Posts filed under “Me, myself, and I”

Strange things happen when you put your stuff on Wikimedia Commons

You just saw a photograph of a freight train. It is not very interesting to almost anyone. But maybe a story about it would be!

A few years ago I was at Downham Market station. I don't recall why I was there. It might have been because I was broke at the time and had nothing better to do; most likely I had enough money to pay for a train ticket and doing nothing in particular in Downham was more fun than doing nothing in particular where I was. And I had an Olympus Trip 35 film camera loaded with Ilford XP2 black-and-white film in a pocket. A freight train passed through the station. I thought it was interesting and the light felt nice, and so I took a bad photo of a freight train heading through Downham Market, and later uploaded it to a site called the Wikimedia Commons.

I suspect the kind of person who reads my blog would be the kind of person to know what the Wikimedia Commons is, but I shall explain for those in the cheap seats: it is a website wherein anyone can upload their own stuff on the condition that it can be used by anyone, for absolutely any purpose, with or without modification. This means that your stuff gets used in really fun and unexpected ways. I know photos of mine that are not this freight train have showed up in books from serious academic publishers, scientific papers, and PowerPoint presentations.

The fact that photos of mine were used in PowerPoint presentations might make me worry whether my putting photos out there for anyone to use might have a net-negative impact on the world. But because of the "everyone can use this without needing to ask first" nature of the Commons, and bloggers needing photos they can use for decoration, various blogging services have invented ways for authors to find photos from the Commons to use in their posts. Which means my photos have been used in about a trillion blog posts! And probably a trillion more blog posts which I will never see.

Back to that photo of a freight train. This was one of hundreds I chucked onto the Commons over the years. I thought someone else might find it interesting, some time in the future. Or it could just sit there and do nothing but take up 1.81 megabytes of disk space! Which it did, for years. Then, someone wrote a short murder-mystery set at Downham Market station.


Screenshot of Liam Saville's short story "Murder at the Railway Arms", with my photo heading up the article


An Australian author called Liam Saville thought that photo was the right photo as the intro pic for his work. You must go and read the story. I loved it, and as a local I appreciate that he did a bunch of very small details very correctly. All of that while hanging upside-down! (This is how Australia works. I don't know how they do it.)

But (Arlo Guthrie voice) that's not what I came to talk about today. Some time later, I had cause to visit Downham Market again, and in particular, to use the bogs at Downham Market station. And while I was in there, I noticed the walls being covered in giant prints of various trains, and in particular noticed that one of the cubicles was covered in a black-and-white photo of a Class 66 locomotive passing through Downham Market...

My photo of a Class 66, covering the entire wall of one of the bogs in Downham Market station

...and it took me more than a moment to realise I was looking at my own photo covering an entire wall of a bog at the same station I photographed it 10 years before. I think that takes the "unexpected use of my photos" crown.

There's not a moral to the story here, because life is messy and stories with a moral are rarely true stories. Instead, I'll just say that free culture is beautiful, both for the people who choose to contribute their work and for all the people that use it. The folks doing a makeover of a station found the right picture to use to cover an entire wall of a bog. An Australian author found the right picture for his short story for free, without needing to ask me first.

In a different world, wherein I was protective about whatever privileges copyright law gives me, this would have been a boring snapshot of a train that nobody would have seen, rather than a boring photo of a train that probably thousands have, which now has has its own life outside of my control. And that, makes me happy. :)

Self-archaeology and the Internet Movie Car Database

This was my mum's Mercedes 220. It was glorious.

Mercedes W115 in red

She bought LRO 468L for £500 in either 1989 or 1990, because back then it was merely an old car (though cars aged much quicker 30 years ago). It was beautiful, silent, luxurious, and very wafty. I loved it, and everyone else did. She sold it a few months later for slightly more than she paid for it, because it needed welding work on the floorpan. A very young Me did not talk to her for a day after that.

It was last MOT'ed in 1990, so we can probably conclude it does not exist anymore (or, to avoid offending those of you who believe in the laws of thermodynamics, exists in an entirely different form). A W114 or W115 is still on my bucket list of cars to own. It might even be the next project I build, if my next project starts before the prices of these go through the roof.

Fast-forward just a few years. Recently, someone pointed out that if you search for a registration plate on Google Images, there's a good chance that it will find a photo of that car, because Google indexes any text it finds within an image, and may notice the text on the numberplate. Like ANPR, but for everything.

It worked on my car. Among others, it found a photo taken at the late Rockingham Motor Speedway, which my brother (the previous owner) took in 2007 back when "camera phone" still meant "thing with a dialpad", and posted on a forum in 2008.

