Over the last four years, I have worked hard to make my blog as light, secure and privacy conscious as possible. ‘Https’ is forced across my entire domain; it is hosted on a European server; uses no analytics (Google and/or Jetpack); and the least amount of plugins possible.
When visiting my blog you should find that it is fast and, most importantly, not tracking you.
This is true most of the time but there are some exceptions where content has been embedded from external sites. The list of offenders is small (YouTube, Twitter, Instagram) but I am not happy that their presence allows them to intrude on my readers’ privacy none the less. It also meant, arguably, that I was not fully GDPR compliant.
Doing some research into this issue, I came across a post by Dries Buytaert discussing the ‘cookies’ that are installed from embedded YouTube videos. He discovered that YouTube provides a privacy-enhanced way to embed videos on your blog without leaving a cookie. Instead of using
youtube.com you can use
I finally got round to putting this into practice and spent a couple of hours this morning editing all of the YouTube videos embedded on my blog to use the following code:
<iframe src="https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/video-id" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe>
Testing a post in Safari, it is clear that it has worked correctly. The YouTube video is embedded and plays as expected but no trackers were contacted.
While doing this, I also found a number of broken links and some embedded audio files that were no longer working. I fixed those along the way, making for a very productive morning. Winning! 😃
The next step is to see if I can achieve the same with the handful of tweets and Instagram posts that I have embedded on my blog.
I have long admired the way some bloggers are able to include an image when auto-posting to Twitter. Looking at the IFTTT applet I was using to auto-post from my own blog, there did not appear to be an option to do this, and a web search did not yield any useful results.
I turned to Twitter and asked Warren Ellis what service or plugin he uses. Having asked the question, I received a couple of suggestions from Doug Belshaw:
Looking into both of these I could see that they would achieve what I wanted but I was not satisfied with either implementation. Blog2Social requires you to create a Twitter application. This is not a big deal (I’ve done it before) but I did not believe this was necessary to achieve my goal. Furthermore, it is heavy-handed on the promotion of its paid features in the WordPress backend. The other option, Jetpack, is too feature rich and its footprint on the back end of your blog is quite intrusive. Furthermore, to access all of the auto-tweet features a paid plan is required. This does not sit right with me given the open source origins of WordPress.
Returning to IFTTT, I could not shake off the feeling that there was a way to do it. The search function in IFTTT is a bit hit and miss with a high noise to signal ratio. However, there were several recipes that indicated images could be posted natively to Twitter from other sources. This lead to me taking a fresh look at the Twitter channel in IFTTT. I saw that they have added a range of options and this indeed included the option to tweet with an image.
So, to relieve the proverbial itch, I started from scratch (😉) and created a new applet to share my WordPress posts to Twitter with an image.
This was a definite case that proved it is always worth digging a little deeper! Dr. Amp would approve.
This is a post that I started writing back in 2017. I thought I should finish it off and post it for posterity. Some of these details have also been added to my about page.
Back in August 2016, I moved my domain from Bluehost to Reclaim Hosting, which was co-founded by Jim Groom and Tim Owens. It grew out of the Domain of One’s Own project at The University of Mary Washington; providing space for students and educators to take control of their web presence. The migration was efficient and hassle free. A couple of issues arose as these things do and the support Reclaim provided was unparalleled.
Jim and Tim are legends and I am very happy to support their work. The ethics and aesthetics of the company chime with my own; not least due to a youth spent listening to punk and new wave. Two years on, I remain more than satisfied. Auto-updates; easy back-up and detailed documentation have allowed me to keep my various sites running with ease.
When I first signed up to Reclaim Hosting all of their servers were based in the US. As someone one who cares about privacy, I was ecstatic when I read Jim’s post: ‘Reclaiming Europe’. Jim and Tim’s success meant that they had to keep adding server space and this included the addition of their first European server in March 2017. I immediately made contact and took them up on the offer to move my domain to a Euorpean server. The server is called Kraftwerk and has been reliably serving my domain ever since.
On making this move, I realised that it had been quite some time since I had listened to everyone’s favourite German synth pioneers. I put all of their records on rotation and even made a playlist of their best material. This quickly began to punctuate my Saturday morning runs and the walk home from work.
Long Live RSS
Finally, like many of my web peers, I value open web standards; particularly RSS. In May 2017 Manton Reece and Brent Simmons released a feed format similar to RSS and Atom called JSON Feed. Based on the “developer’s choice for APIs” it “is much simpler to read and write” than XML, “and it’s less prone to bugs”.
This has been added to my blog using the WordPress Plugin giving readers an additional way to subscribe alongside the built in XML feed that comes as standard in WordPress. If you want to know more about why they created it, Manton and Brent discussed it on The Talk Show with John Gruber.
“We’re functioning automatic / And we are dancing mechanic / We are the robots”
~ Hütter, Ralf, The Robots (1978)
Make Some Noise Gif CC: Bryan Mathers (2017)
Like all the cool kids seem to have done, I have added an archive of my tweets at
twitter.jamesmichie.com. I have not decided if I am going to delete all my tweets, but as you will see, I have been pretty close to inactive for some time.
Nor have I found an alternative social network to engage in. I had a brief dalliance with Mastodon but I was not enamoured with the format (in essence a distributed clone of Twitter) – unsure as to whether I could, or even wanted to, rebuild a close network of peers.
In fact, I am not sure that I need social media as it currently exists. I do not believe that I have missed anything over the last year or so by not being active on Twitter. Quite the contrary. I have read more books and actual news. I have grown a cultivated list of blogs in varying genres to read via RSS (yes that old chestnut). And I have focussed on my health and fitness (running has taken over my life!)
However, I signed up to Micro.blog, today, in the hopes that it encourages me to post more regularly in a shorter format. Sharing is important (IMO) and I feel there is space (once again) for writing to be a positive outlet for me. Micro.blog allows for self-hosting, via WordPress and other open source blogging platforms, which means that I will retain ownership of my data. It also offers a growing network and native MAC and iOS apps.
I hope the shorter, low-stakes format of micro-blog encourages me to post briefly and regularly.
We will see… I have promised a return to regular posting in the past and it didn’t happen. However, it’s been nearly two years since I wrote here, and a year since I engaged with Twitter in any meaningful way. A lot has happened and some of it is worth putting out into the world.
Patrick Rhone reminded me today that not only is it important to remember that learning happens everyday and occurs in a variety of ways, but that it is also important to capture that learning.
A practice I have been doing often for the past couple of years is to write down at least one new thing I learned every day… It is a great reminder that, no matter how old I get, there is always the capacity to learn and grow.
Sometimes, the one thing I learn comes from reading. Sometimes, it comes from observation. Sometimes, it comes from conversation. Sometimes, when I get to the end of the day and can’t think of anything new that I learned, I go to a random page on Wikipedia and learn something for the sake of learning.
This got me thinking about student blogging. I have been using blogs with students for some time now, but with a specific subject focus, e.g.: to capture the coursework process (see the archive and sidebar) in AS and A2 Media Studies. But what if students kept a blog (public or private) with the soul purpose of capturing ‘one new thing’ they learned each day? I personally think it would provide a powerful, personal statement for each student about their learning and progress across the year, free from the constraints of individual subjects and syllabi. So much gets lost in folders and books, relegated to cupboards and bins at the end of the year. A blog would provide a permanent digital record.