Hang Christmas Lights In Outdoor Trees

Our neighborhood has professionals come in and install lights in the trees on the way in and out of the subdivision and they look fantastic. My wife wanted the same thing at our house but I didn’t know how to hang Christmas lights that high in the trees.  I also didn’t want to pay the steep price for the pros.  I’ve given other advice on how to make the whole job easier at Make Putting Christmas Lights Up Easy.  Since I’ve had others that live near me ask me quite a few times how I hang Christmas lights up in the trees, I thought it’s worth sharing.

Here’s what one of our big trees looks like this year:

Hang Christmas Lights in a Big Tree

Hang Christmas Lights in Your Trees

Here’s how I did it. We got a ton of lights from Target in and after Christmas sale. These trees use up the lights really quickly. For the tree in that picture, I used 4 strands of 200 to make 800 lights. Only 200 are down on the base.

I made a basic tool from a $15 pole extension at Lowe’s, the top of a wire closet hanger, and some duck tape.  This thing doesn’t require any instructions.  I have an 8 foot step ladder, am 6 foot tall, and with this extension tool I can get the lights up about 30 feet into the tree.


The Story Behind the Tool

I grew up with my dad climbing the step ladder and using the neighbor’s limb cutting extension to get the lights up.  Repurposing the tree trimming tool was cumbersome and he even cut a strand of lights at one point.  The tool also didn’t extend far enough to get a professional look.

Since I couldn’t recall what to do from childhood, I just went up to the local hardware store and started looking around for things that might work.  The window washer’s extension pole was a good price and looked like it would work so I grabbed it.

Hang Christmas Lights in Trees

cURL Example: Post a JSON File with Basic Auth

The web was missing a clear example that showed how to POST a JSON file with Basic Auth.  I love using cURL for it’s simplicity when trying out api’s and other services that I might want to use and have spent a decent amount of time figuring this particular usage out more than once.  If nothing else, I’ll be helping myself next time.

cURL JSON + Basic Auth Samples

In this case, I have a file locally that’s contents are the JSON which I want to be the payload of the POST.  Note that I do not want to POST the file as with a multi-part form upload.

curl -X POST -d @pathtofile https://user:pass@www.samplesite.com

Depending on the service you are calling, you might also need to set the Content-Type and encoding.

curl --header "Content-Type: application/json;charset=UTF-8" -X POST -d @pathtofile https://user:pass@www.samplesite.com

Finally, for troubleshooting, I’ve found it useful to either use the verbose -v for inspecting headers or –trace-ascii /dev/stdout for seeing the content of the request

curl -X POST -d @pathtofile https://user:pass@www.samplesite.com -v
curl -X POST -d @pathtofile https://user:pass@www.samplesite.com --trace-ascii /dev/stdout

