On the grounds that the rest of the week amounted to pulling radishes out of the ground one at a time, I've decided this is the week where I mention the three most recent(ish) things I've built for myself.
I'm terrible at DIY, gardening, electronics, cars and so on. I'm amazed at people who can just build-some-shelves or repair, well, anything. Sort of in a "What, you can make yourself a table and some storage cupboards, just like that?" way.
One thing I can do though is make internet tools that do what I need them to. In the olden days it would have been Visual Basic and an actual program you run, now the browser is the front end, and the internet is what it happens to run on. I consider myself very lucky that I can often build solutions to sort out my own needs.
Anyway, strap in (or not) for a minimal depth overview, which still somehow involves too many words, I'm sorry.
Part of my trying to be an "Artist" is the "hustle" side, which so far extends to trying to put photos of my pen-plots onto all the Social Medias, like what you're supposed to. I think.
I enjoy making the pen-plots, I love the process of designing them, the whole them getting drawn and so on, but what really slows me down is having to crop and resize all the photos to the right size for each platform.
Each time I had to look up the correct optimal size for Facebook, then crop the photos to that ratio & size and export them. Once that was done, I had to do it all over again for Twitter, then Instagram, then Tumblr, Pinterest and Ello.
Each one a slightly different crop and size, such, a, pain, it took forever, which means half the time I wouldn't bother.
I looked around for a tool that would do it for me and couldn't find anything that fitted just right, so I had to make my own.
The thing is straightforward, I have a folder structure that goes; year, month, day and then files, like...
Then I'd just drop the photos into the folder, no faffing around, just dump them right in there. Next, I'd fire up the app. Click down to the correct folder, and it'd show me a page of potential crops for each Platform in turn.
Facebook offers me landscape, square and portrait, while with Instagram, I only bother with square and portrait. All the dimensions are held in a JSON file like this...
...so adding new ones is simple.
I did think about making a UI where I then moved the crop around the image until I had what I wanted. But I decided to be even lazier and have it suggest three different crops for each photo/dimensions based on whatever algorithms are built into sharp and then I can just pick one.
The best thing about it is that I could just drop in photos without worrying about the original being landscape or
portrait; they all go in the bucket. I can just not care; grab the photos, drop them in a folder, pick the crops I
like, move onto the next page, select some more crops (or not if they don't look good), and then at the end, it
spits the cropped and resized photos into a folder for each platform. The Facebook photos go into a
Finally, my favourite part, I get to pick or add the details about pen, ink, paper, music and cameras I used, in this natty form...
...and it spits out the text I can use for each platform, while also keeping track of which @[user] and #[hashtag] I need to use for each one. Something which would also take an annoying amount of time, cropping photos, exporting them, uploading them and then writing out the description for each one, remembering the difference between Artliner pens being "@Artline" on Facebook but "@artline_au" on Instagram.
But now I have this...
In an ideal world, it'd post the things for me too, but let's not go crazy here.
It still takes time, but at least it's an easy 10-15 minutes, rather than the tedious hour-plus it used to take.
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Art is a bit of a weird one, and I'll write more about this at some point. My personal belief is that if the art is consistently costing you more money to produce than it generates, then it's a hobby. There is nothing wrong with that.
But, if I add up how much the pen plotter art has cost me. The initial cost of the plotter itself, then all the pens, the paper, the tools around it, the cost of the art studio, is easily over £1,000. That's not even including my own time.
Meanwhile, just through Instagram DMs, I've sold about £120 worth of pen-plots.
So currently my "art" has made me over a negative thousand pounds in profit. It'd be nice if it at least covered its own costs at some point.
I am no fan of the "hustle", so instead, I like to think of it as a game, one where the score is the profit/loss sheet. With various other metrics, such as Instagram followers, likes, and interactions as being less important ones. It's also a game where you don't "win" by other people "loosing", this is very much a game where the ladder is not pulled up behind you, co-operative games are the best.
Meaning I like to think of this as "Business Intelligence" instead, where I'm keeping track of how our own little niche market it doing. There's a lot of ART out there in the world, but the world of pen-plotter art is pretty small.
Anyway, I have an app, that once every six hours grabs the #penplotter explore page: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/penplotter/,
or rather, if you pop
?__a=1 onto the end of the URL, you get the results in JSON.
It then looks at each owner of the photos on that page, and if it spots someone it hasn't seen before it puts them on "the list".
Then once every 8 hours (just to mix things up), it goes and grabs the profile of everyone on the list. Again, if
you're logged into Instagram and tag
?__a=1 onto the end of a user's URL, you'll
data in JSON format.
