Perfectionism, pragmatism, and progress

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28 February 2010

As I mentioned in the announcement, I have a temporary photo gallery set up with some early pictures of Benjamin in it. But I password protected that gallery, not because of any particular security or privacy concerns, but simply because the gallery is not in its final home, and I don’t want to publish the gallery to the wider internet until it has reached said destination. Recently, a friend asked about the delay in posting more pictures, and offered to help resolve any problems that might be impeding progress. I wrote a very long reply, which I have quoted (mostly) below.

It is, I think, and interesting way to both reveal why I haven’t opened up the gallery, and to allow my readership to understand more about me. Because in this email, it is clear how my perfectionism and my pragmatism do battle, and how I usually seek to resolve such conflicts.

And if you do take the time to read all the way to the end, please feel free to provide any suggestions!

Let me explain the root problem(s):

I plan to switch my pictures from (which uses Menalto Gallery) over to use SmugMug, and in fact have already paid SmugMug for a year of service which has already elapsed. (I signed up over a year ago.)

I don’t want to start dumping Benjamin pictures into Menalto; I have numerous other albums (like Thanksgiving from last year) that I haven’t uploaded to Menalto because I told myself that I was going to force a hard stop on using Menalto, to encourage me to finish my switch to SmugMug. So I don’t want to break that rule for Benjamin, and I also don’t want to publish one URL for Benjamin pictures and then change it to another URL later.

I don’t expect to be able to use for my SmugMug site, because I have other users of my Menalto gallery who won’t want to have the URL change out from under them. So I’ll have to leave Menalto at the old URL, and come up with a new URL for SmugMug.

When I tried to convert my gallery over to SmugMug, I discovered a (frustrating!) limitation of SmugMug wherein it doesn’t allow infinite nesting of albums. Specifically, it forces me to organize my pictures in a particular hierarchy, either:

Category -> Album -> Image
Category -> Subcategory -> Album -> Image

So some of my Menalto albums are nested 5 or 6 layers deep, which won’t fit into SmugMug’s paradigm. Also, some of my Menalto albums have both images and sub-albums, which won’t fit into SmugMug’s paradigm.

So a long time ago (April of ’09) I started work on Smuganizer, a tool to help me convert my Menalto gallery over to SmugMug. That tool has grown into a fairly awesome product, but it isn’t quite done yet – mostly because it has a few important missing features, and the documentation is out of date (and misleading!). Note, however, that SmugMug has given me a free Pro account for as long as I continue to maintain Smuganizer, so I don’t currently have to pay for my SmugMug account.

And I’ve been using my SmugMug site as the test database for Smuganizer, largely because I don’t have any other available SmugMug account. So my current SmugMug site (which is entirely password-protected) is filled with random test data, and in unsuitable for public consumption.

Concurrently with all of this, I discovered Windows Live Photo Gallery, a free app from Microsoft that (finally!) just works the way photo gallery apps always should have worked. Really. I have always hated photo management apps, up until this now. Now, I tell people that they should use it. (It does have some major flaws/gaps, but they are not sufficient to keep me from loving it anyway.)

One of the major features of WLPG is that you can tag people in pictures (like Facebook) and/or add arbitrary tags to images and/or give ratings (1-5 stars) to images, and then instantly browse your whole library by those elements (plus by date). They also make it really easy to publish selected photos to arbitrary photo sites, like SmugMug. So suddenly I have a really strong desktop app for managing my pictures, and I find myself caring much less about putting my entire photo library online.

So I modified my plan about converting from Menalto to SmugMug, such that I have decided instead to download all my Menalto pictures to my computer, tag and rate them all there, store them there primarily, and only upload the best ones to SmugMug. In other words, use SmugMug much like a normal human would use a photo gallery.

Problem is, that takes a lot of time. I’m only about half way through my existing pictures. And I’ve been working on it for 6 months or more.

Note that this also makes Smuganizer largely irrelevant to my current needs :) (Except that Smuganizer can also be used to upload pictures from my computer, and to manage the pictures once they are on SmugMug, so it does still have value to me.)

Note that this also means I won’t have an off-site backup for my entire gallery any more (like I had when you were hosting my gallery). To solve that problem, I signed up for Carbonite.

Net effect, I have a bunch of things that theoretically need to be resolved before I start posting more Benjamin pictures to SmugMug:

a) Finish tagging my existing photos
b) Finish and publish Smuganizer
c) Delete all the existing stuff out of SmugMug
d) Figure out how to organize my SmugMug gallery
e) Get SmugMug set up on its permanent URL
f) Upload my ‘featured’ pictures to SmugMug
g) Upload the new Benjamin pictures to wherever they fit in that structure

Of course, I recognize that this will take a year or more, and that Benjamin pictures can’t wait that long. So I figure I have a number of options:

1) Abandon Smuganizer, don’t worry about the other pictures, and just clear out SmugMug and upload Benjamin pictures for now. That would only require steps © (d) (e) and (g) and could probably be done in a few hours.

