Blog entries from February, 2009

My life in a stream

Thursday, February 26th, 2009 at 11:23 pm

A few minutes ago I changed the home of popcorn.cx to display the output of Lifestream for WordPress, the plugin that I have been playing around with for the last week. Previously the home page was the same as the blog index except for the addition of a Flickr badge across the top.

Despite not saying anything, I have had a look at other lifestream plugins. I returned to the first one I tried because it was easy to install, it worked and it has active development. I am also planning to send in some patches for the couple of bugs that I have fixed so far.

Of the big list I initially gave, some were me not understanding the functionality correctly (the iBox stuff), some were actual bugs, some were changes to other things and some I am going to live with for now.

The changes I have made are:

  • Reverted back to an earlier version of SimplePie, the RSS parser, as I traced the problem with the Amazon wishlist back to the latest devel version. I submitted a bug report with them.
  • Modified the FeedBurner plugin to also check for ?direct=1 in the URL so the links to my own posts were not redirected through FeedBurner. (The main reason for this was because FeedBurner seems to be playing up – sometimes with feedproxy.google.com URLs and sometimes with the original feeds.feedburner.com URLs, but not the most recent posts)
  • The timezone setting for the plugin let you choose an offset from -12 to +12 (displaying adjusted time in a drop down), but that is not an offset from epoch, it is an offset from the server time. My server is in -8 while I am in +11. That is an offset of +19, yet when I chose the correct time of day it gave my -5. So all events were a day out. I tweaked the settings page to adjust the offsets based on the server zone (-4 to +20 instead) which fixed that.
  • In the rendering code I needed to apply the offset where it works out if it should display ‘Today’ or ‘Tomorrow’ instead of the actual date.
  • The code that groups all of the events for a day also needed the offset added as it was done using the SQL DATE() function which (again) uses the (MySQL) server timezone.
  • Added ordering to grouped events (so they show the same as how I added them)
  • I added LibraryThing as a feed.

I still have other changes planned, but these got me to a point where I was happy to use it on the home page.

One major change that I would like to do is to change the Flickr feed to use the Flickr API instead of just the RSS feed. A limitation of the RSS is that it is only the 20 most recent items. The other night I added 67 photos from the photo walk. Initially it was showing 40 items because the feed refreshed during the upload, but now it only shows 20 because I readded the feed and it lost the history. The API wouldn’t have that limitation: my photos page (that has been there for a while, but I don’t link to it from anywhere) uses the API to get all the photos that I have uploaded. And as you can see it also gets set information that might be good to include.

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Results from the photo walk

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 at 11:13 pm

A few days ago I went into the city for the photo walk that I had previously mentioned.

After catching a train into the city I was quite surprised about how many other people had turned up, I think at least 15.

The walk was quite enjoyable and after Docklands we ended up going past the new exhibition centre to Flinders Street Station. Most people headed home, but a couple of us went for a coffee/beer. I intend to go along on the next one. Whenever that will be.

I took over 500 photos (in RAW which means 5GB of data) and I have just finished sorting through them and uploading the final 67 to a set on Flickr.

I still need to add proper descriptions (instead of the timestamp) and choose which ones to add to the group pool. It is interesting to see others have already added to the pool as it allows me to compare how other people saw the same situation.

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Trying out a lifestream plugin

Thursday, February 19th, 2009 at 11:11 pm

As well as creating some accounts, I spend most of the evening playing around with a lifestream plugin for WordPress. Although I found a couple of different options I decided to play around with the first one I came across: Lifestream for WordPress.

Installing the plugin was pretty simple and it was jut as easy to create a new (temporary) page for it. (The redundant heading is because my theme isn’t really setup for pages)

Here are my thoughts so far (version 0.93b):

  • It automatically setup the blog feed, but as I use FeedBurner the URLs that it links to are the FeedBurner ones, not mine. It does redirect back, but it would be nice if the real URL was visible. (A list of user agents to exclude on the FeedBurner plugin is a solution for this)
  • It was nice to be able to specify my own favicon as the image for my blog feed (or any feed).
  • I might want to have more info about each post shown, tags or maybe an excerpt.
  • Adding Delicious and Flickr was straightfoward.
  • As was my Amazon wishlist after I found out that you need to get the link to the RSS feed when you are not logged in to Amazon.
  • The Amazon links end up at a 400 error page in Firefox, and doesn not work at all in IE7.
  • I would expect items that are grouped together to still be in date order, they are not.
  • I installed the iBox plugin to see what functionality that gave. It is funky, but I would probably not use it.
  • The iBox functionality does not want to turn off. No matter what the ‘Enable iBox’ option is set to, it always uses it.
  • The timezones are broken. I have told it my current time, yet right now it is saying ‘Yesterday’ for items from earlier today.
  • It was easy to add support for LibraryThing – I copied how the Amazon worked (from RSS feed) and just had to change the regex to extract the thumbnail url.
  • As well as grouping not being in order they seem to be missing items. I have LibraryThing added twice, one with grouping and the other without. On January 16 I added 19 books. When grouped only 8 books are shown, when not grouped all 19 books are shown.
  • I’m not sure if I want items grouped by “same day”. What happens if I bookmark some links in the morning and then another batch in the evening. Will they all be grouped together? I would want them in two groups – ie grouped if within 1 hour of each other.
  • I’m not sure if I like the phrasing of the labels. Instead of “Added an item to their wishlist on Amazon” I would prefer something less third person like “Item added to Amazon wishlist”.

