AI art

An example of AI art - a generated image of a robot painting a picture of some flowers on an easel

You may have noticed that several of my recent blog posts have featured custom AI art work related to the topic. I’ve generated these using Microsoft’s Bing AI Image Creator, which uses OpenAI’s DALL-E text-to-image model. DALL-E can generate an image based on a text prompt; for example, the featured image on this post was ‘A 1950s style robot standing in front of an easel painting a bouquet of flowers in a vase’.

These are some of the other AI art images that I’ve used recently:

AI art is controversial. It can create images in a few seconds that would take a human artist hours or days to produce. And, in some cases, these image prompts can be told to create images in the style of a particular artist, depriving them of income from a commission. It’s also notable that models like DALL-E and Stable Diffusion have been trained on copyright works, without the rights holders’ permission.

With this in mind, I’m justifying my use of AI art on some of my blog posts because I’m not an artist myself, and as an individual blogger who doesn’t make money from blogging, I wouldn’t have the money to pay a human artist. Whilst I have over 5000 photos that I’ve uploaded to Flickr, there isn’t always a relevant photo to use that I have taken. For example, in my recent post on comment spam, I decided to generate the above image of a robot converting blog posts into a tinned meat product, because I don’t have a photo that represents that. And whilst I make use of screenshots where relevant, sometimes this isn’t appropriate.

Of the AI art generators that I have used, the Bing AI Image Creator seems to be the one that gives me the best results. Any images you create are saved in the cloud, and can be downloaded for re-use. And each prompt produces four images so that you can choose the one which looks the best.

More new old posts from the archives

An AI generated image of a phoenix rising from the flames of a browser window

I’m gradually bringing back some of my old blog posts that were lost, and here are links to the latest batch that I’ve made live again:

  • Create a Safely Remove Hardware shortcut (April 2007). Another of my how-to blog posts, this allowed you to create a desktop icon that opens the Safely Remove Hardware function in Windows. Surprisingly, this still works in Windows 10.
  • Screenshots on a PocketPC (November 2005). How to take screenshots on a PocketPC/Windows Mobile device, since there wasn’t a built-in screenshot app.
  • Resurrecting a dead OS with KernelEx (May 2010). KernelEx is a compatibility layer for Windows 98 and Me that allowed apps which would normally require Windows XP to be installed. You can still download it, but it was last updated in 2011 and I expect there’s not much demand for it nowadays.
  • My favourite add-ons for Thunderbird (May 2014). Some add-ons that I used with Mozilla’s Thunderbird email client. I don’t use it anymore – we use Outlook at work and at home I tend to just use Gmail.
  • How to: get cheaper car insurance (September 2015). Another how-to guide. When reposting this, it was surprising how few sites back in 2015 used HTTPS by default; Let’s Encrypt had launched the previous year so I’m guessing Google hadn’t yet started favouring HTTPS sites in its search results.
  • A car. An actual car (September 2015). Linked with the above, the purchase of our first car. Sadly said car got written off in France in 2019, although it subsequently got back on the road with a new owner.
  • Passed (August 2015). Again, linked with the above, this was about me passing my practical driving test.
  • Expecting (July 2015). The announcement that my wife Christine was pregnant. Linked from the above posts, but I am also looking to reinstate blog posts about major life milestones as well.
  • 20 week scan (September 2015). As above.
  • Back in the driving seat… (July 2014). Restarting driving lessons, which led to me passing my test, as above.
  • Theoretically passed (April 2015). Passing my driving theory test. A lot of the above posts all link together, and so I’ve wanted to bring them all back at once to avoid creating dead links.

There are, of course, more to come. Whilst I estimate that I’ll only be bringing back around 10% of the old blog posts, that does mean around 250 posts to copy from the Web Archive and update.

Comment Spam strikes back

An illustration of a robot turning web pages into canned meat product. Generated using Bing AI Image Generator

So now that I’m blogging again, it’s the return of comment spam on my blog posts.

