I'm taking a break from twitter at the moment, this is the main place to find me. The main blogging happens here (subscribe via RSS), I also have a podcast, with more audio experiments on SoundCloud. A smaller "scrapblog" is over on tumblr.

If you need to get hold of me email hello@revdancatt.com

Slowly falling in love with writing again.

Its taken a while but I'm getting back there again. There was once a time when I enjoyed writing and then a few years ago it got hard. Hard to get the words from my head down onto screen.

Sure it was easy to think of them while walking, washing up, gardening or pretty much anywhere else other than the screen. That moment I sat down at the keyboard though? All gone, nothing.

Maybe I'd just done it too much, I dunno. But recently I've been letting go of quite a few things, mainly online stuff like Flickr and Instagram. Oh and much more recently Twitter, which I think is more of a temporary exile, although who knows? All the old projects I've been trying to catalogue, I've started to let them float away.

As I shed all these social commitments, these broadcasts and communication channels. As I reduce perceived audiences. As I become invisible. The desire to write freely, easily, at will seems to be coming back.

I feel priorities shifting. I'm not quite sure how, how far and how much they'll shift but I have a suspicion why. But dear RSS readers, I suspect that'll wait for another post when it's not quite so sunny outside.

Heros

Badge

I've been figuring out how to write this blogpost for a while now and I'm still not there yet, the short version is that Leila Johnston, Richard Herring and Felicia Day (and others[1]) are heros. Heros that do amazing work, work that I can't even comprehend how difficult it must be to keep doing sometimes. Work that I know is having a very real effect on my small world, more specifically that of my children, even more specifically (currently) my eldest daughter.

I'll get into that more in a moment, but first though I'm going to top-load this quote from Felicia right here...

"It’s funny because I took the last year and a half to really concentrate on getting my company on its feet and helping other people get their shows off the ground, and I know that people are less dazzled by that than my acting. I mean, the conversation usually goes, “Yes, I run a web series company, we’ve done a few dozen shows over two years, we have one coming out that I produced a lot of myself, wrote on and casting and all that, a whole 1/2 hour format on the web!” “Oh.” “I also guest starred on House eight years ago.” “REALLY?! COOL!”"

[Emphasis mine]

Here's another quote from Leila's post "Never try to do what I'm doing", I'm probably picking the least representative quote from the piece but here goes...

"Today I sent the new issue of Hack Circus to print, which means today is the day an enormous amount of money disappears from my bank account and I transfer some more over from my savings account. My savings account is going to be empty by the end of the year. But I signed up for this possibility when I decided to do this, and what is life for if not for pursuing these absurd possibilities? No, losing massive amounts of money is not my complaint. It’s my choice to live my life at this pitch."

The photo at the top of this post is a "I paid more than a pound a month" badge from Richard, it seems only fair to pull a quote for that too...

"Here's where you can contribute to make our loss making comedy slightly less loss making. You can buy one of four badges, or just make a non badge receiving contribution.

Every penny of the money raised here will be used to make new and exciting comedy. That's once we have paid the PayPal fees. Oh, and the VAT. And once covered the cost of the badges."

To me, each one[2] is doing something important, and I'm going to word this wrong but here goes...

Each one is trying (I believe) to normalise a way of doing something that's currently outside of the mainstream, until hopefully it becomes the new normal. The things they are doing are things that I believe should and need to exist. I'll also get back to that in a moment.

So where's my interest?

Well, we homeschool (UK) here, Modesty (12), Zachary (8) and Isobel (6) for various reasons, but one of them is this: In the last 10 years the internet and the world because of it has changed so much but the school system hasn't really kept up.

Taking YouTube for all its horrors, if you want to know how to do pretty much anything it's on there. There are TED talks until you get utterly sick of them, the answer to how to do operate nearly every part of any recent piece of software. Videos of talks from conferences, presentations, discussions, how to play any instrument under the sun and of course entertainment.

Guitar photo

Add into that Duo Lingo, Khan Academy, diy.org, software from Adobe Creative Cloud, learning guitar with Rocksmith 2014, fitness & exercise games on the Wii and hours upon hours of tutorial videos from MacProVideo. Seriously does anybody who's working or going to school have time to sit through 11 hours of videos on how to use Adobe Premier?

Modesty has, and is now lighting, micing, shooting and editing videos all by herself with Premier, and that's pretty much down to Felicia and Felicia's Geek & Sundry YouTube channel.

We're practicing Autonomous (or "child led learning") learning, which in theory is letting your children loose to learn whatever they feel like learning while you support them. Our reality is that it's a bit more like one of those toy pull back wind-up car. You pull them back filling them with energy, point them roughly in the direction you think they aught to be heading and release.

