Technology and Lent

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4074 days ago

This website

The plugin that provided the email notification feature for this website broke with a recent update to my blog software, and it’s not going to be easy to fix. So I’m not going to fix it.

Of course, that means that the affected people aren’t going to hear that they’re affected. Sorry about that! (I’ll tell personally the few I know.)

In fact, I’m likely to switch to ikiwiki …eventually. Textpattern seems to have lost its mojo, and there have been some long-standing issues with it (like no native tagging support!) that seem unlikely to ever get fixed. And I’m hip to the cool technologies now, so a more infrastructure-like framework (i.e. ikiwiki, with git) for my blog feels like a better answer. And schmonz volunteered to do most of the work :)

That also means I’ll probably abandon tru_tags …more than I already have. There hasn’t been anything to do with it in a long while, at least not that I felt was worthwhile to be done. Most of the features that remain to be implemented require a major refactoring of the core Textpattern code, and that just seems very unlikely to happen (by me or anybody else) any time soon. So hopefully it will remain useful to the people who still use it.

This year’s Lent

I have utterly failed at this year’s Lent give-up. I have been better at going to bed at a reasonable hour, sometimes for days at a time. But I simply can’t do everything I need/want to do in my life with the few hours that leaves me between work, kids, and chores. So sleep will continue to lose to projects – although less-so than it used to. There are some nice perks to getting more sleep – I’m much more on-the-ball and willing to take on mental tasks that otherwise seem hard. But that extra value doesn’t offset the lost value from just not being able to do all the things I need to do.


Speaking of Lent, I also broke a 5-year streak of vegetarianism a week or so ago. Benjamin, Liam, and I had some extremely delicious tilapia, also breaking both boys’ life-long vegetarian streaks. Kristina chose not to participate.

We had a bunch of reasons for deciding to do it. And a bunch of reasons to not do it (i.e. to stay vegetarian). I may blog about all the tradeoffs some day soon, but for now, suffice it to say that it was a very close decision, and I’m not sure what’s next.

I made a web app!

If you recall, I started using SmugMug for my online gallery a few years ago. But when I made the switch, I left behind an old gallery site (on Menalto Gallery 1) that I’ve been meaning to clean up for a long time. It broke a while ago, motivating me to finally migrate off that old software – to ZenPhoto, which had been my long-standing plan. It took a few days getting ZenPhoto to work (when it should have been easy!), but I got it there, and I shut off the old site.

I also started this exchange with the ZenPhoto dev in which I start by being too grumpy and then he finished by insisting that his software simply must be unsupportable for him to support it. Net effect: I had to get off ZenPhoto.

But I had no alternate destination for self-hosting my images. My long-term goal is to migrate the images to SmugMug, but I want to filter them down from “every picture I took during that time period” to “just the best ones, tagged and rated” (like all the other pictures I post to SmugMug). And it will take Nathan-weeks of work to get that done, so it keeps getting put off. So in the short term I just needed a new self-hosting product, and there just aren’t any good alternatives. They’re all either old or ugly or badly designed or some combination of those three.

So I made one myself. I’ve never made a web app from scratch before, but I am quite comfortable in perl, had used Catalyst from a prior job, and I’d heard then that Mojolicious is better. So I tried it.

And wow, was it easy. Probably 8 hours total from “install mojolicious” to “the gallery is up and running on the new software”. That’s only just a little more than I spent trying to get ZenPhoto to work. Many kudos to Mojolicious, perl, and pkgsrc.

Now… ZenPhoto does way more stuff. (TONS more… too much, actually.) And this new software isn’t really ready for someone else to use it. And it has no tests. And it only does one extremely simple thing (i.e. serve nested directories of images, in name-sorted order, with no metadata).

But the code is small, easy to read, and easy to modify. (Roughly 300 lines of code, 115 lines of CSS, and 80 lines of HTML template.) The site looks really good (in my opinion). And it doesn’t require a database – just a directory full of images. And with some app-level caching and the help of Mojolicious’s preforking web server and great documentation for setting it up under apache mod_proxy, it’s about as fast is it could possibly be on my old host and slow network connection.

So ZenPhoto is out and my home-grown software is in. Here’s hoping it doesn’t need maintenance!

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Why I switched from Menalto Gallery to SmugMug

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5190 days ago

Two posts ago, I described my struggle to figure out how to fit my Menalto Gallery album structure into SmugMug. In a comment to that post, one of the Gallery developers asked why I switched from Gallery to SmugMug. I started to reply in the comments on that post, but the reply got to be long enough that I thought it deserved its own post instead; this is that post.

Note that it’s fairly mind-boggling (even to me) that saw my post and responded to it in a single day; I wonder how he did that?