Sample Output of –trace-ascii /dev/stdout command

== Info: Trying aa.xx.dd.bb…
== Info: Connected to xyz.abcd.com (aa.xx.dd.bb) port 443 (#0)
== Info: TLS 1.2 connection using TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA256
== Info: Server certificate: xyz.abcd.com
== Info: Server auth using Basic with user ‘admin’
=> Send header, 241 bytes (0xf1)
0000: POST /demo HTTP/1.1
0031: Host: xyz.abcd.com
004f: Authorization: Basic Z3JlZW5oYXRhZG1pbjoxMjNBZG1pbiE=
0086: User-Agent: curl/7.43.0
009f: Accept: */*
00ac: Content-Type: application/json;charset=UTF-8
00da: Content-Length: 596
=> Send data, 596 bytes (0x254)
0000: { “Students”: [{ “MIS_ID”: 201073, “Forename”: “Test”, “Surname
0040: “: “Tester”, “Email”: “xyz.abcd@gmail.com”, “YearGroup”: “6
0080: “, “Gender”: “M”, “Password”: “Ab@12” }, { “MIS_ID”: 161201, “Fo
00c0: rename”: “Tester”, “Surname”: “Test”, “Email”: “xyz.abcd@gm
0100: ail.com”, “YearGroup”: “6”, “Gender”: “F”, “Password”: “Ab@12
0140: ” }], “Staff”: [{ “TeacherID”: 220380, “Title”: “Mrs”, “Forename
0180: “: “Test”, “Surname”: “Tester”, “Email”: “xyz.abcd@gmail.
01c0: com” }], “Groups”: [{ “GroupID”: 63, “GroupName”: “6A Science”, ”
0200: GroupType”: “Class”, “GroupDescription”: “6A Science”, “PrimaryS
0240: taffId”: 220380 }] }
== Info: upload completely sent off: 596 out of 596 bytes
<= Recv header, 17 bytes (0x11)
0000: HTTP/1.1 200 OK
<= Recv header, 52 bytes (0x34)
0000: Cache-Control: no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate
<= Recv header, 47 bytes (0x2f)
0000: Content-Type: application/json; charset=utf-8
<= Recv header, 37 bytes (0x25)
0000: Date: Wed, 09 Dec 2015 16:02:52 GMT
<= Recv header, 40 bytes (0x28)
0000: Expires: Thu, 19 Jun 1980 19:19:19 GMT
<= Recv header, 18 bytes (0x12)
0000: Pragma: no-cache
<= Recv header, 15 bytes (0xf)
0000: Server: nginx
<= Recv header, 45 bytes (0x2d)
0000: Strict-Transport-Security: max-age=31536000
<= Recv header, 23 bytes (0x17)
0000: Vary: Accept-Encoding
<= Recv header, 20 bytes (0x14)
0000: Content-Length: 25
<= Recv header, 24 bytes (0x18)
0000: Connection: keep-alive
<= Recv header, 2 bytes (0x2)
<= Recv data, 25 bytes (0x19)
0000: {“i”:”4T7hz8tz8KU7ms2rz”}
== Info: Connection #0 to host xyz.abcd.com left intact

Access ENOM DNS panel for Google Apps domain

I was unable to access the ENOM DNS console for a domain I bought through google years ago when they were still giving away google apps for free.

I was beating myself up for not being able to figure this out and the advanced DNS settings that used to be in Google Apps admin console have since been removed.

A quick call to enom ( after a not so quick wait time) got me exactly what I wish I had been able to find on the interwebs.  If you forgot your password or just cannot access enom DNS control panel from Google Apps dashboard, this should help.

How to Access ENOM DNS Console

If you’re trying to get in to change your nameservers, it’s easy.

  1. Visit https://access.enom.com
  2. Put your domain name and any password in along with the captcha.Get the password from your email.
  3. Change those nameservers or A records.  If you use google apps with the domain, only change the A records or the email and other functions of google apps will break.  Hopefully your hosting provider makes it easy to find the correct ip address to point the A record towards.

access enom DNS panel for google apps domain


Brine in a Milk Jug – Kitchen Hack

Many are still debating whether or not to brine.  I’m convinced that it helps keep chicken or poultry juicier no matter how it’s being prepared.  It’s especially evident when the meat is going on the grill.

This is the easiest way I’ve found to make brining a part of my dinner prep because it doesn’t make any extra dishes, it’s simple to do and you still just recycle the jug when you’re done.

All you need is a milk jug, a funnel, and some kitchen scissors.


chicken in brine in jug

Brine the meat in the jug

Thaw and flatten meat.  I like to try and get the meat to be of similar thickness so that cooking times are similar.

Put the water, salt, and whatever else you like in your brine into the jug, put the cap on and shake it up.  The basic brine in the picture is 1/4 cup of salt, 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4th of the gallon jug with water.  The ingredients that people use vary considerably, but I’ve found this is effective for my primary goal of getting a juicier piece of meat on my dinner plate.

Cut off a piece of the jug and put the chicken in.

20151208_131953Shake up the brinechicken in the brine


Use the jug to drain with ease

drain the brineAfter the time is up, drain the fluid out the remaining side and dry off the meat with a couple of paper towels.


Voila!  Cook the meat with your favorite method and you’ll get all the greatness of the brine without much work.

iHome iBT74 Bluetooth Speaker: Why I bought

I bought an iHome iBT74 Bluetooth Speaker 2 months ago after doing quite a bit of comparison shopping online and then in the store. I ended up choosing this and so far I couldn’t be happier.

  • Price: The iHome bluetooth speaker is reasonably priced against the competition and with a little digging can normally be found for under $50. For the features it comes with, the price is very competitive.  It has a long battery life, you can answer phone calls, and the bluetooth connectivity with my phone has been more reliable than my previous speakers.
  • Sound: For a smallish speaker, the sound is quite good. You won’t ever be able to get a ton of base from little speaker like this, but for the size and mobility, I’ll take the sound quality.
  • Old School Cable: While I love the wireless bluetooth connections, sometimes I just need the reliability that of the old cable. I bought a few bluetooth speakers previously that only offered bluetooth connectivity and wished many times that I could plug in.

