Wandering Thoughts archives


Why I don't have a real profile picture anywhere

Recently I decided that I needed a non-default icon aka profile picture for my Twitter account. Although I have pictures of myself, I never considered using one; it's not something that I do. Mostly I don't set profile pictures on websites that ask for them and if I do, it's never actually a picture of me.

Part of this habit is certainly that I don't feel like giving nosy websites that much help (and they're almost all nosy). Sure, there are pictures of me out on the Internet and they can be found through search engines, but they don't actually come helpfully confirmed as me (and in fact one of the top results right now is someone else). Places like Facebook and Twitter and so on are already trying very hard to harvest my information and I don't feel like giving them any more than the very minimum. For a long time that was all that I needed and all of the reason that I had.

These days I have another reason for refusing to provide a real picture, one involving a more abstract principle than just a reflexive habit towards 'none of your business' privacy. Put simply, I don't put up a profile picture because I've become conscious that I could do so safely, without fear of consequences due to people becoming aware of what I look like. Seeing my picture will not make people who interact with me think any less of me and the views I express. It won't lead to dismissals or insults or even threats. It won't expose me to increased risks in real life because people will know what I look like if they want to find me.

All of this sounds very routine, but there are plenty of people on the Internet for whom this is at least not a sure thing (and thus something that they have to consider consciously every time they make this choice) or even very much not true. These people don't have my freedom to casually expose my face and my name if I feel like it, with no greater consideration than a casual dislike of giving out my information. They have much bigger, much more serious worries about the whole thing, worries that I have the privilege of not even thinking about almost all of the time.

By the way, I don't think I'm accomplishing anything in particular by not using a real picture of myself now that I'm conscious of this issue. It's just a privilege that I no longer feel like taking advantage of, for my own quixotic reasons.

(You might reasonably ask 'what about using your real name?'. The honest answer there is that I am terrible with names and that particular ship sailed a very long time ago, back in the days before people were wary about littering their name around every corner of the Internet.)

PS: One obvious catalyst for me becoming more aware of this issue was the Google+ 'real names' policy and the huge controversy over it, with plenty of people giving lots of excellent arguments about why people had excellent reasons not to give out their real names (see eg the Wikipedia entry if you haven't already heard plenty about this).

PPS: Yes, I have plenty of odd habits related to intrusive websites.

web/WhyNotProfilePictures written at 23:59:07; Add Comment

What it took to get DWiki running under Python 3

For quixotic reasons I recently decided to see how far I could get with porting DWiki (the code behind this blog) to Python 3 before I ran out of either patience or enthusiasm. I've gotten much further than I expected; at this point I'm far enough that it can handle this entire site when running under Python's builtin basic HTTP server, rendering the HTML exactly the same as the Python 2 version does.

Getting this far basically took three steps. The largest step was updating the code to modern Python 2, because Python 3 doesn't accept various bits of old syntax. After I'd done that, I ran 2to3 over the codebase to do a bunch of mechanical substitutions, mostly rewriting print statements and standard modules that had gotten reorganized in the transition. The final necessary step was some Unicode conversion and mangling (and with it reading some files in binary mode).

All of this sounds great, but the reality is that DWiki is only limping along under Python 3 and this is exactly because of the Unicode issue. Closely related to this is that I have not revised my WSGI code for any changes in the Python 3 version of WSGI (I'm sure there must be some, just because of character encoding issues). Doing a real Python 3 port of DWiki would require dealing with this, which means going through everywhere that DWiki talks to the outside world (for file IO, for logging, and for reading and replying to HTTP requests), figuring out where the conversion boundary is between Unicode and bytestrings, what character encoding I need to use and how to recognize this, and finally what to do about encoding and decoding errors. Complicating this is that some of these encoding boundaries are further upstream than you might think. Two closely related cases I've run into so far is that DWiki computes the ETag and Content-Length for the HTTP reply itself, and for obvious reasons both of these must be calculated against the encoded bytestring version of the content body instead of its original Unicode version. This happens relatively far inside my code, not right at the boundary between WSGI and me.

(Another interesting case is encoding URLs that have non-ASCII characters in them, for example from a page with a name that has Unicode characters in it. Such URLs can get encoded both in HTML and in the headers of redirects, and need to be decoded at some point on the way in, where I probably need to %-decode to a bytestring and then decode that bytestring to a Unicode string.)

Handling encoding and decoding errors are a real concern of mine for a production quality version of DWiki in Python 3. The problem is that most input these days is well behaved, so you can go quite a while before someone sends you illegal UTF-8 in headers, URLs, or POST bodies (or for that matter sends you something in another character set). This handily disguises failures to handle encoding and decoding problems, since things work almost all the time. And Python 3 has a lot of places with implicit conversions.

That these Unicode issues exist doesn't surprise me. Rather the reverse; dealing with Unicode has always been the thing that I thought would be hardest about any DWiki port to Python 3. I am pleasantly surprised by how few code changes were required to get to this point, as I was expecting much more code changes (and for them to be much more difficult to make, I think because at some point I'd got the impression that 2to3 wasn't very well regarded).

Given the depths of the Unicode swamps here, I'm not sure that I'll go much further with a Python 3 version of DWiki than I already have. But, as mentioned, it is both nice and surprising to me that I could get this far with this little effort. The basics of porting to Python 3 are clearly a lot less work than I was afraid of.

python/DWikiAndPython3 written at 01:02:16; Add Comment

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