In a Slack chat before Christmas, my colleague mentioned that her Dad restores and sells antique fountain pens. We talked about how awesome that was, and the fact that he’d replaced the furniture in her childhood bedroom with an industrial lathe so that he can manufacture new parts for them; I spent the next five minutes swooning over the pictures of the refurbished lathe and some of the pens on his website.
She surprised me with a small package right after Christmas from her Dad, containing two beautiful matching Esterbrook pens: a fountain pen and a mechanical pencil. They feel wonderful in my hand. The lead in the pencil is thick and smooth and is the exact opposite of everything I hate about mechanical pencils; it actually feels like a pen instead of dragging a wire across sandpaper. I can’t wait to put some ink in the pen and try it out.
I’m currently down to ~986 broken links on the site; in my spare time I’ve been cleaning things up, and I feel like I’m finally turning the corner. There are now a TON of outgoing links that point to the Wayback Archive; I’m going to have to make another donation to them this year. The Verge wrote about link rot last year, citing a study that used the New York Times as a test case; since 1996, over a quarter of the links within a 550,000-article test study were broken. As the articles got older, predictably the number went up: 72% of the links from 1998 were dead. Another thing I wasn’t aware of is an underground economy where people can pay to have broken links redirect to their sites; I guess any traffic is good traffic?
I’ve powered through about 500 broken links on the backend of the site here, and I see a couple of common issues so far:
- Major media outlets, as I mentioned earlier, have sucked at keeping their links current. Most of them do use some kind of redirect logic on the backend, but links to big outlets like CNN, and CBS have a 50/50 chance of resolving, and all the links I’ve found to the Baltimore Sun are completely broken.
- A quirk in how I originally built the site and how it’s structured now means that 1/4 of the internal images I uploaded and linked to (everything before about 2014 or so) are technically broken, although WordPress actually does a great job of redirecting to the right file. I’ve found a way to update these quickly, which is a blessing, because…
- …when I ported the site over from hand-coded pages, I missed a whole swath of links that pointed back into the site. These now need to be individually hunted down and updated. This will represent roughly 75% of the time I spend on this project.
- At some point something happened internally with the HTML parser that changed < and > with < and &rt; in random places, which are the character entity references for those characters. Because the < and > characters make up a huge chunk of HTML coding, this can be a gigantic problem: the HTML won’t parse and you (the reader) are looking at gobbledygook. I’m going through and trying to find the pages where this happens and fix it.
On the whole, this plugin is awesome, and it’s doing an excellent job of automating the process: it suggests a date-coded Wayback Archive link as close to the original post as it can find, which is pretty slick. 1600+ links to go…
I updated my Archives page last week to reflect the twenty+ years I’ve been writing here and got to thinking that a lot of the outgoing links from the first decade or so of this site are probably dead; most major media sites have been through two or three content management systems since 2001 and there are a bajillion smaller sites I found and linked to Back In The Day that have long since been snuffed out by time and commerce. I did some sleuthing and found a WordPress plugin that goes through each and every post to hunt down bad links, and provides a dashboard to view and edit them in a list. I installed it, ran it, and waited for a report: 2300+ broken links spread out over pages and images.
The tool is pretty nice; within the dashboard it allows me to edit the link and provides a handy suggestion in the form of an Internet Archive link to a cached version of the site—basically the closest we can get to the page I linked to at the time I linked to it. So I’m going through the painstaking process of manually updating each link as best I can, and when there is no better alternative, killing the link entirely. It looks like WordPress is hiccuping on something internally because a full third of the problems so far are images I’ve uploaded and linked to that it can’t find or doesn’t see—but which pop up when I load the pages. Could be the way earlier versions of WordPress created links are functional but enough to trip the breaker. Also, it looks like a lot of the early links made internally to other pages within this site aren’t formed correctly; they point to pages where WordPress points to a directory. So I have to go back through and manually fix all of those.
I’m currently crashing on a big work project, but in my downtime it’s easy to go through and clean up 20 links at a time. It’s nice to make incremental progress on something that soothes my OCD.
