Kinsman Soap

This is a cross post from my photo-a-day(ish) blog, the photoyear.

Kinsman soap flickr photo by bennettscience shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

My family has a heart for the refugee crisis. We’ve researched how we can help Syrians, in particular, fleeing civil war find their way to the United States. Unfortunately, Indiana has some of the most restrictive regulations in place in terms of bringing in or facilitating the arrival of refugees.

Kinsman soap is run by the Preemptive Love Coalition as a way to support refugees who cannot make it somewhere safer. We received gifts of soap made by men and women who haven’t been home in years. This is our small way of helping from a distance.

If you’d like to know more about the organization, check out their website at

Building a Custom Registration Form with Google Apps

One of the main responsibilities my team has is offering and running training on a number of resources teachers in the district have access to. The most popular, because of their new-ness, are Google Apps (GSuite…whatever) and Canvas. Because we offer so many workshops, our Drive is full of copies of copies of copies of registration forms. So, I built a custom registration form using Google Apps Script and a Sheet. This detail-heavy post walks through the entire process with code.

The End Product

There were a lot of iterations of the project and in the end, we wound up with a website which:

– Can be managed by anyone on the team

– Collects the username (their email address, actually)

– Displays available seats for the workshop

– Allows users to both register and cancel registrations

– Displays the user’s current registrations

The Back End

This uses a Google Apps Script web app and a Spreadsheet to run the back end service. The sheet serves as two databases: course offerings (with details) and user registrations. The front end site uses AJAX calls to populate a page specific to the user.

In order to return the correct data, Session.getEffectiveUser().getEmail() is used to check the logged-in user against the database so only their course information is returned. For example, this script gets the current user registrations from the registration sheet:

Much of the backend work is building arrays and objects of the correct data and sending it to the client side scripts to display. The full commented code is in this GitHub Gist.

The Front End

Google Apps Script allows for templated HTML. I’m not using a template, per se, because it’s loading a static page and populating div elements with AJAX calls. But, the same could be done to create multiple pages using the same template.

There are two main actions: registering for a course and cancelling a course. Both call the server to make changes to the spreadsheet and pass updated information to the front. Registering for a course (or courses) write across a range rather than submitting n number of results for that user. Cancelling a course, instead of building and writing a new array, searches through the Sheet for the user and the matching date and simply deletes the cell. The app is then reloaded to refresh the user registrations at the top.

It’s not pretty and there are some changes I still want to make to clean up some of the array building/passing, but it’s such a small amount of data, the site loads very quickly even with a large number of registrations.

If you have suggestions, or if you make improvements, please leave a note in the comments. As is, you could probably copy and paste most of this into your own sheet and get it going. Be sure to fill in the correct sheet names and ID’s in the file to avoid breakage.

Networks flickr photo by eflon shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

If You Haven’t Changed Practice, Don’t Call It Flipped

When I try new things, the fear really sets in as I’m giving instructions and trying to pick up on the nonverbal cues my students are sending me. Most days, they roll with it. Other days…well, there is usually some kind of course correction in there.

But it’s part of my practice now. Not crashing and burning of course; I learn a lot on those days, but I try not to make them the norm. My practice is to constantly as, “Can this be better?” Sometimes, the answer is “No, not right now,” and that’s totally okay. Other times, I’m actively trying to improve on a lesson, a task, or a supporting item.

Flipping is easy to jump into. Need to teach something? Find a video. Slap an EdPuzzle quiz on there and post it through Google Classroom. Students, turn in a one page summary of what you watched. Quiz on Friday.

Don’t keep your practice the same and call it flipped.

flickr photo shared by Daniel Kulinski under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

How are students engaging with the ideas? Not engaging with the video, but with the idea? The intangible? The abstract? The metaphorical? How are your students processing what you need them to learn in meaningful ways?

Flipping is really about a core change in practice that forces you, the teacher, to recognize that effective, deep learning requires our students chew on ideas…and not just gnaw, but really chew hard. Video might be a component of the chewing, but it can’t be the beginning and the end.

How do we avoid falling into a trap of simply adding another task to check off the list in the learning cycle? I have three main self-checks:

  1. Keep the video _thin_. This is the first exposure, not the only (or even main) exposure. Some questions should be answered, but I really want to get students asking more questions. I try to ride the line of thorough instruction and full instruction.

  2. Explicitly connect ideas from the video to class. I do this in a number of ways from a quick five-minute warm up at the start of class (“Remember, in the video…”) or in the video itself as a preview (“We’re going to do a lab where…”). I’ve found that these peeks help students make connections more readily as the learning tasks come around.

