[supplied title]

maintenance note

I can't believe it's been five years since I decided to move my blogging to this URL. At the time, I'd been running a wordpress blog at an eponymous URL for a little over a year, and during that time I'd come to feel so self-conscious about linking to posts with my name literally in the URL that I felt I needed to change it.

My old blog was feeling insecure in another way: it used http and not https. I was ok with this for the public URLs but it really bothered me on the administrative side. I wanted to be able to edit posts anywhere, but I was reluctant to log in from shared networks without the extra security. I know I could have composed posts outside of wordpress and then pasted in the text later, but the habits I'd developed as a blogger during the years when I did a fair amount of blogging led me to be more comfortable writing directly into the administrative interface of whatever platform I'd been using.

So after thinking through the various workarounds I could have developed to keep using wordpress - migrating the whole blog to a new URL, developing a new compose-and-publish workflow, only making edits and doing other administrative tasks at home - I got a new URL, wrote a long post about why, and then promptly nearly quit blogging.

Some of that was about work. I'd already not been posting very often, and then I got fairly busy with a few projects, spent a fair amount of time learning things outside of work hours, decided to move back to California (I was in a term position anyway), surprisingly found a position in California much more quickly than I expected to, and then moved. At which point, I'd really gotten out of the blogging habit.

But some of it was about site maintenance. Static site generators create "simple" html sites, but the process of generating those pages can be somewhat difficult to piece together. Especially if you're not already familiar with the language(s) the generator is written in. Wordpress, on the other hand, does a pretty good job at being the kind of software where you can just log in and post. Wordpress requires you to do some other maintenance tasks, particularly around upgrading, but if you're not heavily customizing it and you're only a single user, it's not too complex.

At the time I launched this blog, I had decided to go with Octopress, which primarily uses Ruby. I thought I'd go on to learn Ruby at that point, but that never happened. And since I didn't start posting regularly, I felt like every time I wanted to write something, I had to re-learn the whole Octopress system again. And then troubleshoot issues like malformed URLs. One of the dangers of static sites is you're often re-generating every page each time you publish, so you can break everything at once pretty easily.

Eventually, I got tired of feeling put off from blogging by the software itself and started looking for alternatives. I'd still like to learn Ruby, but realistically it made more sense for me to stick with tools that are more familiar to me, and I eventually settled on Pelican, which uses Python. Pelican also happens to have an Octopress-style theme, which made the move much easier since I didn't have to go searching for new layouts.1

Has it worked out? Kind of. I made the change in the middle of last year, but I still didn't write a single post last year. Now that I'm writing again, I can say that I find Pelican easier to use, but it turns out that may have more to do with certain aspects of its design than with the underlying programming language.2

That didn't stop me from briefly breaking my site a few weeks ago when I somehow managed to upload it without the proper CSS files, and I've been catching some odd formatting errors related to how markdown works, but I think I'm getting the publishing process worked out. So if you're actually reading this blog and see things go haywire, please bear with me. I'm pretty sure I can fix whatever goes wrong. At the very least I can always back up to the previous version of the site.

As for wordpress, I actually did consider going back to it last fall. My hosting provider now supports some easy ways to implement https, something that previously seemed out of reach to me as a regular site owner. So I went back and enabled it on my old blog,3 which is still up because I haven't migrated any of the posts yet.

At the same time, I also decided to retire my old wordpress.com blog. I've been around blogs since Blogger was the big thing (along with TypePad), and I remember when wordpress started offering free blogs at wordpress.com. It felt like such an improvement! But over the years their monetization efforts have led to some ugly and jarring ad placement, and even though I never looked at that old old blog more than a couple of times per year, I just couldn't take it anymore.

Since it's much easier to migrate from wordpress to wordpress, I decided to import all those old posts to my self-managed wordpress site. That worked pretty cleanly, except I'd used a hierarchy for categories on wordpress.com, and now they're all in a flat structure. It also would have been nice to have an easy way to make it clear that everything prior to July 2012 was imported from a different URL. Maybe I'm too much of an archivist in all aspects of life.

In any case, with so much content now in wordpress, I started to wonder if I should just redirect the whole blog to my current URL and replace Pelican/Octopress entirely. But I concluded that I still like the static site concept enough to stick with it for now. Plus, I spent a lot of time looking at wordpress themes and didn't come away with any I really wanted to use.

So this, I hope, will be the retirement plan for my old eponymous URL: over the next few months, I'm going to migrate selected posts from my old blog(s) here. They'll show up under their original dates, but I'm going to insert a note in each one indicating where they were originally posted.

Then I'll make another wordpress export and a backup and take everything else down, leaving only a note redirecting people here.4 Everything not migrated will live on only in my personal digital archives, or as remnants in the Internet Archive. I may work in digital preservation, but that doesn't mean I think we're duty bound to keep online everything we've ever posted as regular people going about our lives.

  1. Although this has turned out to mean that I still have to install Ruby in order to make certain edits to the theme. But that's just to run one command, which makes it more like an ordinary software dependency rather than a core bit of knowledge required to run the site. 

  2. It's been so long since I've used Octopress I can't give a detailed comparison. But off the top of my head, the way Pelican separates content from themes seems easier to maintain. Plus the process of starting a new post also seems easier in Pelican. 

  3. I've also enabled it on this blog. I've been persuaded by the argument that even if you don't need https for administering your site, it still provides a security and privacy benefit to those who are reading it. 

  4. I'm keeping the eponymous URL itself. Who knows, maybe I'll put a proper personal profile page there, with something like professional/biographical information. I'm more comfortable using my name for that than for ordinary blog posts.