Categories
Blogging Personal Ramblings

Digging your own rabbit hole

In the Kottke newsletter this week Tim Carmody highlights Dan Nosowitz’s article in NYMag “I Don’t Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore”:

The other day, I found myself looking at a blinking cursor in a blank address bar in a new tab of my web browser. I was bored. I didn’t really feel like doing work, but I felt some distant compulsion to sit at my computer in a kind of work-simulacrum, so that at least at the end of the day I would feel gross and tired in the manner of someone who had worked. What I really wanted to do was waste some time.

But … I didn’t know how. I did not know what to type into the address bar of my browser. I stared at the cursor. Eventually, I typed “nytimes.com” and hit enter. Like a freaking dad. The entire world of the internet, one that used to boast so many ways to waste time, and here I was, reading the news. It was even worse than working.

As the kids (youngsters in their thirties) say these days (probably not any more): “It me”.

Very recently I downloaded Brent Simmons’s Evergreen RSS reader, which came pre-populated with an interesting selection of blog feeds he follows, and that I probably would never have come across myself. That was nice. Likewise, I’ve been dipping my toes in the water of Manton Reece’s micro.blog, and reading new things I find there. Sometimes it’s thoughts about how people respond to expectations, sometimes it’s a picture of someone’s back yard. It’s good stuff.

Tim Carmody calls it “digging your own rabbit hole”:

So what does this mean? Paradoxically, wasting time is now more work. You can certainly do it — the web is as full of nonsense as it ever was — but you have to look a little bit harder. You have to learn some new things. You have to find your own corners charting unmonetizable enthusiasms. It’s not just going to happen to you. You have to dig your own rabbit holes.

Curiously, this brings back a feeling of peeking into private spaces, even though these sites are openly available on the internet. But they’re not part of the mainstream: Twitter, Medium, Tumblr. If you want to be read these days, and you don’t already have an audience, you publish on one of the social outlets. Writing on your own site (the “indie web”) has different connotations: a certain resistance to the mainstream. I dig it.

One of Tim’s links there was to Austin Kleon’s article “What do you want to learn?”. This reminded me of a piece I wrote myself on Everything2 in 2001, “What can you do this month that you couldn’t do last month?”. Here’s the whole thing:

Earlier today, my wife and I were talking about the baby we have due in six weeks’ time. (We talk about this a lot.) We were considering how quickly babies grow, and how quickly they learn. A whole new individual takes form, its body, its personality, it’s whole being evolving on a daily basis. From one week to another it picks up new skills: holding a cup, grasping a spoon, crawling, walking, talking.

We never learn so much, so quickly, as when we are children.

Is the converse true? If we keep learning, and keep acquiring new skills, do we stay young?

For a child, a completely new thing is utterly fascinating. As we grow older, there are fewer new things to discover, and come to think that every day is like any other. We’ve seen and done it all before. And because we don’t experience it as often, we forget just how much fun the thrill of discovery is! Find that thrill, and you’ll find your inner child.

One of my goals in life is to have as much fun as possible. And learning new things is one of life’s greatest pleasures. So I owe it to myself to consider the following question on a regular basis:

What can I do this month that I couldn’t do last month?

If I can’t answer this with something new, interesting and fascinating, then I must be doing something wrong. This month, for instance, I have learned how to play hi-hat ostinatos on my drum kit. Very soon, I’ll be learning how to change nappies.

  • Learn a new language. Visit a foreign country, and learn all about it while you’re there!
  • Learn to play a musical instrument. Then, learn how to play along with your favourite songs!
  • Learn to juggle. Then, learn to do tricks with juggling balls!
  • Learn to cook. Discover how to prepare food like they do in posh restaurants!
  • Learn to make furniture. Build yourself a bookcase!
  • Learn to sew. Buy a pattern, and make a pair of trousers!
  • Learn to draw. Make sketches of your parents, or of your friends. Sketches evoke completely different memories than photographs do.

Just learn!

First of all, I’m always somewhat surprised when I discover that Everything2 still exists. That’s cool. Secondly, I had forgotten that I wrote that piece over on E2, rather than here on my own blog. (Which is why I included it above, just in case E2 goes away and I can’t find it again.)

Third, a sad realization that I can’t even name anything I can do now that I couldn’t do twelve months ago. (I’m not going to count CSS-grid.) So much of the last couple of years has been a determined slog through depression and recovery, both my own and that of others. Fun is something that happens to other people, or at the very least is eked out in small measures under the guise of minimal self care: taking walks, going to concerts, and binge-watching Netflix.

This isn’t a plea for help or sympathy, just a nudge to myself that I used do better, and, if I give myself the time and opportunity, I will do better again.