Biggest downside: For awhile I thought that there wasn’t any way to turn off the lighting. Even though the lights are pretty cool, there are times that I don’t want my speaker blasting out a bunch of light. There’s a button to cycle through different light schemes and one of the schemes is to have all the lights off.

In summary, if you’re looking for a pretty inexpensive but high quality bluetooth speaker that’s great on portability and reliable for connectivity.  Buy the iHome and carry the cable just in case the weather acts up.

Putting Up Christmas Lights: 3 Tips to Save Time

It’s been over 4 years now since I’ve moved into my current home and really started to try and do a great job on the Christmas lights out in our yard. We went from a condo where it didn’t take long at all to having a bunch of huge trees and roofline that I’ve only got a ladder tall enough to get up to the top of the garage roofline. In other words, putting up Christmas lights and taking them back down took forever the first year we were here. Now I can get them up and down well enough to think I should share some advice.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I am constantly thinking of strategies to make everything easier. These tips make it easier to get your lights up and down without the headaches and frustration.

So here are the tips.

1. Start from the power

As you put the lights up, or even prior to, plan out how the power is going to make it to all of the various parts of the yard that you’re going to have lights in.  The easiest way to make this job take forever is if you have to redo things or run to the store for more extension cords.  As much as I love Christmas vacation, I do everything I can to avoid a moment like Clark’s problem with the power!


    • Save a few strands of old broken lights to make running the power easier short distances between things like bushes or trees.
    • Put the lights up with the power on so there are no surprise outages.
    • Get the timers that turn on automatically at dusk.
    • Measure beforehand to make sure the extension cords and sets of lights you have will get the job done.

2. Get the right tools

Here’s all the things I use to make getting the lights up easier.

  • Get an extension pole with a hook on the end. I make my own out of an old coat hanger and a 16ft extension pole from the hardware store. I also made one for my dad and he reminds me every year that it’s one of the best gifts he’s ever been given. I have more info about this pole over in my post on hanging Christmas lights in trees.
  • Use shingle/gutter plastic hooks to hang on roofline or gutters. When I was a kid, we used to use nails and a staple gun to get the lights on the roofline. Not anymore, using the right hooks on the roofline makes the lights go up and come down a whole lot easier. Ditto for getting them on the gutters. Here’s the ones I use:

  • Have plenty of replacement bulbs on hand. While I am putting up Christmas lights or taking them down, I replace broken bulbs. Being diligent about this has kept me from having a strand out the last three years. Last year, I even had my kids take all the good bulbs remaining off a strand of lights that had been heavily damaged by the wind.
  • Get the Swiss-Army knife for Christmas Lights Tool. This tool is a lifesaver. Whenever a strand of lights looks like it’s going bad, I can use this tool and replace a few bulbs to bring it back to life. I’ve even been able to bring an old nativity set back to life where most of the pieces in the set didn’t have a single working light on the first time I plugged them in.

3. Keep the lights tidy

Finally, keeping things organized and untangled is key to making this job easy. To streamline this piece of the job, I find the following to be very useful:

  • Get the right storage bin(s). Think it through for your house. Having the right storage can save a ton of time. I bought one really large storage bin on wheels for all the strands of lights. I keep it in the garage under my workbench and wheel it out when it’s time for them to go up or down.  I also throw a couple pieces of cardboard in just to make sure too much moisture doesn’t get in the lights.

  • Use zip ties to keep the lights from getting tangled. I read all kinds of tricks for how to keep the lights from getting tangled. I even used plastic grocery bags one year. Those weren’t bad; but for my money and time, zip ties are worth the few cents for how much easier they are to secure to the lights and snip off when it’s time to put them back up.  I’ve got more on using zip ties to avoid tangles.

Summary: Putting Up Christmas Lights Gets Easier

There you go. If you follow these tips, getting lights up and down each year will just keep getting easier.
Please do me a favor and if you have any tips for me that make putting up Christmas lights or taking them down even easier, be sure to comment below.

