Sorry Jekyll, I’m done with you.

logo-2xI’ve been working with Jekyll on the US Drone Racing Association site. It seemed like a nice idea. Check all your content into Github, then, when ready to do work with it, check it out, make your edits, run a local test site (that part is really nice), and when finished, check it back in. One update on the master site, and you’re done. Woo.

Yeah, see, that’s where they getcha.

Jekyll is great for very fast setups for static sites. If you never want to really change the site, such as changing themes or regularly adding blog posts quickly and efficiently, you’re probably good.

But I found the blogging process enormously painful.

  • Check the site out of github
  • Go into the _posts directory, pick an old entry, copy it to a new filename. The new filename must be yyyy-mm-dd-uniquename.markdown. This date is important because it’s used as a sort order.
  • Edit the newly created file with whatever editor you like, but the YAML Front Matter must be correct. Using YAML for structured data is already problematic, but this is supposed to be a markdown document. But, no, it’s sort of a hybrid of YAML and Markdown and HTML.
  • If you get the YAML Front Matter right, you get to write your post. Markdown is nice, but it has it’s limitations
  • Save the file, make sure you go back to your root (god knows how many times I’ve failed at this one), and do ‘jekyll serve’. Test your site locally. Swear and curse as it doesn’t work right. Repeat previous steps until right.  (Credit here.  The live preview is really nice, and it updates automatically when a file change is noticed.  I can’t fault that.)
  • git add -r
  • git commit
  • git push origin master
  • Log into your blog host
  • cd to your working directory
  • git pull origin master
  • cd sitename
  • jekyll build –destination=/var/www/yoursitename

Now, this really isn’t that horrific. Irritating, sure, but you can automate pieces of this and add some nice wrappers around it.

I wanted to theme my site. Here’s where things go sideways.  In short, you can theme a Jekyll site.

But you can only do it once.

Why? Because you don’t apply a theme to a site. You apply a site to a theme.

Sound crazy?  Lemme splain.  To theme a site, you download the theme, build it (and in Ruby land, this can be a nightmare experience. Ruby dependencies are horrific. Don’t believe me? Check out the conversation I had with a theme developer. We couldn’t get it running at all.)  But even if you do get it running, after you build a theme, you copy your existing content into the new theme directory, and commit the whole thing up to git. That’s your new site. Want to change themes? HAHHAHAHAH. You have to do this process all over again, extricating your content from your old themed site and copying it into the new theme directory structure.

Screw that.

Sorry jekyll. I’m done with you.

How not to compliment a photographer

Not too long ago an acquaintance of mine asked if I would do them a favor and come  photograph their event.  No problem, I enjoy shooting, and any chance to work is an opportunity to improve my skill.   I went to the event, spent a few hours taking pictures, and had a great interaction with everyone.  Later on I sat down and did all my post processing, tuning, and polishing – a process that can take hours, depending on the size of the shoot and the complexity of the imagery.  

Zach at arisia
Zach at Arisia
This particular event wasn’t that difficult, and I ended up with several dozen shots I was pretty happy with.   I published the pictures and sent the link out.  Over the next day or two, I got good feedback from the event coordinator and several attendees.

One message I got was simply this…

“These pictures are beautiful!  That sure is a great camera!”

Needless to say, this pushed my buttons.

If you’re a photographer, and  understand why this statement could be irritating, feel free to skip the following rant.

In the modern age of high pixel count cell phones, cheap high resolution point and shoot cameras, and “entry level” DSLRs, even the simplest, auto-everything, “shoot and post” pictures can come out looking great.   But whether you get a good picture or not with these tools alone is, frankly, luck.  Sure, you could get a great picture – but that’s mostly the result of chance.  Please don’t assume that’s what I do.

I am a photographer (among other things).  I spend a lot of time thinking about framing, light, setting, angles, subjects, and timing.  When I take pictures, sure, I take zillions (a typical hour or two shoot can result in 500+ exposures).  But to me a photographers’ art consists of an end to end process that may take days.   The camera is one of the tools in that process, but saying things like “that sure is a great camera!” while it may be true, really diminishes the work that goes into creating really good imagery.

