Category Archives: Web/Tech

Embedded

Over on Flickr, I have a photo. It has a share-this url that looks like this:

https://flic.kr/p/qmzMht

I’m trying to embed this image in a WordPress post, here in the daybook. It’s not working.

The WordPress documentation says:

…simply paste that link on its own line in a post or page in your WordPress.com blog and your image will appear, linked to your Flickr image….

Alas, it doesn’t work. If I paste the url into the post – on a line by itself – I get…the url, not the image. If I use the WordPress embed tag, I get…the url, not the image.

I suspect that Flickr changed their url scheme, and the WordPress whitelist hasn’t caught up. Or maybe Flickr support in WordPress is broken, has been broken for years, and nobody cares because nobody’s using Flickr any more. Or maybe nobody’s using WordPress any more?

Either way, no image embeds today.

WordPress for iOS gives me a pain

I have – or, as of earlier this afternoon, had – the WordPress iOS app installed on the iPad & iPhone. I liked the convenience of it – work on posts anywhere, any time, with all devices kept neatly synchronized with each other.

Alas, the reality proved less convenient.

Some posts are quick notes, dashed off all in one go, on one device; others linger in unfinished-draft limbo for a day or a week. Using the iOS app to edit a post created from the web UI occasionally tickles some unfortunate synchronization bugs:

  • If there’s a new draft post on the server, the iOS app doesn’t always see it.
  • If a draft post – present on the server and on the iOS app – has been been edited on the server, the iOS app doesn’t always notice & update its local copy.
  • If a draft post – again, present on both server & app – has been edited on the app, sometimes the app will throw away those changes & revert to the server version.

Worst of all – this afternoon, the app reverted a post from last March. It wasn’t a draft, either: I wrote it, I posted it, and eight months later the app decided to throw away a third of it & mark the remainder as a draft.

What the hell?

Fortunately, the server keeps a revision history of posts; I managed to restore the missing text & re-publish the post. But what of the other six thousand posts? Can I be sure that the iOS app hasn’t done anything stupid to them?

Corrupting my text is the one unforgivable sin of a writing app. Goodbye, WordPress for iOS.

Today I learned…

If the Path value in either of these registry entries

HKCU\Environment
HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Environment

is declared REG_SZ instead of REG_EXPAND_SZ, and contains %-delimited references to environment variables, then the final generated Path environment variable will contain unexpanded environment variable references.

This will cause the GnuWin32 Bison port to generate calls to _spawnvp() that tickle a bug in the Microsoft C runtime, and lead to the unhelpful error:

m4: invalid argument

The solution? Easy peasy:

  1. Set both Path entries to REG_EXPAND_SZ. This won’t actually help, but it’s tidy.
  2. Remove all environment variable references from your path.
  3. Restart your computer, because Windows caches things & isn’t too good at noticing when its cache is no longer valid.
  4. Hope for the best.

Goodbye, App.net

This time last year, the new kid on the block was App.net, which was a bit like Twitter.

(The developer is adamant that App.net is not just a Twitter clone, it’s an entire platform! Microsoft said much the same thing about Mesh / Live Mesh / whatever: it’s not just file synchronization! But that’s all anybody ever did with it.)

App.net was interesting, but had one big drawback: a $50/year price tag. All through the summer of 2013, and into the fall, I dithered; then – surprise! – the price dropped to $36/year, just after I’d had a minor windfall (i.e., credit-card cash-back check), so I signed up.

I pretty much abandoned Twitter. I set up an App.net to Twitter autoforward, so my Twitter account wasn’t completely dormant; but my heart wasn’t in it.

Life on App.net was pretty good. Then, on May 6th, the developers posted a this-is-not-a-swan-song! swan song:

…the renewal rate was not high enough for us to have sufficient budget for full-time employees. After carefully considering a few different options, we are making the difficult decision to no longer employ any salaried employees….

As of today, App.net is still up & running, but it’s different now. People are leaving, going back to Twitter. Some of them are setting up Twitter to App.net autoforwards, but the focus has shifted back to Twitter.

Yesterday, I joined them. I downgraded my App.net account, so come October they won’t ding my credit card for $36. I shut down the autoforwards I’d set up last year. I deleted Netbot from my iPhone & from the iPad. I moved my App.net bookmark to the Inactive folder in Safari and Chrome.

And I resumed posting directly to Twitter.

