Launching Dawnstar.Camera

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Dawnstar.CameraA while ago I decided I wanted to create a separate blog style site for my photography. So I purchased a new domain and started looking at how I wanted to present the content. WordPress would seem to be that logical choice as I already use it for this site, its well established and there’s a ton of themes and plugins for it. But then I thought about it a bit more.

Why not WordPress?

So why not go with WordPress? Well the more I tried to make what I wanted, the more I realised that WordPress just didn’t cut it for oh so many reasons. Before I get my rant on I should point out that for this site and others I’ve been very happy with WordPress and barring any major issues will probably continue using it for the foreseeable future. But for this next project I decided against because of a few reasons.

PHP Sucks

I like WordPress but over the last few years it has become clear that PHP totally and utterly sucks. It’s poorly designed, awkward as hell and allows for the creation of some of the worst coding known to man. I’m not going into detail why here as many people have covered these reasons time and time again.

Yes I can already hear the PHP true believers getting ready to trot out the “Not All PHP!” line as they declare the upcoming PHP 7 to be the best thing since burnt toast and will solve all known PHP problems forever. But here’s the thing, while PHP 7 might deliver on all these promises it is going to take a long, long time before a majority of web hosts give a crap. Hell a lot of them still aren’t even running the most recent stable versions of PHP 5.

So by necessity for maximum hosting compatibility WordPress is likely to stay PHP 5.2 compatible for a while to come which means a bucket load of legacy code, cruft and headaches which will hang around for years yet. Even if WordPress core did become PHP 7 clean, the various themes and plugins will have their own lag time for catching up.


To be clear here not so much the security of WordPress core which in my own opinion has done a pretty reasonable job of cleaning up their act and keeping the core clean of any completely brown pants exploits. Add to this the entirely sensible change to get the core and components to auto update and you have a pretty decent equation for keeping things reasonably secure.

Plugin security on the other hand, well, its remains pretty damn crap. Particularly photo gallery related plugins that generate thumbnails as they tend to rely on PHP libraries with utterly atrocious security history, poor file handling logic and when you start digging through the code some amazingly poor assumptions about host security setups.

Oh and lets not forget the utterly cavalier approach to security that some of the plugin developers and WordPress users seem to have with instructions and forums littered with solutions such as “just chmod 777 the directory” to resolve issues that then open the sites up to being owned within minutes. All in all I have not been impressed by the security history of PHP or WordPress plugin developers.


This one is going to sound a bit off but stick with me. Yes WordPress has a well defined and powerful theme system and partly therein lies the problem. Much like the rest of the WordPress core a lot has to be done to maintain backwards compatibility and even developing a “simple” theme starts to get complicated really quickly. Even if you do find a theme you just want to tweak, the procedure (at least in my mind) was incredibly frustrating.

So If Not WordPress Then What?

I am not by my background a programming person but over the last two years or so via my work I’ve been exposed to, and built web sites with, the python Django Web Framework. I found Python easy to pick up and write and Django to be something even a reasonably novice programming such as myself could get a grasp of.

It has an impressive amount of support and utilisation as well as one of the most sane set of default security implementations I’ve seen in a web development stack. So given all the effort I had put into learning for my work time I decided to branch out and utilise it for this personal project as well and started building my own site.

Re-inventing The Wheel?

So at this point I expect half a dozen people to point out both Python and Django suck in their own ways which is definitely true for a value of suck. Furthermore I’m then expecting people to point out that I didn’t need to build my own Django powered blog type site when there’s a bunch of establish projects I could have used like Mezzanine or the newer but impressive Wagtail.

But much like WordPress they were so feature rich that they seemed like total overkill for the site I had in mind and besides what I really, really wanted to do was a side project that would keep my brain engaged. Merely setting up the site wasn’t going to do that.

A Learning Exercise

So I stood on the shoulders of giants and learnt. I browsed through various Django powered blog apps and saw how they did things. I looked under the hood of the logic used by WordPress and other blogging platforms and picked out what I wanted. I then stripped it right back to the basic needs that I could start the site with and build on later.

Having recently moved a lot further out my commute time had expanded significantly which I figured out provide a good opportunity to do something useful. So I purchased a cheap little notebook, a HP Stream 11. I normally avoid HP like the plague and this device is really more aimed at kids but it was cheap (sub $300 AUD) and had more than enough grunt to handle web browsing, an SSH terminal and the Sublime text editor.

