You can plant paphiopedilums in lava rock

20200225_075017You are almost certainly here because you Googled something like “Can you plant paphiopedilums / lady slippers / venus slippers in lava rock?” And the answer is:

Yes. Yes you can.

Or at least I’ve gotten away with it. Lava rock is my medium of choice since it means less repotting, and because it creates a nice heavy base that can usually keep an orchid from tipping over when it blooms profusely. So when I needed to repot my two paphiopedilums, I decided to give lava rock a try.

Unlike phalaenopsis (or “moth orchids” — what most people think of when they think of orchids), paphiopedilums are not epiphytes which means they don’t grow in trees. Rather, they are semi-terrestrial which means they grow in loose medium like leaf litter and can therefore tolerate more moisture. Lava rock dries quickly, so I was worried I would have to water them daily.

But soaking them once every three days or so seems to be sufficient. I use distilled water with a balanced fertilizer (7-8-6), and I soak them for about fifteen minutes — long enough to get the other plants watered. Shortly after making the transition, they began blooming even more robustly than they did before.


Cerberus and the swan.

How to use Project Fi on an iPhone

project_fi_iphoneThe Adobe Design team builds and prototypes software for all relevant platforms: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, and the web. A twenty-year career in the software industry has taught me that designing and building software that feels native to its intended platform requires an intimate working knowledge of that platform. That’s why I put a tremendous amount of effort into being equally fluent in every operating system and environment we support.

Switching back and forth between Mac and Windows is challenging; having both an iPhone and an Android device not just available for testing, but fully configured, functional, and ready to go, probably qualifies as arduous. But it can be done, and the secret is Project Fi.

My Android phone is a Pixel XL — in my opinion, the best all-around Android device ever built. One of the things that makes it unique is that, in addition to being carrier unlocked, it’s also compatible with Project Fi — Google’s own MVNO network. Not only is Project Fi very competitively priced (with coverage that has never let me down), but it also allows you to order a second data SIM for LTE devices like tablets, smartwatches, or, in my case, another phone. (The SIM is free, and uses data from your existing plan without any additional costs.)

Using a Project Fi data SIM card in an iPhone doesn’t make it a fully functional phone, but it gets it very close. You won’t have voice capabilities, but if you install Hangouts, and if you enable incoming phone calls, you can make and receive calls to and from your Project Fi number though Hangouts over LTE. You can even use Apple’s Messages app at the same time to stay in touch with all your Apple-loyal friends and family (though you won’t be able to use it to send and receive SMS messages; that all happens through Hangouts).


Short of moving your SIM card back and forth between phones, I’m pretty sure this is the best way to have two functional phones that use the same phone number. Additionally, it has the benefit of allowing you to send and receive texts from the desktop — on Mac, Windows, and Linux — though Hangouts in the browser.

If your job requires you to remain platform agnostic — or if you’re just naturally multi-platform-curious like I am — Project Fi is the only way to go.

(For the most comprehensive guide to sending and receiving texts from your desktop, see my post “Everything there is to know about texting from the desktop.”)

Welcome back to Windows, developers


I like Macs and iPhones as much as the next guy. With the exception of pregnant iPhone battery packs, the charging mechanisms for the Apple Pencil and second gen Magic Mouse, and, of course, all of iTunes, almost everything Apple produces is phenomenally well designed. In my opinion, no other company in the history of computing has made a better case for Alan Kay’s famous quote:

People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.

But I have an equal amount of appreciation for the diversity one is more likely to encounter with Android and Windows platforms. I really like iPhones, Macs, and Apple Watches, but I also like mixing things up. I like my Asus monitor, Filco mechanical keyboard, Razer gaming mouse, GeForce video card, Intel RealSense webcam, and my Garmin Fenix watch. After room-scale VR commandeered four USB ports on the back of my PC, I ordered a five-port USB 3.0 expansion card for $15 which took me ten minutes to install. When I subsequently ran out of disk space downloading VR games, I ordered a new Samsung SSD from Amazon, had it delivered that day, cracked open my PC again, and doubled my storage capacity (and RAM, while I was at it). I grew up cobbling together and upgrading PCs, and it has only gotten more fun and more interesting as hardware has gotten more powerful and diverse.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to use Windows regularly for several years now. As a web developer, and then an Engineering and Product Manager, it was far easier for my team to standardize on Macs. Most of the command line tools, libraries, and utilities that web developers depend on are optimized for Mac and Linux, and while Windows has its version of the command prompt (and PowerShell), I have years of knowledge and experience invested in the Linux command line experience. (Cygwin was never a great alternative because most of the packages I needed were out of date.)

