Jeremy Cherfas: Posts

Jeremy Cherfas

From Microryza to Experiment

One of the things I am trying to be better at is processing the little scraps of information I squirrel away "for when I have time". A note I made on 28 July 2013 said simply "Microryza crowd funding". I had absolutely no recollection of what it might be.

Turns out it is a site for crowdfunding experimental science. And it is no longer Microryza, it is Experiment, a "Crowdfunding Platform for Scientific Research". It looks interesting, and I've signed up for the newsletter. In the meantime, the story of how they changed their name is kinda heart-warming, and boy can I relate to the argument at the core of that story.

The bad news is that for a while I sometimes stored little scraps of information in Apple's Notes app, which in some circumstances is more useful than plaintext. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me get notes from the iPhone (13.3) to show up under OSX (10.13.6). If anyone knows the correct spell, I'll be forever in your debt. Or just put me out of my misery and tell me it can't be done.

Sun, 19 Jan 2020 17:50:00 +0100

Can you depend on Twitter?

One of the reasons I love RSS (and other) feeds is that they effortlessly alert me when someone I follow posts something. So it was this morning, when James Morley published Collecting and displaying contextual tweets for cultural heritage records. I've known James a long time, and admired his approach to gathering and visualising data, and this was his first post in almost two years.

It's about automatically harvesting Tweets using a tool called TAGS – Twitter Archiving Google Sheet, and he shows in detail how useful it can be. I might even find a use for it myself. But here's the thing. James recognises some "potential issues," among them this:

We should also remember that tweets, or indeed whole accounts, can be deleted (for a multitude of reasons) and accounts can be made private and thereby hidden, at which point there will be technical issues around trying to display something that no longer exists, or if you archive the full tweet text then both legal and moral questions arise about keeping a copy.

That is all correct, if you don't want to break Twitter's terms. If you're adding valuable information to a website, should that be your primary worry? I know there are people who save tweets, their own and others', to the Internet Archive, and I assume that may be breaking the terms too. But it strikes me that if, like James Morley, you are curating some information to make it more accessible, more interesting and more valuable, then you have some sort of right to ensure that it doesn't just vanish.

How exactly to do that is beyond me.

Sat, 18 Jan 2020 13:30:00 +0100

Make it easy to be followed

Chris Aldrich has a long and throught-provoking piece asking How to follow the complete output of journalists and other writers?. It drew an interesting comment from Alexandra Samuel, putting the case that publishers who have paid for a piece have no interest in an author building her own audience. They would much prefer any link to come to their website, rather than the author's. She makes many good points too, about the different lenses through which writers, readers and publishers might view an author's website; I want to pick on just one of them.

To say that publishers of all kinds may be a bit short-sighted about how to make use of online distribution is to say nothing new. Authors do, of course, retain an interest in the words themselves, if not, necessarily, in their form, so I think what really needs to happen is for more first-tier authors to take upon themselves, or their hired help, the business of maintaining an online presence.

With that in mind, I was delighted to see that Dr Samuel gave a plug to Rebecca Solnit as someone whose website "does a nice job" of speaking "to readers while also serving the specific needs of editors". I admire Rebecca Solnit's work enormously, and she is precisely one of the writers I wish I could follow in the way Chris outlines. She has a page that collects her essays and another one for interviews and reviews, and each of them offers a link to read at the publisher's site. Just the job. But despite the site being built with WordPress, neither of those pages offers a feed of any kind. Nor does her homepage.

Why is that? Could it be that Rebecca Solnit has heard about "the sad demise of RSS," also plugged (often) by Dr Samuel?

RSS is very definitely not dead.1 And it is not difficult to implement. Heck, I'd consider it an honour if anyone with a WordPress site asked me to do it for them, even without any of the other IndieWeb goodness. But every time a grownup says 'I don't believe in RSS' there is a feed somewhere that falls down dead.

  1. At this point, obvs, I'd quote Mark Twain, but a little research suggests that wouldn't be simple. 

Fri, 17 Jan 2020 14:35:00 +0100

Leaving Yahoo groups is impossible for some

I'm enjoying a certain amount of schadenfreude at the antics of Yahoo group members who simply have no idea what is happening to them, why it is happening, or what to do about it. I raised the imminent shut-down a couple of months ago, and got not a single reply from any group member. It is now obvious that the moderators long ago abandoned ship. But the pain continues.

Yahoo people jump for joy

The group serves the town where I live as a kind of bulletin board. People who moved away long ago and couldn't be arsed to leave the list then are clamouring for "someone" to remove them. People wilting under the onslaught of single emails, because Yahoo kindly abandoned digests before it abandons everything else, are clamouring too, and seem unaware of mail filters.

