Setting Up A Development Workstation

What Is This?

I wrote this primarily for myself – sometimes I don’t remember everything I do when setting up a workstation for development purposes…it may be of interest to others.

You’ll note that there are several areas missing from this arena – no build automation, task runners, etc. Maybe I’ll get around to adding them once I settle on some…but in the meantime, this still works for me.

[See bottom of this document for a list of revisions to this document]

Everybody Uses…

Version Control

  • Install Git for Windows for version control, ensure that Windows PATH is selected during the install so that you can use git from the command-line without needing to use Git’s special CLI.
  • I’d recommend also getting yourself a GUI to manage Git. Personally, I prefer that the editor I’m working in provide Git integration, but sometimes this isn’t available – in which case Atlassian’s SourceTree seems to do a good job.

Editor / IDE

IDE stands for Integrated Development Environment. This software offers numerous tools to expedite code development.

Editors on the other hand are much simpler, yet some people prefer them. We’ll look at a few of each of these.

Editors

  • NotePad++ – This is my base editor. The User Interface isn’t amazing, but it works beautifully. Especially awesome when it comes to working with large files.
  • Brackets – An open source project by Adobe, has a number of useful extensions. UI is attractive, I use this one over NotePad++ usually, except for note files (NotePad++ remembers the text you enter even if you don’t save the file) and large files.
  • Visual Studio Code – Another open source option by Microsoft.

IDEs

There are a huge number of options, Wikipedia has a fairly extensive list.

  • JetBrain’s phpStorm – JetBrain makes a number of different IDE’s and unfortunately isn’t the clearest on which IDE one should purchase. phpStorm handles most web-based languages, but lacks a clear emphasis on JavaScript that webStorm has (but which lacks some of the php integration).
    • See Gary Hockin’s Debugging VVV Vagrant Setup with PhpStorm for helpful instructions on integrating one’s VVV setup into PhpStorm for interpreter and xdebug purposes.
      • If you are wondering where your xdebug.so file lives: /usr/lib/php/20151012/xdebug.so
      • And Code Sniffer:
        /usr/local/bin/phpcs
      • And PHPUnit:
        /usr/local/src/composer/vendor/phpunit
      • And Composer:
        /usr/local/src/composer/vendor/
      • And www folders:
        /srv/www/
      • And PHP:
        /usr/bin/php/
  • Microsoft’s Visual Studio – An IDE with a long and venerable history, more recently integrating a number of Xamarin cross-development features into the IDE. The Community Edition is free.
    • WARNING: Depending upon options selected, this installs Hyper-V; if you are running another virtualization technology (Virtual Box) expect to experience BSoD errors. Unfortunately, I know this from personal experience and I am not alone.
    • Supports Visual C++, Visual F#, Python, C#/.NET, Android/iOS.
  • Google’s Android Studio – For the creation of Android apps.

Interacting with Databases

  • You’ll want something that provides a handy way for interacting with databases, in which case I recommend HeidiSQL.
  • If you don’t have a database server currently, you’ll need one. A couple options include MySQL, MariaDB, Microsoft SQL Server, and PostgreSQL.

Virtualization

Image Management

  • You’ll need something to create/edit images with, I recommend paint.net. Despite its connection to a very basic predecessor (Windows Paint), this software can work miracles.
  • JPEGmini – Usually I wouldn’t recommend using lossy means of reducing image data footprint, but JPEGmini manages to offer significant lossy compression without any visible deterioration to the image, unfortunately it only works on jpeg files.
  • FileOptimizer – Offers compression for numerous different file formats in a lossless manner.

File Transfer

  • FileZilla is a good FTP client.
  • However, FTP is a plain-text protocol, so I’d look at using something SSH based like SFTP. In this case I’d recommend WinSCP or built-in functionality in your IDE (phpStorm for example).

Other Tools

  • You’ll also want a copy of ConEmu or another command line interface (CLI). This software is so much better than the default Windows console.
  • A good archive/compression application will make life much easier, and 7-Zip is the perfect application.
  • Hosts File Editor – While it hasn’t been updated since 2011, I find this software extremely handy when I want to make edits to the hosts file. It offers a nice GUI front-end for the hosts file and enables a number of different nifty features not built into the file itself.