Hello, Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi has been powered down & stuffed in a drawer since mid-April – no, I’d rather not get into why; thanks for asking! – but this morning I had the notion to dig it out and get it running again.

This turned out to be fairly simple: point it out the window, plug it in, wait for it to finish booting. After a few improvised attempts at securing the Pi to its shelf, I decided on zip-ties: 10 for $2, from Home Depot.

(It was also a convenient excuse to leave the house: first time since last Thursday. But that’s a story for another time.)

Every five minutes, between 5:00am and 9:55pm, the Pi snaps a picture of the back yard:

Raspberry Pi camera

Raspberry Pi camera

Goodbye, PictureLife

Recently, I signed up for an account on PictureLife:

Picturelife stores all your photos and videos securely in the cloud, giving you access to them wherever you are.

PictureLife seemed like a good idea, at first – a replacement for the execrable PhotoStream that Apple foisted on a weary world – but I’ve changed my mind after using it for a few weeks.

Uploading is not automatic; you have to launch the PictureLife app.

Metadata – captions, folders, etc. – is kept on PictureLife, or in the app; it is not propagated to / synchronized with iPhoto.

If I send an image from PictureLife to Flickr, it doesn’t remember that I did that, or set any kind of sent-to-Flickr flag on the image itself.

I suppose my biggest objection is that PictureLife wants to be my image library, rather than a backup of my image library. I keep my image library in iPhoto, to which all other repositories – Flickr, etc. – are expected to be subordinate.

That, and PictureLife’s status as plucky startup out to change the world is troubling. I’ve heard that story too many times; it’s been a lie, every time.

These companies aren’t serious about changing the world, they’re just looking for a quick & profitable exit – by selling out to Microsoft or Google or Yahoo. Once the VC & founders have taken their millions & gone home, the plucky startup – now merely plucked – will shut down.

And anyone who bought the lie – who relied on the service – gets chumped.

I removed PictureLife from the iPad & iPhone. (I never did install it on the MacBook, for fear it would do something daft like try to upload 30,000+ photos all in one go.) I imagine I’ll delete my account soon.

MS Office for iPad

Suddenly, there is chatter – from tech journalists, folks on App.net, etc. – regarding an iPad version of Microsoft Office: Coming sooner than you think, the rumors say, and better than you expect.

Missing from all this is a reason why I would even want such a thing, let alone pay actual cash money for it.

I got into the various Office applications a long time ago. (It may have been before MS Office even existed; records are spotty.) My first version of MS Word was still a DOS program, running in text mode with Simonyi’s wonky menu system; MS Excel was a Windows app, but had to ship with a ‘Windows runtime’ because in nineteen eighty-mumble nobody was running Windows yet.

(Excel was not happy on a 640K machine. Entering any formula more complex than 2+2 would consume all memory & crash Excel.)

I dutifully spun the software-upgrade hamster wheel, buying each new release of Excel and Word; unlike most of my software purchases from that time, I did actually use both of them, and built up a small collection of documents.

In 1995, I bought Office 95: mostly because it was cheaper than individual application upgrades, but also to get Access. (Why Access? Databases. My obsession with data goes way back.) I don’t remember whether I bought Office 97, but I did buy Office 2000 – or, more accurately, prevailed upon connections at Microsoft to send me a copy from the MS company store.

I don’t remember how much I paid for Office 2000. $20? $50? Whatever the precise amount, it was a bargain.

It was also the beginning of the end. I did not upgrade to Office XP, nor to Office 2003. I tried to use Outlook XP at work; it was vile. I upgraded to Outlook 2003; it was no better. I switched to Thunderbird.

In 2006, I bought the iMac, and Office 2004 for the Mac. Office 2004 was a disappointment, ugly & awkward. (That’s what happens when your application developers rely on technologies your OS developers refuse to port to a non-Windows OS: you’re forced to write an emulation layer, your application stinks, and you lose customers.) I used it because there were no feasible alternatives.

In 2011, I bought the MacBook, and also iWork. (Not quite. I bought Numbers, and Pages; but not Keynote. In thirty years, I have never encountered a need for presentation software. I never present.) And I discovered – much to my surprise – that I didn’t need Microsoft any more.

I do have one Microsoft app on the iPad & iPhone: a Remote Desktop client. I thought I would use it to connect to the build machines at work; but I never do. Aside from that, I have no Microsoft software.