But with Windows Subsystem for Linux and Ubuntu on Windows, all that has changed. The combination of the two allows you to very easily run a full version of Ubuntu right alongside Windows, and even access the Windows file system.

I recently put Ubuntu on Windows to the ultimate test by trying to build and run a very complex web application my team has working on for the last couple of years. In the process, I installed Git, Node, npm, nvm, and, frankly, an embarrassing number of module dependencies (see How it feels to learn JavaScript in 2016). I also did other common Linux tasks like modifying the hosts file, creating symlinks, writing bash scrips, etc. The first time I tired was about two months ago with the Windows Anniversary Update, and I only got about halfway through before I ran into errors. But this week, I tried with the Windows Creators Update, and everything worked flawlessly.

Finally, for the first time in my nineteen-year software career, I can use the same computer for web development that I use for Microsoft Office and gaming (and more recently, VR). I can update it when I need to, fix it when I screw something up, and every few years, build an entirely new computer from scratch with exactly the components and capabilities I want.

That doesn’t mean I’m done with Apple. I still have a MacBook Pro and an iPhone sitting right here beside me, and I enjoy using them as much as I do my Windows machine and my Pixel XL. But now I can choose which platform I want to use for any given task, and when it comes to technology, choice is every bit as important to me as design.

Growing Dracula Orchids


My own little high-altitude, South American cloud forest.

I’ve been casually growing orchids for a few years now, but things got more serious in October when I decided to take on Dracula orchids (often called “monkey-face orchids” because many of the blooms resemble little faces). Draculas are not “windowsill” orchids because they have very specific environmental requirements. Most grow in high-altitude, South American cloud forests which means they need:


My first Dracula orchid bloom.

  • Extremely high relative humidity (at least 90%).
  • Warm temperatures during the day (in the 70s or 80s), and cold temperatures at night (in the 50s).
  • “Full shade” which means a fair amount of light (1,000 – 1,5000 foot-candles), but not direct sunlight.

If those weren’t challenging enough conditions, half my collection blooms from below rather than above which means they need to be potted in baskets and suspended rather than arranged on a shelf. In other words, these are some of the most difficult orchids to grow in completely artificial, indoor conditions. (I actually have a couple of orchids that are proving even more difficult, but I’ll save those for another post).

Once I feel I have the process of growing Dracula orchids in a terrarium perfected, I’ll write a detailed article accompanied by a video. But for now, I want to report that I am having some very solid success. Not only am I seeing new growth with all my Dracula orchids, but my Dracula olmosii just bloomed. I’m particularly proud of the olmosii because it was nearly dead when I got it, having spent several months in a greenhouse that was far too hot.

I think it’s really interesting that the orchid that was in the worst condition when I got it was also the first to bloom.


Peek inside the bloom of a Dracula olmosii orchid and you’ll find a little face peeking back out at you.

The Epoch Index


Quinn Mitchell is a nine-to-five spy. She’s a data analyst for the CIA during the day, and a suburban wife and mother on evenings and weekends. After a series of personal struggles and professional failures, Quinn hopes to find redemption in her newest assignment: a series of bizarre assassinations where victims are found with three-digit numbers tattooed, burned, or carved into their flesh. As Quinn pursues the killer across the globe — always one body behind — their lives become entangled in ways neither of them can predict.

This novella by Christian Cantrell takes place in a world bordering on unprecedented change: as oil-based economies shift to hydrogen, the majority of wealth is redistributed across the globe; as aging nuclear arsenals are replaced with even more menacing threats, terrorists try to seize opportunities to tip the balance of power; and as humans become increasingly dependent on machines, massive indexes of information accumulate which can reveal almost anything about anyone to those who know how to use them.

The Epoch Index is a story about a world changing faster than humanity can adapt to it — a world which may require us to redefine what it means to be a hero.


Anansi Island

anansi_island_150x225A quiet and remote wildlife refuge, Anansi Island was the perfect place for Laurel to escape her past. But throughout the island’s history, its isolation also made it the perfect place to hide things the world was never meant to see.

As Laurel finds herself entangled in the island’s newest and most bizarre chapter, she must not only solve its mysteries, but also survive long enough to pass them on.