My Mazda at Rockingham in 2007

It worked when I entered the registration of this Mercedes, too. I know the registration off by heart, because my memory is weird. I remember a Windows 95 product key that I last used in anger in 1997, and the registration of my mum's car from 31 years ago, and sometimes draw a blank when I have to enter my PIN into a cash machine.

The first result was the picture you saw at the top of this article. I uploaded that photo to Wikimedia Commons over 15 years ago, and things often spread to weird and unexpected places when you do that. (I'll tell you the story about the wall art in the bogs at Downham Market station some other time...)

The second and third images were the offspring of obsessive categorisation at scale. I would hope any petrolhead would know about the Internet Movie Car Database, wherein a (presumably vast) number of very dedicated people are aiming to identify every car in every film & television program. If your car appeared in the background of, e.g., an episode of The Bill in December 1984, then there's a good chance someone has captured and categorised it.

Mercedes W115 as a background car in The Bill, 1984

Well how about that!

But wait: It's brown! Or at least looks brown. Did it get a respray before my mum owned it? Or did a worn 80s VHS tape not reproduce the glorious red that it was? I won't ever know the answer to that, and I am okay with that.

The cars we knew in our youth are, or will be, almost all lost to time and entropy; only a very few are lucky enough to be recommissioned or restored. But this Mercedes was lucky to have its few seconds of fame on the small screen, and was immortalised, to some very tiny extent and entirely accidentally, by some extraordinarily committed people on the Internet. That's more than most cars will get, and that, is good enough for me.

And that, is the end of that

What my credit card looks like, as of a few days ago:

Current balance: £0.36

I won't even tell you what it was a year or so ago. All I will say is that the interest payments alone at one point were pushing £250 a month, which is a non-trivial amount of money for anyone that isn't Scrooge McDuck swimming in piles of cash.

This is absolutely not some woe-is-me story, because obviously, I was a fucking idiot who made some very poor financial decisions (see also: cash furnace of a car) and I don't blame anyone but myself.

Still. Not to get too personal here, but all of my late teens and my 20s were spent not so much in a bad financial position as in no financial position at all. I got my shit together far too late, and when one does get one's shit together one starts getting credit card offers.

When you are feeling financially stable for the first time in your life, those offers look all too tempting because woohoo, I can have even more money right now and I can build my credit score and such! And of course you will pay back the whole amount at the end of the month, right? Until you start thinking that just for this month you will make that small minimum payment instead, and then they start upping your credit limit (mine increased twentyfold from when I started)...and if you do that enough times you end up with a substantial portion of your income being dead weight.

So it goes. I was an idiot! But I also learned in the last few months that even when I'm throwing a substantial amount of my income into paying off the capital on that credit card, that I can still be quite comfortable and even have a little money left at the end of the month, if I behave frugally. Which is to say, if Mazda Amy doesn't throw any new and hilariously expensive curveballs at me I might have some hope of building some savings and shit or I might forget what I just said and buy lots of car parts.

Whatever happens there: it's over, and I am much happier for it.

In which I get a little boost to my faith in humanity

Today, I lost my wallet. This has a happy ending...

After topping up Mazda Amy with oil this afternoon (she's basically a Diesel at this point, in that she burns nearly as much oil as she does petrol), I went to the shop for supplies and then went for a hoon on the backroads (and by the way, that never stops being fun). When I got home, I realised I did not have my wallet anymore.

It's easy to make me anxious (possibly moreso than most people), and losing my wallet with my various money-equivalent cards and my driving license was enough to trigger something not far off my worst episodes. Not so much that I could not function at all or not be able to drive as in the very worst of my episodes, but...

So I backtracked to the shop, and asked if anyone had handed in a wallet. Nobody had. I went home. Checked every inch of my car. Checked every inch of the car again. Emptied absolutely everything, tools and glovebox contents included, out of the car and checked every inch again.

No dice. Then I remembered that I realised a short while after I drove off from the shop earlier that I had not shut my passenger door properly, and pulled over to open it and shut it again. So I backtracked there to see if my wallet was there just in case I had put my wallet in the passenger door card and it had fallen out while I was loading supplies into the passenger side. Not there either. I went back to the shop and gave them my number in case anyone handed in a wallet; something I had not thought to do earlier.

Panic really set in here. In retrospect I know it was a totally manageable situation: it would require a few phone calls to cancel my cards, and going online and ordering a new driver's license card and some other stuff. But still, full panic, which I dealt with by doing another inch-by-inch search of my car and at this point I am shitting myself.

