Insta Repeat

Found via Demilked, there’s an interesting Instagram account that is finding repeated imagery in Instagram photos, called Insta Repeat. For instance:

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Vertical phone in the wild 📱

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or:

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Feet in front of Horseshoe Bend 🍁

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I think it’s an interesting project in a few different ways. On one side it shows how much we all end up copying each other, and how quickly an image concept can end up feeling trite and overplayed. But it also calls out the patterns we associate with photographic composition — often the images look similar simply because that’s the best approach for shooting a particular subject, so of course there are going to be similar photos. (The same goes for some location shots: why are there 5 million+ nearly identical shots of Half Dome in Yosemite? Because the park was designed to bring you to that reveal, where you’ll say “wow” and take the shot.)

While it’s easy to take a cynical view of this sort of project, it can be viewed in other ways, too. It’s telling to see what imagery strikes people, what patterns keep coming up, and to think about why those shots in particular seem to recur. Also, there’s a certain beauty in the collections themselves, the grids of similar photos all in a row, where the repetition is a part of the piece.

Twitter Departures

There seems to be a trend currently of announcing departures from Twitter. As a sampling (not the only ones, mind you), here are posts from Derek Powazek, Sean Bonner, and Wil Wheaton all announcing that they’re leaving Twitter and why. You’ll see a recurring trend: the indifferent (or even inimical) handling by Twitter of rampant toxicity, harassment, and abuse has effectively killed the community for a large number of people.

I’m hardly surprised by any of this — if anything, I’m surprised it took this long for people to leave. I’ve commented before that Twitter has become largely a rage machine, and I unfortunately don’t see a course-correction this happening any time soon (if it’s even possible). I’m mostly off it myself at this point — I still auto-post links to my blog posts, and respond to DMs and replies, but otherwise spend very little time there. I don’t personally feel a need to fully depart (and if I ever do, I’ll likely just ghost), but I also don’t foresee going back to it, either.

Like a lot of other people, I’ve joined a Mastodon instance, which will likely scratch that occasional Twitter itch for now (feel free to follow me). That said, I don’t really anticipate using it a lot — I’m feeling pretty done with the format, to be perfectly honest. In terms of online discourse, it feels like it fills the same sort of niche small-talk does in real life — sometimes it’ll lead to deeper conversations and connections with others, but mostly it’s just filling time.

Certbot Gotchas

As a project this week, I’ve been doing some backend maintenance for my web hosting, which includes getting everything set up with SSL certs through Let’s Encrypt. (The writing is on the wall: most sites that can switch to HTTPS should switch to HTTPS. Not just for the added security for you and your viewers, but also because browsers and search engines and similar are starting to give warnings if it’s NOT secure.)

Thankfully, the days of having to pay an arm and a leg for a cert have passed. Let’s Encrypt is a free non-profit service (in partnership with other orgs including EFF, Mozilla, and Akamai, to name a few), which generates free, short term SSL certificates for your site. (For larger organizations, you may want to still throw down on a longer term set of certs, but for personal use this is great.)

Using the certs is pretty straightforward: they’ve created a tool that can run on your web server called certbot which streamlines the process and also monitors and automatically renews the certificates when they’re close to expiration. Installing certbot is pretty straightforward: it’s available via various package managers (apt and similar), so chances are good that whatever OS your server is running can install it pretty easily.

That said, there are still a few gotchas that I felt like got glossed over in the docs I was reading/following when using the tool, so here’s a few notes:

  • Be explicit about your domains: certbot doesn’t currently support wildcards (i.e. being able to say *.nadreck.me and have that handle any subdomains like images.nadreck.me). Instead, list them all out if you want them to share a certificate, and that includes both with and without www. So, for example, you might want to do something like sudo certbot --apache -d nadreck.me -d www.nadreck.me. If you don’t include both, someone going to your site using the address that wasn’t specified may end up getting the site blocked and the user warned of something potentially fraudulent.
  • If you already generated a certificate for a domain and need to update it (maybe you added a subdomain, or forgot to add www), the command you’re looking for is --expand. (I would have thought “update”, but no.) Note that when expanding a certificate, you need to re-list all domains you want included (you don’t just list the one you’re adding). So, using nadreck.me as an example again, if I wanted to add “images.nadreck.me” to the existing cert, I’d do sudo certbot --expand -d nadreck.me -d www.nadreck.me -d images.nadreck.me.
  • Keep it separated: the certs are free, there’s no need to overload the cert with a ton of domains. While it makes a certain amount of sense to bundle a domain and subdomains together, there’s no need to make one cert for all your sites. criticalgames.com shares a cert with nadreck.criticalgames.com, but not with nabilmaynard.com, if that makes any sense.
  • You can’t preemptively add sites to a cert. Certbot/letsencrypt performs a challenge response as part of the process to make sure you actually own the site you’re trying to set up, so if you haven’t actually set up that site or subdomain, the challenge will fail and the cert won’t be generated correctly. If you wanted to add, say, files.nadreck.me to your certificate, you’d need to set up that subdomain first, then expand your certificate. (The site can be empty, but the URL needs to resolve and land somewhere real.)

Anyway, hope that helps! The process really is pretty straightforward, and I recommend getting things set up to anyone maintaining a website these days.

August, Squam

It’s that time of year where I head back east to see family, and spend some time on Squam Lake. It’s also usually a time of reflection and taking stock for me, and it’s been a while since I wrote something like that here, so forgive the rambling post. For those that don’t care, here’s a picture:

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Never seem to get tired of this view.

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For the rest, on we go.

Olympic National Park

It’s been stupidly hot in Portland for the past week, so I opted to flee to the coast on Sunday, ending up wandering through Port Angeles, Washington, and Olympic National Park. It continues to be one of my favorite regions and parks that I’ve visited. I could totally see myself ending up out there, if I’m not careful.

Photos from the trip are in the gallery.

Poking around with Python

With my usual caveat that I’m not primarily a programmer (and thus I’m sure there are better ways to do things), I thought I’d share a quick python script I put together.

For some context: I’ve been a long-time subscriber to the KEXP Song of the Day podcast, and I’m not prone to deleting songs after listening to them, which means that podcast is up to ~3000 songs, all sitting in a single folder. My car stereo has usb support, so ostensibly I can dump the whole folder onto a usb key and play it all while driving. Unfortunately, the car stereo can’t handle a folder with that many songs, so I needed to split it into smaller subfolders of around 100 songs each.

Now, I could do this manually (and did, the first time around), but I wanted an excuse to experiment with some scripting, and also wanted to fix some of the song titles (sometimes the ID3 title tag would include the artist, other times not). Doing some searching around, it seems like there’s a pretty solid python library for reading and manipulating ID3 tags, so I decided to use that.

You can see the resulting script here. It does two things: copy the files into subfolders (in a somewhat arbitrary order, which I may try to fix later), and then compare the ID3 artist tag to the ID3 title tag, and if the title tag starts with the same thing as the artist tag, strip the artist name out of the title tag (since it’s redundant, and meant the title was often cut off from being seen on the stereo’s display).

If it’s useful for you, cool! If not, I figured I’d at least share what I’ve been puttering with lately.

Wil Wheaton Talking About Depression

I’ve quoted or linked to Wil’s depression posts numerous times over the years. Partly because his take on it resonates with my own, partly because I think awareness is important and worth signal boosting. His recent (ish, this was posted in May and has been sitting in my queue for a while) talk about living with chronic depression is another great example, and worth reading.

I was a worrier growing up (and to a lesser extent, still am), though not to the degree he experienced. I will say, in more recent years, it’s been manifesting as more social anxiety, which ain’t great, though I’m at least aware, and haven’t gone full hermit. But the chronic depression, that I definitely get. For me, it’s been sort of a low-grade background radiation in my life. The default level is functional, but present, and then sometimes there’s spikes or troughs where it’s more or less noticeable — more or less manageable. (I doubt this is news to anyone reading this, but if it is: hey, yep, and if I ever seem worn out and a little distant when we’re talking, 95% of the time this is why, and not anything you said or did. If you type “depression” into the search bar for this blog, you’ll see I’ve written about it a fair bit.)