I've pointed out the Visit Your Group button visible at the bottom of every email, even with images not loaded, and that it takes you to a page where you can unsubscribe. Still people want someone else to unsubscribe them. (I haven't unsubscribed myself because it is just too entertaining.)

On and on it goes.

I should note that the only other Yahoo Group in which I have taken an active interest transferred all its assets and happy members to Groups.io with nary a hitch.

Maybe this group will eventually reincarnate itself. I'm kinda hoping it does so on Facebook, so I can give up even these minor pleasures.

Tue, 14 Jan 2020 19:30:00 +0100

Spam almost vanquished

I really wanted to post this 3 days ago, on January 10th. That would have been one year since I started recording the amount of spam I was getting over on my micro-site. I first noticed the problem in November 2018, and in January 2019 started keeping track.

This graph shows all the data from the previous year1. Spam received is in blue. Spam deleted, which includes older spam unwittingly received, is in green.

A couple of observations.

The biggest remaining mystery is why the green bars are out of sync with the blue bars. You can see this most clearly at the right-hand side of the graph, where the two data series should be in lockstep, but the green is displaced by about 12 data points. I'm guessing it has something to do with the way I'm using Chartist.js, but I haven't got the faintest idea what.

My plan is to keep doing what I'm doing, and to let the sparklines in the sidebar reflect spam since 10 January 2020.

  1. Another weird thing. I fully expected there to be 365 entries. I thought I had been assiduous. I have not. But the two data series are, thank heavens, the same length. 

Mon, 13 Jan 2020 19:30:00 +0100

Orchid transplants

small phalaenopsis orchids freshly mounted on bark

At the Casa Marina gardens in Key West last week, I was quite surprised to see orchids mounted on slabs of what looked like cork oak bark. My surprise, I later learned, was the result of my own ignorance, as it seems fairly common to attach orchids to a support and let them get on with it. I resolved to try something like that with two of my Phalaenopsis orchids that have not been doing too well, I suspect because the pots they are in are too big. Out on my first walk since coming home, I noticed a couple of downed trees, with easily detached bark, so I detached a couple of pieces and carried them home. The little plants are just wired on, without any moss to maintain humidity, which was what the internet later told me I should have used, so they will probably need to be sprayed at least once a day. Maybe if I find some sphagnum moss some time soon I'll add it as an afterthought, but in the meantime I probably won't lose anything by at least giving this a shot.

Sun, 12 Jan 2020 18:30:00 +0100

This is not a monthly review

This time last year, I bought two gizmos that improved my on-the-road writing experience a lot; a Roost laptop stand and a little Logitech bluetooth keyboard. Add in my bluetooth mouse, and I can work comfortably almost anywhere I can find a table and chair. Except when I cannot find the right chair.

For the past week or so I've been staying in a lovely house, warm and friendly and comfortable in every way, with a lovely big dining table around which we have shared lovely big meals. The table is amply furnished with chairs, and the chairs are perfect for lolling about in, eating, drinking and chatting amiably.

But they're hell when I'm trying to work.

They're just too low, and the seats are somewhat sunken, so the front bar presses into the back of my thighs. Piling cushions on helps a bit, but not quite enough. As a result, while I am perfectly happy to be here reading on the screen and tapping out the occasional note, I am horribly fiddly when it comes to writing anything of substance. Ordinarily, a break like this would be a super opportunity to get my monthly review out promptly and to contemplate an annual review. There are other things I know I ought to be doing, but I'm not doing those either, and all because of the seating.

To mangle some words that will probably fail to resonate with most of the people who read this, "Are you sitting comfortably? ... Then I cannot begin."

Instead, I've been reading other people's roundups of weeks, months, years and decades and setting reminders for myself so that I catch up with my own as soon as I can. One of my favourites was Jeremy Keith's Words I wrote in 2019, which contained this little gem:

I’m pretty sure that I will also continue to refer to them as blog posts, not blogs. I may be the last holdout of this nomenclature in 2020. I never planned to die on this hill, but here we are.

I choose to die on this self-same hill, alongside Jeremy.

Truth be told, I usually circumlocute the issue by talking about pieces or articles or some such thing, but in my mind, I know they are blog posts, and this is the first of the new year.

Wed, 01 Jan 2020 17:30:00 +0100

A tale of two coffee stories

Ripe coffee beans in farmer's hands

Quite by coincidence, I listened to two podcasts about coffee back to back. Well, it wasn't truly a coincidence; I saw that there were two in my queue and so I interfered with the ordering to listen to them one after the other. Anyway, Benjamen Walker's Wake up and smell the coffee was the kind of podcast I wish I could do more often.1 Benjamen took his growing love for coffee on a global tour of discovery that took in Paris, Copenhagen and Nairobi. I don't know whether he planned it that way, or simply took advantage of various opportunities (there was something in the credits about having received a grant to do it, so maybe it was planned as a whole.) The result was an entertaining, complex episode that exposed parts of the coffee chain that even coffee fans might not know about.