And while I was doing that last panicked search, as if that would reveal something a complete emptying of the car would not...a BMW E92 with all the seats full of family rolls into my driveway. And as it comes to a halt...the driver holds my wallet out the window. There's social distancing and all, a norm I'm not comfortable with because I wanted to hug the shit out of him and propriety these days requires that I not even give him a handshake, but it is what it is.

I asked him for a PayPal address or something I could use to send my thanks. He refused, but he did tell me the way I probably lost my wallet, which was that after loading stuff into the front passenger seat of the car I likely left my wallet on the top of my car then drove off and it went somewhere. Well, that's happened before and all I nearly lost were some onions, and maybe I need to establish a ritual for checking the roof of my car just as I have a ritual for checking exactly three times that my front door is locked when I leave...but that's another thing.

I did offer again after he explained how he got hold of my wallet to send him some money via whatever means he liked; whatever amount I sent him would have been a tiny price to pay compared to the amount of financial damage someone less decent with my credit & debit cards & my de-facto identity card could have done. But nope. Refused.

I was reminded today that there are decent, honest people out there who do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do.

Thanks, BMW E92 guy. You is good people.

In lieu of being productive

BMW E30 and Mazda 323 GTX

My brother Alex came over in his E30 to make my driveway look much cooler. 80s car friends, yay! 💕 We've been meaning to get a photo of them together, when they are both working, so we did!

Actually, the goal today was not to add even more obnoxiously loud colours to my driveway, but to get Alex's clutch working on his 1963 Land Rover, not pictured (yet). That did not work, because of a lack of parts. We thought the clutch slave cylinder was dead, because Alex had installed it upside down (which means bleeding it will not work as as it should). With the slave cylinder installed the right way up and with the system bled appropriately, the clutch still didn't work, which means the master cylinder is probably dead in some way. We didn't have a master cylinder, so that should have been the end of the day.

Except...once you start, you're sort of committed to doing something that day, so we decided to save it by getting stuff done in lieu of getting anything done that we actually wanted to, like cleaning up the chassis & an outrigger in preparation for a second fuel tank to be fitted.

Alex spraying with no mask, because he likes paint fumes.
HEALTH AND SAFETY VIOLATION! Always wear a mask while spraying. You do not want to inhale paint. If you sniff paint fumes too much you'll end up like me or Alex.

By which I mean Alex cleaned up the chassis & an outrigger in preparation for a second fuel tank to be fitted. I mostly sat around making stupid jokes and offering encouragement and giving the occasional good idea. The work itself didn't require a second person.

Me, standing next to Alex's Land Rover.
Me, being a not very useful second person, today

But, I did get to hang out with my brother at a sensible distance, we had a day of fun and of getting things done that we didn't intend to do and of decades-old in-jokes, we consumed food, and Alex departed with a wicked rolling burnout down my street to round it off.

Sometimes, an unproductive day can be a good day. ❤️

Me and Alex with our respective cars.

Photo credit for the last and second-to-last photo: my brother's 11-year-old kid Rowan. Thanks kid!

Towards something that almost looks like a blog

I withdrew from social media at the start of that whole global pandemic thing. Initially it was to bring my anxiety under control, and turned out to be the best possible thing I could have done for my well-being.

On the other hand, I came to miss having a place to dump things that may or may not be of value to someone somewhere. That's what this is!

I also wanted a little place that was mine -- hosted on servers I pay for, with software I control. The current wave of deplatforming should terrify anyone that has content hosted by someone else. I like cars, cats, and writing Python code. It's unlikely I'll ever become a target for any of that, but that's probably what all those people thought who were posting nudity on that site that was 95% nudity, and we all know how that one worked out.

I have a site. Actually I have another site as well. Those sites do what they do, and one of them gets non-trivial amounts of traffic doing what it does. I did not want to repurpose those. They might get updated with the things they should be updated with, but sometimes a thing should be allowed to be the thing that it is.

So here it is, something resembling a blog. I'll be migrating a bunch of stuff from my Markdown diary files. I have a lot of these, which I gathered in the hope of getting them into a static site generator some day. They didn't end up going into a static site generator, because I was overthinking the solution (and I'll probably post about that soon).

I picked the name "Exhaust" because this is a bit of a vent. Not "vent" in the sense that makes so much discourse ugly, but a place to dump the occasional thought, a thing that has happened to me, a picture, maybe the occasional story and anything else that crosses my mind. And I can do that without caring how many likes or shares it gets! As Todd Snider put it,

I might share some of my opinions with you over the course of the evening. I'm not gonna share them with you 'cause I think they're smart, or 'cause I think you need to know 'em; I'm gonna share 'em with you because they rhyme.