Revisions To Document

  • 10/18/16
    • Added location of www pages on Vagrant.
  •  10/16/16
    • Moved VVV under Vagrant.
    • Added link to Louie R.’s article on using Vagrant/VVV.
    • Changed Basics for Developers to Version Control.
    • Added link to VVV Wiki Article about Connecting to MySQL.
    • Added section on database servers.
    • Added link to article on integrating with PhpStorm, location of xdebug.so.
    • Added location of Code Sniffer; PHPUnit, Composer.

jpegMini: One Simple Step to a Faster Website

TLDR;

If you have a website, you should be using jpegMini. It is an amazing tool that decreases the size of (JPEG) image files without decreasing the visual quality of the images.

Why Does the Size of My Image Files Matter?

When someone visits a web page in a browser (ex. Google Chrome or Internet Explorer) the browser downloads all the files associated with that specific page to the local computer. The larger the files, the longer it takes for the download to complete. The web page can’t be fully loaded into the browser until the download is complete.

Most people won’t wait long for a page to load – after a few seconds most will browse to another website that offers the same information faster.

Decreasing the size of your images decreases the amount of data the browser needs to download which makes the page load faster and results in happy people (your viewers).

What Makes jpegMini So Special?

Some of the most popular options for reducing image file size are compressing, resizing, and (automatically) intelligently choosing images. Google has a great article explaining these and other methods of optimizing images.

jpegMini can be used alone or in combination with some or all of the above mentioned options and it will deliver size reduction even after all of the other options are run.

jpegMini uses complex algorithms to reduce the amount of data in the image while maintaining the same visual appearance. Essentially, the algorithms exploit the way our vision works – we don’t see perfectly and thus two similar images can appear identical to us.

Lets take a look at how this works in real life. I downloaded this image of a baby from Pixabay at 1920×1280 pixels. It is 521 KB in size. I run it through jpegMini and the file is now 226 KB – a 55%+ reduction in size! Try comparing the picture I linked to above with the jpegMini optimized file below.[1] Can you tell the difference? I didn’t think so!

Photo of Baby Sitting on Table Optimized by jpegMini

jpegMini is Free / Super Affordable!

You can download jpegMini for free and use it to optimize up to twenty images each day! This is more than enough for most small/medium sites.

If you want to optimize more images on a daily basis or simply express your appreciation for a great product, a license is $20.

There are several other options with jpegMini, most beyond what the average site requires – but these are also reasonably priced.

Do I Have to Be a Super Geek to Use jpegMini?

jpegMini is one of the simplest applications to use ever. Launch the application then drag and drop the file(s) you want optimized onto the application. Wait a few seconds and the files will be optimized and can be uploaded and used just like any other JPEG file on your website.

Conclusion

jpegMini is an awesome application that will help you reduce image size and thus reduce the load time of your website resulting in happy people. The application is easy to use and the price is right – what are you waiting for!

 

  1. [1] This image is smaller than the original image in canvas size. If you click on the image you can see the image at its full size.

Learn To Play The Violin! A Review of Violin Tutor Pro (.com)

Photo of Woman Playing Violin
This photo of a young woman playing violin was provided by the generosity of skeeze on pixabay.

I mentioned in my previous post If You’re Hankerin’ To Start Fiddlin’…Or Playin’ Any Stringed Instrument that I stumbled upon a gold mine when searching the internet one day…that gold mine is Michael Sanchez and his websites violintutorpro.com and superiorviolins.com.  Superior Violins is the store component of these sister sites and was reviewed in my previous post.  Today I would like to introduce you to the educational website, Violin Tutor Pro.   Michael Sanchez and Loren Alldrin are co-owners of the Violin Tutor Pro.  Together with a talented team of musicians they have constructed a site which makes it possible for anyone with internet access to be able to learn to play the violin at little to no cost.

Their slogan is “your playing is our passion.”  When someone is passionate about something the natural inclination is to share your passion with others.  These guys are so passionate about playing the violin they work tirelessly coming up with new and innovative ways to teach anyone with a desire to learn.  There are many video lessons available on YouTube, from the very beginner lessons starting with how to hold the violin and the bow to advanced lessons involving double stops, single finger scales and lots of advice on developing a beautiful vibrato.  The videos are of excellent quality.