  3. Tell them the videos aren’t enough to get by on. I don’t remember when this hit me, but I never really said that the video alone isn’t enough to help them learn. I make sure it’s very, very clear that they need to engage with me – and each other – during class to really excel. Video is a tool, not the solution.

In the long run, by downplaying the magic-ness of your videos and underlining the importance of multiple modes of engagement, your practice will begin to change. You’ll use that reclaimed time more effectively and you’ll find yourself starting to look critically at everything you do.

Fixing Invalid frob Error in darktable on OSX

I use darktable to edit my photos. It’s a really robust RAW photo editor with a very active development community. The GitHub repo has 19,000+ commits on it over the last five or six years, which is great because it means active improvements. Open source FTW.

It’s built mainly for Linux, but somewhere, someone added an OSX installer. I edit my photos and then used the Flickr export option to dump them right up to my albums. Over a year ago, I got a really weird error about an invalid “frob” that prevented authenticating.

Modified from [flickr photo]( “This one took FOREVER to line up right…”) shared by [lintmachine]( under a [Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license](

After digging…a lot…the problem started in 2014 when Flickr required HTTPS calls to the API. Tonight, I figured out how to patch the broken library in the app so I can upload to Flickr again from darktable. Hurray.

Darktable app. Screenshot by me. Open source project at

To fix, you’ll need to grab the latest version of the flickcurl library. The one packaged with the app is out of date, using HTTP requests rather than HTTPS requests. I used Homebrew to grab a copy (brew install flickcurl) but you can also download a zip file and install that way.

All apps on Mac have files you can explore. I worked in the command line because it was faster for me than opening a couple Finder windows, but you could do it that way, too.

Terminal command

cp Your/File/Location/libflickcurl.0.dylib /Applications/

Finder window

  1. Open a finder window with your downloaded library. Then, open a second Finder window and go to Applications. Right click on libflickcurl.0.dylib and click Copy.

  2. Right click on Darktable and choose “Show package contents”

Screenshot is mine.

  1. Go to Contents > Resources > lib

  2. Right click in the folder and select Paste (or Cmd + V) and then click Replace.

The next time darktable opens, you’ll use the updated flickcurl library and be able to share directly from the app itself.

2017 Project: Photo Year

Pictures launch stories. I take a lot of photos and like most people, they stay on my phone. I used to use Instagram, but I’m not happy with their terms or use limitations on photos (ever tried to embed an image? It’s a nightmare). Maybe I’m an idealist and this is a funk, but whatever.

I’m posting to Flickr more and more regularly and I decided to make a small project for 2017. I’m going to tag a photo each day that will push it and the description over to a new blog I’m calling The Photoyear. It’ll syndicate that photo (technical stuff below) and turn it into a blog post. You can subscribe via RSS over there if you’d like. Sometimes, I’ll cross post it here, but that will be a place for pictures and their stories for the next year.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Setting up Flickr syndication

I started by writing more descriptive…descriptions…with my photos. That led to the idea of running a blog entirely on photos – content and all. Since I’m already doing that on Flickr, it made sense to try and syndicate it back to a blog of some kind. Alan Levine is the king of all things RSS. Some of his posts led to working solutions.

Recently, Alan posted where to find the Flickr RSS feed for public photos. Instead of grabbing everything I post (often more than one photo per day) I wanted to grab just one. I was going to manage that by adding photos to an album, but you can’t do that anymore (not with an RSS URL, anyways). Sad trombone. So, I stick to tags.

I fired up a subdomain – and installed WordPress and the FeedWordPress plugin to syndicate posts from any RSS feed. Running out of the box, it grabs the tag only from the XML:

The immediate problem is the size of the embedded image. The src attribute is, meaning the medium sized image is embedded, which is tiny. I had to get brave and check out a PHP solution.

In functions.php, I added a new filter (thanks to the suggestion of…you guessed it…Alan) which simply changes the _m.jpg to _b.jpg for a nice, full-width image.

I’m still not totally happy with my PHP solution because each post is going to come with, “a new photo by bennettscience” appended at the top. I tried using a preg_replace function to find the string and remove it (it’s always the same), but I didn’t have any luck. If you have a suggestion, I’d love some help figuring that snippet out.

Anyways, all said and done, you can check out The Photoyear now and then to see what’s up. I’m looking forward to reading back over everything as we move through 2017.