8 Ways to Make your First Semester of College Successful

With the fall semester quickly approaching, it’s time for you to start thinking about what can be done to make your first semester of college successful. While the transition from high school to college may seem intimidating to some, there are several things you can do to ease this process (and hopefully ace your classes too).

1. Use a planner.

In high school it may have been possible for you to keep track of all your obligations in your head (and in some cases, with the help of your parents), but that time in your life has unfortunately come to an end. Between academic and social commitments, your bound to forget one thing or another if you solely rely on your mind to keep it all straight. My advice? Find a planner that works for you (whether you prefer paper or online) and use it religiously. Color code it. Highlight it. Love it. Take it with you everywhere. That planner will become your key to success. I actually use a combination of paper and online, as I have a Lilly Pulitzer planner for my social commitments (sorority, job, mentorship program, etc) and use the MyHomework application for my assignments and due dates.

2. Get resourceful on campus

Many incoming college freshmen tend to overlook the academic resources that are provided by their university. Many campuses offer some sort of help center or “Student Success Center” (http://success.missouri.edu) as it’s called at the University of Missouri. These wonderful places are usually filled with knowledgable and experienced tutors who are actually paid to help you be successful. Make them earn it and take advantage of this opportunity.

3. Get resourceful off campus

While your campus most likely offers on site tutors, there’s also a plethora of academic aid awaiting you on the web. A personal favorite of mine is Khan Academy (khanacademy.org) which provides students with free video tutorials on various subjects across the academic spectrum. I personally don’t know how I would’ve survived micro and macro economics without it. Other good online resources to check out? UDemy and Coursera are two other great options for online academic help. They both offer a pretty decent selection of free courses that could give you further instruction and help you be more successful in your classes.

4. Listen to your professor

If your professor advises you to read your textbook, you should probably read it. It will usually enhance what you’ve learned in class and strengthen your odds of acing the exams (assuming that’s your goal). Better yet, he or she might even tell you that the text book isn’t necessary for the class. Because of this, it also might be beneficial to wait to receive your class syllabi before purchasing your textbooks. Another note on textbooks: never buy them from the university book store. They are always overpriced. Chegg.com and Amazon.com are two reliable sites that I’ve used to find much more affordable text books – both excellent alternatives to the book store.

5. Do your research ahead of time

It’s incredible what you can uncover about your courses on the internet. Through websites like Ratemyprofessor.com and university sponsored websites, students can get a taste of what exactly they’re getting themselves into before class even begins. This can be helpful because it allows you to figure out which classes will require the most time and effort. Researching professors and course loads online is also exceptionally helpful when trying to design your class schedule each semester.

6. Get to know your professors

Getting to know your professors is not only important because it can help your grade if you’re on the fence between a B and an A, but it also can help you with networking later on down the road. In a couple years, you will panic much less when you find out you need a letter of recommendation for an internship if you’ve already taken the time to build relationships with your past professors. Start now. Find out what their office hours are each week and be a regular. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

7. Make friends

This sounds like silly advice for collegiate academic success, but struggling through class assignments can be much more bearable with the company of other classmates. You might be thinking “well obviously I’ll make friends in class” but many students tend to go to class (especially in the large lecture halls) without speaking to anyone at all. Get there a little bit early and strike up a conversation with those around you. Study groups are great. Not to mention, it’s way more fun than studying alone.

8. Study on the go

Between sorority events and business school obligations, I found myself having very little time to just be able to sit down and study. My favorite trick? Save your documents or study guides to your myHomework app and pull them up at any time to study discreetly. I did this countless times throughout freshman year and it may just have saved my biology grade. For more serious studying, you could create new materials with StudyBlue or Quizlet.


Guest Author:

Katelyn Entzeroth – University of Missouri- @katentz

Salesforce Error: “Mismatched integration value and ISO code for field: Country Code,”

I was trying to import a .csv of Lead data into salesforce today.  Salesforce’s import tool is terrible and you have to use something from the AppExchange to get error messages.  You’ve probably already discovered that if you’re reading this post.

Anyways, I found that the issue with trying to import any data with a country outside of the United States was because the Country and State Picklists had the United States set to the default country.  I changed that default to “none” and the exact same import file ran flawlessly.

I hope this saves someone else some time someday.

One Man Conference Marketing Journey

I showed up at ISTE13, one of the biggest edtech conferences of the year, Sunday night with a great plan on how to make the most of my conference.

