HarveyNick.com

So things have been pretty quiet around here for a while. In fact, it probably seems like this blog is dead. To some extent, I regret to tell you, this is the case. I’ve decided I’ll no longer be blogging at harveynick.wordpress.com. That’s not to say that I will not be blogging at all, however.

WordPress has been very good to me. It’s an excellent platform, and wordpress.com is a fantastic host. I’ve been frustrated by its restrictions for some time now, though. I’ve wanted a little more control, and a little more opportunity to get my hands dirty (metaphorically speaking) in the real nitty gritty of how my blog works. WordPress itself does not prevent this, and for a while I looked into self hosted solutions. At the end of the day, I don’t really want to have to learn PHP, though.

In the end, a post by Matt Gemmell convinced me that a static blog generator might be a good idea. I looked into Octopress, his preferred solution, and decided it would probably work for me as well. In fact, it was more or less exactly what I was looking for.

…and thus I spent several months converting the entries from this blog, tweaking templates and playing with the source code. If I’m completely honest I’m still not 100% happy with it, but I think now is probably the time. You’ll find my new blog at harveynick.com. Currently it’s populated with all of the existing posts from this site, minus the short film reviews. The style is pretty close to what I want it to be, and seems to work pretty well with desktop browsers, but has a couple of issues on mobile.

If you read this blog, I hope you’ll continue to follow it in its new home. This site won’t be disappearing any time soon, and I have a plan to cross post the new entries here using ifttt.com, so please feel to follow by whichever means works best for you.

New entires will start appearing soon. I hope.

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The Sound of One Hand Clapping…

…would make significantly more noise than I have on this blog, as of late.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The main one is that I don’t actually have the internet in my new flat yet, and won’t for another 9 days. Bloody Virgin Media. Serves me right for not going with media which has a bit more experience, I suppose. I’m writing this at work, which is something I really don’t like to do, but it’s very much the end of the day and I’m in late because I started late. I figure: a quick post can’t hurt.

Another reason is that my life has been incredibly complicated for the last couple of weeks. I have been bounced around all over the place. I also missed a flight, an expensive mistake I may devote a blog entry to at some point, now that my (partially self directed) rage has subsided, since it has some comedy value.

More importantly: my paternal grandmother died. There’s really no way to sugar coat that fact. To head off inevitable questions:

Yes, we were close. In point of fact she basically raised me. I probably loved her more than anyone else in the entire world. I was also her only grandchild.

Yes, I am okay. I will be okay. I knew that day was coming. She had been ill in one form or another for basically my entire life and the years were being increasingly unkind.

No, that did not make it any easier. I cried for more or less the entire funeral, and I have no qualms (zero!) about broadcasting that fact over the internet. I was very glad to have my family and some close friends who knew my Nan there with me.

It is not my intention for this post to be macabre, though. For one thing my grandmother would not have wanted that. I mainly wanted to just check-in and indicate that this blog is still around, and more posts will be forthcoming. Especially now that: a) I have my computer back, and b) Shamus Young and Michael Goodfellow are making significantly more progress than I on their procedural generation projects. I am jealous of this.

I’ll be back with more to say soon. Future topics of conversation will include: why I hate RyanAir, donuts, and dog food. Yes, dog food.

RIP Cath / Kath Johnson*

* Funny story about my Nan: no one is 100% sure of what her first name actually was.

The Process and the Platform

The effort required to actually publish that last post was… considerable. Several factors contributed to this:

  • I have slow internet access at my hotel;
  • Currently, my only (full) computer is my work laptop;
  • This doesn’t have iPhoto installed (this is mostly for reasons of simplicity, I’d probably get it if I asked).

In the end, I wrote the text of the post in Evernote on my iPad (using an external keyboard), since I’m supposed to install an absolute minimum of third party software on the laptop. Next, I did a copy paste into BlogPress, a blogging app which lets you insert images inline. In theory the official WordPress app also does this, except that the upload always fails for me. As you may have gathered, I inserted the images here. This also rescales them, so you don’t need to upload all 12 megapixels. Next, I uploaded it to my actual blog as a draft, and used the web interface to fix any formatting errors and add any extra formatting, since BlogPress doesn’t allow bold or italic text (that I’ve found). That done, I hit the publish button, and: presto!

Needless to say, this is not an ideal workflow. I like using Evernote for writing the actual text (on both iPad and Mac) because it has about the right amount of functionality and it backs everything up and synchronises it between all of my devices. I like having that always available record which I can look back over and search as I see fit. I also like being able to drop one device, pick up another and keep working on the same document more or less seamlessly.

Digression: I also like that I can use it as a permanent record of my notes. Before I moved down to London I was part way through scanning my notebooks from my PhD into Evernote. Evernote runs OCR on the images, finds the text (when my handwriting makes this feasible) and make it searchable. Brilliant. It’s like being able to carry all of my old note books around with me, all of the time.

What Evernote doesn’t allow you to do is freely mix text and images, however. The WordPress interface does (obviously), but that leaves me with the problem of uploading the images. This is where the low bandwidth and lack of iPhoto were became problems. I suspect the cleanest workflow would be to immediately upload an album to Flickr (or other photo sharing site) and then use the appropriate URL to include the image in the blog post. Searching through the iPhoto library manually sure as hell isn’t ideal, and that’s the only real option for doing it image by image in the web interface.

The most pleasant experience I’ve had for putting together blog posts with both text and pictures was actually iWeb, and by a metric mile. iWeb uses the built in OSX controls and lets you select images according to meta-data and what they look like, rather than their file name, as though you were working with a file system specifically designed for serving you images. The iPad does more or less the same thing, in fact, so that part wasn’t actually too bad. Using iWeb leaves you with very limited options for your blog, however. It’s made me think I should look at using a dedicated program, such as MarsEdit, for writing my posts, or at least for the final stages.

Ideally, I need to find a decent workflow, which doesn’t break down when I’m away from home and likely to actually have semi interesting things to blog about, but doesn’t restrict me when I am at home. Ideally, it should allow me to jump between different machines with a minimum of effort, and not require me  to always add the final touches from the same machine. The workflow should also not break down when no internet connection is available. Text is fairly easy. Images make things more difficult, especially if the images were recorded using my own camera.

Lastly, I’m giving some consideration to porting this blog over to Blogger (only if I can transfer all of my posts and comments, however). It’s not a coincidence that I now work for the company responsible for Blogger’s infrastructure. Becoming more familiar with that platform can only really be a good thing for me here. Blogger also gives me a couple of options which WordPress doesn’t, though. Thoughts?