In today's weekend posting, two recommendations about things that are not free
(which is a first) and a rant (which is very much in brand for this blog).
Drawing faces with JLJ
On a previous blog entry I complained that it's very
difficult to find a good drawing tutorial because many, many teachers will
suggest something as useless as "do whatever comes natural". So imagine my
surprise when I found a course on drawing faces that makes none of those
The course in question is titled "How to draw a portrait" and is taught by an
illustrator from Florida called Joshua L
Johnson. The course guides you through the
steps of framing your drawing, identifying the main features, refining the
details and, finally, adding shadows. The course can be found on Skillshare
following this link.
I like this course for a couple reasons. First, each step is actionable: when
he wants you to draw an eye, he explains that a generic eye is composed of 7
segments and explains where to place each one. Second, the workflow itself is
designed in a smart way, first delimiting "areas" of work and then refining them
step by step. The course ends with a 40 minutes, real-time lesson on how to draw
a specific face from beginning to end which I found really helpful. So if your
faces are as bad as mine, you should consider taking a look.
Solutions and other problems
It is hard for me to express to you how ridiculously funny Allie Brosh is.
Her blog Hyperbole and a half is
the only website I can remember where I had to stop reading for minutes at a
time because I couldn't stop laughing.
Some of the most well-known entries are probably This is why I'll never be an
adult which gave rise to the "all the things" meme, and the creation of the Alot.
Unsurprisingly, her first book collecting some of these stories ended up
being a New York Times best-seller.
Perhaps more well-known are her two posts on depression (part 1,
part 2) where
she manages to put in words the feelings of thousands of people. I have seen
an actual therapist recommend these posts to people, and the almost 10K
collective comments in those entries alone seem to agree.
And the reason I am bringing up these two sides of her blog is because I
recently read her second
book, and let me tell
you, it is a roller coaster: it is funny, it is sad, and sometimes it's both at
the same time. It is the best thing I read all year, and I think everyone should
do the same. To say that I recommend it would be an understatement. It would be
more accurate for you to imagine me grabbing you by your clothes while yelling
"READ THIS BOOK".
Disclaim all of the things
I didn't want to leave this post as it is without complaining about how
difficult it is to make an honest recommendation on the internet.
I have a subscription to Skillshare because I like the quality of their courses,
but I am really, really annoyed at their marketing showing up everywhere. With
so many youtubers doing paid promotions for courses they don't care about, I
feel slightly dirty making a recommendation just like them, even if no one is
paying me for doing it.
I thought for a second about pointing you to a free mirror, but that would be
unfair to the course's creator.
Similarly, someone on Allie Brosh's publishing team had the brilliant idea of
creating fake Reddit accounts and using them to market the book. People like
them make it impossible for me to recommend almost anything in good conscience.
I have decided to make an exception for this specific book, but I don't see that
happening again anytime soon.
There was once an article about Jim Davis, creator of Garfield, in which
he recognizes the recipe of his success. The trick, it seems, was to make
Garfield as inoffensive as possible. No matter what you believe, no matter how
delicate your sensitivities are, you can always read Garfield without feeling
hurt or offended. Comedians might object that a lot of humor boils down to
ridiculing something, so it's worth asking: if Garfield does not offend anyone,
how does it manage to keep being funny? The answer should be obvious to
Garfield's readers: it doesn't. Because Garfield is not funny.
The reasoning is pretty interesting: Jim Davis' goal was not to be the next
greatest American cartoonist, nor to push the boundaries of comic strips as an
art form (that would be Bill Watterson).
His goal was to make money, and boy did he succeed at that. By being a
recognizable, bland, perfectly formulaic icon, Garfield can be adopted by any
company or product willing to pay for it. The key, said Davis in this interview,
was to make the strip as plain and predictable as possible. "Oh, look,", says
the reader, "Garfield is mad because it's Monday". Cue the sound of crickets.
The same, I'm afraid, has happened to Dilbert some time ago. And while it pained
me to stop reading after so many years, I've read enough to understand that the
Dilbert I liked is gone, replaced by that which he was intended to criticize.
Including the archives, I read about 27 years worth of strips, so it was not a
decision I took lightly. That was about 4 years ago, and I haven't regretted
For those who might feel like me, and as a service to the community, I give you
the one and only strip you will ever need from now on. It is the culmination of
years of Dilbert, and nothing you read in the actual strip will be better than
this in the foreseeable future.
Now, in all fairness, congratulations to Scott Adams: he has managed to
secure Dilbert in the mind of the public, and he made a lot of money out of
it. It was sad to see the old Dilbert go
away, but then again, I don't have an animated series nor an (forever in
production) upcoming movie to my credit. Having said that, I can only wonder how
much more he could have produced if he hadn't rested on his laurels: his
Wikipedia achievements have almost entirely peaked around 2010, and he seems to
spend most of his time nowadays writing about what an amazing president Donald
Trump is. While this is speculation on my part, I believe this might be why his
blog is no longer featured on the Dilbert homepage.