Over a period of a few months I slowly built the system that would run the site during my commute and on the weekends. Between the little notebook computer and my at home desktop I think I’ve managed to build something fairly reasonable. It’s still a work in progress and there are some bugs (the responsive design is.. well not quite properly responsive yet) but all in all I’m happy enough to launch it and keep making iterative changes.


So is my code that runs the site good? Probably not all that nice but it does work and I’ve tried to keep it clean as possible. I made a few rules in building the site:

  • Python 3 all the way
  • Running using nginx (all my prior experience was Apache)
  • Clean HTML/CSS – Keep it small and simple
  • Try and build it first, fall back to add ons only if required (or the cleaner option)
  • HTTPS to be used and utterly enforced

As time goes on I’ll be adding to the code base of the site, cleaning up my mistakes and learning as much as I can. As it is simply doing this project in my spare time has helped me identify some deficiencies in my work projects which I can now loop back to and fix up using the knowledge I’ve now acquired. Most of it isn’t stuff I’ve done isn’t wrong per se but rather now I can see there are better ways to achieve what I wanted to do.

Back To The Photography!

So yeah I’ve built a thing, and now its time to use that thing for what it was built for. We’re heading into spring now, I’ve got a few photography trips and projects planned and I’ve set myself the goal of posting at least one photo a week onto the new site. Huge KPI I’ve set myself there I know but I’ve kind of let my skills in photography degrade for a while now and I want to slowly ease myself back into it. Now I have a purpose built site to achieve just that I can’t just let it sit there!


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Becoming The Ripples – Terry Pratchett

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RIP Terry PratchettToday we mark the passing of the forever honourable and awesome Sir Terry Pratchett. Many words will be written about him, his influences in literature and popular culture by people much more versed in the art of word smithing than myself. I will not attempt to describe the man who has been such an icon of our times but merely remember what I learnt from his words and actions.

No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away – Reaper Man

My first exposure to Pratchett’s work was when I was 15 and a friend loaned me Guards! Guards! which introduced my to Samuel Vimes who has remained my favourite Discworld character ever since. Vimes isn’t strong, smart or powerful. Hell when we first meet him he is a drunken wreck of a man and yet he grows. He has a sense of right, a burning cynicism and at times barely contained rage which power him through life. This spoke and continues to speak to me. The man has style, a dark and cynical style but style none the less.

Sometimes it would be nice to be wrong about people.” -Commander Samuel Vimes

Pratchett also managed to humanise death. When I was a kid I had become terrified of death. I would have nightmares and wake up in horror that’d I’d be dead. The Discworld had Death as a character right from the very first book and as they series ran on he grew and “experimented” with being human as we do every day. Don’t ask me how but this helped quell the fear and while the concept of dying isn’t exciting I no longer fear it, merely accept that it will happen and hopefully on my own terms, Terry Pratchett’s experiences in this and his championing of peoples right to die with dignity have been a great inspiration.

What can the harvest hope for, if not for the care of the Reaper Man? – Death

Far be it from me to link him only to the Discworld series. Nation is an fascinating book, written amazingly well and should be on everyone’s bucket list of books. I can not begin to describe just how well written and engaging it is. His collaboration with Neil Gaiman on Good Omens pays off well too.


My favourite thing about Pratchett’s work is that every time I re-read them I find something new. As a grow up and learn new things I start to spot more references I missed the first time around. It took me over a decade before I spotted the Dr Strangelove reference in Jingo (I won’t spoil it for you).

Taxation, gentlemen, is very much like dairy farming. The task is to extract the maximum amount of milk with the minimum amount of moo – Vetinari

If Pratchett is right, and I’m damn sure he is, and a person never really dies until the ripples they create in the world fade away then we will never truly lose him. He has become the ripples, part of the story of the human universe and will go on for as long as we do. Vale the honourable Sir Terry Pratchett, adventurer into the unknown country.

That was the thing about death. When it happened to you, you were among the first to know – Men at Arms


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Australia Post: Delivery Not Included

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You sodding what?I’m going to be honest, this post is just pure 100% rant regarding the letter above. I don’t expect it to solve anything but it might help me feel better about things writing it out and let others know just how profoundly stupid Australia Post is getting these days.

Who Is Australia Post?

For those not familiar with it, Australia Post is your classic previously government owned and operated mail service turned business enterprise with a natural monopoly. I would link you to the actual Australia Post website but it turns out they are subscribers to the inane “you can’t link to us without written permission” school of thought of which I have ranted about before. Screenshot snippet from their T&C below:

AHHAHAHHAHAHA!Yes it’s 2015 and their website team still think that magic legal mumbo jumbo can stop people linking to them. Good luck with that guys.