In this case Modesty was playing World of Warcraft as was just at the right age to watch The Guild, which led onto watching Felicia's own videos, I can still remember the cry of delight and "Felicia plays Skyrim too, her favorite bow is the same as mine!", which indirectly led to her cooking Skyrim Sweet Rolls after watching Rosanna Pansino make some on Nerdy Nummies. Really getting into board games, watching Amy Dallen talk about comics, Nika Harper talk about writing and video games and then later making cool weaponry from games.

In turn that leads to thoughts such as "Hey, I could be a blacksmith or weaponsmith, or a leather armorer. Time to hit up the library and YouTube". Which is pretty much not what happens at school. Also the (I think) fairly obvious decision to present the content not as "Women in games/comics/magic/technology", but just normalised as cool people talking about cool stuff is just lovely.

Guitar photo

Which brings me back to the behind the camera stuff. Richard with his podcasts, plays and theater performances. Sinking a whole bunch of money into trying to make things work outside of the normal TV/Radio/Theater commisioning process, working towards another way of doing things, because that other way of doing things should be just as valid and possible as the "normal".

Leila, here and here making a magazine, podcasts, conferences and more because they are things that aught to exist. They are things that aught to be able to exist, to be funded, paid for, consumed as though they weren't alternatives to the mainstream but just a different part of the mainstream.

Felicia making full-on half hour (US TV "half-hour") TV programs but on YouTube, as thought that's just how it should be. And I've seen the promise of "TV on the internet" for very long time, and each time I watch someone attempt it I'm like "go on, this time, please let this be the one that finally survives and makes it work"

Because...

Because... I'm betting on "Home Schooling" or rather outside of the mainstream education system as a valid route for our children, and when they "leave" I need things like Richard's independent radio/podcast programs to have worked, Felicia's new company that she's spent so much time on getting set up to succeed, Leila to not burn through all her savings and make her way of publishing a magazine and so on, a perfectly acceptable and doable thing to do.

So that when our children are ready for the "world of work" that world is an interesting place and there are people in it I can point to as an example of how things can be done.

In short, I need heros.


[1] So many others, who I'm sure are all doing their own thing and people could point me to a 100 more, including several I follow on twitter, but for this post I'm sticking with these three.

[2] See [1] above.

#YO

YO

I wanted to be able to send "Yo" to people, but without all the technology and hype. So I made a newspaper...

YO

YO

YO

...and then I could either send the whole thing...

YO

YO

...or just one page at a time.

YO

YO

Which I thought would be more economical.

YO

If you want your own, you can buy one here but I suggest just making it yourself. Sometimes it's just nice to print things.

Anne, Sue, Bob and Nigel too, a short story about privacy, politics and the press.

Sue is evil, she is an evil person with evil intent, maybe, who knows? She may be plotting evil, it may turn out that's she's just really anti-authority and anti-government.

Bob has the job of sorting this kind of thing out, it's not a great job but it's the only one he has and it brings in enough money to feed the family. Bob decides to look at Sue's email, I mean peeking at that data is victimless and may just save lives.

Sue happens to have a soft spot for Anne, in fact it's more than that, Anne was having an affair with Sue for about 3 years. Anne and Sue met at a anti-government meeting 5 years ago and things carried on from there. Going back 5 years to this very day is a correspondence that used to involve intimate photos but now doesn't. Anne is married to Nigel, he do not feature in this story.

After 5 years of activism Anne has decided to fight the system from the inside, and has spent the last few years working her way up the political ladder, she's anti-corporate, anti-surveillance and anti-Murdoc. Because of this new political work she knocked off the affair with Sue a good while back, now they just chat back and forth.

Anne is proving to be very popular with the public, and if nothing goes wrong will probably go on to win whatever position she happens to be going for. She is also proposing to close down the very surveillance operation that Bob works at.

To nearly everyones surprise a couple of weeks later Anne steps down from her barely started political career, giving wanting to spend more time with her family as a reason.

Another woman, just starting out after finishing Uni and keen to get into politics asks Anne for her advice. Later, remembering email she herself sent a good 6 years ago decides against becoming an outspoken public figure and abandons her political asperations.

And that's how privacy, politics and the press work.

The joy of self hosting, the great blog move and the freedom it brings

tl;dr: flat text files are awesome and easy to do search and replace on.

Finally this is the blog post about moving this blog away from the clutches of WordPress to self written, self hosted code. But despite my urge to immediately dive into the tech details I'm going to force myself to first write about something unexpected (but pretictable).

Moving my words out of one internet silo has enabled me to more easily move other bits of my spread-across-the-internet empire out of their silos.

Case in point, GitHub.

I've been becoming more and more uncomfortable with GitHub to the point where I'm ready to make the jump and just self host. However there's one sticking point where I have moral indignation on one side and sheer laziness on the other. I have lots of repositories on GitHub and an equal number, if not more, blog posts talking about and linking to those repositories.

The very thought of not only finding all those posts and then going through them editing the links to point to wherever I decided to move my project to was enough to give me the administration tedium blues.