There is  a forum section on the website where members (free) can post questions about different topics and receive answers from fellow violinists and/or the staff.  Some current topics in the forum are Accessories (discussions about things like rosin, shoulder rests, etc), Adult Learners, Beginner Violin Playing, Advanced Violin Playing, Fiddle Playing, and one of my favorites, Video Feedback.  In the Video Feedback section anyone can post a video of themselves playing the violin.   It’s really fun to hear other people play.  The staff and other students (some with years of experience playing) will give feedback and tips for improvement.

Just between the YouTube videos and the forum there is a ton of free information that can help you with the violin and fiddle, whether you are just beginning or have been playing for years.

As most of us know private lessons can be very expensive.   For the nominal cost of $9 a month Michael is now offering access to structured lessons.  Check out the lessons membership page here.   You receive organized lessons to help you along each step of the way, guiding you just as a real-life teacher would in what to practice next.  You have access to music that can be downloaded for free – this is a huge savings!  If you want to take it a step further there are Skype lessons available with teachers from around the world.  I took a Skype lesson with Michael a few years back.  I’m not very comfortable using Skype, even when talking with my own children when they are out of state or out of the country…I’m just a bit older and have found it takes some getting used to.  But it really is a remarkable tool.  Michael was able to immediately notice things about my bow hold that needed to be improved.  He gave me his full attention for the 30 minutes of my lesson and his feedback was very helpful.

So, just as I highly recommend superiorviolins.com if you are in need of a stringed instrument or accessories, I also highly recommend violintutorpro.com if you or your child are looking to begin or continue to master the violin.

 

Conspiracies, Mysteries, Secret Societies – Ohh My!

As a child I somehow acquired several books along the lines of Reader’s Digest’s Unsolved Mysteries of the Past and I always loved these sorts of books – learning about all the things that we can’t quite explain or understand. More recently I read (and reviewed) Man, Myth, & Magic (Vol. 1).

mystery box

More recently I picked up Brad and Sherry Steiger’s Conspiracies and Secret Societies. This volume was an enjoyable read, unfortunately, it lacked the more detailed methodology I prefer when reading these sort of books.

Namely, there is a bibliography at the end of the work but no notes on which articles utilized which bibliographic resources – and the bibliographic resources are quite varied in quality. Additionally, while the Steiger’s indicate they are taking a neutral voice, they oftentimes state things as if they were true and it is unclear whether they are pronouncing known facts or simply explaining the position of those who believe in x conspiracy.

All said, I can’t recommend the book as a reliable reference work, but it does provide a nifty jumping off point to learn about various conspiracies. Just keep in mind that what you read may be fanciful imaginings.

What I really wanted to share in this post is my list of interesting topics from the work – the things I’ve found interesting or would like to research further in the future (this is something I do recreationally). The reasons I am interested in various topics varies just as much as the topics – sometimes I think the idea is plausible while at other times I find the idea so implausible I want to know more about those who dreamed up such and such. Others seem far-fetched but are interesting enough for further exploration…

Topic Note
AIDS/HIV Origins of the disease.
Airship of 1897 What was it? Mass delusion?
Alchemy Predecessor to chemistry, attempted to turn base metals into gold.
Alien Abductions
Al-Qaeda Origins, relationships.
Alternative 3 Was there a 1960’s secret space program that sent a group of our brightest to colonize the moon?
American Protective Association Tried to keep Roman Catholics out of political office.
Anarchists On the Steiners’ list: William Godwin, Max Stirner, Henry David Thoreau, Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, Emma Goldman, Big Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Noam Chomsky.
Anthrosophy Founded by Rudolf Steiner.
Apocalyptic Millennialism Variety and history of beliefs about the end times.
Army of God Anti-Abortionist Terrorists.
Aum Shinrikyo Means “Supreme Truth” – a relatively recent (1987) cult responsible for terrorism in Japan.
B-25 Ghost Bomber Where did this bomber disappear to after crashing into a river?
Dr. Fred Bell Died after being on Jesse Ventura’s conspiracy show, invented the “X-1 Healing Machine”, etc.

