You’ve Just Gotta Fight Your Way Through


“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” –Ira Glass

Image via Sawyer Hollenshead

Transition to LEMP

If you’re reading this, it means you are using the new AFdN server! As part of my foolish reason plunge in to Virtual Private Servers.

I’ve been able to migrate all the files moved over1, setup, and fine tune the new system.

It’s not that I wasn’t happy with BlueHost, just that I had grown out of Bluehost, which makes sense: Bluehost really is targeted and people new to web hosting. I’ve had a web site since I was 11.

I’ve heard rumors that Bluehost has over 500 users on each one of their boxes, upgrading to their Pro Package a couple of years ago put me on a box with “80% less accounts per server”, but it still wasn’t cutting it. I needed more!

The LEMP setup: Linux, Nginx2, MariaDB, PHP-FPM.

From a hardware standpoint, fremont is a NextGen 1GB Linode Virtual Private Server (VPS), powered by dual Intel Sandy Bridge E5-2670 processors each of which “enjoys 20 MB of cache and has 8 cores running at 2.6 Ghz” and is shared with, on average, 39 other Linodes.


I’ve chosen to run Debian 7 (64 bit); it’s a Linux distribution I trust, has a good security focus, and I’m also very familiar with it.

Setting it up the Linode was easy. I decided against using StackScripts because I wanted to know exactly what was going into my system and I wanted to have the experience in case something goes wrong down the line.

I took a fresh copy of Wheezy (Debian 7) and then used the following guides:

I very seriously considered encrypting the entire server, but decided against because ultimately the hardware was still going to be out of my physical control and thus encrypting the system was not an appropriate solution for the attack vector I was concerned with.


I’ve always used Apache to do the actual web serving, but I’ve heard great things about Nginx and I wanted to try it. Since I was already going down the foolish path, I figured that I had nothing to lose with trying a new web server as well.

To make things easier, I installed Nginx from the repo instead of from source and then configured it using the (more or less) standard approach.

It’s really simple to install, I probably over thought it.

rtCamp has a really great tutorial on setting up fastcgi_cache_purge that allows Nginx to cache WordPress data and then purge and rebuild the cached content after you edit a post/page from WordPress dashboard or approve a comment on an article.


The standard tool for web-based SQL databases in my book has always been mySQL. But just like Nginx, I’ve heard some good things about MariaDB and figured why not. The great thing is, MariaDB is essentially a drop-in replacement for mySQL. Installing from the repo was a piece of cake and there really is no practical difference in operation…it just works, but better (in theory).


PHP FastCGI Process Manager (FPM) is an alternative to the regular PHP FastCGI implementation. In particular, it includes adaptive process spawning, among other things, and seems to be the defacto PHP implementation method for Nginx. Installing from the repo was a piece of cake and required only minimal configuration.

I originally used the TCP Sockets, but found that UNIX Sockets gave better performance.


Getting everything moved over was pretty easy, I did some benchmarking using Google Chrome’s Network DevTool and using Plugin Performance Profiler from GoDaddy3.

Most of the fine tuning was the little things, like better matching the threads to the number of cores I had available. I also enabled IPv6 support, which means that AFdN is IPv6 compliant:

ipv6 ready

Enjoy faster and better access to AFdN!

  1. at least for AFdN, there are other sites I run that are still in migration 

  2. pronounced engine-x, the “e” is invisible 

  3. I know, I’m just as shocked as you 

The Five Cognitive Distortions of People Who Get Stuff Done

Michael Dearing is the former chief engineer for Sun Microsystems and has PhD in computer scientist. He gave a presentation on some “common patterns of automatic thought among those who get a lot of stuff done [and/or] create tons of value” in Silicon Valley.

Here’s my distilled version:

  • Definition: cognitive distortions are strong patterns of automatic thoughts.
  • They are important because they act as filters that ultimately influence thinking, shape interpretation of reality, and become the basis for action.
  • The Big Five
    1. Personal Exceptionalism: “I am special.”
      • Definition: a macro sense that you are in the top of your cohort, your work is snowflake special, or that you are destined to have experiences well outside the bounds of “normal;” not to be confused with arrogance or high self-esteem.
      • Benefit: resilience, stamina, charisma.
      • Deadly risk: assuming macro exceptionalism means micro exceptionalism, brittleness.
    2. Dichotomous Thinking: “X is sh*t. Y is genius.
      • Definition: being extremely judgmental of people, experiences, things; highly opinionated at the extremes; sees black and white, little grey
      • Benefit: achieves excellence frequently
      • Deadly risk: perfectionism
    3. Correct Overgeneralization: “I see two dots and draw the right line.”
      • Definition: making universal judgments from limited observations and being right a lot of the time
      • Benefits: saves time
      • Deadly risk: addiction to instinct and indifference to data
    4. Blank Canvas Thinking: “Painting by numbers isn’t art. And I want to make art.”
      • Definition: sees own life as a blank canvas, not a paint by numbers
      • Benefits: no sense of coloring outside the lines, creates surprises
      • Deadly risk: “Ars gratia artis,” failure to launch, failure to scale
    5. Schumpeterianism1: “I am a creative destruction machine.”
      • Definition: sees creative destruction as natural, necessary, and as their vocation
      • Benefits: fearlessness, tolerance for destruction and pain
      • Deadly risk: heartless ambition, alienation

Are you a person who gets stuff done?

  1. Named after Joseph Schumpeter 

Welcome to

For whatever foolish reason, I’ve decided to take the plunge in to Virtual Private Servers and sprung for a 1GB Linode.

I’m actually kind of excited by this. It’s sort of like being back in high school and running my own server from my parents house. Except I’m ten years wiser…and married.

Anyway, after some minor toiling about whether I should install nginx from the Debian repository or compile it from source, I ended up going with option C and am trying the dotdeb repo.

This has been predominately driven by my continuous desire to push BlueHost to boundaries of what shared hosting meant. I upgraded to the Pro account last year, but it’s still a bit sluggish and I still consistently find myself having to scrape together horrid workarounds for things I want to do on the server. I probably should have got VPS a year ago, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to take that task on…I’m still not sure.

The server is named Fremont, because it’s located in Fremont, California.

I’m going to move some of the sites I run off of BlueHost to see how fremont (along with nginx, MariaDB, and PHP-FPM) handles everything — and to see if BlueHost gets any snappier.

If all goes well, there’s a good chance I’ll move all the sites to fremont.

For now though, I just have the basic “Hey, it works” page up and running, including an SSL certificate, at