Category Archives: Tech

Super Blue Blood Moon Blur

I woke up way too early to see if the Super Blue Blood Moon* eclipse would be visible or blocked by clouds. (You never know, and I didn’t want to wake up the kiddo in the middle of a school night if there wasn’t anything to see.) I had a clear view, but the street lights were too bright to see the red color. It just looked dull brown.

So I took a couple of pictures, then went back in to wake up the kid. He still wanted to go out and see, but only for one look. Totally understandable. I carried him out, we looked at the darkened moon, then I carried him back in and put him back to bed.

It’s the third lunar eclipse he’s seen, though one of them we didn’t get to see much of since it was so cloudy. And while it’s not as cool as a total solar eclipse, it’s something you can see with no special equipment by walking out into your front yard anywhere in the world that has a view of the moon during the several hours it takes the Earth’s shadow to move across it.

I went back out one last time to try for some photos of totality, but they didn’t come out any better than the ones I took the first time. I looked around for a spot that might be darker and still have a view of the moon (without trespassing in someone else’s back yard), but didn’t see one — there are way too many lights at night these days. Then I tried to place the constellations I could see, and failed. Then I went back in to go back to bed.

Unfortunately I don’t think I really got back to sleep, so I’ve been dragging all morning. The interruption didn’t help the kiddo either, so getting him to school was a bit of a challenge.

*Blood moon: lunar eclipse, Earth’s shadow darkening the moon & turning it red. Cool to see, widely visible.
Super moon: full moon during closest point in orbit, looks slightly bigger.
Blue moon: 2nd full moon in a calendar month, otherwise no difference.

How Link Shorteners Leave Holes in Your Social Media

Another problem I’ve noticed in my Twitter archive: Lots of URL shorteners and image hosts have shut down or purged their archives.

Sure, bit.ly and is.gd and tinyurl and ow.ly are still around. But in the days before t.co, I used a lot of different Twitter apps that used different shorteners or image hosts.

I have photos posted not just at Twitter and Twitpic, but at phodroid, mypict.me, and twitgoo. In some cases the description and date can point me to the right picture on my hard drive or on this blog (I used to import a daily digest of tweets, and I still sometimes use Twitter as a rough draft for content here). In some cases I can narrow it down to a group of photos — the 2012 partial solar eclipse, for instance.

In some cases, I have NO IDEA what the photo was:

Similarly, I linked to a lot of articles that might still exist, but the short URLs don’t point to them anymore. Services like tr.im, short.to, and awe.sm. StumbleUpon’s su.pr. In some cases a publisher set up their own shortener, and has since dropped it. Again, sometimes I can find it from here. Sometimes the description includes a quote or title that I can search for.

Oddly enough, I found most of my lost awe.sm links by looking at Del.icio.us, which apparently unwrapped the links when they imported from Twitter way back when. It’s still around and searchable. For now. (I should look into what you get from their archive.)

It’s true that these problems are biggest if you were on Twitter before they implemented their own link shortener and image hosting. But a lot of tools (Buffer, for instance) still use their own shorteners for tracking purposes, so you’re not just depending on the tool being around long enough to post your tweet, you’re depending on it to stay around for the rare person who stumbles on an old thread and wants to see what you were talking about.

And even if you didn’t start using Twitter until they hosted photos themselves, Twitter doesn’t include your photos in your archive! If you want to save your own copies in case they go the way of GeoCities or even photobucket, you’ve got to hold onto the originals or download them yourself.

Searching Your Twitter History: Case of the Missing Context

One of the problems with Twitter’s search capability is that the results are isolated.

I’ve said before that one of the keys to making a social account feel like I own it is that I can find things in it if I want to go back later. You can search your old Twitter posts by adding your username to the query in the regular search form, but it only shows you the matching results, not other posts that might be connected.

If you click on it you can get an actual conversation thread…but only those tweets that are connected as replies, so if you didn’t thread a tweetstorm properly, or if you had a big sprawling conversation with lots of different people, sometimes replying and sometimes posting something new…you can’t see the rest of it.