Most of my experience is with Gallery 1, although I do have a site using Gallery 2. Back when I first started using Gallery 1, it was really the only choice (this was before Flickr, even!) that had the ability to handle a large gallery like mine, had the key features I wanted, and would preserve all my images in original form. So it was really my only choice.

For a long time it did what I needed, and I was grateful for that. I told people about it, and about why I chose it. I know one or two people who ended up using it because of me, but most of my friends and acquaintances ended up using Flickr or similar sites.

But even though I chose it, and was able to use it, I didn’t like it very much. It was clumsy, hard to modify, and too complex. It was just my only real option, so I stuck with it. About once a year, I would try to find something else, and I never could.

So when Gallery 2 was announced, I liked the redesign philosophy, but I thought you all were nuts to try to rewrite a product from the ground up. I was certain that it would be a year or more before Gallery 2 was even close to ready, and in the meantime Gallery 1 support would wane, so I was pretty sure I’d be forced to choose another product. That didn’t quite happen – you folks kept supporting Gallery 1 – but it took a very long time to get Gallery 2 out.

So when it was actually released, I was pleasantly surprised… but then it took an even longer time for Gallery 2 to catch up to some of the basic features from Gallery 1 that I needed. (I forget what they were, now.) So I still didn’t have the replacement for Gallery 1 that I was hoping for.

But eventually Gallery 2 did have the necessary features, so I gave it a try… and it was confusing. Sure, maybe the code was much better this time around, and it was certainly more themeable… but it wasn’t easily themeable, and it was confusing as heck to administer and to teach my users about. So I gave up on Gallery 2, decided to live with Gallery 1, and to search more earnestly for a replacement.

Back then, I had my hopes set on ZenPhoto, but it didn’t quite have everything I needed, either. I certainly liked their “simplicity first” approach, though. It did eventually get to the point where it had all the features I needed, and that was enough for me to install it and start working in earnest to switch over to it.

And then I had a system failure that suddenly forced me to host my gallery on my own local machine, which had me terrified – if my house burned down, with it would go all my pictures. So I had to figure out a better hosting option. I considered renting a virtual server somewhere, but it’s hard to find a low-cost NetBSD host, and I didn’t really want to host on Linux. So I looked around at other gallery options, and found SmugMug.

SmugMug isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty great, and I like that they care (a lot!) about usability, and that they have humans on their support staff, and that they’ll take good care of my pictures. I like that I don’t have to administer the site myself. I like that they are a commercial venture, and are therefore forced to prioritize customer needs first, or fail as a business. I like that the features I find lacking, now, are features that I never even dreamed up, back on Gallery.

So now that Gallery 3 is coming out… it seems somewhat surreal. I first heard about it in an April Fool’s post on ZenPhoto, and when I followed the link to the real announcement of Gallery 3, I really thought it was an elaborate April Fools joke from you folks. I couldn’t believe you’d have the gall to say “when we went back to do it right, we did it wrong, so now we’re going to do it right again!” But it turns out that that’s really what you were saying, and that you really are giving it a third go-round.

Sure, maybe Gallery 3 will be better, and maybe someday I will find a reason to move off SmugMug. If so, I’m sure I’ll look at Gallery 3 (or 5, or 9?) and see if it fits the bill. But my default stance will be wariness – I don’t trust that you’ll ever get it right, or feel that you have gotten it “good enough” to just keep supporting (or evolving) the platform you are already on.

Of course, it now seems ironic that you posted your comment in a post titled Perfectionism, pragmatism, and progress. It looks like we all struggle with the balance between those issues! Perhaps we should both take the lesson from this – that our customers won’t give us many chances to find our balance.

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New photo (and video) gallery

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5192 days ago

Per my previous post, I have been struggling to get my current gallery converted over to SmugMug, and that struggle was getting in the way of getting Benjamin pictures online. Well, I’m happy to report that the new gallery is online at, and that all the previously-passworded Benjamin pictures are now publicly available there. (I chose the first solution, by the way.) In fact, there are some new pictures also :)

I haven’t converted any of the old gallery over to the new site yet, so for the moment I have two public galleries online. For now, I’m only going to link to the old one in my sidebar; once all the old images are converted, I’ll switch the link. So you should bookmark the new site (or this article) if you want to remember where all the Benjamin pictures will be :)

For those of you who are named in photos in the new gallery – don’t worry, Google won’t search beyond the home page of the new gallery, so pictures of you aren’t suddenly going to pop up all over the internet. If you are concerned about any photos, though, please feel free to let me know and I’ll hide them immediately.

I don’t plan to announce future photo uploads via this blog; please subscribe to one of the available RSS or Atom feeds if you want to hear about new photos. (Scroll to the bottom and click “Available Feeds” to see them.) I suggest either the site-wide recent galleries feed or the site-wide Benjamin keyword feed.