This short story by Christian Cantrell mixes science fiction and horror with endearing and enigmatic characters who can only solve the mysteries of Anansi Island by facing their worst fears.


Reading Digital Books

Most of my fiction is available in various electronic formats (since I mostly write science fiction, digital distribution seemed appropriate). That means you have several different reading options. Below are all the ways you can get your hands on my work. (If you’re here to learn more about publishing digital books, see my post, Everything You Need to Know About How to Digitally Self Publish.)

Kindle (or Kindle-supported device)

If you have a Kindle, or a device that supports Amazon’s Kindle application, you can get my work through Amazon. Kindle applications are now available for just about any device.

Barnes & Noble NOOK

If you have a NOOK, or a device that supports the Barnes & Noble NOOK application, you can get my work through Barnes & Noble. NOOK applications are now available for just about any device.

iBooks (iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch)

If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, you can get most of my work through the iBooks Store. Just search for “Christian Cantrell” or the particular book or story you’re interested in.


EPUB is short for “electronic publication” and is also a great way to read digital books. All my work is available in EPUB format for free, so all you need is an EPUB reader. Readers are available for desktop computers (all platforms), and for mobile devices. Here are some options:

(Note: If you download an EPUB file and your browser adds a “.zip” extension to the file name, just change it back to “.epub”.)


I also publish my work in simple HTML format which can be read on any device with a decent browser (basically any computer, smart phone, and increasingly many other devices, as well).

Digital publication is still very new and something of an experiment, but so far, it’s working out quite well. It allows me to keep prices way down, release content much faster, and it gives me much more control over the creative process. But the most important advantage is that it allows me to reach more people which, for me, is what writing is all about.

If you choose to read one of the free versions of my work, I would really appreciate a quick tweet, blog post, Facebook mention, Amazon review, etc. in return. Thanks!


containment_350x525As Earth’s ability to support human life begins to diminish at an alarming rate, the Global Space Agency is formed with a single mandate: protect humanity from extinction by colonizing the solar system as quickly as possible. Venus, being almost the same mass as Earth, is chosen over Mars as humanity’s first permanent steppingstone into the universe.

Arik Ockley is part of the first generation to be born and raised off-Earth. After a puzzling accident, Arik wakes up to find that his wife is almost three months pregnant. Since the colony’s environmental systems cannot safely support any increases in population, Arik immediately resumes his work on AP, or artificial photosynthesis, in order to save the life of his unborn child.

Arik’s new and frantic research uncovers startling truths about the planet, and about the distorted reality the founders of the colony have constructed for Arik’s entire generation. Everything Arik has ever known is called into question, and he must figure out the right path for himself, his wife, and his unborn daughter.


Paperback, digital, and audio versions are all available on Amazon.

Human Legacy Project

hlp_350x525The goal of the Human Legacy Project is to give everyone who wants it the chance to live forever. Immortality is not achieved physically, the project teaches, but through our influence on future generations.

But as the political and economic environment changes throughout the world, the HLP takes many different forms, from a well-funded and charitable non-profit to a splintered terrorist organization driven underground by increasingly totalitarian governments. It isn’t until the HLP’s final phase is reached that the original vision of the founder is revealed, proving to be far bigger and more profound than anyone had imagined.

This short story by Christian Cantrell is a critical and sobering analysis of many different aspects of human nature, from close personal relationships to mankind’s ultimate contribution to the universe. It is best described as a compact but epic tragedy.


  • Amazon (Kindle version)


brainbox_150x225When the Earth begins cooling unexpectedly, humanity is left with only a few degrees of habitable latitude along the planet’s equator. After establishing themselves as the three remaining powers in the world, the Americans, Chinese, and Russians eventually turn on each other in hopes of securing the last of the Earth’s resources for themselves.

In an attempt to break the decades-long stalemate, the American military turns to Miguel dos Santos — a brilliant Brazilian roboticist — for help in creating the ASRA, or Autonomous Self Replicating Asset. The secret to the ASRAs is their neurological processors, also known as the brainbox, which enables the machines to “combine the logic and reasoning of a computer with the desperation and hate of the human soul.” But as Miguel reluctantly carries out his orders, it becomes clear that he has other plans for what remains of humanity.

This short story by Christian Cantrell is both a technological and psychological thriller which unfolds across a landscape as exotic and unpredictable as it is dystopian and barren.