A strange thing started happening over the last month or so that I wasn’t expecting. I put a quick video edit of the trip I took with Bennett to pick up his Hudson on my YouTube channel, which has historically been very quiet. I use it mainly just as a place to park random videos to be embedded on the weblog or a random forum post. I shared the link with Bennett, Bennett shared it with some friends of his, and it wound up getting about 5,500 views and the channel gained about 20 subscribers in two months. That led to more comments and likes on the Travelall video updates I’ve posted. So I went in to YouTube’s backend and cleaned up the channel, added some categories, and created new title cards for all of those videos.

I don’t know what the end goal is here; I don’t intend to quit the day job and pursue a career as a YouTube creator, as exhausting as that sounds. But I think I’m going to put a little more time into the production of each video to see what kind of traction I can get. Would a sponsorship be nice to have? I wouldn’t turn it down.

Another interesting realization came when I glanced at the initial walkaround videos I shot when I first got the truck. I can’t believe how lousy the thing looked when it first arrived. The paint was garbage, the interior was a horror show, and without a grille it looked like a drunk hobo passed out in the driveway. It’s come a long way. Each time I go outside and cringe at the condition of the front fenders I have to remember how much worse everything looked in March, and how much I’ve done to it since then. I think I’m going to do a before and after 1-year progress video to really compare how far we’ve come.

Date posted: November 9, 2023 | Filed under geek, housekeeping | Leave a Comment »

Ah, that’s better. I was getting tired of the way the sidebar links looked—my old sidebar plugin was retired last year so I had to scramble to find a new solution, and when that was implemented it added a bunch of extra CSS and code into that block of text. I finally dug into the code and found the right combination of selectors to override that garbage, and updated it to use the same font as the body copy in a more readable size.

As I write this I realize I haven’t updated the look and feel of this site in over ten years; the stripped-down template I’m using to base the whole site on has been working pretty seamlessly the whole time, with a few small caveats. Part of that is because the template is so basic, which is the main reason I chose it. I’d like to update the look and feel and do something different, but a huge part of me thinks about that project and just gets tired. I do miss working on the web in small doses, but the thought of a large-scale project doesn’t hold the same amount of professional challenge it once did. Were I to change the template, a couple of things I’ve considered doing are:

  • Running the sidebar links inline in the main story feed with some kind of visual differentiator, so that they’re not pinned to the top of the page and appear in the main timeline
  • Switching away from red and gray to something more soothing
  • Cleaning up the comment listings
  • Setting up the pages for better responsiveness on smaller devices—currently there’s a huge margin on the sides that’s more trouble than it’s worth to remove

Every out-of-the-box template I’ve seen is overcomplicated and usually geared towards some kind of storefront; the days of simple blog templates made for blogs is so far in the past as to be forgotten. I have little patience to figure out how to rip whole modules out of someone else’s convoluted templates, so here we sit.

Date posted: October 31, 2023 | Filed under housekeeping | 3 Comments »

That was pretty bizarre. I fixed a strange bug in the sidebar logic that was showing multiple other posts in the right column on archived post pages—for some reason the widget was feeding other posts into the “Interesting” feed that blew up the pages. I had to switch to a different plugin last year  (the old one was unsupported and woefully out of date) and I didn’t notice the single post pages were broken until a few weeks ago. Futzing with the logic, that widget is now suppressed on all pages except for the homepage.

Date posted: June 22, 2023 | Filed under housekeeping | Leave a Comment »

Wow, I didn’t realize it until this morning, but this is the 6,000th post on Idiot Central here. That’s certainly some kind of milestone.

I’m sitting back at my work desk after a long weekend at Mom’s house for Easter, and the view out the window is completely different today. The trees here are just about to bloom, and the grass is growing fast and thick. I’ve been working pretty much nonstop since right after the Christmas break and our office had what they call “rest and relaxation” week, which basically means “we’re not giving you the week off, but don’t send people email or expect to get any response.” I was planning on working through most of the week but didn’t realize how much I needed time away to recharge; I’ve gotten pretty burned out since the beginning of the year. I took a couple of days to work on the truck and then drove up to Mom’s house for our first visit since last year, where Finn and Mom and I basically sat and relaxed and didn’t do much other than eat and sleep. That was lovely, and it was great to sit and visit with her and Renie and Tony.

While I was up there I brought the Yashica large-format camera and set it up on the back porch for some family photos, which we haven’t done in several years; I used my Fuji as a crude light meter to sort out the settings and then ran through a 12-frame roll with the family. I’ve got everything wrapped up in a package to thedarkroom.com for developing; hopefully it all works as advertised and I didn’t fuck anything up.

Mom sent me home with a bike her neighbor dropped off in the garage, something they couldn’t fit in their moving van, and asked me if I wanted it. It’s a Miyata 712 that dates back to 1988, which is actually the same vintage as my Trek road bike, and carries a more complete component set than the Trek (my bike has a mixture of Shimano 105 and Suntour components, while this bike has a complete set of Shimano 105 gear as well as two very nice wheels). The frame is about 3″ too tall for me, so I’ll pull the components off and trash the frame—it’s cracked at the cable routing tubes, which makes the frame worthless anyway.