I shall keep playing with this plugin, as well as looking at the others.

Update: A major problem now is that the two most recent posts (this one included) are not being picked up by this plugin. They are definitely in the RSS feed. Not good.

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Now on Identi.ca and Twitter

Thursday, February 19th, 2009 at 10:19 pm

I’ve done what I have created some accounts as I threatened the other night:

I decided to stick with the popcorn “brand” instead of something based on my real name.

I was leaning towards that anyway as I am popcorn on Bikely, popcorn on LibraryThing, popcorn on Delicious and popcorncx on Flickr. The final push was from Paul last night at Sub Standards.

I have yet to post anything, and I have still to figure out how I want to handle reading what other people are posting.

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Melbourne Photo Walk this Sunday

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 at 11:20 pm

This Sunday there will be a photo walk around Docklands. The current forecast indicates it will be a bit hot, but I am probably going to go along.

Thanks to Wes for the heads up.

(this is a post that probably could just been on twitter/identi.ca)

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BBQ and photos at Jells Park

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Tonight, aside from catching up on a couple of blog posts, I went with David to the Waverley Camera Club meeting: A BBQ at Jells Park.

I ended up taking about 200 photos, some of which are multiple exposures ready for some HDR experiments. Now I need to find time to process them, but I have run out of time tonight, and tomorrow I’ll be in the city for Sub Standards.

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CSS tables at WSG

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 at 10:49 pm

At the Web Standards Group meeting back in November I ended up with a book – which I have yet to read.

But maybe I don’t have to :)

The talk at Last night’s meeting was from one of the authors of the book, Kevin Yank, who talked about CSS tables which has been supported by Firefox and Opera for quote some time, but will be finally supported in the yet to be released Internet Explorer 8.

As well as listening to an excellent talk I was able to catch up with a few people, mostly Wes but others I know from WSG. As usual I had my camera with me and took quite a few photos, all in RAW which should force me to improve my digital workflow.

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Joining the social web

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Last Thursday I went to the OSDClub meeting that was hosted by PHPMelb.

Up first was Alec on Twitter and the Social Web. Here he talked a bit about Twitter and Identi.ca, but mostly about other services that could integrate with it, and make it easier to use and also track other people on various services, such as FriendFeed.

This made me realise that I really should start tracking things on Twitter and/or Identi.ca because a lot of information is now being put through these services instead of on blogs or other services. But the signal to noise ratio still concerns me. I don’t think I could handle an unprocessed feed, even of just the people I want to follow.

I could also start posting myself, especially small ideas or updates that wouldn’t necessarily warrant a blog post. But I don’t want to dilute my blog. Thinking about it: I don’t want to dilute my online presence. One option for this is to use something like FriendFeed as my primary presence.

However, I would prefer to keep it all together (and more under my control) on popcorn.cx. Something like Lifestream for WordPress could be an option. Further investigation is required, but it looks like it would also give me an easy way to bring in updates I am already making to other sites such as Flickr and Delicous.

After Alec’s talk, Ben was supposed to talk about OpenID: What it Ain’t. Instead of this Ben talked about what he had been working on at work for the previous few days: bushfirehousing.org, a site to connect people offering temporary housing with people needing temporary housing. It was quite interesting hearing about what they had achieved in a couple of days, including the issues (mainly non-technical) they had encountered.

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Another successful geohashing expedition

Saturday, February 14th, 2009 at 11:01 pm

As mentioned earlier today’s geohashing location was in an achievable location. In the end I decided to ride over and arrived just after 4PM, at which point I took some photos and wrote out ‘XKCD’ in a patch of bare ground.

More details and photos are now up on the expedition page, which is how I know that myka, one who made it to last week’s location, was at today’s location, but an hour later.

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Third local geohashing location in a row

Saturday, February 14th, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Last Saturday I hoped that today’s weather would be much more reasonable – though I can’t complain as while I was uncomforable, it was nothing in comparison to those affected by the bushfires – and had the implied hope that geohashing location would be close by.

It is and it is, so I guess I have to go.

The Melbourne weather forecast is for 28°C with the local temperature being 26°C.

Today’s geohash location is in the backyard of 186 Central Road, Nunawading, around 8km from where I am now.