Here's mine: https://www.instagram.com/revdancatt/?__a=1
Because I'm procrastinating at making my online shop, it's useful to get a feel for how other people are selling theirs, Etsy, directly, Shopify and so on. I've already worked out a pricing structure, but again it's useful to check that against other people to make sure I'm not being ridiculous.
As that JSON includes the user's latest photos, along with details about those photos, and because I dump that data into a folder for each day, it means I get to see how photos do over time.
Drawing all that together and I get to have a page somewhat like this...
...which is sorted by "Magic".
You can sort by other things, however... people who have lots of followers get lots of like, so if you use "likes" as the metric, you're just getting "photos by people with lots of followers", which is why I have a "Likes per follower" calculation.
Likewise, the longer the post is up, the more likes it has, surprise, thus the "Likes per day" measure.
"Magic likes" is just a function of "Likes per follower per day", which allows the number to decay over time and photos to move in and out of the "Top posts" list.
Finally, and most useful for me, is as the data is getting dumped daily, I can track how my own things are changing over time.
Here I can see my most-liked posts from the last three months, and you can see the number of followers I had when the post was first made, climbing from around 889 to most recently 1,327.
While these are the top ones from the last month...
"Likes Boosted", is how many likes were gained from a paid promotion. I'm in the middle of throwing £20 at promoting the top post over four days to see what happens, more on that in a later post (£10 so far has gotten ten likes and 13 followers from 17,999 "impressions", make of that what you will).
There's no doubt more I could do by drilling into which of my photos have done the best and seeing what happened with them over time. But for the moment it's just useful to be able to keep a finger on the pulse of what's happening around pen-plotters on twitter.
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First up, calendars and Facebook: typical wall-hanging calendars don't work for me. If your birthday is on the 1st, 2nd or 3rd of the month, you are so out of luck. At the end of the month I'll flip the page over and BOOM, there's a birthday, too late to get something in the post.
Meanwhile, Facebook doesn't bother telling you until the very day, because of course you're supposed to use Facebook to say "Happy Birthday" now and why would you ever need to know when a birthday is coming up in modern times?
I wanted something that I could check that would be a rolling calendar of what's happening in the next four weeks. Which also told me when the person lived in a different country so I could take postage times into account.
The next part makes me sound bad every time I try to explain it but here goes; actually, I'm going to use the words from someone else, which makes them sound even worse.
I was listening to The Art of Manliness podcast, an episode about letter writing and correspondence, and the person on it had precisely my problem. Being a "good friend" means you should effortlessly remember all the things about them, and writing down notes about friends so you can remember them later seems just wrong.
Noting down when someone gets a new job, so in the next letter you can write "Hey, how's you're new job going?", seem, ummm, calculated. But at the same time, my memory is shit.
I've decided to just get over that part.
Turns out keeping track of what you sent to who, when you sent it and what you said is a problem when you write a lot of letters.
The solution the podcast person came up with was to use software targeted to marketing and salespeople to chase leads and send out follow-ups. The type of thing where it would tell you "Oh no, a lead you generated may be slipping away, it's been a couple of months, time to reach out to them again, oh by the way their kids are called Anna and Bob".
He felt awful about using it because it de-humanised the whole thing, and yet it was also the most useful tool he could find.
Which is why I decided to build an "Address Book" that was geared directly to postal correspondence. Yes to fields to record birthdays and anniversaries of special events, no to fields for email or telephone numbers. Yes to keeping track of when I posted letters of, and a space to make notes, no to "reaching out".
I've used it for a couple of years now, and honestly having an outboard brain to put things in, so I don't have to keep them all in my head is lovely and freeing.
I can focus on the actual fun of writing letters rather than worrying that I've forgotten or repeating something.
Oh, the other thing I enjoyed was making all the text on the site about me. I'm not keen on sites that call the people "users", and as I'm the only person who's going to see it, it was kinda fun to be all "I this, and I that".
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And that concludes a "quick" overview of three handy tools I'm pretty pleased that I've built for myself.
As I said at the top, I love, love, love, being able to create solutions to problems I have. Some aren't as "complete" as the above three; sometimes I just need something to do a quick thing for me now and then. But other times, when I keep having the same sticking point come up again and again, being able to throw something together that scratches that itch is good.
Not always having to build them as a "service" so that anyone and everyone can use them is also pretty nice. I mean that's what my actual work job is for. I'm sure other people would find each of the things above useful; mass-cropping photos for social media platforms, tracking Instagram tags, people, photos and metrics, a nice address books that tells you when someone's birthday is coming up rather than surprising you with it. But at the same time, supporting software in your free time, ugh, I have letters to write and pen-plots to post.
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