I can see why he doesn't need to come with new ideas for Dilbert strips. After
all, he has enough money to do whatever he wants. I just wish "make Dilbert
funny again" was one of those things he cared about.
I received today the type of e-mail that we all know one day will arrive: an
e-mail where someone is trying to locate a file that doesn't exist anymore.
The problem is very simple: friends of mine are trying to download
code from https://bit.ly/2jIu1Vm to replicate results from an earlier paper,
but the link redirects to
You may recognize that URL: it belongs to Bitbucket, the company that
infamously dropped their support for Mercurial a couple months
despite being one of the largest Mercurial repositories on the internet.
This is the story of how I searched for that code, and even managed to recover
some of it.
Unlike typical stories, several backup copies of this code existed. Like most
stories, however, they all suffered terrible fates:
- There was a migration of most of our code to Github, but this specific repo
was missed because it belongs to our University group (everyone in that
group had access to it) but it was not created under the group account.
- Three physical copies of this code existed. One lived in a hard drive that
died, one lived in a hard drive that may be lost, and the third one lives
in my hard drive... but it may be missing a couple commits, because I was
not part of that project at that time.
At this point my copy is the better one, and it doesn't seem to be that
outdated. But could we do better?
My next step was figuring out whether a copy of this repo still exists on
the internet - it is well known that everything online is being mirrored all
the time, and it was only a question of figuring out who was more likely to have
My first stop was
from the people behind the Internet Archive.
This team famously downloaded 245K public repos from Bitbucket, and therefore
they were my first choice when checking whether someone still had a copy of our
The experience yielded mixed results: accessing the repository with my browser
is impossible because the page throws a large number of
related to Content Security Policy, missing resources, and deprecated
attributes. I imagine no one has looked at it in quite some time, as it is to be
expected when dealing with historical content. On the command line, however, it
mostly works: I can download the content of my repo with a single command:
hg clone --stream https://web.archive.org/web/2id_/https://bitbucket.org/villalbamartin/refexp-toolset
I say "mostly works" because my repo has a problem: it uses
which apparently Archive Team failed to archive. I can download the root
directory of my code, but important subdirectories are missing.
My second stop was the Software Heritage archive,
an initiative focused on collecting, preserving, and sharing software code in
a universal software storage archive. They partnered up with the Mercurial
hosting platform Octobus
and produced a second mirror of Bitbucket projects, most of which can be nicely
accessed via their properly-working web
For reasons I don't entirely get this web interface does not show my repo, but
luckily for us the website also provides a second, more comprehensive list of
archived repositories where
I did find a copy.
As expected, this copy suffers from the same sub-repo problem as the other one.
But if you are looking for any of the remaining 99% of code that doesn't use
subrepos, you can probably stop reading here.
Deeper into the rabbit hole
At this point, we need to bring out the big guns. Seeing as the SH/Octobus repo
is already providing me with the raw files they have, I don't think I can get
more out of them than what I currently do. The Internet Archive, on the other
hand, could still have something of use: if they crawled the entire interface
with a web crawler, I may be able to recover my code from there.
The surprisingly-long process goes like this:
first, you go to the Wayback Machine,
give them the repository address, and find the date when the repository was
crawled (you can see it in their calendar view). Then go to the
Kicking the bucket
project page, and search for a date that kind of matches that. In my case
the repository was crawled on July 6, but the raw files I was looking for where
stored in a file titled
20200707003620_2361f623. In order to identify this file I
simply went through all files created on or after July 6, downloaded their
index (in my case, the one named
ITEM CDX INDEX) and used
zgrep to check
whether the string
refexp-toolset (the key part of the repo's name) was
contained in any of them. Once I identified the proper file, downloading the
raw 28.9 Gb
WEB ARCHIVE ZST file took about a day.
Once you downloaded this file, you need to decompress it. This file is compressed
with ZST, meaning that you probably
need to install the
zstd tool or similar (this one worked in Devuan, so it's
probably available in Ubuntu and Debian too). But we are not done! See, the ZST
standard allows you to use an external dictionary
without which you cannot open the WARC file (you get an
Decoding error (36) : Dictionary
mismatch error). The list of all dictionaries is available at the bottom of
this list. How to identify
the correct one? In my case, the file I want to decrypt is called
bitbucket_20200707003620_2361f623.1592864269.megawarc.warc.zst, so the
correct dictionary is the one called
This file has a
.zst extension, so don't forget to extract it too!