If I had checked the location earlier in the day I would have done things a bit differently as I have only just returned from a short ride after picking my bike up from a service. Instead I would have picked it up a bit later in the afternoon and ridden over to Nunawading from there.

I was thinking of going out to do some shopping, so I could just drive over. But I have just checked the wiki and seen that there was someone else made it to the location by train and bicycle last week. Maybe I will ride over.

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Missing geohashing opportunities

Saturday, February 7th, 2009 at 11:07 am

Today’s geohashing location falls not that far away at the edge of a park in Endeavour Hills.

But as the forecast temperature is 44°C and it has already reached 38.2°C, it is extreemly unlikely that I will be making an effort to get there. Originally I was busy, but the temperature has pushed an afternoon BBQ back to a dinner, so I do have time to go, but I won’t.

Last Saturday’s location was also nearby, in Doveton which is southwest of today’s location. It is also not far from the bicycle path along the Eumemmering Creek. But I decided not to go as although the temperature had dropped from above 40°C as the preceeding three days had been, it was still around 35°C.

Going back two weeks, the Saturday location didn’t fall nearby, but in a different graticule it was at the edge of Morwell National Park. Originally I was going to accompany a friend to pick something up from the Gippsland area and we were thinking about trying to get to the geohashing location or to attempt some geocaches. I shouldn’t have cancelled.

So there it is, three Saturdays in a row where, if I were really determined, I could have reached the official meetup location. I’m hoping that the weather is much more reasonable next weekend.

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Improving my digital workflow

Thursday, February 5th, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Earlier in the week I went along to another judging night at the Waverley Camera Club. Like the first meeting I went to, hearing the comments from the Judge, Peter Ryan, was quite informative:

  • being technically correct (focus, DOF, exposure, etc) isn’t enough
  • don’t take the same photo as everyone else, be different
  • what is cropped out is often more important than what is left in
  • removing distracting elements from the edges
  • ditch the rule of thirds and other ‘traditional’ rules
  • push objects of interest into the corners
  • use diagonals to draw interest around the frame

He also briefly talked about how he processes his images; from shooting in DNG and the programs he uses for various tasks.

This made me think again about my digitial workflow, which is currently:

  • Shoot in JPEG
  • Copy files to date based directories with a perl script that uses ExifTool
  • Using Picasa:
    • Review photos and delete unwanted ones
    • Basic editing (cropping, colour adjustment)
    • Export to JPEG

I need to change the first step which is to start shooting in RAW, specifically CR2. But where do I go from there?

  • Do I leave them as CR2 or do I convert them to DNG? This is supposed to be better for long term support.
  • Copying the files from the CF card based on the EXIF data will continue to work after I change my script to look beyond JPEG files.
  • Picasa does support RAW files (both CR2 and DNG), but it doesn’t give the control that a program with proper RAW support gives. I have installed Canon Digital Photo Professional which came with my camera, but there are plenty of other tools (mostly non-free).
  • If I batch update the white balance of the photos, do I then have two copies to manage?

It is a lot to think about. My next step will be to read through explanations of other people’s workflows that I have bookmarked.

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Read the Diffs

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009 at 11:34 pm

Tonight I went to the camera club meeting and I have some thoughts to post about that, but right I know I’m going to mention a post from one of the blogs that end up in my Inbox: Read the Diffs.

A few years ago at work we setup our CVS repository (it’s not shiny, but it does what we need it too and there are other issues in the team to address before the choice of revision control) to send an email whenever a commit is made. Instead of spamming everyone in the dev team, the email actually ends up in an NNTP group for people to check as required.

At least once a day I use Thunderbird to scan through the message and diff of each commit so I can be both aware of what is changing and to pick up things that might be problematic. I can be fairly confident when I say that I am the only one who does this. There used to be one or two others, but they moved on.

So when I saw Eric’s post I got a nice warm feeling to know that I am not alone in thinking that it is a good idea to know what is happening to the code.

Tomorrow is our weekly dev meeeting (with cake!) and I am going to recommend that everyone in the dev team looks at the commits everyone else is making. As well as the technical benefits that Eric mentions, I believe there are benefits in relation to the revision control process that can arise by simply making the commits more visible.

These include:

  • Making sure that the commit message efficiently communicates to others in the team why the change is being made
  • Committing files in batches with the same message (they end up in the group as a single email and all the diffs attached) instead of as lots of little commits with slightly different messages (because they have different typos each time they type it)
  • Not commiting multiple changes with an overly broad message (we have discussed not doing this, but it hasn’t sunk in)

An example of the last one that really annoys me is a commit of multiple files that has a commit message separated into points, but the points only relate to some of the files. The dev has spent the time working out the separate points, but then they negate the benefit of that by lumping them into a separate commit. So when you look at the diff it can be difficult to determine the reasons behind the actual changes as only one point may relate to the change in that file, or different points relate to different changes in the file.

Hopefully I can report back in a few weeks if the commits are being read, and if there is any improvement in CVS usage.

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