Comment spam has always been a problem with blogs – ever since blogs first allowed comments, spam has followed. Despite the advert of the rel=”nofollow” link attribute, automated bots still crawl web sites and submit comments with links in the hope that this will boost the rankings in search engines.

In the early days of blogging, blogs often appeared high in Google’s search engine results – by their very nature, they featured lots of links, were updated frequently, and the blogging tools of the time often produced simple HTML which was easily parsed by crawlers. So it was only natural that those wanting to manipulate search engine rankings would try to take advantage of this.

I’ve always used Akismet for spam protection, even before I switched to WordPress, and it does a pretty good job. Even then, I currently have all comments set to be manually approved by me, and last week a few got through Akismet that I had to manually junk.

Humans, or AI?

These five interested me because they were more than just the usual generic platitudes about this being a ‘great post’ and ‘taught me so much about this topic’. They were all questions about the topic of the blog post in question, with unique names. However, as they all came through together, and had the same link in them, it was clear that they were spam – advertising a university in Indonesia, as it happens.

Had it not been for the prominent spam link and the fact they all came in together, I may have not picked up on them being spam. Either they were actually written by a human, or someone is harnessing an AI to write comment spam posts now. If it’s the latter, then I wonder how much that’s costing. As many will know already, AI requires a huge amount of processing power and whilst some services are offering free and low cost tools, I can’t see this lasting much longer as the costs add up. But it could also just be someone being paid using services like Amazon Mechanical Turk, even though such tasks are almost certainly against their terms of service.

I think I’m a little frustrated that comment spam is still a problem even after a few years’ break from blogging. But then email spam is a problem that we still haven’t got a fix for, despite tools like SPF, DKIM and DMARC. I’m guessing people still do it because, in some small way, it does work?

Bringing back the archives

An illustration of a phoenix rising from the ashes, with a web page. Generated by the Bing AI Image Creator

Last month, I wrote about how I had found peace with myself regarding losing over a decade’s worth of blog posts.

Well, I’ve already sort-of changed my mind. I have already brought back some old posts which, until now, were only accessible on the Web Archive Wayback Machine.

This doesn’t mean that all of my old posts will be reinstated – if anything, I’ll be bringing back 1-2% of them at most. My criteria are:

  • Posts which, despite being offline for about 5 years, are still linked to. I’m using the Redirection WordPress plugin to track 404 errors, which you can group by URL to see the most commonly not-found pages.
  • Posts that still offer useful advice, or information that is otherwise not easily accessible on other web sites.
  • Posts that mark important events in my life.

So, here’s a selection of what I’ve brought back already, in chronological order:

  • Media Player Classic (January 2004). A review of a now-defunct lightweight alternative media player for Windows. VLC is probably a better option nowadays.
  • Apple Lossless Encoder (May 2004). A blog post about Apple’s then-new music format which preserves full audio quality when ripping CDs in iTunes, and how it compares to other formats like FLAC and Monkey’s Audio.
  • Knock-off Nigel (August 2008). An anti-piracy advert for TV.
  • How to migrate a Parallels virtual machine to VirtualBox (November 2008). A how-to guide for switching from Parallels Desktop to VirtualBox, which I imagine is still useful for some people.
  • Fixing high memory usage caused by mds (February 2013). A how-to guide for fixing an issue with MacOS. I don’t use a Mac anymore but hopefully this is still useful to someone.
  • Baby update (November 2015). This was actually a draft version of a post that must have somehow survived in Firefox’s local storage, so I re-published it.
  • How to: fix wrong location on iPhone (January 2017). Another how-to guide that fixed an issue I was having at the time with my iPhone’s location randomly jumping around.

There’s more to come, as and when I find time to restore them. I’m also using Google Search Console to find pages that it’s expecting to work, but that result in a 404 error.

Finding peace

A photo of a rubbish bin at the now-demolished Bolton West Services on the M61. It says 'Litter P eas'.

There are some of you who have been subscribed to this blog’s feed for many, many years. I started writing a blog way back in 2002 – back when Web 2.0 was just starting to become a thing – and kept it going for almost 20 years.