2) Try to split my SmugMug gallery into a few “Testing” categories and then “everything else” and just password protect the “Testing” categories. Go ahead and upload the Benjamin pictures into their final home, while concurrently working on everything else.

3) Some other option I haven’t thought of yet.

4) Follow the original plan and just wait until it is all done before publishing more Benjamin pictures.

5) Publish the Benjamin pictures on the Menalto gallery.

So I figure you can help in a few possible ways:

i) Talk me out of the tree and just convince me to do (5)
ii) Help me with (d) so I can do option (2)
iii) Come up with an idea for (3)
iv) Talk me into (1) (Note that this is probably impossible)

So you can see my dilemma :)

  1. Marilyn Arthur says:

    Ah! An understanding of why there are boxes of photos in disarray in every household in America. How to organize, where to put, where’s the time? The medium has changed but the issues have not. You just have to pick a path and follow it knowing that you will see other possibilities, maybe better ones, along the way. But if you wait to sort it all out, Benjamin will be trying to figure out his own childrens’ photo albums. Hmmm. Sounds quite similar to where I find myself!

  2. Andy says: developer here. Gallery isn’t the right tool for everyone of course. Just out of curiosity, what are the reasons to move to Smugmug? Maybe you blogged about that before, in that case, please just point me at that post.

    @Gallery 3:
    In case you didn’t hear about Gallery 3 yet: We realized that we lost focus with Gallery 2 and did too much engineering for the engineering’s sake instead of thinking of the user experience. The result is Gallery 3, which just reached the first release candidate milestone.

    Thanks! – Andy

  3. Amitai Schlair says:

    Nerd! (With frighteningly familiar problem-solving problems.)

  4. Nathan Arthur says:

    Andy – I turned my answer to your question into a new post, here.

  5. Keith Spink says:

    Hi. I’m also looking for a way to transfer away from my Menalto Gallery, so I can get away from the techie side of managing a linux site/server.

    I’ve tried a few applications/tricks which claim to be able to move photos easily off of my Menalto Gallery 2, without much success.

    This was until I found Smuganizer. I have been really pleased to see that Smuganizer works, and works well. Excellent. The only problem I have is that it doesn’t transfer across custom data fields to Smugmug. Any chance you could build that feature in? I’m happy to offer you a small donation/payment.

    All the best, Keith

  6. Nathan Arthur says:


    It’s great to hear that Smuganizer is working for you. I’ve fallen off doing work on it, for a long time now, but I do hope to get back to it soon.

    It might, however, be effectively impossible to get access to the custom data fields. The gallery remote protocol documentation makes it look like it is possible, but that documentation often doesn’t match reality. Are you using G2?

    Also, what would you do with the custom fields? Does SmugMug support custom fields? It might be possible to embed them in the images as EXIF data, if SmugMug doesn’t support it.

    Let me know (via this page or email) and I’ll add it to my to-do list – but it may be a long time before I get to it.


  7. Keith Spink says:

    Hi Nathan

    Thanks for a quick reply. Yes I am using G2 (2.3-rc2 to be exact).

    You are right Smugmug (and other services like Zenfolio) don’t appear to support custom data fields like Gallery. However this isn’t a massive problem as I’m happy for all the data to just be put into the caption field on Smugmug.

    Looking at my, quick win, options:
    (1) Using EXIF data isn’t possible, as the data I’m storing in custom data fields far exceeds the type of data stored in EXIF. So this isn’t an option.
    (2) I thought about using MySQL to query all data from the custom data fields per gallery item, and then update the value in the gallery description field. However this doesn’t help me as Smuganizer doesn’t move across the gallery description field either.
    (3) I considered doing the same, but for gallery item title, but this won’t be possible as the length of this field is only 128 characters.

    Over the last couple of days I have been playing with options for photo hosting. I think I am liking Zenfolio slightly more than Smugmug. I’ve found a way using ZenSync ( to copy all my photos over from Gallery to Zenfolio, but this also doesn’t help me with all the custom data field info for each photo.

    Using phpZenfolio ( as a starting point I’m now seeing if I can write myself a script which will allow me to easily upload my images, in batches, from Gallery to Zenfolio, with custom data and descriptions. Although this could take some time as I am very rusty in PHP these days.

    If interested, I’ll let you know how I get on.



  8. Nathan Arthur says:

    Interesting – I didn’t know about Zenfolio. It looks like it has most of the same features as SmugMug (which surprises me!) – what do you see as its advantages?

    I can say that I’ve been VERY happy with SmugMug. They aren’t perfect, but I also wouldn’t ever think about switching away.

    I was surprised to hear you say that Smuganizer doesn’t import descriptions, because I was sure I implemented that – but then I remembered – the gallery API doesn’t export description for images (just for albums). Another crappy quirk of that API.

    So I guess I can’t really be of help. I do also know PHP, though, so if you need any advice, please just let me know (via email).

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