It can be a little intimidating to publicly post about grappling with depression. Potential employers or romantic partners or friends may see this, and not take it positively. Also, exposing parts of yourself in any way on the internet these days can be a little scary. But I think it’s important. As Wil says:

Finally, we who live with mental illness need to talk about it, because our friends and neighbors know us and trust us. It’s one thing for me to stand here and tell you that you’re not alone in this fight, but it’s something else entirely for you to prove it. We need to share our experiences, so someone who is suffering the way I was won’t feel weird or broken or ashamed or afraid to seek treatment. So that parents don’t feel like they have failed or somehow screwed up when they see symptoms in their kids.

Neil and Kazuo Talk Genre

Not sure why it resurfaced now, but from 2015 over at the New Statesman, there’s a delightful interview between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro, discussing genre and class and escapism and all sorts of interesting things. Well worth the read, and feels pretty topical even now.

KI I don’t have a problem, necessarily, about reading for improvement. I often choose a book because I think I’m going to enjoy it, but I think also it’s going to improve me in some sense. But when you ask yourself, “Is this going to improve me?” what are you really asking? I think I probably do turn to books for some sort of spiritual and intellectual nourishment: I think I’m going to learn something about the world, about people. But if by “improving”, we mean it would help me go up the class ladder, then it’s not what reading and writing should be about. Books are serving the same function as certain brands of cars or jewellery, in just denoting social position. That kind of motivation attaches itself to reading in a way that probably doesn’t attach itself to film.

Many of the great classics that are studied by film scholars are sci-fi: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Kubrick’s 2001. They don’t seem to have suffered from the kind of genre stigmatisation their equivalents would have done in book form.

NG I remember as a boy reading an essay by C S Lewis in which he writes about the way that people use the term “escapism” – the way literature is looked down on when it’s being used as escapism – and Lewis says that this is very strange, because actually there’s only one class of people who don’t like escape, and that’s jailers: people who want to keep you where you are. I’ve never had anything against escapist literature, because I figure that escape is a good thing: going to a different place, learning things, and coming back with tools you might not have known.

Orbital Operations and other thoughts

So, if you’re not already subscribed to Orbital Operations yet, you really should sign up. Warren Ellis finds some pretty interesting stuff to share on a pretty regular basis, and it gives you something to read in your inbox that isn’t just more marketing spam.

In this past week’s edition, someone asked about his daily routine (and how he manages to keep up with current affairs while still making deadlines). The advice is pretty solid, but I particularly liked this:

You can see my considerable advantages here. I spend a lot of time on my own, and mostly in my office. You can emulate these obvious role-model traits by excavating yourself a cave in your back garden or taking over a room in your apartment, fitting it with uncomfortably bright lights and way too many screens, filling all the spaces with books and skulls, playing nothing but music that sounds like it’s emanating from a dead moon, and waiting for everyone to leave you alone forever, and then dying in seclusion and being eaten by cats.

I hope that helped.

Living the dream, sir.

In a similar vein, in the same missive, there’s something I think is worth calling out:

You don’t have to live in public on the internet if you don’t want to. Even if you’re a public figure, or micro-famous like me. I don’t follow anyone on my public Instagram account. No shade on those who follow me there, I’m glad you give me your time – but I need to be in my own space to get my shit done. You want a “hack” for handling the internet? Create private social media accounts, follow who you want and sit back and let your bespoke media channels flow to you.

These are tools, not requirements. Don’t let them make you miserable. Tune them until they bring you pleasure.

I think that’s something we often miss: we’re so stuck into the “social media” groove, where everything is performative and virtue signaling and signal boosting and broadcasting to your readers, that we forget that it’s still a choice. We can opt out, or use the services how we want to use them (and discard them when that is no longer viable). Even if presence feels mandatory nowadays, participation is not.

I don’t think I personally need a series of private accounts — I’m not even “micro-famous” (though I’m still tickled when something I say or do pops up in a larger space). It does give some food for thought about how I have and use the accounts I do have, though. It’s sort of where I’ve already been heading — giving less of a shit about building a readership and more about sharing brief thoughts and things I think are interesting. Paring down or tuning out the rage machine (that’s not to say ignoring current affairs, but I really don’t need 57 hot takes on the same situation), and filling my time with stuff that feeds me in some way. Something to work towards, I’d say.