And then a botched server upgrade resulted in everything being wiped, including my backups.

It had been my intention to try and salvage what I could; after all, many of my old blog posts should be in the Web Archive, and in other places across the internet too. But working full-time and being a dad just doesn’t leave much spare time, and I tend to prefer to use my free time to consume media (mostly reading) rather than producing new blog posts, or, more pertinently, bringing back old ones.

But it isn’t just a time issue. If I ended up taking a sabbatical from work, or parental leave, then I still wouldn’t go back to re-fill this blog’s arhcives. I’ve made a decision that what happened has happened, and I’m drawing a line under it.

There were some good blog posts over the years, that generated a lot of comments and links at the time. Others highlighted key points in my life; graduating university, relationship milestones, becoming a father and so on. But, my reasons for not undertaking blog archaeology are as follows:

I don’t stand by some of the things I wrote

I wrote more than one post about enjoying the DVDs of various sitcoms written by a well-known comedy writer in the 1990s and 2000s. Unfortunately, said comedy writer, who I am not going to name, is now a major figure in the pushback against rights for trans* people in the UK, and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, I can’t support that. This is just one example, but my opinions have changed over the years, and I don’t really want to go back and revisit what I’ve written on some topics. Especially things like my changing relationship with Apple products, and politics.

It’s worth noting that, when I started my blog in 2002, I was only 17 – I’m now fast approaching my forties, and with that comes more wisdom and knowledge of how the world works, and being aware of my priviledges as a white, middle class cisgendered male person.

I also don’t think that people really want to read about how much alcohol I was drinking in my early years at university, or the regular apologies for not blogging as often as I thought I should.

There are things I wrote about that I don’t want in the public domain anymore

Being a parent and the responsibilities it brings changes you as a person – just ask a neuroscientist. Early on, I talked about and shared photos of our child in a way that I wouldn’t do now; nowadays, I try to keep much of their identity off the internet – including their name and gender. They haven’t consented to that information being out there, and are too young to understand the implications of consent. And I wouldn’t want them to read things written about them when they’re older that might upset them.

In my previous relationship, between 2005 and 2009, we agreed that I would only use a pseudonym when talking about my partner, and though we separated nearly 15 years ago, I still consider myself bound by the conditional consent that we agreed at the time. Maybe when our child is older, we could agree something similar.

Some stuff is really out of date

Early on, I tracked the development of the development of the web browser that would become Mozilla Firefox, and blogged about the changes in each beta release in great detail, up to the release of version 1.0 in 2004. But after almost 20 years, so much has changed; the screenshots I took are probably all gone too, and so I don’t think there’s a lot to be gained by bringing those old posts back.

Because I’ve always had an interest in technology, there are many old posts that I’ve written that are outdated. I’m sure some contain advice which, if followed today, would be actively detrimental rather than helpful.

Perhaps, if I somehow managed to get the time and resources to bring back the really good posts, it would be worthwhile. But there would be a lot of poor quality content to sift through, and I certainly wouldn’t want to bring anything back without reading it first.

Seeing as how the likelihood of me having that time is low, then I have had to make peace with the fact that all that content is going to have to remain scattered to the digital winds of the internet. And that’s okay.

21st-ish blogiversary

Today marks 21 years since I started my blog, on the 14th January 2002. Back then, I was 17 years old, in the sixth form, a few months away from taking my A-levels and living at home with my parents.

Surprisingly, I managed to keep up with blogging regularly for 16 years, but gave it up due to a lack of time and a monumentally screwed up server upgrade that also wiped out my only backups.

So there weren’t any 17th, 18th, 19th or 20th blogiversaries, as I only restarted blogging last summer. Which means that this isn’t a ‘proper’ blogiversary. But I’m counting it anyway.

Nowadays, I still don’t have much time to blog – a combination of full-time work and being a parent – but I’m aiming to rustle up at least a few blog posts every month.

So, happy birthday blog. I would say ‘here’s to another 21 years’, but who knows what the Web will be like in 2044. And I’ll be nearly 60 years old by then.