Categories
Photos Ramblings User Experience

Photo library work

It’s Alex and Fiona’s herfstvakantie now, and I am off work as well. I’ve spent some of the time consolidating photos from the various places they’ve ended up into a single archive location. This is not a trivial task.

We’ve been taking digital photos since 2000, and we have owned a fair few digital cameras and phones with cameras in that time. After consolidation I’m looking at a folder structure containing 46,947 items, taking up 114GB of space. This is mostly photos, with a few videos as well.

Here are the main sources I’ve been consolidating the photos from:

  • Folders on my hard disk. In the era before phone cameras, I copied photos off of memory cards and into a single date-based folder structure. But inevitably there are stragglers all over the place, in directories like /pictures, /photos, and /pictures/photos.
  • Dropbox, from the time when I was using its camera upload functionality. Over time, this evolved from “attach phone or memory card and let Dropbox do its thing” to “upload directly from my phone using the Dropbox app”.
  • Google Photos, from the time I was using a variety of Android phones (mainly a Nexus 4), and Google would upload pictures directly to its cloud storage.
  • Microsoft OneDrive, from recent usage. It uploads photos from my Lumia 930 directly to cloud storage. I started using this because the Dropbox app on Windows Phone (which should do exactly the same thing) was crashy and unreliable.
  • iPhoto. For a while between about 2010 and 2014, I imported photos into iPhoto for easier viewing and manipulation of things like orientation and date.
  • Apple Photos. In 2015, Apple’s new Photos app took over from iPhoto, and “imported” everything that was already in iPhoto. It also became the repository for my “Photo Stream”, which I still haven’t figured out completely.

This setup is problematic in terms of consistency: where do I look for a photo? First of all, it’s nice to have all of your photos in a single place. But also, without consistency, it’s hard to do good backups. Dropbox, Google Photos, and OneDrive may be cloud storage solutions where you don’t have to take care of backups yourself…but that doesn’t mean I trust them. Cloud services get shut down or die all the time. I prefer the belt and braces approach, where I maintain local backups (copies on multiple hard drives) combined with an off-site cloud backup (currently Crashplan).

Also, just browsing through folders of photos using the Finder on macOS or Explorer on Windows is…ok, but primitive. It’s certainly not fun. Dropbox’s web interface for browsing photos online is…functional. OneDrive is prettier, but unusably slow. iPhoto was pretty, but mainly local. Apple Photos is less pretty, but more functional; mostly local, but with cloud-like sharing capabilities. Google Photos is simple, good for sharing, but less functional.

Then there’s the whole issue of duplication. Something like Apple Photos is designed to import photos into its own library format. With Google Photos you upload your photos to Google, and it handles them remotely. In both cases, you end up with your source photos, and a copy of them in a library. You can do things to the copy, like add descriptions, or group them into albums; the source files are unaffected. On the one hand: the library allows you to do useful things! On the other hand, your useful things are only available in the library. If you decide you want to use a different software tool a few years down the line, what happens to all the work you spent editing the copies? Do you abandon that, or is there an export tool that allows you to take your edits with you? With the new library respect the metadata that came from the old one? And if you export your library, what do you do with the originals? Are they still relevant, or has the copy now become the new primary source?

Segals’s law says, “A person with a watch knows what time it is. A person with two watches is never sure.” Duplication is why it has taken me several days to consolidate my photos.

  • There were times in the past when I was copying photos off of my camera’s memory card, as well as letting Dropbox automatically upload the files.
  • When I was using the Nexus 4, I had Dropbox camera upload running as well as Google’s own Photos import.
  • For a while I was using Dropbox camera upload on my Lumia 930, and copying the files onto my hard disk manually, because the Dropbox app was so unreliable
  • On my iOS devices (iPhone 4 in the past, iPad mini now), photos generally go into Apple’s “Photo Stream”. From there, they usually end up on my laptop, in iPhoto or Apple Photos. (Usually, but not always.) And I usually have Dropbox doing its thing on iOS devices as well.
  • When Apple Photos was released, I tried it, and imported a copy of my iPhoto library.

Ugh. All these import services use different naming standards, sometimes remembering the camera’s original file name, sometimes attaching their own. If they used a date/time file name (e.g. 2016-10-20 11.21.59.jpg), usually these dates match, but not always. (OneDrive and Dropbox caused the most disagreements.)

But not only that: with the exception of pulling images off of a memory card or phone manually, all of these magical import/upload processes are less than 100% reliable. (They’re close, but definitely not 100%.) Sometimes they just fail to grab one or more pictures out of a batch. Sometimes the Apple Photo stream doesn’t copy pictures to the Photos app. The iPhoto to Apple Photos library import failed to copy a bunch of videos. This all adds up to many hours of work, manually checking folders against each other, deleting duplicates, and copying missing items. (Fortunately this was only for pictures from mid-2011 and onwards. I wasn’t using overlapping automated tools before then.)