Worse, if you go back far enough, Twitter doesn’t even have threading. You might see “@friend Inconceivable!” but have no idea what they were saying that you replied to. (And that doesn’t even get into old shortlink and image providers that have shut down, removing content from your post as well.)

I have similar issues with Instagram, which basically has no real search, only hashtag-based timelines to go along with the account-based timelines. In both cases, when you get to a specific post, it’s a dead end. You can’t see anything around it without going back to the author’s profile, even if that author is you. Though depending on how you clicked on the Instagram link, you might get back/forward links.

(This is true for Mastodon as well, but to be fair, Mastodon is still building its search capabilities.)

WordPress, on the other hand, not only usually has next/previous links on each post, but you can view archives by category, tag, month and (for some permalink structures) day. When you find a post, you can see what’s around it. You can get more in the admin interface, but even as a visitor, you can still get the context.

What’s in Your Social Media Archive?

I checked out what you get when you export your content from Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, WordPress and LiveJournal, with an eye for both private archives and migrating to your own site.

Tired of Twitter? Fed up with Facebook? Irritated by Instagram?

If you want to leave a major social network, but keep your content — or even just make sure you have your own backup in case the site shuts down, purges accounts, or changes its TOS *cough* LiveJournal *cough*, you can usually get some of your info. But not all of them give it to you in a way that’s useful.

Twitter

You get a CSV spreadsheet containing all your tweets since the dawn of Twitter, with the text in one column, ID in another, timestamp, reply-to, and so on. It’s pretty easy to import this into another system. (I pulled mine into a test WordPress site using the WP All-Import plugin.)

Links in the text appear as the t.co shortened URL, with the “real” URL in another column. Of course, if the “real” URL was also a shortener, you’ll just see bit.ly or whatever. And if you’ve been on Twitter long enough, you may find that some of your older links use shorteners that don’t exist anymore (or have purged their archives), like ping.fm or tr.im.

You also get an offline web app with an index.html that allows you to view all your tweets month by month without visiting the site.

But you don’t get any of your uploaded media, or direct messages. So if you mostly use Twitter for text-based microblogging, you’re fine, but if you use it for photo sharing or private conversations, you’re out of luck.

Update: Retweets are sometimes incomplete in the spreadsheet. The text field is a constructed manual retweet — “RT @otheruser: Text of the original tweet” — but it’s truncated to fit in 140 characters (even if the original was made after the 280-character update). So if adding the username pushes it over the limit, or if it was longer to begin with, you don’t actually get the entire original tweet in the spreadsheet. I suspect this means retweets don’t actually use that field, and get the content straight from the original tweet by ID.

Facebook

You get all your photos, videos and messages, organized by folders, but the names are all just numeric IDs. You do get an offline web application that includes names and indexes.

It also has your entire timeline in one giant HTML file. But it only includes the text, the type of update, and the timestamps. If you posted a link, it doesn’t include the link. If you posted a photo, it doesn’t link to the photo.

And you don’t get comments, either your comments on other people’s posts, or their comments on yours.

Worst, though? It doesn’t indicate the privacy of each post. That means you can’t take the timeline and import it to a new system unless you separate the public and private posts one by one.

Google Plus

Google Takeout allows you to export various categories of data, including your Google+ stream, circles, +1s and page posts.

Each post is exported as a separate HTML file, named after the first line. Comment threads are included, along with timestamps, a permalink to the original post, and a visibility indicator. It only marks Public vs. Limited, but that’s better than you get from Facebook.

The HTML files are suitable for publishing as-is, and marked up so that that it shouldn’t be hard to write an import tool for a CMS. (I’m planning on writing a script to convert them to WordPress’ XML format.)

Images aren’t included in the G+ stream download, and are instead hotlinked on photo posts and galleries. I haven’t checked, but I suspect any images you uploaded to Google+ will be included in your Google Photos download.

There is an index of all your posts…but it’s in alphabetical order.