I didn’t decide to get rid of Microsoft. I didn’t actively search for alternatives. I wasn’t making a political statement. (The open-source crowd is always doing that. So tedious.) But gradually, over a period of years, a series of What’s best / cheapest / easiest? decisions (large and small) have removed Microsoft from my personal computing.

I don’t miss it.

I have Numbers and Pages, and I’ve converted all my documents. Converting back would be a pain. Why should I buy MS Office for iOS?

I imagine there *are* people who spend all day in Excel, but they’re probably running it on Windows XP. (The bolder ones upgraded to Vista – in 2013.) Why should any of them buy MS Office for iOS?

So that’s a big meh on Office for iOS.

In the zone

The default time zone for Raspbian – which is the Linux distribution I installed on the Raspberry Pi – is UTC; this is not terribly convenient for somebody living in Illinois, so the other day I set about changing the Pi’s time zone to CST.

This proved…interesting.

There are a great many ways to set the time zone in Linux. One is user-specific, the others are global but don’t always work on all platforms. Some work, but disappear after a while.

Method #1

Run the tzselect utility. It will ask some questions, then spit out a line that looks like this:

TZ='America/Chicago'; export TZ

Add this line to ~/.profile and you’re done.

This only changes the time zone for the current user. (How many Raspberry Pi machines have multiple user accounts?) The system time zone remains UTC. And support-forum chatter suggests fooling with the TZ environment variable is deprecated.

Method #2

The system time is controlled by /etc/localtime. Overwrite it with the appropriate file from /usr/share/zoneinfo:

sudo cp /usr/share/zoneinfo/America/Chicago /etc/localtime

On some distributions, /etc/localtime is overwritten on system restart. Oops.

Other options

I’ve seen these proposed:

  • Edit /etc/rc.conf
  • Run tzset or tzconfig
  • (On Raspbian) run sudo dpkg-reconfigure tzdata

I went with the /etc/localtime method. It may not be the officially-blessed method – I’m not convinced that such a thing even exists – but it works.

Raspberry Pi

This year, Santa brought me a Raspberry Pi, which is a teeny-tiny computer that runs Linux¬†(How small is it? I’ve eaten cookies that were larger that the Raspberry Pi.)¬†This evening, I powered it up for the first time. It works:

pi@pi ~ $ uptime
02:49:03 up 1:53, 1 user, load average: 0.09, 0.08, 0.07

Getting it on the network required a bit of foolery. I had to edit /etc/network/interfaces:

auto lo

iface lo inet loopback
iface eth0 inet dhcp

allow-hotplug wlan0

iface wlan0 inet dhcp
wpa-ssid name
wpa-psk password

Attempts to find usable, up-to-date documentation for this file have met with little success. It’s all voodoo. I read some web pages, guessed about a few things, and – presto! – it worked.

OS X Mavericks

Apple released a new version of OS X last week: OS X 10.9, ‘Mavericks’. (Wait. Is there a big cat called Mavericks? No? What’s going on here?)

It’s available only from the App Store – no more boxed sets, DVDs, tiny read-this-first pamphlets that nobody every read. That’s easier for Apple, I suppose. But a 5.29GB download isn’t all that convenient for me.

I tried the download last Tuesday, but gave up after a few minutes. (Memo to self: don’t start an OS upgrade an hour before bedtime.) When I tried again, yesterday morning, there were problems. I clicked the download button, and…”OS X Mavericks failed to download”. Sometimes, the error popped up immediately; other times, after a brief delay. I must have tried twenty or thirty times.

I tried a few things – I even switched the router to use Google’s DNS servers, since somebody on the Apple Support forums said that worked for him. Nothing helped. Every time: “OS X Mavericks failed to download”.

Over in Windows-land, the first response to inexplicable system behavior is to restart the machine. That’s not supposed to be necessary on OS X, but I was out of ideas. When the machine came back, I noticed a Mavericks icon in the Applications folder that hadn’t been there before; I clicked on it, and the download commenced without incident.

It took most of the afternoon.

The install went easily enough. Mostly I just watched the progress bar crawl across the screen. (No, that’s wrong – I took the iPad into the other room, and played Trichrome.) Afterward, I updated a few apps; now I have a thoroughly Mavericks’d computer. Yay.

Does it work any differently, any better than it did before? Honestly, I have no idea. The wallpaper is different. The iLife / iWork app icons are different. But I have yet to encounter any this-is-so-cool moments. (Or even any what-did-you-idiots-do moments, which are fairly common when upgrading Windows.) Perhaps the coolness takes time to manifest.

At least it was all free.