As an aside, my camera usage has shifted substantially over the last five years. Although we still have our old Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200, I hardly use it at all now. On our trip to California in the summer, I didn’t even bring it with us. But reviewing thousands of photos from mixed sources in a short span of time has made it abundantly clear that the ten-year-old consumer-level A200 (which isn’t even a DSLR) still takes much better photos than the best of the smartphones we use right now.

There are features that the A200 lacks. Portability is the big one. I always have my phone with me; bringing the big camera makes any trip feel like an undertaking. It still uses old and slow CF memory cards; the auto-focus is relatively slow; the camera doesn’t have GPS for adding location to photos; it doesn’t even have an orientation sensor, which means lots of sideways photos to review. But the image quality makes me think that I shouldn’t be pining for a new phone, but looking for a new dedicated camera instead. The current crop of “superzoom” cameras looks amazing.

Having just trawled through thousands of photos, I’m keen not to repeat that experience. I want a process that will make it easier for me to gather, review, and share my photos in the future. The process has to separate four key stages: ingest, consolidate, tag, and share.

The first part, ingest is all about getting photos off of the camera or device. On a smartphone/tablet that could be Dropbox, OneDrive, or Apple’s Photo stream — I don’t really care, so long as it grabs all photos and videos at full resolution. For a standalone camera, I can manually grab the images from its memory card. (Or, if I get a new one, hook it up to wifi.)

Consolidate means taking the images from where the ingestion step put them, putting them into my central storage area, and organizing them into my preferred folder structure. The folder structure looks like YYYY/YYYYMMDD XXXXX/photo.jpg, where XXXXX is a short text summary of the event in that folder. This is a “date + event” model:

  • If an event covers more than one date, use multiple folders, e.g.
    • 20160719 Edinburgh trip
    • 20160720 Edinburgh trip
  • If a date covers more than one event, use multiple folders, e.g.
    • 20161019 Twiske molen damage
    • 20161019 Evening
  • In case of no obvious event description, use the naked date, e.g.
    • 20150406

The central storage area is an external hard drive that I mirror to a second drive nightly using SuperDuper. It also gets backed up to an external location as part of my Crashplan subscription.

The third stage is to tag the photos that have been organized. Photos coming off of modern smartphone already contain Exif information showing date and time, camera orientation, and GPS coordinates. These are main ones I care about. Sometimes the phone gets it wrong, though, for example if location services were off, or failed to capture my position correctly; or if I forgot to change the time zone after a flight. Photos from the A200 only have date and time information, no orientation or location data. In any case, it pays to do a pass over the photos to check and fix missing or inaccurate Exif data. (I can see myself writing a few scripts to help out with this.)

The final step is to share the photos: with friends and family, and also with my future self. I think I’ll use Google Photos for this, because it makes sharing with others easiest. Apple Photos has a nicer and more responsive interface for viewing photos locally (sharing with my future self), but if I want to share the whole library with Abi, and allow her to make new albums with its photos, I’d have to figure out Apple’s home sharing options and shared photo streams, and I just don’t trust Apple to have my very particular use case in mind. With Google Photos I can just set up a new Google account that both Abi and I have the password to. Google makes it easy to switch between multiple accounts these days.

It’s important that the tag and share steps are separate. I want as much metadata as possible to reside in the source image, not in the copy that the sharing service has. That makes it much easier to switch services in the future. I may trust Google more now than I did in the past (the Lindy effect comes into play here), but doing things like editing GPS coordinates only on the copy seems like a bad idea no matter what company runs the service.

(It looks like neither Google Photos nor Apple Photos use the “Image Description” Exif field for display purposes, which is a pity. Seeing as I have event description in the folder name anyway, I could update the photos with that text as well, and make the photos even more self-describing.)

Separating all of these steps might seem like a huge amount of bother. Google Photos and Apple Photos exist precisely to combine all of these steps, to make it easier and faster to get from taking the photo to sharing it. And that’s great, up to a point. But with 50,000 images, many of which are immeasurably precious to me, and a healthy mistrust of both hard disks and cloud services, I’m well beyond that point. I need more control.

Alex in 2002. One of my brushes with catastrophic data loss.
Alex in 2002. One of my brushes with catastrophic data loss.

With this new process, I have only got as far as the consolidation step. I still need to go through the consolidated images and fix the tags. But I can do that slowly, over time, and add them to the sharing service whenever I’m done with a folder. I felt that the consolidation step needed much more concentrated effort to get me over the initial hump, though. Tagging and sharing photos feels like fun, something I can do for an hour in an evening; comparing folders to find the missing images is work that I wanted to get done in as short a time as possible. Having a few days off was useful for just blasting through it.