Okay that is enough for one day…I’ll add some more of the topics I found interesting another time.

Meeting in the Middle.

While Sheila and I were dating we lived fairly far apart. I found a really nifty site that helped with this dilemma – its called MeetWays.

All one does is enter the starting address for both parties and then the type of meeting place you are looking for – e.g., a restaurant, library, movie theater, or park.

MeetWays then finds options for you that are close to equidistant between the two addresses.

Meetways Results Screenshot

Dear Spotify

I’ve been using Spotify for 2+ years now, it deserves a longevity award. It also deserves some sort of honor for being one of the few subscription services I dole out for on a monthly basis – placing it alongside Netflix – and everybody has Netflix.Spotify Client Apps

In spite of a number of other options, including from mega companies like Google and Amazon, I still prefer Spotify. It is entirely free if you don’t mind the ads and the premium account is $5/mo.

That said, I do have a few things I’d love for Spotify to incorporate:

  1. Tagging – Playlists are cool, they are like categories, but everyone knows that you need categories and tags (ala WordPress). I like creating playlists – but what if I want to listen to a song on a specific subject? Or what if the song is on multiple subjects? Yes, I can create multiple playlists – but this quickly becomes cumbersome.
  2. Listens – It would be great if Spotify displayed how many times one has listened to a song. I am an explorer – always trying out new bands, new albums – and oftentimes forgetting who I’ve listened to previously and which songs. If I could see how many times I’ve listened to the song it would allow me to more efficiently explore.
  3. Searching Artists, Songs, Albums – I’ve listened to a lot of artists and this list of artists (or songs or albums) can become overwhelming. Sometimes I know I want to listen to an artist that begins with some letter or word, but I can’t remember its name in its entirety, it would be great if I could search only what is in “Your Music.”
  4. Language / Topic Filters – I know that Spotify includes “explicit content” warnings on songs, but I’ve listened to far too many songs that had “explicit content” and weren’t marked as such. This becomes important when (a) one is playing the music in the presence of others who might find the content offensive, (b) one finds it offensive, or (c) one is allowing Spotify to post to one’s Facebook timeline and has an audience that includes individuals of young(er) age for whom such content might be inappropriate.
  5. Shazam Functionality – If I am listening to the radio in the car I still have to use Shazam to find out and save what song I’m listening to. Adding this functionality into Spotify’s mobile app would be huge…especially since Shazam now makes me integrate with Rdio.

Which of these features? Or what other features would you like to see in Spotify?

When is Good: Taking the Stress Out of Scheduling

Once upon a long time ago[1] I thought about[2] writing a review of Doodle, an online scheduling tool for simplifying the process of creating meets in which all participants can actually participate.

Recently I had the need to schedule another meeting with a group of individuals who have incredibly conflicting and variable schedules, so I decided to utilize such a scheduling tool again…and, of course, I went to Doodle first…

But I love to explore and curate and find the best way to do x and so I went through my semi-regular routine when evaluating something new I want to utilize[3]:

  1. Google relevant terms like “Doodle competitor,” “Doodle alternative,” “online scheduling tool,” “online meeting app,” and so on.
  2. Go to AlternativeTo and see what alternatives they had to Doodle.
  3. Visit a bunch of these options and review them in a hasty manner.[4]

I visited a number of options like Dudle, DO’ZZ, SelectTheDate, ScheduleOnce, and so on. For various reasons I didn’t settle on any of these…but then I returned to one of the sites I’d written off for aesthetic reasons (it ain’t very pretty): WhenIsGood. After playing around with it a bit I was quite happy and have been using it since.

Let me walk you through its pages and you’ll see how simple and fairly intuitive it is. First we have our dashboard (“your account”).

When is Good Dashboard Screenshot
When is Good Dashboard Screenshot

Its very simply – essentially you see a list of events you have created and you can view, edit, or delete the events. I assume that detach allows one to remove the event from your account (you can use this service w/out creating an account).

Somewhat hidden at the top right you see a link to create a new event. The enter results code is for those who create events w/out accounts – its a unique string that identifies their event and allows them to access it.

I’ve blacked out a few small areas – mainly b/c they had my email address…which is floating around the internet, but I decided not to make any more available than it already is. There are a billion and one ways to get in contact w/me.