Once you have extracted the dictionaries, found the correct one, and extracted
the contents of your
warc.zst file (
unzstd -D <dictionary> <file>) it is now
time to access the file. The Webrecorder
Player didn't work too well
because the dump is too big,
but the warctools package was
helpful enough to realize... that the files I need are not in this dump either.
So that was a waste of time. On the plus side, if you ever need to extract files
from the Internet Archive, you now know how.
So far I seem to have exhausted all possibilities. I imagine that someone
somewhere has a copy of Bitbucket's raw data, but I haven't managed to track
it down yet. I have opened an
issue regarding sub-repo
cloning, but I don't expect it to be picked up anytime soon.
The main lesson to take away from here is: backups! I'm not saying you need
24/7 NAS mirroring, but you need something. If we had four copies and three
of them failed, that should tell you all you need to know about the fragility
of your data.
Second, my hat goes off both to the Internet Archive team and to the
collaboration between the Software Heritage archive and Octobus.
I personally like the later more because their interface is a lot nicer (and
functional) than the Internet Archive, but I also appreciate the possibility of
downloading everything and sorting it myself.
And finally, I want to suggest that you avoid Atlassian if you can. Atlassian
has the type of business mentality that would warm Oracle's heart if they had
one. Yes, I know they bought Trello and it's hard to find a better Kanban board,
but remember that Atlassian is the company that, in no particular order,
- regularly inflicts Jira on developers worldwide,
- bought Bitbucket and then gutted it, and
- sold everyone on the promise of local hosting and then discontinued it last
week for everyone but their
wealthiest clients, forcing everyone else to move to the cloud. Did you
know that Australia has legally-mandated encryption
do you want to take a guess on where Atlassian's headquarters are? Just saying.
Note: I wrote this article in August, but I didn't realize it wasn't published
until October. I kept the published date as it was, but if you didn't see it
before well, that's why.
Are you familiar with a small streaming company called "Netflix"? If so, you
might recognize their opening sound.
And even if you don't, you might have
seen one of their multiple recent press campaigns regarding this topic.
From a recent episode of the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast
on all the sound choices that go into their logo to their announcement that
Hans Zimmer has worked on making it longer for cinema productions.
What none of those articles are saying is that this sound is also
the sound of Kevin Spacey hitting a desk at the end of Season 2 of
House of Cards. Yes,
that House of Cards, the critically-acclaimed series that made Netflix' stock jump
a 70 percent even before it started
and put Netflix on the map.
If I were a Netflix executive back then, I would be proud of having the series
as part of my corporate identity.
If I were an executive today, however, I would be terrified of people forever
remembering that my company's official sound, the one that plays before every
show, was first heard in a scene with an actor that has been very publicly
accused of sexual assault
in 2017. So I can understand why someone would feel that a change
is needed, and I'm all for it. No one is blaming Netflix (as far as I know) for
not running background checks on their actors.
Having said that, it seems that Netflix has gone all the way to completely erase
that any of this ever happened, in what has to be the most pointless
history rewrites in some time. In the above-mentioned podcast, a sound engineer
talks about all the sounds that came together to compose the current Netflix sound,
from a ring on a cabinet to the sound of an anvil, with no mention whatsoever
of Kevin Spacey hitting any desks.
Suffice to say, I was confused by this omission, so I dug a bit more and found
a Facebook post from August 2019 from the
Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast official account, where they posted:
"I'm convinced the @netflix sonic logo was originally built from Frank Underwood banging on
the desk at the end of House of Cards Season 2. BUT, I'm dying to know who
enhanced it! I can't find anything online! (...)".
I can only conclude that the "it's a ring on a cabinet" story is technically true
and a sound engineer has actually used it to enhance Kevin Spacey's desk
banging sound, but they conveniently "forgot" to mention the relation between
these two facts. One of the answers to this Quora question
mentions that "The tapping on the table with his (Kevin Spacey) ring is
associated with completing a mission or one of his plans being accomplished",
which sheds even more light into why they were banging rings on furniture to
begin with. And let's pray that the hand wearing the ring wasn't Kevin Spacey's...
None of this is mentioned in the podcast. As for the longer version
composed by Hans Zimmer,
it does not include the original soundbite at all. I
believe that Netflix is going on a PR campaign to rewrite their history, has
convinced the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast people to just go with it, and have
so far been very successful.
And yet, I have to ask... why? Was it so difficult to come out and say "we don't
want to be associated with this sound anymore, and therefore we are releasing a
new one"? I honestly don't care about Netflix nor House of Cards (which I have
not seen), but I am kind of annoyed at such a transparent attempt to hide their
history behind a PR campaign. Or even worse, that they seem to have gotten away