Weak notes for mid-May 2021

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Here are some weak notes, instead of weeknotes. Do you see? I’ll not bother to try and catch up on the weeks I’ve missed. They’ve been and gone. What’s been happening lately?

Photos!

I spent some of my enforced self-isolation editing some old photos from the past decade or so, partly to breathe new life into old photos that would otherwise languish on my hard drives, and partly to brush up on some Lightroom techniques I want to be more confident with. 

I have… enough photos now, that I can sort of pick a general assortment from my archive to just work on a particular selection based on a theme or mood, and that’s so cool. The process of finding those photos is actually a bit easier than I would have expected – I’m either searching chronologically for a particular event or trip, or I’m searching Google Photos for ‘fog’ or ‘orange’ or ‘guitarist’ or whatever. (I have basically my entire photo archive in Google Photos partly as a low-res backup, and partly to leverage the insanely good search algorithms.) These searches do mean I then need to identify an image’s filename or date, so that I can re-find it in Lightroom. But that’s not so difficult. It would be cool to squirt Google Photos’ metadata findings into the actual metadata or the master images themselves which Lightroom could then search. But still – this is a workable solution. 

I’ve not decided yet if this is to be a new, ongoing practice, or whether to call the current crop a set and move on. Certainly I am still taking new pictures and will continue trying to post those in the usual places. But the current set of re-edits is available here.

Robins!

Robin activities continue, and the DIY trailcam that monitors the bird feeder continues to work reliably, with the Moto G4 cameraphone at the heart of it continuing to give really surprisingly decent and detailed close-up photos. The birds’ activities have shifted in the last week or so. Last time I wrote, I think we had the three babies bossing their parents around, crying out to be fed, and then one or two of them feeding themselves but still squeaping for attention occasionally.

More recently, the activities have continued to change: the parents have not been seen for weeks now (almost), which is odd, but I think they are nesting and hatching a second brood somewhere. Hopefully we will see new babies in a month or so. And the babies are now very quiet and jumpy and stealthy. My trailcam catches one or possibly two of the three babies coming to the feeder regularly. Honestly, it could be all three – they’re surprisingly hard to tell apart even with their individual new growth of adult red breast feathers, which change almost daily.

And to bring you completely up to date, yesterday was the first morning I woke to find no notifications on my phone, meaning no sightings of any birds that morning. Normally there is a flurry of activity between sunrise and the time I wake up. This lack of activity was unprecedented and, naturally, a bit worrying. But a baby appeared mid-morning, showing its face a few more times in the day, but nowhere near as active as it had been. Meanwhile, M thinks she heard it singing once – a far cry (!) from the plaintive squeepings we are so used to hearing when they were dependant babies.

And then this morning, no sign of the baby on the early morning trailcam shots – but an adult! For the first time in weeks. And possibly a different adult than the last lot? Only one or two sightings today – and to confirm that it’s not a very advanced adolescent, I did see the baby separately at other times today – but again, far less than normal. So things are changing…

Websites!

I considered having another go at the latest Sunday Sites prompt, but once again bottled it.

The prompt was weather, and I had this neat idea of a screen resembling the inside wall of a room, in the centre of which would be a blind/curtains. When opened, the view out of the “window” would be either an image/video of real weather conditions, or animated ASCII art resembling some weather. (M also suggested using a source of public domain artworks that represent weather, which would be very smart; you could also grab such Creative Commons content from Flickr as well.) Closing and re-opening the curtains/blind would reveal a different weather pattern, refreshing the frame each time. 

This concept reminded me that when I occasionally sit down to think of standalone web projects, they are often skeuomorphic in attempting to resemble a real-world object – for example this project from 2010 I did for uni: an instruction manual for an SLR camera. For this reason – and my woefully lacking web design skills – these projects basically never escape the pages of my notebook. Thankfully, not everyone is as non-committal as me, and the examples of the sites that other Sunday Sites participants created from that prompt are, as ever, fun to look through.

Fortunately, one project which has – finally! – made it into the real world is the refreshed website for the Katherine Mansfield Society.

I’ve been looking after the web admin for the KMS for… god, a lot of years now. A decade or so? But when I initially took it over, my main role was to upload content to the existing CMS. This then evolved over time to me taking over the hosting of the website, and looking after the domain as well. When I took over the hosting, the previous webmaster kindly ported the Silverstripe-based CMS/database over to the new host (as they were removing themselves from involvement with the KMS website), leaving me in charge of the whole thing.

Ever since then, it has long been my intention to create a new WordPress-based website for the KMS, porting over some content, but keeping the new site lean and fresh. The old website was absolutely packed full of good content, but in quite unusual formats, structures and hierarchies. And the tricky part was that the Silverstripe install was getting more and more out of date as the years went on. I didn’t have the knowledge to keep Silverstripe up to date – I can just about do a WordPress site – and I was really concerned it would one day just break. It was a toss-up between me trying to update it or just leaving it as it was for as long as possible. Both routes would inevitably lead to the site breaking beyond repair one day. Fortunately, that never happened, and the CMS puttered on happily, if clunkily, well into 2021, albeit on a very old version of PHP. 

I have therefore done a full site-rip of the old site so it can continue to be hosted as a complete archive. It’s not the ideal solution, but there’s just too much good content that it would a) take forever to manually port it over to the new site, and b) be a terrible shame for it to just disappear overnight. There’s work to be done – a bunch of redirects to be set up – but I’m happy with this compromise. 

Meanwhile, the new site is fairly bare bones at the moment. I dragged my heals a bit on this project as it was all being done in my spare time, but we at least have all the sections we want it to initially have, and relevant content has been created or ported across. Next steps include adding more flesh to the bones, and then stepping back to refine the site’s design with fresh eyes with more content in place. The mobile-sized home page doesn’t look great, to my eyes, although I am perfectly happy with the responsive layout I’m using. And then there’s a bunch of back-end stuff to implement and tweak, and user accounts to be set up, so that KMS folks can edit pages easily.

So, it’s taken a while to get here: in some ways a number of years of good intentions, and in other ways about seven months of sporadic building and iterating. And – in the best way (e.g. from the perspective of the site’s users) – only about twenty minutes of downtime between the old site and the new, which is about as good as I could have hoped for. Onwards.

Radios!

More on this in future I’m sure, but I continue to tinker with radios of various flavours in my spare time. Whether it’s scanning the shortwave bands for weak signals, catching up with London pirate FM stations, finding decent ‘local’ stations to stream while playing American Truck Simulator, or hopping around a web-based SDR from another location, I’m often playing with radios, or learning about its history and development. 

Some recent prompts have led to me picking up a cheap Baofeng walkie-talkie style radio to see what it can do, and I’ve also taken the first steps towards studying for the Foundation amateur radio licence. In all honesty I don’t know how much I want to pursue being a ham, and I am currently apprehensive about ever actually transmitting via amateur radio. But at the same time, the medium interests me, and always has done, and it feels like there’s no great harm in studying for the licence, and then probably even taking the test to get a licence, as much for the education, and then seeing where it takes me.

I haven’t studied for a specific test in ages – most of my self-taught learning (e.g. web design, above) involves me trying to muddle out a problem, and spending far more time googling things than actually making much progress. This is a fine form of self-educating, but I do also miss studying a specific syllabus and taking a test at the end of it. So I figured studying for an amateur radio licence might be a fun activity and a way to test myself, both literally and figuratively.