Getting back in the blogging game

closeThis post was published 2 years 21 days ago. A number of changes have been made to the site since then, so please contact me if anything is broken or seems wrong.

My poor WordPress site didn’t get much attention during college. I used it to cross-post a few things for my Digital Journalism course back in 2011, and banged out a post or two in the interim—but there really isn’t much here that wasn’t around in 2010!

It’s time to change that. Frankly, I haven’t wanted to do much in the way of long-form writing online because my writing energy was sapped by essays and papers. Twitter and Facebook have seen orders of magnitude more use than this server I actually pay for, in the last four years.1 It’s just been easier to find the energy to write a few dozen words at once on social media. Never mind that Facebook is a black box and Twitter is so ephemeral2 that I might as well be talking into the wind—they were easy. Easy enough for me to just post two or three tweets/statuses in a row instead of properly writing something longer and just linking to it.3

But every time I pushed out a tweet string, I got frustrated. Twitter makes it hard to link multiple tweets into a coherent sequence, especially if (as I do) one posts from an external app. The constraint chafed when I had more to say than could fit in 140 characters—and it’s not like I could just start tweeting in Chinese to fit in more words. But blogging felt so intimidating because of all the writing I was already doing for class. So it practically never happened.

There’s a lot of stuff I could write about now that I’ve graduated, though. I should start on that while I can still remember details. With that in mind, the first step is getting this site running better, after being neglected for years.

The nerd in me (90% of my personality, obviously) insisted that it be available over HTTPS now that CloudFlare offers free SSL. It took a solid 4–6 hours to get that working properly, because anything included in a secure page should ideally be delivered securely as well.4 I have several secondary domains from which the site loads resources, and they all needed to be reconfigured too.

As long as I was reconfiguring parts of the blog software to make it work properly with HTTPS, I also addressed some of the sluggishness in loading pages. An old plugin was using an absurd amount of time on every page load. Just getting rid of that cut the time (unscientifically) by at least 60%. Other tweaks have been (and continue to be) made to improve load times, which have bothered me since that old shared server I started using 6 years ago.

FeedBurner, which I used since switching to Blogger way back in 2007, was a dying service when I stopped paying attention to most things blog-related four years ago. Now, it’s barely on life support. It no longer has an API, and no features have been added for… Actually, when was the last FeedBurner update? That’s the problem. So my site feed no longer redirects to FeedBurner—and the subscriber count is “down” 75% because the redirect is gone. Email subscriptions will still run through FeedBurner for now, but I’m working on running those from my own server too. It’s already set up to send mail properly, so it’s just a matter of finding software to run the actual newsletter.

About an hour ago, I upgraded nginx (the web server application that runs almost everything on this particular host) from the outdated version shipped with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. Got a bit scared when all the PHP applications started returning blank pages, but found the reason (a change in how nginx passes parameters to back-end scripts) and corrected the configuration in short order.5 Something as important as a web server needs to be kept updated. (And now I have to do the same upgrade on my other servers. Fun!)

Some time in the next year I’ll need to upgrade Ubuntu to avoid being caught on 12.04 when Canonical ends support in 2017, but I’m waiting to see what happens with Ubuntu 16.04 (the next LTS release). Then I can pick between hopping to 14.04 LTS and waiting for 18.04, or hop to 16.04 and be set until 2020. Upgrading the operating system is potentially a long process, and could break things, so there are good reasons to wait, and wait some more, and plan, and review the plan, and triple-check the plan, and… before committing to an upgrade.

Technobabbles will be in flux for a while, as I continue working to clean up things that broke over the last few years. Anything broken in old content needs fixing, so I’ll definitely read any messages sent in by readers to point out such things. At some point I might go through my old drafts and try to publish some of them—slightly modified or maybe as-is. There’s some good stuff there that just fell off the back of the stove when other things got shoved to the back burners. But first, the house needs to be put to rights.


Notes:

  1. Actually, the same server runs other services, like a URL shortener for my tweets and an IRC bouncer with logging. But this blog was the primary reason I got it in the first place. []
  2. Because finding old stuff on Twitter can be so difficult, I’ve been running a ThinkUp instance since my site was on a borrowed shared hosting account. ThinkUp archives things like Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare posts for me and generates interesting reports using the data. []
  3. Twitter’s really the only service I use that has such a short length limit, but it wouldn’t be easy to write a longer, single-post version of a status for Facebook/Google+/LinkedIn/etc. and then break it up into a separate series of tweets, especially because I use Buffer to post everywhere at once. So everyone got the tweet version. Yes, it’s the lazy way, not the reader-friendly way. []
  4. Secure pages that include insecure content are called “Mixed content”. Modern browsers often show warnings for mixed content, or even block the non-secure content from loading. []
  5. Tip for anyone else upgrading nginx, especially from really old releases like 1.1.x: If your PHP apps stop working, see if you’re trying to include fastcgi_params. In newer versions, the file to include is fastcgi.conf. I fixed my config files all at once with sudo find . -type f -exec cp '{}' '{}'.nginx-1.1 ; and sudo find /etc/nginx/sites-available -type f ! -name '*.nginx-1.1' -exec sed -i 's/fastcgi_params/fastcgi.conf/' {} ; []

dgw

I am an avid technology and software user, in addition to being reasonably well-versed in CSS, JavaScript, HTML, PHP, Python, and (though it still scares me) Perl.

Aside from my technological tendencies, I am also a theatre technician, sound designer, violinist, singer, and actor.

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