May The 5th Be With You

May 05, 2012

Yesterday was Star Wars Day (i.e. "May The 4th Be With You" Day). For Cinco de Mayo, "May The 5th Be With You" is a wonderful, natural extension of the theme.

Why Dropbox Wants My Location Data

April 30, 2012

Dropbox is a great service. The 2GB of free storage that's shared seamlessly across computers, phones and iPads is incredibly useful. Their tagline "Never email yourself a file again!" nails it. The ability to easily send files back and forth to myself and other people is a huge time saver. Best of all, Dropbox is one of those rare services that just plain works. No need to constantly struggle to get it to do its job.

For all it's pluses, I hit on something that seemed out of character. While trying to upload an image to Dropbox via the iPad app, it asked to use my Location Data.

This request didn't make sense to me. Why should Dropbox need to know my location in order to upload a photo? Where I am during an upload is completely irrelevant to the process.

The little privacy paranoia warning bells go off in my head when I can't think of an obvious reason for a request like this. The map application wants to know where I am for driving directions? Sure. Makes complete sense. Location needed for uploading a photo? I couldn't come up with any need for that. At least, not until I hit the little arrow after the "Go to the Settings app…" text.

That little arrow brings up a statement that Dropbox doesn't use the Location Data. Apple requires the feature to be turned on to upload multiple photos. That seemed weird to me at first. After trying to puzzle it out, I can see where it makes sense. Every image shot with Location Data turned on for the camera app will have the coordinates where it was taken embedded. By requiring Location Data to be turned on for apps that want to send photos (and by extension the embedded location data) off the device, Apple gives some alert that you're letting it out of your control.

I originally thought that the Dropbox Location Data request was another little step in the erosion of privacy. Now, I think it's actually the opposite. A little backstop provided by Apple to allow us to keep a modicum of control if we want it. With Dropbox, worrying about Location Data privacy is a little amusing. Since they can view every file I've sent to them, whether or not they see location data a minor point. I wish Dropbox setup their encryption so they couldn't view my files, but the service is so useful that I'm willing to cede that privacy and just hope they keep it secure.

Incidentally, if you don't have Dropbox and want to give it a spin, you can use this referral link to sign up. We'll each get an extra 500MB of storage space.

Now with Feed! (Adding an RSS/Atom Feed to Jekyll)

April 27, 2012

I've added a news reader feed to the site. You can grab it here:

Note: If you're not a techie, and terms like "Syndication Format", "Relax NG Schema" and "Feed Validation" aren't familiar to you, you can safely skip the rest of this post.

The jekyll blogging engine (which I'm using for this site) doesn't come with the built-in RSS or Atom feeds. Since I'm a huge fan of using feeds via NetNewsWire, setting one up was high on my TODO list. The first result Google returned for "jekyll rss" is a post by a guy name Dave Coyle called "Jekyll Templates for Atom, RSS". It's exactly what I was looking for.

There are two feed options to choose from: Atom 1.0 and RSS 2.0. Most of the propaganda I've seen suggest that Atom is the way to go. I doubt it will really make a difference for me, but that's what I picked.

The steps I used to add the feed were:

  1. Create a new 'feed.xml' file at the root of the jekyll source directory.

  2. Copy the contents of the template in the feed.xml file and replace the various '' specific items with my stuff.

  3. Run jekyll.

Everything looked pretty good, but I wanted to actually validate the output. Unfortunately, I was doing this work at night after a long day in the office. I completely missed the fact that Dave confirmed these were valid and even linked to the W3C Feed Validation Service. Since I missed that, I went down a rabbit hole with the Atom Syndication Format. The spec includes a Relax NG Schema, but it's split across multiple "pages". I pulled the parts out and made my own copy. Sure enough, the feed output validated just fine. (Incidentally, if you want your own, already assembled copy of the schema, I've posted it here. I'd advise just using the W3C service though.)

After the initial validation, I noticed a few things about the feed that I wanted to change. Specifically:

  1. The feed contained all the posts on the site. I just wanted the last 10 or so to keep the number sane. This was accomplished by changing:

     {% for post in site.posts %}


     {% for post in site.posts limit:10 %}
  2. In NetNewsWire, instead of each post displaying the date it was made, they had the time when the feed file itself was generated. Like so:

    Problem Dates in Atom Feed

    The fix for this was to add:

     <published>{{ | date_to_xmlschema }}</published>

    to each entry. (I've forked the original on github and am issuing a pull request to add this update to the original.) With that change in place, the dates show up properly:

    Problem Dates in Atom Feed

  3. I wanted to add a copyright notice to the feed. This was done by simply the following under the root feed node:

     <rights>Copyright © 2012, Alan W. Smith</rights>

With those changes, I ran one final validation. Everything check out and is displaying the way I like. So, the feed is now live and will update as I push new posts.