Under the events I blacked out the actual links to the events, they are clickable and allow you to view the event.

Now lets say we decide to create a new event, here is what we will see:

When Is Good New Event Screenshot.
When Is Good New Event Screenshot.

It isn’t the most intuitive interface, but if you mess around for five minutes you can figure it out. Note that you can set the length of the meeting, give the event a name like, “My Super Awesome Surprise Birthday Party For Myself.” There is that strange little slider bar above the calendar, use this to make the size of the calendar (not how many days, just its dimensions on the screen) larger or smaller.

But there are really a few more options we need if we are going to create a helpful scheduling event, so we click on Show Options which shows us this:

When Is Good Show Options Screenshot
When Is Good Show Options Screenshot

That is better. Now we can select the days we want to have displayed on our calendar. In my case I was scheduling a recurring event, which When Is Good doesn’t seem to inherently have any options for, so I just chose a week in the future and let people pick off those days, knowing that the event would then recur on a weekly basis.

Now click Create Event and you are all set….Right? Nope. You’ll get an error message, you need to “paint” some time slots. You are the first visitor to your event even before it is created and you get to determine what days/times will even be an option to folks when they view the event. Once you’ve selected your desired days/times you can successfully create the event. You’ll be given a unique URL you can share with anyone else via  any method you choose (email, Facebook, Twitter, hand-written note, whatever). When someone visits this unique URL they will see this:

When Is Good Visitors Screenshot
When Is Good Visitors Screenshot

We could have customized the directions, as to me “painting” times is not very intuitive, I’d suggest something like, “Please click on each day/time slot you are available to attend.”

The individual wouldn’t see all the options I have at the top right, since in this screenshot I’m logged into my account, but at the bottom right they’d have a spot to enter their name and email and send the response.

Now we get to our last screen, the results screen:

When Is Good Results Screenshot
When Is Good Results Screenshot

Now I see the calendar I created with info. filled out by the individuals I invited to the event. The green highlighted spaces are the slots where all respondents are available (I told you, crazy schedules).

Next to each of the remaining time slots are little dots, the dots indicate how many individuals cannot attend at that day/time. If I put my mouse over a time slot it will show me who can/can’t come and if I put my mouse over a name (under responses on the left-hand side) it will show me all the slots they selected as available highlighted in green.

As you can see, it is a functional although not aesthetically pleasing tool. It isn’t entirely intuitive, but its simplicity makes it easiest enough to figure out with a few minutes stumbling around.

Why Not Doodle?

I decided not to use Doodle b/c of the pricing essentially. If you are a business or an organization that will frequently utilize online scheduling – go with Doodle, it has more features, the pricing is reasonable, and it is more aesthetically pleasing…but if this is just an occasional thing, When Is Good will do just fine.

Feedback for When Is Good

Here are a few unsolicited suggestions to the folks over at When Is Good to take their application to the next level:

  • Include dates on your What’s New page so we can tell if you have been working on the app recently.
  • Redesign the aesthetic layout, center the main screen elements, make new event stand out from the rest of the menu options.

Premium with When Is Good

When is Good does offer a premium version at $20/yr. which is around half of Doodle’s lowest paid plan. It adds a few more options, but nearly as many as Doodle. If I was you and willing to pay, I’d go with Doodle.

  1. [1] Okay…more like a few months or years.
  2. [2] But did not actually.
  3. [3] This isn’t normal for items I’ll be using once-off, but I plan on using the scheduling tool more frequently, and imho, it is a lot easier to get people using the tool you want from the get-go than to change to something new half-way…since it oftentimes takes dragging kicking and screaming individuals long distances to get them to use any such tool in the first place.
  4. [4] If I spent a decent amount of time on each site I’d spend my entire life reviewing these sorts of sites…which I don’t have time for…this means, that on occasion, I don’t always, always get the best tool…b/c a tool that I write-off early ends up being the best…Still, I like to think I usually find the best and almost always find a tool that is more than sufficient for my needs.