Back on track, so essentially in recent years Australia Post’s income from letters has been declining (as you might expect as the internet age progresses) but they should have been well placed with their natural monopoly to make a killing on parcel delivery and for a short time they did.

But then it all seemed to go a bit wrong for them. Despite their good initial positioning they seem keen to engage in a slow death spiral composed of the twin vortexes of continual price increases coupled with what seems to be increasingly poor customer service which for most people is all about delivery.

You Want Us To Deliver? HAH!

Most Australians will tell you that using Australia Post for getting parcels delivered is an exercise in frustration. Actually sending the parcels? Pretty easy. Getting the package most of the way? They can even get that mostly right even if it is comparably slow and with very poor tracking (at least in my experience). The actual last step of delivery from your local post office to your door? That they seem to have have been going out of their way to avoid that wherever possible in the last few years.

While I only have the evidence of what myself and others I know have experienced to go on it would seem that Australia Post has made a habit of hiring the lowest cost contractors for parcel delivery which has lead to an apparent decline in service.

If you’re unfortunate to have a particularly bad contractor for your area you might see things like I did at a previous address where they will drive up to a mailbox with “missed delivery” slips already filled out and fling them into the mailbox without any attempt to actually deliver the parcel. Sure you can complain about it but its a long, long process and unless you actually have them on video doing it, don’t expect action.

The Rage Inducing Letter

At our current address of the last two years however things have been pretty good with Australia Post deliveries. We get a reasonable but not huge amounts of parcels and until recently there has been no indication of any issue. On the occasion where a package that required a signature couldn’t be signed for they left the missed delivery card at the door which was fine. That happens.

And then without warning just a few days before Christmas (2014) we got the above letter. Note how it talks down you, the customer, as if whatever the issue was your fault. Had we put a new gate in place or suddenly purchased a rabid guard dog then sure it’d be our fault but now they won’t deliver because it was “outside guidelines”? What guidelines? When did they come into effect? Why were we not warned before hand? We didn’t know. The letter came with no extra material to explain it. There was no issue tracking ID we could use and unsurprisingly that close to the Christmas break we had neither the time nor inclination to chase it up immediately.

Once into the new year we finally got an answer out of them. According to Australia Post they have “always” had a guideline that contractors can not deliver to a location from where they can not view their van for “mail security reasons”. As our door is around the back of a block of apartments this apparently means they just flat out won’t bother to deliver to our door any more despite it not being a problem for the last two years.

I can only assume the delivery contractors are now fitted with explosive collars that detonate if they go out of line of sight from the laser tracker on their van or something. Surely it wouldn’t be because their contractor just can’t be bothered delivering any more? Or maybe even more cynically Australia Post is trying to reduce load on the delivery side of things and wanting to offload us onto the parcel locker service instead?

While the parcel locker service is undeniably useful, particularly if you work in the CBD for an organisation that does not allow personal mail being delivered to the office, the whole damn point of paying for delivery is that it actually gets delivered. To the location that it was paid to be damn well be delivered to. End of story.

Never mind the thousands of locations in our city alone these “guidelines” suddenly mean can’t get deliveries. On our street alone which is not all that heavily built up I can count at least thirty residences that fall under this “no delivery for you!” guideline. Oh and if you want to see what other guidelines might exist that might “prevent” your parcel from being delivered to you? Well they won’t show you them. These are guidelines for the contractors and thus don’t seem to be publicly available on the Australia Post website for consumers to read (not that we could link to them anyway right?) nor has a copy been offered to us by Australia Post representatives. For all I know the guidelines state that parcels can’t be delivered if your door is the wrong shade of green or if the moon is waxing gibbous.


Well if you believe the letter somehow we the consumer are meant to resolve this, I assume by organising to have our apartment block placed on a giant lazy susan so we can rotate our door to the front upon delivery arrival. We’ll get right on that.

Or we could simply choose, where possible, to use any one of the commercial parcel delivery organisations that compete with Australia Post, none of whom seem to have any issue at all about delivering to our door. Furthermore most of them seem to be happy to reschedule delivery on a missed one rather than make us traipse to their location, guess which odd opening hours they are using and wait in long lines when they actually are open.

So great job Australia Post, keep up the fine work of isolating your customer base, increasing expense and generally kicking yourselves out of the market.

Here endth the rant.

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