Finally: watching myself gain weight in fast-forward over the last three years was not fun. Maybe this will be the spur I need to get back on the Flickr Diet.

Categories
Food and drink Personal Ramblings

Soda Protocols

“Daddy’s magic thinking juice.” This is how I often describe the bottles and cans in my fridge, much to the confusion of friends and family.

“I didn’t know you even had kids,” they say, cautiously. “Nor that your shame over your escalating drinking problem is such that you feel a need to use an elaborate euphemism to conceal the scale of the problem from your loved ones.”

Well, neither thing is true. Often, alcohol consumption is linked to parenthood often in one’s frolicky teen years but I only have a nodding relationship to both concepts. No, I describe my onhand inventory of soda that way because over the course of a long writing day, a glass of something fizzy and tasty helps to grease the gears of productivity. When I’m in my last 20 days before a book deadline, my blood is about 20% phosphoric acid.

The Soda Protocols by Andy Ihnatko.

We went down the route of the diet soda long time ago, too. Full-sugar beverages taste excessively cloying to me most of the time. A couple of years ago I started to worry about the amount of artificial sweeteners I was drinking, and cut out carbonated sweetened beverages completely for a while, but the habit didn’t stick. Last summer I rediscovered Spezi, and went wild with fruit flavourings: slicing up half an orange or lemon (or both!), crushing them into the bottom of a cup, and filling it up with diet cola. This has the side benefit of making cheap off-brand diet cola taste wildly excellent.

My current preferred carbonated beverage is diet cola with a splash of orange juice, ideally the kind with lots of pulp. The pulp floats to the surface, and forms an orange-brown felted mat on the surface of the drink. To the uninitiated it looks like swamp water, but it’s fruity and refreshing with all same caffeinated goodness. In terms of protocols, I have two that I’m trying to stick to for my standard daily at-home routine:

  1. No caffeinated beverages after about 18:00 (ish). I find I get to sleep more easily without caffeine in the evening.
  2. Stick to 300ml mugs and cups. If I put the drink in a larger cup or mug, I drink it just as fast, and return to the kitchen just as often. That leads to increased bladder pressure and more bouncing around in my chair.

(Exceptions apply.)

When I’m in the office in Edinburgh, I drink my cola from cans or bottles. I drink more slowly from cans and bottles, because I tend to take a single sip and then put the container aside for a while. With a cup or a mug, I’m much more inclined to take several gulps at once, or drain it from half-way full. I don’t understand the psychology here. I suspect it’s because of the social pressure – when I’m surrounded by co-workers, I’m more inclined to show moderation.

Categories
Family Ramblings

Mixed media, 23 March 2014

This week, I have been mostly listening to Capital Cities’ In A Tidal Wave of Mystery and watching Arrow on Netflix. I said that I might have to listen to Capital Cities a bit more before getting to grips with the album, but now it is fully embedded in my head. Can’t stop listening to it, can’t stop my brain from replaying it internally when I’m not listening to it. My favourite album of 2014 so far.

I’m at episode 13 of Arrow now, and I’m particularly enjoying the way the relationships between the characters are genuinely changing, and how the plot is unfolding at the same time as Oliver Queen’s back story on the island is being revealed. It hasn’t (yet?) got stuck in a bad-guy-of-the-week rhythm, or forced Oliver and Laurel to replay a tormented “I love you but I can’t be with you” chorus whenever they’re in the same room. (That repetitiveness was one of the reasons I stopped scarfing down episodes of Chuck somewhere in the middle of its second season. That, and the disturbing levels of non-ironic sexism.)

I’ve started on Ken MacLeod’s Descent but haven’t made it very far yet.

The painter is almost finished with the house. The scaffolding is down, and the outside is all finished apart from a few final touch-ups on Monday. We got him to do the downstairs woordwork as well, and that’s looking lovely now too.

This afternoon Abi and I spent an hour and a half pruning back the pear tree, which had got out of control. Last year it threw off more pears than we could handle, even after we finally (6 years in this house) discovered that the right way to deal with otherwise inedible cooking pears is to cook them. So the pear tree is much smaller now.

pear tree
Pear tree in the back garden after pruning. I should have taken a “before” picture.
Categories
Ramblings

Asymmetric summer time

For all the work with time zones I’ve done in the past, it was only yesterday that I noticed that (in Western Europe, at least), the clocks are not on summer and winter time for the same amount of time. Summer time starts on the last Sunday in March, winter time starts on the last Sunday in October. Summer time is 7 months long, winter time only 5.

Huh.

Categories
Ramblings

Fruit

made with fruit, or real fruit?

Fanta: “made with real fruit”

Fanta Zero: “made with fruit”

I’m (really) not sure what to make of that.