And to be honest, almost enough of a pain in the ass to convince myself that maybe GitHub would get better, which is, you know, bad.

However, I took control of my own blog software and the end result was having all my blog posts, 11 years worth, as simple text files (in markdown format) sitting in a sensible directory structure. It's suddenly trivial to search those files for all references to "github.com" and "github.io".

Better, because I have a consistant naming convention for my projects, when I do move them over to self hosting the Search & Replace needed to updates all those blog posts will be a breeze.

Suddenly moving all my content from one place to another while keeping 11 years worth of blog posts updated has become a lot less of a hassle.

Owning my own code makes doing the right thing easier, in a way that having your words & content tucked away in someone else's silo doesn't.

The Migration

Now onto the actual nitty-gritty, this is the route this blog has taken over the last 11 years and not everything survived full intact along the way...

  1. Blogger migrated to...
  2. WordPress hosted WordPress, migrated to...
  3. WordPress hosted WordPress mapped to my own domain, migrated to...
  4. Self hosted WordPress on my own domain with some PHP hacking, migrated to...
  5. Ghost, migrated to...
  6. Ghost JSON export file, migrated to...
  7. My own node.js app and flat Markdown files.

Parts of that were bits of a larger migration & taking ownership of my own stuff effort.

The move from self hosted WordPress to Ghost was really part of moving from a one-button WordPress deploy service to owning my own server and having to install the apps myself, and not wanting to install PHP and MySQL.

Ghost was an interesting project partly pitched at "freeing" people from the tyranny of WordPress, I happened to be playing with Node.js (which it's written in) at the time and they offered a WordPress to Ghost migration path.

I was pretty happy with just that, but then I realised that there was nothing stopping Ghost being so awesome and great that WordPress (or someone else) just deciding to buy them. Particularly now using KickStarter to raise enough funds to develop a project far enough along to get brought out seems to be a valid business model.

Fortunately, Ghost having done the hard work of exporting and importing all the posts from WordPress also offer an export path of chucking all your posts in to a single JSON file.

Which I did.

Which was then trivial to split up into separate text file.

The Flickr Move

While all this was going on, I was also figuring what to do about Flickr, 10 years worth of photos hosted there that I no longer really wanted hosted there.

Or rather a different way, Flickr for me had moved from a sharing platform to a back-up service. For the first 7 or so years the direction Flickr was heading in and what I thought I wanted from a service were going in roughly the same direction.

For the last 3 they've been heading in different directions and at some point, even if I hadn't reached it yet, it seemed fairly obvious that where Flickr ended up and where I wanted my photos to be were two different things.

I switched all my photos to private and then sat figuring out what to do next.

Which of course, broke all the images in my blog.

Flat files and a bit of code to the rescue. Now having all my posts as simple text files (and I realise this is pretty much just as simple with everything held in a database... just not quite as simple for me), all it took was some messy, oh so very messy code to search through all the posts finding Flickr images. The code would then download the images via the Flickr API (thank goodness for that), resize them to suitable blog post size and pop them into the same YYYY/MM/DD directory structure as my blogposts.

Folder Structure

Suddenly I owned my posts and my images.

Sure there's a lot still wrong with this site, no comments, no easy archive (yet), breaks a bit on mobile, but at least it's my mess to clean up.

Purity

There's also a lot right, or at least it's heading in that direction.

There's no bootstrap, jquery, google analytics, custom fonts. If I get rid of the twitter JS code that nicely formats embedded tweets (soon) and the SoundCloud audio player (further away) there's be no tracking on the site at all.

I decided I didn't care how many people visited the site, or where they came from, that wasn't really the reason why I write. I wasn't keen on TypeKit dropping google analytics onto the site, I'm not terribly keen on SoundCloud doing it. There's absolutely no reason why anyone should be tracked by a hundred widgets when coming to the site.

This means I doing not-sensible-for-fast-sites stuff from a web point of view, if this site was popular I'd almost certainly need to put the images onto a CDN. So from that point of view I'm doing some things wrong. But I'm not big, I'm tiny (although my blog was once weirdly in the top 100 Technorati blog, how's that for a blast from the past) which means it doesn't really matter.

I'm still not crazy enough to host my own video or audio yet though, too scared of the bandwidth.

Anyway, that... this... is the reason for the "Sorry I broke your RSS" comments in previous posts, I had to do some wrangling to get the RSS feed working just right :) and now I can point to this post I can stop making excuses for everything being broken, and not writing much because who wants to write for a blog which is about to go through a messy migration.

It's done, moved, migrated and the only way is onwards.

Rev Dan Catt Experimental Audio Diary Episode 1

The proper 1st episode, although it turns out I still haven't made it into a podcast thingy that I can put up on iTunes yet, really need to get round to that.

Annoyingly for this episode I got sick and didn't get to really do any field recordings which were kind of the whole point of the podcast. Instead I complain about my ear and we have a bonfire in the back garden.

Enjoy.