Bonus: Google Buzz

When Google shut down Buzz a few years ago, they generated archives and put them in each person’s Drive account. They did one cool thing, which was to create two sets of archives: One complete, the other containing only public posts.

The format? Long PDFs, dozens of pages each, with all your posts, labeled by source (Buzz, Twitter, a specific site, etc.)…with the letters scrambled. Apparently they left the “reduce file size” option turned on when they generated them. This means you can’t copy/paste or search in the PDF itself, but you can open it in Google Docs and it’ll convert the text back, at which point you can do both. But that doesn’t preserve links or media, which you have to get out of the original PDF…

LinkedIn

LinkedIn generates two phases of archives. The first one, available within minutes of requesting it, contains your profile info, your messages, contacts and invitations in CSV files.

The complete archive, available within 24 hours, actually lives up to the name. Everything is in a set of CSV files: Your contacts, your shares, your group posts, your group comments, even your behind the scenes info like ad targeting categories and recent login records. (One word of warning: They’re encoded as UTF-16, so if the tool you use to import afterward isn’t expecting that, you may need to convert it.)

I’m not sure how photos and video are handled, as I’ve never uploaded either to LinkedIn (other than my profile picture, which landed in a folder called Media Files).

LiveJournal

LiveJournal’s own export tool will export a month at a time into a CSV or XML file, which includes your posts and their metadata (timestamps, moods, etc.), but not comments, userpics or photos.

There are other tools available using the API, which might be able to get more data. I’ve looked at two:

The WordPress importer will pull in all your posts, and the comments on them, and makes a note of moods, music, etc. (you can use my LJ-Moods plugin to display them). It doesn’t transfer any images you’ve uploaded.

DreamWidth’s importer seems more complete – LJ and Dreamwidth are based on the same code, after all – and is able to natively handle moods, userpics, etc. But it doesn’t transfer your media library either.

WordPress

WordPress exports a giant XML file containing all your posts, their comments, and their metadata. You can import it into another WordPress instance, and have virtually the same blog. Or you can merge two blogs together by importing both. (I’ve moved posts with comment threads from one blog to another by putting them in a category, exporting the category, and then importing them on the new blog.)

It doesn’t include your media library, but if you import the file to a new site before closing down the old one, the importer should offer to pull in all of the images and other media that are actually used in posts.

Plus on a self-hosted site you have a lot of tools available: backup plugins that will include everything, SFTP access through your web host, etc.

Update: Tumblr

I didn’t initially include Tumblr because it doesn’t have an exporter…but WordPress has an importer that does a good job of transferring your blog directly from Tumblr to a WordPress blog. (Look on your WordPress dashboard under Tools/Import.) It even imports images (though sometimes it imports a single-image post as a gallery for some reason). The original URL is stored in a custom field, and you can leave it connected and import new items when you want to bring them in.

Some gotchas: It can only map to one author, but you get to choose which one. It puts everything in the default category. Videos don’t get imported, even if you’ve just embedded a YouTube video.

Others

Instagram doesn’t have an export tool, so you have to rely on third-party solutions.

Flickr allows you to bulk-download photos from your Camera Roll, and it helpfully uses the title to name the files, but it doesn’t export the description, tags, or comments.

Mastodon currently only lets you export your contacts and block lists, but archiving and migration (from one Mastodon instance to another) are on the roadmap.

SpaceX Rocket Launch Over LA

Yesterday’s Falcon 9 rocket launch from Vandenberg AFB, seen across Southern California.

I walked outside and saw a bright spot (presumably the rocket) moving across the sky, trailing an expanding shell of vapor.

I ran back inside shouting “come see this, fast!” and grabbed the better camera, but it wouldn’t focus, so I snapped the top photo with my phone.

The yellow light is a street lamp. The upper bright spot is the moon. I believe the lower left is the rocket, and the lower right is the booster stage. A ring of light pulsed outward from the booster stage at one point.

The vapor trail persisted for another 10 minutes after the rocket and booster were no longer visible, and it was high enough to continue reflecting sunlight, even though it was an hour past sunset.