J.B. Phillips’ The New Testament in Modern English Revised Edition: Book Review

A Little Background

My Studies

I am preparing for a new series of sermons and leading a small group through the Gospel of Luke. Right now I’m refreshing my big picture understanding – so I’ve just finished reading through the entirety of Luke in J.B. Phillips’ translation.

JB Phillips' The New Testament in Modern English book cover for the Revised Edition.
JB Phillips’ The New Testament in Modern English book cover for the Revised Edition.

It occurred to me that this translation is quite good but not well-known and so I wanted to share it with you. 🙂

In my personal studies of Scripture I have found I can sometimes go into “automatic” mode when reading Scripture – a mode that feels like it already knows what the text is saying or even worse that just wanders off elsewhere while my eyes still parse the text.

To overcome this dilemma I frequently use different translations of Scripture. I tend to do devotional reading in a single version over a period of time – till it has become familiar and then move to another translation – and so on. After a while away from a translation I find the words are again crisp and fresh.

When I’m preparing a sermon I like to read from as many different translations as possible. While there are various levels of literal fidelity to the original languages in translations, every translation is to some extent an interpretation or commentary upon the Scriptures. Reading different versions highlights the different ways different individuals have thought about these particular passages in a concise way which can then be further explored via commentaries and other resources.

J.B. Phillips

J.B. Phillips was an Anglican clergyman who began translating some of the Scriptures into “modern” language during World War II. His ministry was in a heavily bombed area and the translation occurred under this recurring threat.

His translation was well-liked, among his admirers being C.S. Lewis. He also saw his translation being used “authoritatively” and felt that it was not good enough so he went about retranslating it.

Phillips completed the entire New Testament as well as some books of the Old Testament. His NT is best known.

Throughout his life he struggled with depression and reflects a theological perspective more reminiscent of William Barclay’s “liberal evangelical” than fundamentalist or evangelical generally.

You can read more about his life on Wikipedia.

Michael D. Marlowe has written a fairly extensive review of the translation along with some analysis of Phillips’ more heterodox views for those looking to evaluate a little more deeply the merits of the man and the translation. Another interesting article on the same topic is available from the Tyndale Society and authored by Hilary Day.

Why Phillips Translation?

As I noted earlier, I read from numerous translations – I’ve spent time with the KJV, NKJV, NIV, NLT, ESV, HCSB, LEB, The Message, The Living Bible – and the list could go on for quite some time.

I do not necessarily see one translation as superior to the other but each providing insights that another may not have been able to highlight. I use the ESV, LEB, NASB when working with the details, but utilize the NLT and NIV[1] when working more big picture.

So, I am not suggesting this should be your bible – but that it is a good bible. If you come across passages that sound different from what your more literal bible says – compare them, do some research – one often learns fascinating things because of the differences in translation.

I find Phillips’ translation to be fairly literal overall but at times it strays significantly into thought-for-thought territory. The language is contemporary and has that British flare to it which brings a different taste than our American translations.

Phillips’ is good at making the text flow and showing the connections between texts. If your translation feels a little stale – give it a try – or any one of the numerous other excellent translations/paraphrases out there…just know what you are getting (e.g. The Message is a very free-from paraphrase, I still think it has a place, but it is for that place and not every place).

For Free

You can read the Phillip’s New Testament online for free, though I am unsure that this edition is the same as the translation I read (1972), it may be the earlier and looser translation he made. It is available from both the Christian Classics Ethereal Library and Bible Gateway. You can also purchase a newer edition (the one I read) from Amazon.

  1. [1] The NIV and the HCSB are both mid-way translations, somewhere between the fairly strictly literal approach of the ESV/NASB and the dynamic/thought-for-thought translations like the NLT/Living Bible.

SaveUp: Get Money for Saving Money?

SaveUp is an interesting site. You associate a few of your bank accounts (credit, debit, school loans) to SaveUp and they then give you “credits” based on the amount you pay down. These “credits” can then be utilized to enter raffles or play various lottery-esque games. It takes maybe ten minutes to setup the first time and then perhaps two minutes a day to enter the various contests. I haven’t won anything yet – but I am competing for one of the biggest prizes ($50k).

Five Dollar Bill.
Five Dollar Bill.

This site could be useful for anyone, but I’d considered it especially useful for anyone who has a lottery card buying habit – here you can essentially do a lottery without spending any money…save a few bucks – still have the opportunity to win a few more.