Date posted: April 11, 2023 | Filed under family, housekeeping | Leave a Comment »

2022 was an odd year for a lot of reasons. World events just seemed to get stranger and stranger; 2012 Bill would have laughed at a description of the state of the world in 2022. Shit, 2021 Bill is still trying to process the last twelve months.

Most of the progress we made this year was at a house we don’t live in. Having spent every weekend between the end of March to the beginning of November and my father in law’s, I’m proud of the work the three of us did to improve his quality of life, as much as it took out of us. That meant that there’s little to show for our efforts here at the house. Our vacation to Austin was fantastic; everything about the trip was better than I could have hoped. We all got COVID at different times of the year, and apart from Jen’s missing taste and smell we came through OK. There have been a lot of challenges over the last twelve months, some of which we overcame and some of which we’re still working through.

Over here at the weblog, I’ve kept busy; the frequency of posts has fallen off slightly, but I’m averaging about 20 a month.

Lining up the category counts, it’s interesting to see what’s been focused on and what hasn’t. Clearly I’m not using some of the categories, so I’m going to consolidate some and add some new ones. Some of these categories are artificially inflated—everything posted on the Scout blog gets cross-posted here, and every post with a photo linked from Flickr gets tagged “photo”. I think categories like Album of the Week and Favorite Things will be decommissioned and I’ll find new homes for those few posts.

Date posted: December 30, 2022 | Filed under family, housekeeping | Leave a Comment »

During a long call at work where I was mostly listening, I did some housekeeping here at Idiot Central:

  • I found a new plugin for sidebar posts and installed it, which means the shortlink categories are back up on the right side of the page. It required the addition of another plugin to work correctly—it’s what they call a “classic widget” and doesn’t work on WordPress 6.X without a backward-looking workaround. Not the best solution, but one that works.
  • There was a bit of PHP I wrote at the end of each post which basically looked for any syndicated posts tagged “scout” and both changed the CSS to offset the post and added the explanatory block at the bottom, complete with direct links to that post on the Scout blog. When I updated the PHP engine behind the curtain to 8.0 a couple of months ago, my old code blew up so I had to find the issue there and fix that block.
  • Finally, I wanted to remove the Flickr gallery at the bottom of the sidebar (I haven’t posted anything there in months) and replace it with Instagram; this took a couple of extra steps that aren’t in the documentation; what I had to do is hook up Instagram through Jetpack first and then link it up with the widget.
  • I added a snippet of code to the functions.php file to supress any posts tagged “shortlinks” in the main feed:
    function exclude_category( $query ) {
    if ( $query->is_home() && $query->is_main_query() ) {
    $query->set( 'cat', '-30' );
    add_action( 'pre_get_posts', 'exclude_category' );

    Where “30” is the category ID number. Because it’s within the main WordPress loop, it doesn’t affect the sidebar feed at all. A nice little hack that ensures I don’t need to add yet another plugin to do something dumb. Via this article.

I’ve been hosting photos here on the site pretty exclusively for the better part of the year. I used to use Flickr exclusively as my photo CDN, so almost every photo here from 2005 until this year is hosted there. Given all that’s been happening with external platforms coming and going, I’ve been thinking I need an automated solution to swap them out for local copies if and when Flickr ever goes away. I’ll have to look into how other people have handled that situation and if there’s a good script I can borrow.

Date posted: December 2, 2022 | Filed under housekeeping | Leave a Comment »

I upgraded the PHP engine behind idiotking from 7.3 to 8.0 and apparently it made the hamsters mad and they are on strike. One of the key plugins I use for the sidebar is apparently the culprit; the author wrote it 17 years ago and apparently doesn’t want to update it anymore, so it’s officially EOL. I’ll have to spend some time figuring out how to fold the sideblog entries into the main feed, but for now things will be a bit broken.

Update: Got it working again; there was some legacy code I was using to denote the Scout syndicated posts that I need to sort out. For now, all of the sidebar posts are showing up in the main feed, which isn’t a huge problem.

I’ve been using this template for over a decade, partially because it’s not overcomplicated and also because visually it’s very simple. But it’s getting creaky as the years move onward; there are some newer templates that offer the same visual simplicity without featuring a shopping cart, integrated twitter feed, and product carousel (WordPress ceased to be a true blogging platform a decade ago). The idea of refreshing the site makes me tired, but I suppose I need to really consider it.

technical difficulties

Date posted: October 28, 2022 | Filed under geek, housekeeping | Leave a Comment »

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 seen this pop up in a couple of places, but it wasn’t until I saw the picture at the top of this story that it hit me: A B-52 is an immense airplane. There’s a group moving a B-52 from Arizona to Oklahoma overland so that they can use it for testing new engines; this means it’s on a very long trailer moving very slowly. It’s 159′ from tip to tail; that’s just unreal.

Date posted: January 10, 2022 | Filed under general, housekeeping | Leave a Comment »

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 &lt; 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…

Date posted: January 7, 2022 | Filed under housekeeping | Leave a Comment »

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.

Date posted: January 5, 2022 | Filed under housekeeping | Leave a Comment »