December is winding down, and I’m looking through the various streams of data to see what I can learn from my online activities this year. I have WordPress configured to keep track of how many posts I’m writing per month and by which category. The yearly post count average looks like it’s holding steady over the last ten years, shallowing out the trend line that skewed from a flurry of activity in 2005:
The category data gets a little more complicated to parse, because my syndication system pulls in posts from the Scout blog and that data shows up in the category count. I used a GREP script to filter that out and updated the spreadsheet I used from last year, keeping 2020’s data and adding the new numbers to see what’s gotten the most attention. I pulled two categories from the count—Shortlinks (this category is just a flag for sidebar posts) and Photo (a flag for any post with an embedded Flickr photo) because they skew the data. Orange is 2020, red is 2021:
The Finn, Family, House, Politics (ugh) and Scout categories all bumped up a lot this year, which is what I’d expect. And clearly there are some categories that don’t get any love—maybe I retire and reclassify some of those in 2022?
My site stats tell me that May 2 was the busiest day of the year, and that posts I wrote about iPhone calendar battery drain and my Subaru GL wagon are by far the most heavily traveled pages on the site. That tracks; This site is more for me than it is for you, but I’m happy all three of you have read this far.
You know, with all of the stuff going on in the last couple of months, I completely forgot to mention the fact that this weblog, as of March 22, is 20 years old. My first post was about the choice of outerwear I was noticing in Washington, D.C. as I worked there; it wasn’t the most emotionally wrenching subject, but it kicked off an almost daily habit I’ve kept ever since then. To that date, I’d posted 5196 times, or roughly 22 times a month. Because of a huge spike in 2004, my trend line is slowly declining, but it looks like there’s been an general uptick since about 2017 or so.
In terms of content, I’ve stripped out some data that skews the average for the category counts; all of the Scout categories are out, as well as the Shortlinks category, which overlaps half the posts and skews everything else.
It’s hard to believe I’ve kept this going for 20 years, but it’s also become an invaluable tool for remembering where we’ve been, when things happened, and maybe a little bit about who we are. Here’s to another 20 years.
I’ve spent a tense couple of days trading emails with my target hosting provider trying to hammer out the details of migration and transfer. As of right now they’ve migrated WordPress over to an instance on their servers and I just now got them to understand that I want to move the domain over as well. I sent over the Auth code Friday morning and got the ball rolling, so let’s see how fast it takes to get the rest of it moved. While this is all happening, I’ve been juggling tabs in my browsers like a circus clown, switching from account to account to communicate with the various companies involved. It’s making me feel schizophrenic. One minute I’m using my namesake account, next I’m using my idiotking account, and then I have to switch over to Gmail for authentication, which means logging out of my work account…
It’s been weird because the content is frozen while we sort things out; not having the site there to record on is like not having my phone in my pocket—I feel like there’s something missing. I have a problem with losing things, as documented here many times, and when something is unavailable or out of my reach I feel unmoored. This site has grown into something more than just a place to post pictures or links to funny websites; it’s an imprecise digital history of my life. Here and on Flickr are how I mark the years of my life, because I can’t keep track of it all in my head. It’s one of the only good habits I’ve ever been able to keep, and even when I’m having a slow month of posting, I’m still thinking about posting something. Even if it’s a list of shit I did over the weekend.
I’ve finished up a pile of small but time-consuming tasks in the bathroom. There’s kick moulding all the way around the perimeter of the bathroom, finished off with toekick at the bottom edge. Various holes and dents in the wall are patched and painted. There’s a coat of eggshell white on everything except for a few places I can’t see without direct sunlight.
I have the wall heater hooked up to a thermostat as of this afternoon, but for some reason the thermostat isn’t waking up. I called my neighbor and double-checked the wiring diagram it came with, and he confirmed my research. I’ll have to track that issue down later this week when I’ve got some time.
I ordered the sinks on Friday, and the marble folks are going to be here on Wednesday to measure for the countertops, which is a big relief. Once that’s all in I can hook up water and get the last big utility working in there.
Jen hit the Costco on Friday for bulk quarantine supplies, and Saturday morning Finn and I hit the store for the remainder. I’m watching the news with a wary eye not because I think it’s the second coming of the 1918 Spanish Fever epidemic, but because I know I’m standing square in the crosshairs of the virus: a low white blood cell count and a commute that takes me to and from a heavily trafficked city in a thin metal tube. Our leadership has been very cool about keeping people informed and offering telecommuting as an option, and I’m going to take them up on that when the first case hits D.C.