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Perfectionism, pragmatism, and progress

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5198 days ago

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 :)

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Back online!

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5604 days ago

After about 40 days of offline-ness, is back up, mostly. is still down, but the rest of the websites are up. tru_tags (and instructions) are back up. The gallery is working. From a visitor’s point of view, everything (except is working as it was before.

Of course, all is not quite as it seems…


The long-overdue "I know what I did last summer" post

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5645 days ago

Wow, according to my last post, it’s been 144 days since I blogged. Too long, but it’s a sign of how busy life has been. I’m going to use this post just to catch up quickly, then future posts will hopefully be more insightful:

  • I’m still a vegetarian
  • The new job is good (and I was promoted!), but time-intensive
  • The dogs are awesome
  • Buying the Honda Element was very much the right decision – it is perfect for the dogs and for Kristina’s plant (and dirt!) hauling
  • The new house is great
  • I did buy that motorcycle I had my eye on (and I love it!)
  • I sold my domain ( and replaced it with the one you see before you ( (And now has some very interesting content. But it’s a dumb name for a company.)
  • We all finally hired the right president

But of course, all of that put a ton of stress on my life and my wife, and we are still trying to recover from it. Speaking of which, she (my wife) also:

  • Turned 30, and got through a party that I think she would have preferred to delay
  • Took care of the dogs while I was traveling
  • Worked an internship
  • Took over as president of Pi Alpha Xi at OSU, and has had a stellar experience
  • Took a full load of classes this fall

Regular life things also happened. I’m sure I’ve forgotten many of them, but notable items include:

  • Discovered Pistacia Vera, an absolutely life-changing “dessert botique” (in Columbus!), that we now go to every weekend
  • Found DropBox and Carbonite, which are similar services that finally make file sharing and backup (respectively) just work the way they should have all along
  • Found Woot and its associated sites and got addicted; we’ve probably ordered 10 things from them so far
  • Amitai visited and during that visit, I bought a first-gen iPhone and hacked it to work with T-Mobile. (I love it!)
  • Had a very good Thanksgiving at my dad’s house, at which we learned some great news (that isn’t quite yet public)
  • Released two new versions of tru_tags, and used one of those releases to make this site’s archive page

So anyhow, it’s been really busy, and many parts of our life have fallen behind where we’d like them to be. The busyness hasn’t really been a problem… it’s just prevented us from doing other things we might want to be doing. I think our priorities are in the right place, though – I’m doing what I love, and Kristina is working toward a new life where she gets to do what she loves. I think that’s how things are supposed to be.

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Well, it's gone - and the story of how it went

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5797 days ago

As of this afternoon, is no longer mine. I had it for 8 years, 4 months, and I find that I’m very sad to see it go :-(

But as Drew says: “think of the motorcycles” – and that is helping :)

So now that the sale is actually done, here’s the story:


Welcome to!

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5801 days ago

Today marks the beginning of – welcome! It looks a lot like that other site,… but actually, it’s totally different. See, you have to type R-A-I-N-S-K-I-T now instead of T-R-U-I-S-T. I keep getting that all wrong. I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually.

I think everything has been moved over – email, web, other sites I host, other email addresses, redirects, telling every company on the planet not to use my old email address, etc. If you spot something that still says “” and looks like it’s an accident, please let me know. (Note that I left the tag on a few posts, intentionally.)

If you are following the RSS feed and/or are subscribed to the email list – you need to update your URLs and/or resubscribe to the emails. I’ve made the email service much more reliable and much easier to use, by hosting it myself. Just wander over to the sidebar, find the section titled “Subscribe” with the text field that says “email” and type your email address in. Hit enter. That’s it, you’re subscribed. I still need to work out a few improvements to the email service, but for now, that will ensure that you hear about each new post. The best way to follow this blog, though, is still through the RSS or Atom feeds.

The planned transfer of to its new owner will be Tuesday evening (-ish). It looks like google has already recognized rainskit and is starting to find the new home of tru_tags, but it’s lagging a little behind on finding the new home of Nathan Arthur. Hopefully they will figure it all out before Tuesday :)

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The end of

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5804 days ago

Heads up! I’m selling and moving this entire site over to As of next Tuesday (July 8th), will no longer work.

My email address(es) (and Kristina’s) are changing; in fact, they have already changed. You can now reach me “” instead of “”. Anything sent to after the 8th will go to somebody else :)

As of this writing, doesn’t look like much, but that will be changing as soon as possible, to give the search engines as much time as possible to figure it out. As soon as I make the switch, will automatically forward to until the 8th, that is. After the 8th, you’ll have to go straight to

Those of you following this blog through the RSS or Atom feeds will need to update your readers, once the switch is made. I’m not sure what will happen during this interim period. The best thing to do is to manually switch over in a few days. This will also be true for the gallery RSS feed.

