizing (meaning reusing) passwords, which you should stop doing. LastPass is a free web-based tool, and KeePass is an open source password manager that lives on your computer.
  • Enable two factor authentication everywhere that you can. That means email, social media accounts, developer accounts like hosting and Github, everywhere. Two factor authentication is generally accessed via a text or app on your phone, and is used as a secondary method to prove you are who you say you are.
  • Switch to Signal for messaging. It doesn’t have the pretty colored bubbles of iMessage, but get over it. Signal is the current standard for end-to-end encrypted messaging, which means nobody without access to either device can read the messages being sent. It is compatible with all major phone brands, and has all of the features that any standard messenger has, plus some bonus goodies like secure VOIP calls.
  • Check your privacy settings on Chrome, Firefox, Twitter and Facebook.
  • Take advantage of the tools that the EFF makes for privacy. This includes HTTPS Everywhere, to encrypt your browsing to and from websites, and Privacy Badger, which is a custom tailored ad and tracker blocker.

This is too much. Isn’t this impossible anyway?

I agree, there are a lot of things that you have to worry about to maintain your privacy and security. There will always be something that you miss, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. If you lock your house or car you are engaged in a similar decision-making process. Sure, a burglar could smash a window and get in, but they’re more likely to move on in search of an easier target.

Don’t give up on security! It is becoming easier than ever to maintain some of your privacy and information security thanks to the work of countless contributors to open source tools. Support their work, and protect your freedoms!


References
Your Cybersecurity Self-Defense Cheat Sheet, Jacob Brogan, Slate. 1 February 2017.
The Privacy Paradox Tip Sheet, Manoush Zomorodi, WNYC. 10 February 2017.
Tor Overview: Staying Anonymous. Retrieved 17 February 2017.

Bash scripting to automate site builds with WP-CLI

I told myself that I would endeavor to create a project using an entirely new-to-me technology every month, and on the last possible day in January I’m doing a writeup on a bit of bash and wp-cli code written for last week’s WordPress Orlando Meetup.

While I didn’t quite hit the mark, I did learn quite a bit more about WP-CLI and bash scripting, so I’ll count that as a win.

The script that we’re going to refer to in the post is here: https://gist.github.com/davidlaietta/3f1d431071196f61c753e572700e7cbe. This is intended as a follow up to this post on using VVV, VV, and WP-CLI to setup new sites.

What are we doing here?

The script does quite a few things to set up a new WordPress site with some defaults. I made the selections based on my common usage, but the script has been made general enough that it can be modified as you see fit for your own needs.

First, I’ve got a few constants in the script, including a username that I like to use for these sites, so I get something other than “admin” that isn’t random. It also sets an email for all accounts, and the specific VV blueprint that I want to use. I can cover blueprints at a later time, but for now check out some information about them at the VV Github page.

Next up I use the name that was input after the command to run this script was issued to create the name and domain of the website. A password and table prefix (the wp_ portion of the WordPress database tables) are both randomly generated. The password is copied to the clipboard to allow me to paste it in while logging into the site for the first time.

The command below does quite a bit. It uses VV to create a new site on my VVV install, with the name and domain supplied, the username and email that I pre-set, and the table prefix and password that were just generated for us. It also turns on debug, calls the VV blueprint that I’ve setup, and tells VV to use all other defaults that it normally supplies.

yes | vv create -n $name -d $name.dev --username $wpuser --password $password --email $email --prefix $prefix -x -b $blueprint --defaults

VV and the blueprint do the bulk of the initial setup, but there are still a lot of things to do.

Continuing Site Setup With WP-CLI

There are a lot of tasks that I do on almost every site, most outlined on the previous post, but as a recap:

  • Deleting the “Hello Dolly” plugin as well as all default themes except for the current year default
  • Activating the premium plugins and themes that I use. This includes the Genesis theme, as well as Gravity Forms, iThemes Security and Sync, BackupBuddy, and Advanced Custom Field.
  • Deleting the default page, post, and comment
  • Creating home and blog pages, and setting them to display as home and blog, respectively
  • Creating About and Contact pages
  • Creating a menu with all of the pages that I’ve created, and setting it to the primary menu
  • Removing all default widgets from the sidebar
  • Creating a category titled “News”, and setting it as the default category, to avoid posts being labeled as uncategorized

Finally, I have the script open up Chrome to the login page for the site that was just created. There I can type in my username and paste in the generated password. Eventually this step can be scripted as well, to automatically log me in.

And there we have it: a fully setup staging site that saves us hours on creation and setting up defaults that will be used over and over again!

Drawbacks to the current bash script method

That’s not to say that this is perfect. By all accounts there’s plenty that I can do to fix up this script. I started working on an integration with the Lastpass-CLI for instance, to use their password generator and to automatically save my passwords to avoid being prompted when I first load the site. For some reason I was unable to get it working, and removed that feature to get it done in time for the meetup

Gravity Forms also has a CLI, though with the downside of needing to be installed as a plugin first. If I install the plugin though, I can use that to install and license my copy of Gravity Forms, as well as import some default forms. I’m going to add that to a future version of this builder, as most sites that I make will have a contact and newsletter form with a few fields by default.

Finally, I want to work on executing the script on the server, as opposed to on my local machine. I can set this up with a bit of forethought, but it’d be beneficial to have some sort of installer to allow anyone to input their specifics (credentials, email, install directory, plugins to activate, etc). For now, I’m using vassh, which was developed specifically to run

vagrant ssh

followed by a WP-CLI command, but the tool is not very efficient. Currently it opens and closes a connection with each command, which quickly adds up when you’re running several dozen commands like this script is.