Sunday I took Finn and a friend to the mall for the afternoon. We walked inside and I asked the two of them to meet me at the same spot in two hours, and then I walked away and let them figure out where they were going to go. Then I texted Jen and said, “I have set them free on the mall. Should I be worried?” because I was a little worried. We texted back and forth and she made me feel better about it, and I put the worry out of my mind. We’ve been trying to give her more freedom in small doses. Apart from some stupendously dumb choices she’s made on her own in the last two weeks, we know she’s a good kid and normally does the right thing, so I put it out of my mind and looked for some work clothes. At 5:00 I walked back to the rally point and found them sitting on the floor drinking bubble tea, chatting happily with each other.
Laying in bed at 9:40 with a snoring dog next to me. I took Finn and Zachary snowboarding today (more on that later) so I’m a wee bit tired and emotionally wrung out; the two of them could not have done better today.
Meanwhile, the guy came to measure the counters and recommended two smaller sinks, so we’re changing the order to reflect that. We also need to buy the faucets before they come to install, as they’ll cut the holes for those while they’re here.
OK, if all is working correctly, Idiotking.org has been migrated to the new host and things are back up and running. I got the notification this morning while I was out of town and this is the first I’ve been able to look at things.
There are some changes happening behind the scenes here at idiotking.org. As I mentioned earlier, I’m moving hosts this week, so things are going to be quiet for a while as we move the furniture around.
Well, the site is back up again, after several conversations with my hosting provider. Somebody injected my site with some malware, putting a script in place that was sending my Archives link to a Canadian pill pharmacy site. It’s still there. I had the admins rebuild the site from a backup and run a scan for malware, and it looks like we didn’t catch it. I’ve got some more sleuthing to do. I also think I’m going to finally move hosting providers to the company that hosts my namesake site; I like them a little better and their pricing is more competitive.
About two weeks ago, Hazel came back from the puppy daycare with a chunk taken our of her ear missing. The daycare was horrified and notified Jen right away but we were pretty relaxed about it; she’s a dog who tries to punch above her weight. We know she’s going to het her butt kicked now and then—and that’s good for her.
But the nick in her ear wouldn’t heal, and we noticed that she was leaving drops of blood all over the house as she shook herself off (she shakes herself at least 20 times a day). Alarmed, Jen took her to the vet, where she was diagnosed with “ear crumble“, a condition where an allergic reaction to a vaccine causes the capillaries in her ears to go necrotic and die off, which, untreated, can lead to loss of both of her ears. She came home from the vet wrapped up in gauze like a Civil War casualty, and then immediately proceeded to shake most of it off. Jen took her back where they sedated her and re-wrapped it and then put her in the Cone of Shame; she returned home stoned to Venus and staring off into space.
Jen ordered a product called a No Flap Ear Wrap to replace the cone and gauze. The first one she ordered was the size recommended for her measurements, but was too large. The next size down was still a bit large. Jen got back online a third time for the next size down, and the manufacturer immediately responded to refund her money and ship us a new one specific to Hazel’s size, requesting we donate the current one to the vet’s office. It’s not often to get customer service that good or that prompt; I was extremely impressed with them.
She’s about as happy with the wrap as she was with the cone; she tries to shake it off about every five minutes.
Sunday Hazel got us up and out the door at 7:15 and Jen and I took her on a long walk all the way down to the café near the junction, where I got us a coffee for the return trip. After Finley woke, we jumped in the car and drove to the top of the trolley trail, then walked all the way down into Ellicott City for breakfast. Everyone else in Catonsville had the same idea, because the trail was busy. But it was lovely to sit outside and have breakfast with my three girls, and Hazel was about as patient as she could be under the circumstances. We then walked back to the car and headed home, where Hazel passed out in the hallway and we all split off to our own pursuits.
I took advantage of the warm weather and a fresh bloody mary to break down the door on the Accord and swap out the door lock mechanism. After working on the junkyard Accord it was quick work to get the door card off to expose the mechanism. The bolts came off easier with a larger screwdriver—we stripped two of the four bolts in the junkyard—but I still had to drill one of the bolts out.
Once that was done it was a simple matter of pulling the faulty mechanism, replacing it with the new one and testing it before buttoning up the door. Confirming it worked, I put the card back on and put my tools away. Then I stood to the side, used the keyfob to unlock the doors, and enjoyed the fact that the rear door unlocked as it should have the day we bought it.