I had a couple of meetings setup, a few other individuals I was going to seek out, and I was also going to be distributing some content intended to get teachers to take a closer look at our products.  This post is about the process I went through in making my handouts work well.

I was armed with a few hundred Teachers.io pens and a thousand myHomework stickers to try and make an impact on upwards of 15,000 people.  Not a small task by any measure given I was going to be spending most of my time trying to network.

Attempt 1: I started out with the easiest thing possible and just started throwing small amounts of stickers and pens out on high traffic areas.  I would then wait for a few minutes and watch the behavior of the people picking up the items.  The pens were the first to go.  Too often, one person would take every pen on the table without even looking at the brand.  Even if I spread the pens out across the table with lots of spacing, they had that swipe down.  The one positive is that I quickly identified which tables were places people were stopping to look at material vs. just stashing straight in the conference bag.

Attempt 2:  Start conversations and get permission.  These conversations were invaluable but would take as long as 15 or 20 minutes and would end with me asking if they wanted my handout.  Every time they said they did.  However, while both I and the teacher/parent would learn a lot about each other, it wasn’t a very scalable approach to getting our name out.

Attempt 3: I tried walking up to people and giving them a 20 second overview of what we did and then seeing if they wanted the pen or stickers.  A few were receptive, many were not happy that I’d interrupted their silent walk.

Attempt 4:  Try to attract walkers from a high traffic area to come to me by being a little bit like a ballgame vendor.  A few would come over, but without a bigger act ( all I had was a bag on my shoulder with some pens and stickers), most were too busy to notice or were wishing that idiot would stop shouting.

Attempt 5:  Redesign the handout and place it in the high traffic areas mentioned in Attempt 1.  I attached a pen to a few stickers.   I put some down and watched.  Sometimes, the interaction was much more thoughtful and other times it was not.  Some took as long as a minute to decide whether or not to take it.  But why?

I thought about it and realized that when the pen was hiding the word “homework” was when they were having fun discovering the meaning of the handout.  So when a person could clearly see “I NEVER FORGET my” and had to move the pen to see the word homework, was when the interaction was most thoughtful.  I put some down carefully making sure the word homework was covered to test my hypothesis and watched.   Nearly every encounter took at least ten seconds.  And perhaps, even best, was that the pen hoarders were thwarted and would just take one pen leaving the stickers on the table.  I spent the last day and half loading the best tables with these handouts and 

End ranking of my attempts:

  1. Attempt 5: On pure handout, even though on the face of it the pen + stickers cost more, it was most effective for the time spent
  2. Attempt 2: Most effective was a personal conversation closed with any item to remember me
  3. Attempt 3: Walking up to people, giving them the 30 second pitch and asking them if they wanted the pen + stickers
  4. Attempt 4: Shouting the pitch to try and attract an audience and then give away stuff and answer questions
  5. Attempt 1: Just putting stickers separate from pens resulted mainly in conference hoarders just taking tons of pens or stickers

One other note:  Teachers at this conference strongly preferred a pen to a  sticker and either a pen or a sticker to any type of informational flyer.

The Art of the Sale

I was at the Kauffman foundation a few weeks back to hear Philip Delves Broughton present on sales and touch on his book, “The Art of the Sale”.  Beforehand, I had never heard of the book. After meeting Broughton and listening to his demeanor, I knew it was a book I had to read.  He wasn’t a salesman, but had been through business school and was never put through any academic sales training.

My small company, instin, is right now at a position where it needs sales more than ever so this has been a timely read.  I’m pretty much a sales rookie in terms of experience but I have grown up with a father as a salesman and read quite of bit of sales literature.

I found this book to be quite informative and a welcome change from the other sales books I’ve read.  Most other books focus on selling as a means to get rich.  From the onset, Broughton establishes his purpose for researching and writing to be to discover what really drives great salesmen.  And while he finds examples of both those who are fooling themselves in order to sell a product they don’t care deeply about (i.e. life insurance reps), there are many more examples of those who are out there selling in order to help the client.

Since sales is a necessary part of any economy and in some ways every single life, deciding how and why we sale is integral in determining whether or not we’ll be successful.  In my situation, I am selling advertising to students so that we can continue to offer great products directly for students and now teachers without sacrificing any of the user experience.

All in all I found this a great read and would recommend it to others.  The only part of the book I disliked was when Broughton tried to explain or break down a few of the success stories scientifically.