Perhaps the most telling point was made by one of the founders of Coffee Collective, in Denmark, who explained that because in the past most coffee had been produced by enslaved labour, the cost of coffee barely reflected the cost of production. That cheapness created a culture that happily tips down the drain coffee that has sat neglected too long. You wouldn't do that with a glass or two of wine left in a bottle (although you might feed it to your vinegar mother). The historically low price of coffee is probably what also causes right-thinking people to blanch at the thought of a $15 shot.

Slave-grown coffee also came up towards the end of Lord Bragg's sleepwalk through an episode of In Our Time on coffee. In fact, it may even have come up only during the podcast listeners' special treat of bonus material from Melvin and his guests. It wasn't the only interesting thing to arise late and, in my view, much too briefly. There was also the foundations of Italian coffee culture, which mandated a top price for a coffee but only if it came without service. Standing at the bar and gulping a tiny espresso was thus cheaper than paying a lot more to linger at a table. In Italy, and in France too, the sale of coffee went to the guilds that also sold distilled spirits, which explains a lot.2 The stove-top Moka coffee maker, launched in the 1930s and still a classic icon of Italian coffee at home, became popular partly because it made a reasonable facsimile of an espresso at home, and also because it was it was futuristic, modern, and made of aluminium.

Then there are the huge differences between Italian coffee culture and the "Italian" coffee bars in London in the 50s and 60s, where patrons did linger and where the coffee was mostly milk, as it remains in so many places today. Class and coffee is a ripe area for discussion. Starbucks, apparently, was popular in blue states 20 years before it began to make inroads in red states. In that context, and the cappuccino-sipping Guardian reader, another guest raised the milkiness of caffé latte and its kin as infantilising, people walking down the street and "sucking on their sippy cups".

Coffee producers don't drink coffee, just as cacao farmers don't eat chocolate. Preparation is too much of a fuss, for one thing, and for another some countries outright banned coffee roasting; beans had to go for export. (Benjamen Walker's interview with the first coffee roasters in Kenya was eye-opening.) Now farmers are leaving the land, in part because they cannot earn enough growing coffee, and moving to the city, where they encounter, and drink, instant coffee. Coffee remains a mostly urban drink, and as urbanisation increases in the developing world, so does coffee consumption.

What I'm saying, I guess, is that the guests on In Our Time seemed to have much more interesting information to offer than the same old stories of frisky goats, the growth of Lloyds List and invention of The Tatler and The Spectator. Perhaps I know too much, but I do think I have learned a lesson listening to those two podcasts together.

What that is, I'm not yet ready to say.

Also at Eat This Podcast

Photo by Rodrigo Flores on Unsplash

  1. I have, in fact, made a similar episode: Pushing good coffee

  2. Caffé corretto remains one of my favourite examples of Italian hypochondria and pragmatism. I did not, however, know that the fascists had outlawed espresso machines because coffee was luxurious and an import. 

Thu, 26 Dec 2019 10:30:00 +0100

IndieWeb Challenge Day 11

A very, very small fix today.1

  1. The formatting of footnotes had been driving me nuts, but not nuts enough to do anything about it. Until today. The marker is now where it ought to be, and the font size a smidgen smaller. 

Wed, 11 Dec 2019 12:30:00 +0100

IndieWeb Challenge Day 10

I've wanted for ages to be able to do visual representations of some of the data I collect, and as I had a bit more time than usual yesterday I finally made the effort to understand chartist.js and put it to work.

First, though, I got rid of a few things that my new theme was loading and that were leftovers from a previous life. That made it easier to see what was going on. Following the very clear instructions made it relatively easy to get a test chart visible, and with that done, I stuck in some of my own data, and voilá!

This is actually a daily plot of the number of spam comments I get over on the stream. It was the biggest set of data I could easily lay my hands on. To get it to display intelligibly I had to meddle with the styling of the bars on the chart in my custom.css, and I am hoping I may be able to do that on the fly in future; tricky, but possible. I also suppressed labels on the abscissa, because I don't have the actual dates.1

For now, the data are actually in the script here in the source. Next I want to see whether I can read the data in from a separate file. And ultimately, store the script elsewhere too.

For now, I am very content.

  1. Well, I have the start date, so I could reconstruct the series, but life is too short.  

Tue, 10 Dec 2019 12:30:00 +0100

Page created: Sat, Jan 25, 2020 - 09:05 PM GMT