It has quickly become obvious that my photo-every-day project needs a little focus. Haha. Focus. Get it. A photography joke…. never mind. Anyhow, each day so far I’ve picked up my camera and gone out to the park or the backyard and then… uh… snap. Done, right? Problem is that in about two weeks you’re going to have a big collection of photos of Claire at the park that, while certainly all lovely and interesting, kinda defeats the purpose of pushing myself with a daily photo goal. There are numerous ways I could solve this, but how I’ve chosen to try is via a randomized photo prompt. Geek-power activate: Last night I wrote a really simple little PHP script into the sidebar of this blog. It’s a bit of code that when activated, checks to see if there is already a daily prompt and if not goes ahead and picks three random variables –a palatte, a technique, and a subject– mashing them together into a cue for me: the result is I get a little sentence that describes something I need to take a picture of fot that day. Essentially, each day, the first time the blog loads for the day, a new cue is randomly generated (so I don’t get knowledge ahead of time of the day’s challenge) and that is posted on the site (and also sent to me via email, if you feel that you want to know more about how this works!) It’s an idea generator, and what results can be awesome, crazy, simple or insane. It could be a colourful macro photo of food, or a black and white action shot of nature, or… who knows. There are currently about four thousand unique combinations (and I’ll hopefully think of some more descriptors to add in over time.)
I’ve been cleaning up my server. Long-story-short, my hosting provider abruptly informed me a couple weeks ago that they were discontinuing support (ie. turning off) an older version of the database that is hidden quietly behind — but vitally important for the operation of — this site.
So, I’ve been cleaning up my server.
It didn’t affect this blog, but when I crawled into the digital root cellar that is my server and had a look around it became abundantly clear that a couple years worth of old projects were due to be vaporized in a little less than a month if I ignored both the warning and the mess.
So, I’ve been cleaning up my server. (Which goes a long way to explaining the thinned trickle of posts lately, by the way!)
Long Lost Treasures
Of course, like anyone who’s been living somewhere for over a decade can attest, junk piles up. And a server, it would seem, is not much different. In the past I’ve apparently spent time building little sites that have served long lost purposes, or have flopped, or for whatever reason were stuffed into dusty folders and ignored for many years.
I’ve found some odd, interesting, and occasional cool stuff, let me tell you.
One of the interesting things that caught my eye and my attention this past few days was some work I was doing on trying to mess around with approximating a true random number generator.
Randomness is fun. And hard. There are loads of pseudo-random number generators, many of them built into programming languages and used by default in silly little applications that only need to give the appearance of randomness. For example, the header images on this blog that on each reload provides you, the reader, a slightly different look and layout for your viewing pleasure, makes use of the rand() function in MySQL or the rand() function in PHP, depending, to pick something marginally random from a slightly larger data set. Say, pick 4 feature articles from 10 potential candidates. Or, pick 1 header banner from 20 possible header banners. It only needs to seem random, and true randomness is not vital to the operation.
But true randomness, when true randomness is required, is important, too. Think about games of chance or when money or something else of value is on the line. Randomness matters.
So, at some point I had built a random number generator into the template of one of my blogs.
Noise and Code
It wasn’t so much a number generator, I suppose. It was a noise gathering tool. It was an entropy observation and recording system that gathered entropy from human interaction with the blog.
It was a noise gathering tool.
See, you are a random-like factor when it comes to the computer. When you click on something, load a page, click to another page, this is a kind of quasi-entropy. Entropy comes from many sources, and I’m sure a student of entropy maths (whatever that is) would argue that there are numerous flaws in my logic, but hundreds of visitors spread across random locations and a variety of influencing factors — coupled with the only moderate popularity of this particular website — means that, say, converting a few digits of the time-of-reload time-stamp to a binary string, jumbling that together with all the other bits of entropy, and outputting it as say, a series of four-digit binary numbers, gives something like this:
1100 1111 0000 0001 1101 1001 0010 1100 1001 0011
0010 0100 0100 1101 0100 1101 0001 0000 0010 0010
1000 0000 0110 1001 1100 1001 1100 1001 1001 0010
Or maybe this:
1110 0011 0001 1010 1000 0010 0110 1110 1101 1001
1111 0010 1110 1110 0111 0100 1001 1011 1110 1011
0011 0110 1100 1001 1011 0001 1011 1100 1011 0001
It’s quasi-random, and someone with more understanding of the topic and a bit better grasp of statistical mathematics could probably poke some holes in my method.
But in the meantime, I might just dust off this long lost bit of treasure code and make something interesting out of it. If nothing else, more randomness on this blog might not be a bad thing…
If you are curious about playing around with these numbers, the ever-changing output of this entropy file is available here. I’d be interested in your analysis… so comment, write, or whatever…
So you are a business blogger. But why? Have you even considered that? Perhaps you have and the reason is worth sharing. Or perhaps you have no idea, you’re just doing it because everyone else is, too. Explain your reasons for writing.
As of writing this (arguably the first true “blog” post) of this site I’ve launched a little tool called the 2 Topix Blog Idea Generator that has already seen a respectable hit count since making it public. In actual fact, the tool is merely a little script that randomly pulls two blog ideas from a database of ideas (eighty-some as of this writing) and displays them in the window. It took me a few long hours worth of work to divine all those ideas and trascribe them into the database — which is just fine — and I thought I’d kick this section of the site off with some of my (so to speak) own medicine. So, I loaded up the generator and low-and-behold guess what topic number one happened to be: Blog About Why You Blog
And blogging does seem like a rather odd thing to do, doesn’t it? Between a couple other sites — my primary, personal blog making up the bulk of that, I could collectively count nearly two-thousand posts and half a million words. And it’s all public. Much of it is personal. And it spans a variety of topics representing a broader scope than I would have ever thought myself capable of generating. (Albeit, accumulated over nearly a decade of writing, multiple locations, and numerous adventures.)
So, why do I blog?
1) I blog because I am a writer. And when I write that I don’t state it in the casual sense it might imply at first blush. No. Writing is one of the things by which I have defined myself for much of my life, extending far back into my youth. It is as a comfortable, familiar blanket might be to a child. Or, maybe as much a vice as a glass of whiskey to an alcoholic. I am a writer, an addict to the creation of texts and ideas, and far too cowardly to ever put real distance between myself and a keyboard.
2) As I imagine is often the case, I blog because it justifies my existence. How would that be defined by a shrink: narcissism or nihilism? The first, perhaps because I enjoy the public spectacle of my life? The second, perhaps due to a towering feeling that without it existing in some sort of public arena everything I do is much more intangible than it could be? Well, probably neither of those are completely true — or completely false either — but I’m sure it could be argued that we all justify our existence somehow, to someone. This is one of the ways I try.
3) I blog because it entertains. Though who can say for certain. I am something of an entertainer, I suppose, and my stage is — frankly — the page. I write, blog, lay bare the words of my soul, because it makes others happy (or at least engages some emotion) to read what I’ve posted. It is unfiltered and honest, I think, and the hundreds of people I’ve touched through words is immensely gratifying.
Thus, another blog. Thus, the first blog post of a whole new web-project. Unlike my first blogs, both still live and active, this will represent little of my (a) deeply personal, everyday life or (b) scientific, rational-debunker hobby. Instead, it will be a glimpse at what I like to think of as my professional self: the creative, business, technical, word-smithy guru that often needs a venue to express himself.