Enjoy. If you're into that kind of thing.

Update: My pull request was merged so the "published" node is now in the source template.

Black And White Talk Shows

April 27, 2012

My Father's Flag

Coincidence, or some indication of talk show good and evil?

Return of the Site - Hello, jekyll

April 23, 2012


Prior to this post, the last one I made was on May 30, 2011. Today is April 23, 2012. Almost a year of downtime. I blame Facebook. Also, Twitter and the day job. But mostly Facebook. That vast time sink that's trying to eat the internet. Of course, this hiatus was shorter than the last one which lasted from Sept. 1, 2009 to March 5, 2011. You figure I would have made at least one post about Arthur C. Clarke's "2010" during 2010. But no. I missed the entire year.

Neither break was really Facebook's fault. I was using WordPress to power the site and had grown tired of it. I was constantly struggling to get it do what I wanted. It was slow and required frequent security updates. The site even got hacked when I didn't get one of those security updates done fast enough. A pain to deal with. I'll do everything I can to avoid in the future. That means dropping WordPress.

So, the quest for a new blog package began. Each period of downtime was spent looking for something to replace WordPress. In theory, this shouldn't have stopped me from continuing to post inside WordPress. In practice, I didn't want to put more into a system I knew I was leaving. I was also reluctant to keep WordPress running for fear of another security breakdown. The brief set of posts in 2011 was when I realized it was going to be a long time before I could spend enough time to figure out a good solution. Might as well be posting while doing the search. Then the aggravation with WordPress hit again. I decided I wouldn't post again until I figure out where I was going.

I want my site to be fast, flexible and easy to maintain. After experimenting with other blogging software and even taking another short run at building my own, I've settled on using jekyll. If you are a tech geek and willing to mess around with it a bit (which is almost the definition of tech geek), it's great. It generates static/flat HTML pages. No performance or security problems associated with dynamic content. There's also no database to deal with. Posts are stored as easily managed, individual Markdown files.

Every piece of usability research I've heard suggests the easier something is to use, the more likely it is to actually be used. After getting over the small initial learning curve, using jekyll is proving to be very easy. I spent a lot of time futzing around with the layout and trying to figure out what I was going to do with comments. Short of that, I could have relaunched months ago. (Not that I spent all that time working on it. Work/life just kept me from getting to it.)

There's still work to do. RSS feeds, maybe some Responsive Design and the tweaks that always come post-launch are on the list. Comments are gone for now. I'm not sure if I'm brining them back. I'll be figuring all this out as I go. For now, at least I can post stuff again.

I've got a bunch of notes/thoughts on things to post. I'm excited to have a place to get this stuff out of my head again. Hope you enjoy.

My father's flag

May 30, 2011

My Father's Flag

On Memorial Day, remembering those who served in the past and celebrating those who serve today.

Photo Mechanic Bonus Points - President of the company responding on a support forum

May 26, 2011

I've been using Photo Mechanic 1 as part of my photo workflow for a while now. The workflow itself is still evolving, but Photo Mechanic is definitely going to be a major part of it.

Most journalistic shooters I know swear by it. I've been very impressed but kept running into an issue where I couldn't get Photo Mechanic to play nice with Lightroom.

I started a thread 2 on their support forum trying to figure out what was going on while I continued testing myself. My testing eventually showed that Photo Mechanic was modifying RAW files even when its preference were set to prevent that. That's what we call a bug. After some investigation on their side, the Photo Mechanic folks got back to me in the forum letting me know they had found the problem and have a fix slated for the next release. That's great in and of itself. Even more impressive is the fact that the person who responded was the president of the company who also thanked me for helping troubleshoot. The fact that the guy in charge is not only an active user but also works developing Photo Mechanic is a huge plus. It might be possible to build a great application without that. If it is, it must be a lot harder.

get your very own copy of Photo Mechanic.

  1. - Where you can 

  2. My forum post about the bug - If you want to see my side of the process for identifying the issue all the way down to the president's response. 

Fun while it lasted

May 03, 2011

I was expecting to spend a little time on the Four Links and Daily Video projects. Ended up taking way longer than I expected. Even when I was batching them and trying to do several posts at a time to have in the can. If that was personal stuff, I wouldn't mind, but it's too much time away form stuff I'm making. So, an interesting experiment comes to an end quickly. I may still do them from time to time, but for now, I'm putting those on hold.

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