A painting of me


   18 December 2009, mid-morning

When I met Ali and a few of the Well.ca people at Startup Camp a couple years back, I told the organizers I was working for the skunk-works project VQVZ. I suppose technically I was, since I’ve been sitting on the domain for a long time now.

I bought Blansdowne.ca a while ago. My original plan was to set up some sort of community site, similar to the site Joe Clark runs about Leslieville. I sat on the domain for ages. Shortly after buying my GRD II I snapped a few photos of the neighbourhood, put them in a small set on Flickr, and thought it’d be nice to use Blansdowne.ca for a photo project instead of yet another blog. The site remained static for a long time. A few weeks back I got to work figuring out how I would build a simple photo application to run the site. I wanted to be able to display collections of photos on a single page, and have a simple photoblog that would display images in chronological order. One reason I gave up updating We Must Abuse the Broadband was because Flickr was basically easier in every regard to work with. So, one of my main goals with this project was that updating the site needed to be easy.

My first idea was to have a simple text file that would act as a manifest for the site, describing images I’d keep in a directory on the file system. A Ruby script would read the manifest, and generate a bunch of web pages from that. I got this working fairly quickly. I realized that updating this text file could end up being a pain in the ass as the number of photos grew, so I started adding more logic to my script to manage adding images to the file. I didn’t get very far with this. The command line script worked well, but I still thought as the site grew it wouldn’t scale. The first thing I did was drop the text file. I started using Datamapper as a front end to a SQLite database. I decided to worry about how I would update the site later and ended up moving everything over to Sinatra, which is a simple Ruby web framework. (Sinatra is so simple I figured out how it worked and got the site working with the new framework in the middle of the night after drinking at LeVack Block. I am a big fan of the framework.) The Sinatra application worked as well as my little Ruby script, but now the pages were being generated dynamically. This done, I started working on a seperate Sinatra webapp that would be used to manage all the images on the site. (I built a separate app so I wouldn’t need to worry about authentication: this second application would never be running on my webhost.) I managed to get adding images to the site working fairly well. I was at a bit of a loss as to how I would manage the sets of images I wanted to display. I left the site alone.

Late one night, after drinking a coke and being totally wired while trying to sleep, I realized that trying to be better at managing photos than Flickr was probably a waste of time. I put the Blansdowne site aside and started working on a little test site that would use Flickr as the back-end for a photoblog. Yesterday I finally put something up at VQVZ. Currently it’s simply a way to view all my photos on Flickr. It is similar to the site I Hardly Know Her. One improvement is that you can use the keys j/k to browse through the photos, and to move between pages on the site. (This is a feature I was bugging the guy who runs I Hardly Know Her to add.) The site can use machine-tags to display a subset of photos: for example, pictures of my lovely wife, and the same Blansdowne photos that started this whole process. This isn’t an ideal way to display sets, since you have no control over the sequence. So the next step in this project is to sort out displaying actual Flickr sets. Well, there is probably a lot more to do, but you need to start somewhere.

And that is probably more than you wanted to know about how my brain works.

Update: And i’m more or less done.



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