Those of you following this blog through email will have to re-subscribe on the new website, once it is up. Sorry :-(

And I’m sure you’re all wondering “why” Well, I chose it because it was available, short, easy to remember, easy to spell, and had very few hits on Google. I found it by taking anagrams of words that had meaning to me. I’ll leave it to you to figure out the source word :)

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New "archive" page

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5831 days ago

I’m working on the next version of tru_tags and one of its major features is the ability to create a tag-based archive page, like this one. After implementing the feature, I tried it out, and I liked it so much that I decided to use it on this site. Specifically, I removed the old “About” page, merged some of that content into the “Links” page (and generally edited that page), and put the “Archive” page in where the About page used to be.

This should all make sense if you look at the menu links at the top of the site. For those of you reading this via the feed – click here to see it.

It’s a really interesting page to browse through – I find it strangely fascinating to see so clearly all the articles I’ve written, and how they clump together. I’ve also used it a few times as a faster way to get to a specific page. It’s somehow more powerful than the normal tag cloud, functionally and emotionally, and that surprises me.

Or maybe it’s just late :)

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Major site redesign

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5961 days ago

Inspired by my copy of The Principles of Beautiful Web Design, I’ve been working on a redesign of this site since last March, and I’ve finally finished it and published it. The redesign doesn’t change the actual content at all, and in that sense is somewhat unimportant. It does dramatically change the look of the site, though, and in that sense is somewhat interesting. I also took the opportunity to refactor the underlying code that generates the site, to make it easier to maintain and redesign in the future.


If you read this site via the email feed...

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6604 days ago

…be aware that the reason you keep getting multiple emails from the site, each with seemingly the same content as the last, is that each time a person comments it causes a new update to be sent out. You can tell the difference by the number in brackets after the subject; that number tells how many comments there are. So, for example, you’ll soon be getting an email with a subject of “My belief in God [4]” because I’ll have added the fourth comment to it.

The problem, then, is that you can’t see the comments in the email that gets sent to you. Thus, I recommend that you always click the link to read the article directly on the website. In that way, you’ll get the article in it’s original context and you’ll have the comments.

Questions? Please post them in the comments for this article ;-)

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tru_tags: A tagging plugin for Textpattern

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6654 days ago

When I first created this blog I wanted it to have tagging support, which doesn’t come built into Textpattern (my blog software). At the time (Christmas 2005), tagging plugins for Textpattern were virtually nonexistent. Hunting around the web, I found ran_tags, chh_keywords, rss_unlimited_categories, and ajw_technorati_tags. They were all unworkable for me, because of bugs or complexity or feature-set, so I was left without tagging support.

So I wrote my own, based on ran_tags. I published it on the textpattern forums and subsequently released about a dozen new versions, each with new features to make it more powerful and/or easier to use. The plugin has seen a lot of adoption, and seems to be popular among the textpattern community. You can see it in use on this site.

It’s written with ease-of-use, simplicity, and security in mind, and it has a very rich feature set. To learn more, please check out the features list. There is one (potential) downside for some users, though. To help keep the code simple, I call out to the Textpattern code to actually do the tag search. That means that articles can only be tagged via the Keywords field, rather than using a custom field. Some people use the keywords field for other purposes, so they can’t use tru_tags. There are also a few other minor annoyances documented on the features page.

tru_tags can be downloaded from the releases page, and you can learn to use it by reading the detailed usage instructions. If you have questions, please post comments to any of these articles, or in the forum, and I’ll get back to you quickly.


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Some quick updates

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6683 days ago

  1. I’m not reading any of my (30) RSS feeds any more. (It’s amazing how disconnected I am from the geek world, now.) I’ve stopped because I can’t find a decent web-based feed reader anywhere. I usually use Thunderbird, which does it just right, but then my feeds are tied to a particular machine and I switch machines (and logins!) too often for that to be acceptable. In the meantime, I’m working on writing my own web-based reader and once it’s done I’ll switch to it. (If you’re interested, my reader is written in Ruby on Rails, and it will work much like Thunderbird, but in a browser.)
  2. Matt and I are slowly working on a wishlist app so we have a good way to keep and publish and track our wishlists. This seems like an obvious thing that ought to already exist, but it doesn’t. I’ve been using Amazon’s but they seem to enjoy making it less-useful occasionally, and it won’t let me track things that aren’t available on So again, once this new one is developed I’ll switch to it.
  3. I will eventually be converting my existing gallery to ZenPhoto, because Gallery sucks. The only reason I haven’t switched before this is that there wasn’t a better product out there.

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Comments are on

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6689 days ago

I’ve turned on commenting, so you’ll be able to add comments to any articles I write. It was an unexpected pain to get it set up and looking right, but at this point it should look good and be easy to use. If something doesn’t work well, please let me know.

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