What You Didn’t Know About Your Local Library.

Growing up I went to a tiny local library. Its hours were sporadic and it sprawled over the first floor of an 1800’s residential home that had been retrofitted for that use. It was a very, very small library – but I loved it.

© Icyimage | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
© Icyimage | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

We’d make forays into Greenville to visit what became their much bigger library after they added a beautiful new addition and which also offered computers – which we could use to play games, etc. (I’m not sure the internet was an option for the first few years). Once in a while we’d even travel all the way down to Bethlehem to the monster library (which actually is decent sized, but not all that large).

Libraries where a second home for me. My mom would drop me off at one and I would stay for hours and hours. The library was a source of almost infinite knowledge – especially in those pre-internet days…and I loved knowledge.

I don’t go to libraries nearly as much these days – mainly because most of the information is now at my fingertips (and I don’t read fiction much)…but libraries aren’t relegated to irrelevance. They still house numerous books that provide deeper insights into a topic, they can get their hands on almost any book you could want (but don’t want to buy), and they offer a number of programs for children and adults – usually with an educational twist.

My local library is now the Langhorne branch. They’ve really done a beautiful job refurbishing the library – giving it a more coffeehouse/relaxing aesthetic. They have 10-20 computers that are available for public use and meeting rooms for special activities. Its a nice library – and if you want to make a trip out of the house – the library is an enjoyable (and free) place to go.

Ohh, and don’t forget about wireless internet access. Most libraries now offer free wireless internet access…and as the “Resources” page on the Bucks County Libraries’ website informs me – you can get access 24/7 by being just outside the library. Haha, this was kind of surprising – it sounds like they are inviting folks to come sit in the parking lot at all hours of the night? My guess is that in practicality, you might have a police officer visiting you one or more times during the night to see what you were up to…

In any case, what I really want to talk about is the digital resources that libraries make available. I can’t tell you exactly what resources are available at your library – but I will share with you some of the resources available through my library and I’d suggest that many (most?) libraries have similar offerings available…and they can be accessed directly from the comfort of your home (usually).

Magazines

Via Zinio my library offers access to a vast array of magazines in digital format. Here is a list of a few representative titles (but there are many, many more): AppleMagazine, Astronomy, Backpacker, Country Home, Bicycling, Billboard Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, Car and Driver, Consumer Reports, Cosmopolitan, Discover, Elle, Esquire, Field & Stream, Forbes, Fortean Times, Harvard’s Business Review, Ladies Home Journal, Men’s Health, National Geographic, Newsweek, O, PC Gamer, PC Magazine, PCWorld, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Redbook, Rolling Stone, The Economist, Us Weekly…oh boy, excuse me while I go lose myself permanently in the vast amount of quality reading material available!

Auto Repair

The libraries offer a number of resources called the “POWER Library” – this is probably available at most Pennsylvania libraries. One of these resources is an “Auto Repair Reference Center.” This is a treasure trove of information. Look up your specific vehicle’s model and see detailed instructions with images of how to perform various repairs and maintenance on your vehicle – or watch videos that explain how different components of vehicles work! Need to get an idea of what a repair is going to cost you? This can help on that front as well.

eBooks and Audio Books

The selection is much more limited than is available in the physical library – but that doesn’t keep there from being some excellent options available – you can’t argue with the convenience of never having to leave your home, wait in a line, or worry about late fees.

You’ll find books by Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), John Grisham (the all-star of legal thrillers), Lee Child, George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Mitch Albom (The Five People You Meet in Heaven), J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame), and Ted Dekker (Christian thriller author) amongst the many fiction titles available.

And what about for us non-fiction buffs? How about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain, Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson, Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live (I recommend), Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body,  and so on.

Tutoring

Need help with a school subject? There is plenty of free tutoring available – including through Brainfuse – for K through College covering Science, English, Math, Social Studies, and Writing. Instead of guessing at your homework – or your child’s homework – here is a chance to improve your understanding and grades.

So Much More…

And there are all sorts of other resources as well as you can see here. Legal, research, film, continuing education. So go check out your local library’s website and see what vast resources have been sitting untapped at your fingertips!