So folks, next time you see a picture by someone you know is a photographer, compliment them on the picture, or better yet, on their skill, not on the camera.

Arduino Nano “Programmer Not Responding” on a Mac

Arduino Nano v3
Arduino Nano v3

For the Staff project, I’m going to be replacing the existing Arduino Uno R3 with a smaller, more easily embedded Arduino Nano.  The Nano is a heck of a lot smaller than the Uno (makes sense – it’s meant to be permanently installed, while the Uno is a prototyping platform).  I received my Nano a few weeks ago, but immediately ran into a frustrating problem… code would compile, begin to upload, and I’d get the error “stk500_recv(): programmer not responding”

The intarwebz are full of people reporting this problem, unfortunately most are not finding answers.

I went through the usual debugging problems – changing out the USB cable I was using, checking to make sure USB drivers were correct – I could still upload and use code on my Uno, but the Nano flat out refused to accept the new code (and I did check the very common problem of not selecting the correct board in the IDE).

Finally, came across a general discussion about bootloaders, and there was a comment that sometimes these boards do not reset properly.  After some more research, I found some folks using various ‘reset button’ hacks to sort of nudge the board into accepting code.  With a lot of trial an error, I have a procedure that seems to work pretty consistently.  There’s occasional twitches, but with persistence it always loads.

Continue reading “Arduino Nano “Programmer Not Responding” on a Mac”

The Blog is Resurrected… for now.

Well that was no fun.
For a while, I was in a funk because the Planet-Geek.com site was not posting ANY of my articles. And when I logged into the maintenance pages, I couldn’t see any of my articles for the last year.
Now, the site has something like 1600 articles on it. I was pretty cranky at the possibility of losing all my content. But the database itself seemed okay, and I could see entries in it. Just new content was not showing up.
Tonight I decided to sit down and figure out WTF was wrong with it.. It took about half an hour to determine the root of the problem…
I was logging into the wrong site.
We migrated the blogs off msb to msb2 a year or so ago, but I never a) removed the old bookmark in my shortcuts, and b) never updated the maintenance page to point to the correct toolset.
So I was editing the old site.
Boy do I feel like a dork.

Mac photo editing software?

Mosaic at nightAs I continue my migration to my new Mac, I need to figure out how to fill in the holes for tools I’m used to having under Linux. At the moment, I need a tool to edit pictures.
iPhoto seems to be pretty capable for cataloging and uploading, but I’ll need photo editing. My default tool is Gimp, but I’m wondering what I should be using on the mac. I’m trying to avoid dumping hundreds of bucks into things like Photoshop (particularly when I feel Gimp is as capable as Photoshop). But is there a tool I should be looking at before I install Gimp?
I include the photo above as an example of spiffy pics I’m taking that I need to do minor editing on (this one needs to be rotated about 10 degrees).
Suggestions?

Server Maintenance done – we have a new home

New server rack
This morning we moved Homeport’s 3 servers, plus the blog host, over to their new home in Mosaic’s Common House. This is something of an experiment, as we’ll be seeing how well the Charter business cable handles hosted servers. So far so good.
The move went mostly okay, with a time overrun of about an hour and a half due to a mysterious firewall problem that we finally got resolved. All services are up and running now.
It’s nice to have immediate physical access to the boxes. I know I can go into the server room and make configuration changes, add new machines, whatever. The only real problem that has cropped up so far is noise. The 5 existing servers + network hardware makes a heck of a racket (though I suspect the Rackable server is making the lions share). We may have to do some sound remediation – I mean more than the blanket I nailed up over the door.

