I guess I could sit here and mess with the color scheme for this blog indefinitely, or I could just start writing blog posts again. I only wrote three posts in 2013, and by the end of the year I was down to just checking my site every now and then to make sure it was still online.1 I'm making a few changes that I hope will get me blogging regularly again:
1. New URL
Back in 2012, after reading a bunch of advice on choosing domain names, I decided to use my own name for my other site. Much of the advice I read boiled down to consistency and identifiability. People change blog titles all the time but personal names, while not necessarily stable, tend to have more persistence. So if you've decided to use your "real" name online and are creating a website to go with that identity, it makes sense to go with an eponymous domain. I still think that's a good idea and I still have plans to use that domain as a personal website. It might just link out to writings and projects, but that's ok.
For the blog itself, however, I found myself surprisingly uncomfortable seeing my own name out there every time I wanted to post a link. It got to the point that I didn't want to post links to my own writing, or write things that would end up with my name in the URL.2 Hence the new domain, which makes the URL match the blog title. Will I always have a blog with this title? Maybe not, but I've moved on from blog to blog before.
2. Octopress instead of Wordpress
The bigger change, which might not be that visible beyond the difference in layout/theme, is the move from Wordpress to Octopress. I'll probably put up a separate post about the differences, so I won't get into too much detail here, but essentially Wordpress is a dynamic content management system while Octopress - which I had not heard of before some friends mentioned it on twitter - is a type of static site generator. What this boils down to is that Wordpress is built on various technologies that make it possible to interact with a website on and through the web, while Octopress does a bunch of stuff on my computer that generates static files (html and css, obviously, but you can include lots of things) which are then placed on the web.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this move, most of which I'll gloss over here, but the most noticeable difference from a reading point of view is the lack of comments. Since the site is static and not backed by a database or anything like that, there's no place to save user input without using a third-party add-on. Octopress is built to work out-of-the box with the Disqus comment system, which embeds the comments interface as a third-party application at the bottom of each post, but I don't have a Disqus account and won't set one up until I've looked into their policies more closely. I have added a contact page and I welcome feedback, although I can't promise I'll be able to respond to every email.
From my point of view as someone who wants to learn some new skills, there are advantages in moving to Octopress that outweigh the loss of things like built-in comments. Octopress relies on a bunch of things that I've either never used before or used only occasionally: git, ruby, markdown, css processing with Sass, SSH and Rsync.3 I can also maintain my site entirely from the terminal if I want to, which gives me an excuse to use in-terminal text editors and shell commands more often. That all might sound like a lot of work, but this is stuff I want to learn anyway and having an ongoing project makes me more likely to stick with it. And writing simple posts like this is easy.
3. Shorter posts, if not in length, then in time spent writing
When I get started, I can write a lot fairly quickly, but all too often I end up writing long posts infrequently. I don't think the occasional longer post is a bad thing, but waiting until I have something essay-like to write has been bad for my blogging. Those posts take a long time and this has generated a feedback loop where I really want to write something but then I think I should get more background before writing and then I think about how long it will take to write and then I keep putting it off. I usually do a fair bit of the gathering background part, so I end up learning a fair amount, but then everything just stays with me and I never write it down. There are still a few longer things I want to write, but I'm going to try not to let them get in the way of other stuff. I didn't have to move to a new website to change how I approach blogging, but I figure this is a good time to start.
So that's it. In the past I'd try to think of some neat wrap-up paragraph for this post, but I think it's enough that I'm actually writing again.
Meanwhile, I kept getting notices from my web host that my installation of Wordpress needed to be upgraded. I did the upgrades, at least. I also renewed my domain. So I never gave up on the site completely. ↩
This is probably something I should have gotten over, but whatever. It's easy enough, if not free, to get a new domain for the blog and blog-related activities. ↩
Technically, you don't have to use Rsync to publish a site with Octopress. But it's the method I'm currently using to communicate with my hosting provider. ↩