Sam's notebook

Self-hosted websites are doomed to die March 4th, 2018, 9AM

Open content

I keep wanting to be able to recommend the ‘best’ way for people (who don’t like command lines) to get research stuff online. Is it Flickr, Zenodo, Internet Archive, Wikimedia, and Github? Or is it a shared hosting account on Dreamhost, running MediaWiki, WordPress, and Piwigo? I’d rather the latter! Is it really that hard to set up your own website? (I don’t think so, but I probably can’t see what I can’t see.)

Anyway, even if running your own website, one should still be putting stuff on Wikimedia projects. And even if not using it for everything, Flickr is a good place for photos (in Australia) because you can add them to the Australia in Pictures group and they’ll turn up in searches on Trove. The Internet Archive, even if not a primary and cited place for research materials, is a great place to upload wikis’ public page dumps. So it really seems that the remaining trouble with self-hosting websites is that they’re fragile and subject to complete loss if you abandon them (i.e. stop paying the bills).

My current mitigation to my own sites’ reliance on me is to create annual dumps in multiple formats, including uploading public stuff to IA, and printing some things, and burning all to Blu-ray discs that get stored in polypropylene sleeves in the dark in places I can forget to throw them out. (Of course, I deal in tiny amounts of data, and no video.)

What was it Robert Graves said in I, Claudius about the best way to ensure the survival of a document being to just leave it sitting on ones desk and not try at all to do anything special — because it’s all perfectly random anyway as to what persists, and we can not influence the universe in any meaningful way?

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Email-letters February 25th, 2018, 9AM


I’ve been attempting to write to people again lately. As in, proper letters on paper and in envelopes and stuck through holes in walls and doors. It doesn’t work though. Ten years ago I wrote to people, and it was reasonably easy although one had to ignore the anachronistic self-consciousness. Now, it feels like writing a telegram, for all the relevance it has to modern life. And doing so on some sort of rare letterpress’d form at that — the mechanics have become harder, the whole thing far less familiar. Where even is there a post box around here? Do stamps still come in booklets? What’s it even cost to send a letter? Only people having weddings send things in the post these days.

I once wrote a little system for writing email-letters. It was a bit like Gmail’s system of having the reply-box at the bottom of the to-and-fro conversation, except it went to further extremes of actually deleting the quoted reply text from emails, and of actually tracking correspondents as entities in their own right and not just by email address. It also prohibited writing to more than one person at once.

It feels like there’s a place for a letter-writing system that really is just email but also isn’t one’s normal email client (be that Fastmail, Gmail, Thunderbird, or whatever). Writing to a friend should be a different act to tapping off a note to a colleague or haggling with a civil servant. The user interface should reflect that. It should be simpler, calmer, and prioritise longer paragraphs and better grammar. (I’ve read similar sentiments relating to the design of the Discourse forum software; the developers of that want the software to shunt people towards better discussions, and I’m pretty sure Google don’t have anything like that idea with the Gmail interface. No one wants to write a letter on a blotter edged with full-colour advertisements for Fletcher’s Fantastic Fumigator, and Google want you to use the exact same interface for work and for social interaction. Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.)

I’d still be using my email archiver, but it dates from an age before two-factor authentication, and improvements in the security of email providers broke it and I’ve not yet gotten around to fixing it. Perhaps it’s time to do so.

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Why do socialists only drink herbal tea? February 25th, 2018, 8AM


Because they’re sick of non-semantic CSS class names, and of not having sensible default formatting for the main, header, article, section, aside, footer, and nav tags.

No, it’s actually because property is theft!

A few years ago I came across Marx CSS reset, which is a simple and small (7.92 KB) stylesheet that provides decent formatting not only for the usual HTML element, but also all the new HTML5 ones. It does it by not expecting anyone to do things like <ul class="nav">…</ul> but rather <nav><ul>…</ul></nav> which mightn’t seem like much, but it feels better to me.

Maybe I just wish to live in a classless society.

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Extension:DocBookExport February 21st, 2018, 9AM

Open content

There’s a new extension recently been added to, called DocBookExport. It provides a system of defining a book’s structure (a set of pages and some title and other metadata) and then pipes the pages’ HTML through Pandoc and out into DocBook format, from where it can be turned into PDF or just downloaded as-is.

There are a few issues with getting the extension to run (e.g. it wants to write to its own directory, rather than a normal place for temporary files), and I haven’t actually managed to get it fully functioning. But the idea is interesting. Certainly, there are some limitations with Pandoc, but mostly it’s remarkably good at converting things.

It seems that DocBookExport, and any other MediaWiki export or format conversion system, works best when the wiki pages (and their templates etc.) are written with the output formats in mind. Then, one can avoid things such as web-only formatting conventions that make PDF (or epub, or man page) generation trickier.

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Twittery February 21st, 2018, 8AM


There’s not really much that can be said on Twitter that can’t instead be said much more verbosely and with far fewer people seeing it on one’s own blog. There’s no limit to the meaningless silly things you can write on the internet, so they might as well be written in one’s own place.

I’m just a bit sick of the non-chronological nature of Twitter, where some mysterious inner force in the machine is telling me what’s “important”, and leaving me with the feeling that it’s not showing me things that I might actually want to see.

So I think I’ll come back here, to blog in this quiet secluded corner of the web. This, in combination with a bare-bones chronological RSS reader, has worked pretty well for 15 years; might as well carry on with it.

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Flickr2Piwigo 1.3.0 February 20th, 2018, 8AM


I thought I’d help out and try to update the Flickr2Piwigo plugin to support OAuth, but having done so I now seem to have become a maintainer of the thing. So that’s good. I’ve just released version 1.3.0.

I’ll try to see to all the outstanding bug reports (well, there’s only one at the moment). And then perhaps add some extra features (support for approximate dates? automatic downloading? download of other people’s photos?).

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Updating Flickr2Piwigo February 18th, 2018, 8AM


I’ve decided to try to bring the Flickr2Piwigo plugin up to date in order to support OAuth (Flickr’s old system of authentication was turned off in the middle of last year). I’ve been tinkering with getting the PhpFlickr library working properly lately (which is what Flickr2Piwigo uses to talk to Flickr), and although there’s lots more to do to it I’ve at least got the OAuth parts working (thanks to the lusitanian/oauth package). So now I’m going to add this to the Flickr2Piwigo.

There’s no support for Composer in Piwigo, so I’m not really sure how this is going to work. Probably some custom distribution-generation process; I’ll worry about that later. Hopefully we’ll not resort to committing vendor/.

Once this is working, I’ll go back to PhpFlickr and write some better documentation (probably Read The Docs) and fix up the caching system (it’s a bespoke oddity at the moment, that I think should be replaced with simple PSR-6 support).

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