Feeding the Tweets

I find myself doing a heck of a lot of twittering lately. The updated version of Twitterrific has an excellent interface, allowing me to post pictures, follow threads, do things like like “show me tweets that are coming from nearby me physically” (which has led me to make some new friends!).
This unfortunately has meant I don’t blog as much. When I see something I want to talk about, I just throw out a twitter post – which may include a picture of something I’ve just seen.
I understand that many of my readers don’t log into Twitter at all, and that’s fine. There is, however, a nice RSS feed of my postings available.
To read my tweets via RSS, use my RSS feed link (which is available on my twitter home page). My tweets are also forwarded into my Facebook page.
Last but not least, there’s a cute widget on my blog home page that shows the last couple tweets I’ve posted.
Twitter, for all it’s buzzwordism, is an interesting medium. I’ll stick with it for a while.

Arisia Retweeter disabled

Those who follow the Arisia twitter feed will notice that there have been several retweets lately related to Amazon’s abhorrent ‘glitch’ that delisted hundreds of thousands of books related to GLBT content, including science fiction and fantasy books.
Twitter is wonderful for many things, but filtering is a problem. @arisia has become a target for anything related to the topic, and is showing up in distribution lists. Advertisements for book sources and other topics are being picked up by the script and being retweeted.
I set up the Twitter retweet script to allow people attending the convention to be able to keep in touch and chat about the con and goings on around it. It’s purpose is not as a general forum for anything SF related. There are zillions of other places to have those conversations.
I have temporarily disabled the retweeter until we get closer to Arisia ’10. This is not a personal statement on Amazon’s issues, or against anyone in particular, I just feel that this is the best way to keep the @arisia target clean and on focus moving forward.
If folks have content they’d like to see posted on the twitter feed, please feel free to send mail to me, and I’ll tweet it directly.

Blog Refactoring underway

It really was time.
Planet-Geek’s style really was getting long in the tooth. When I first set up the blog, I hacked the templates and stylesheet enormously to get it to look a certain way. What that meant though was I ended up with templates that could not be updated in any sane fashion.
Tonight I took the nuclear option, and wiped out all my old templates, applied a new ‘standard’ style to the site, and regenerated all the archives from scratch. I did do a little bit of fiddling to get the AdSense ads back in place, and a few other small layout tweaks, but mostly the current design is right out of the MovableType Style Library.
What this means, though, is now that I’m back on standard templates, I can start enabling some of the features that were missing with the old setup. I won’t let the cat out of the bag, but at least two of the features are things folks have been clamoring for. Stay tuned!
If you notice anything wonky in the layout or styles, please let me know. I’ll be tuning for a little while still.

Speaking of webcomics. What are your favorites?

While on the topic of webcomics, I’m curious what strips folks read regularly? I have all of mine loaded up in Google Reader (currently one of my favorite toys), and while I’m not necessarily looking for other good strips to add to my lineup, I’m always interested in finding new interesting comics. Some I add to my daily read, some I let slip…

Anyway, here’s my current reading list.

So, got any suggestions of strips I absolutely should read, no matter what?

Upgraded to MT4

We’ve upgraded all our blog software to MovableType 4, as well as changed hosts. We don’t have the crossposting to Livejournal working yet, so folks over there are going to have to go hungry for a bit.
Please let me know if there’s any instability or oddities

Modernized Maxims

From a conversation on IRC today:

“Never underestimate the bandwidth of a backpack full of USB thumb drives and a bike messenger.” -Nathan Mehl

This arose after I remarked that copying files to a pen drive and walking it over to the server is a faster way of moving a couple gig of data than uploading it over the wire.

Want to be a lighthouse keeper?

Saw this come across a sailing list I’m on. Scituate Lighthouse is looking for a new keeper…

“A lot of people have a romantic notion of living in a lighthouse,” said historical society president David Ball. “There are responsibilities that go with it. There’s a lot more to it than people think. It takes a special person, no doubt about it.”

For the past 22 years, that special person has been Ruth Downton. Since 1986 she has lived in the keeper’s cottage at the picturesque, 198-year-old lighthouse that marks the entrance of Scituate Harbor. But Downton is set to retire this fall.

I know for me, being a lighthouse keeper definitely had that romantic edge of being on your own, doing a job that others depend on, isolated but there for the ships and travelers that pass nearby. I suppose nowadays I’d need to have a net connection…

See the entire article on Boston.com.