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Site history

This history follows the introduction on the About page.


This first paragraph, which used to be on the About page seems to have been lost. The context was that I have been keeping a daily journal ever since Junior High when my English teacher, Mr Shea required everyone to do so. After that year-long assignment was over, I kept writing in one of those black and white composition books that everyone back then had. I kept writing almost daily, first by hand but later in digital form and this was long before there was an "internet" so those files were kept locally. When the web arrived for everyone in the mid 90s I started to post this stuff online in various ways. This was not a seamless change because suddenly I was writing for an audience of more than just a future me.

Changing how I was writing necessitated a change in what I was writing, or at least it brought about a greater cautiousness in topic selection. I decided that writing about my employer, or my personal family life was probably not a very good idea since there was no real way to know who might be reading what I wrote. This means that a lot of what I write is no longer a 'journal' in the original sense (to me). I now write about things I am interested in at the time, things I've found on the internet, events, etc. and I have a sort of unwritten rule to to try to keep in mind that I am publishing to the whole world, which certainly includes employers and family members. There is a bit of political and religious commentary here, so be warned.

For a time after starting to put stuff online, I actually did continue keeping a digital version of a real journal in the computer (think Doogie Houser, MD) but because I have a tendency to change operating systems and machines quite frequently, I chose to keep this in a simple text file which eventually grew huge and unwieldy. My first online journal entries were basically just selections of this text formatted with HTML (by hand in a text editor).

This became tiresome, and I stopped publishing online for a while. For several years I kept the journal solely on my m500 palm pilot (using Wordsmith), but when that died unexpectantly (do they ever die expectantly?), I realized I was lucky to have kept good backups of it and wouldn't trust a handheld again for my personal journal.

Sometime in 1996 shortly after I built a website for the company I worked for, I set up a website for song lyrics which eventually became the Book of Song. These files were originally hosted in a subdirectory of my company's website but eventually I wanted to maintain them separately so I moved them to a personal at&t homepage (something ISPs started offering to compete with AOL). I later created a personal webpage mainly as an online photo album. As I added more and more photos I soon realized that I was actually maintaining a sort of journal on the web (what would soon be known as blogging) and I realized I would probably need to learn something more than just HTML to make updating the pages easier.

My first attempts at a more automated system to maintain my huge number of text file entries were very frustrating. I didn't really have a strong enough background in any scripting language to do anything useful on my own, so I started looking around for something already written that I could use to publish online. At the time, web forums were getting very popular so I decided to try using Yabb (Yet another bulletin board). It was fairly easy to set up, and I learned a lot about scripting getting it running. It was written in Perl though which, even after several years of mucking around trying to learn it, I still find incredibly obtuse. I started looking for something that would allow me to bust out of the forum model when I realized that there really wasn't going to be much use for one anyway - I was writing things and my friends, though they might be reading them, didn't find it necessary to post responses and well, that's the point of a bulletin board: threaded conversations. I wanted something that I could use to post text, and that would stand on it's own without needing to have responses tacked on to the posts to seem relevant.

Blosxsom seemed like it might be perfect, though it was also written in perl, and I was able to simply upload a mess of text files into a hierarchical directory structure and the script just built a website out of it! This seemed like the perfect solution, but there were a lot of limitations, including a limited number of 'plugins' and the fact I couldn't easily change the way the site worked (due to my own ineptitude with perl). I used blosxom until 2018 to arrange a lot of detritus on my hard drive which I would probably never even look at again otherwise. The text files were rsynced to the web for easy reference and available at in8notes (now only runs locally).

Geeklog looked really cool, but I was intimidated by PHP which was another language I didn't know, but I slowly came up to speed enough to get it running. I eventually used Geeklog for many years, and still use it for other sites I run, but maintaining this huge (and powerful) CMS system for a simple blog turned out, for me, to be a bit of overkill.

This site was then powered by Wordpress for many years. Luckily I found a really helpful geeklog importer script which managed to bring in the entire site without much of a hitch. I did have to restore a copy of the GL database into the Wordpress database first since I couldn't get it to import from a separate database (I'm sure someone smart could figure it out). I was able to easily find many different Wordpress plugins that provide nifty functionality for this site (I'll eventually list all of these here) which I either had already implemented in Geeklog, or wished I could.

Wordpress was great. I reimplemented it several times and designed new themes and moved widgets around and added feeds from various other sites. It was a powerful relational database of information which could be sliced and diced a zillion ways. It was also a huge pain in the ass. Constantly worrying about updating Wordpress (to say nothing of the many plugins I used over time) became much more of a hassle than I was interested in dealing with. I wanted to just write again.

I really missed the simplicity of Blosxsom but I wanted something written in PHP (or at least... not Perl) and if possible I'd like it to be able to parse markdown. I wanted to get back to simple text again and possibly just use git to publish updates to it. A bunch of text files with updates pushed live whenever I wanted without having to log in and maintain some behemoth software. In 2018 this led me to testing out a bunch of different approaches: Jeckyl and Grav among them. Grav was close to what I wanted but still too much work.

When I found PicoCMS I was initially put off by what appeared to be spartan documentation (this has been expanded and improved greatly since) and its general functional limitations (without a database a lot of stuff I'd been using would need to be re-thought) - but I soon realized that these weren't really limitations at all - it was FREEDOM! The real limitation if any is my own coding competence. It turns out a lot of that extra relational database stuff was just overhead and not really important to my core mission which is writing.

The things that a database offered included search, grouping like posts or providing a means to offer a similar post to the reader through the use of keywords or tags associated with the post. These are things which make it easier for readers of the site to find more things I've written that they might enjoy, but it doesn't help me write anything new.

We'll see what happens here of course, but for now (2018) I'm at least partially moved in and running a flat file site with no database.

I can confirm in 2021 I am still running PicoCMS, now updated to version 2.1. I completely rewrote the default theme to take advantage of the new pages() function, but admit that I still don't completely grok how to take full use of it yet. There are stome things I want to be able to do but cannot yet. Hopefully I'll find time to work those out which is really most of the fun for me - its really just like doing a puzzle for me. The music pages now have a list of all the other music pages under each post and each blog post displays the categor(ies) they are tagged with. The About link in the menu now lists various pages related to me that are not "blog posts", but otherwise I think I have replicated how the site looked with the clean blog bootstrap based theme pretty well.

Pico was patched to work with PHP 8 in late 2022 and I find I have neglected to mention piwigo! I did briefly mention it when I first wrote about moving to Pico but really this gallery software deserves a post of its own. Wordpress had an integrated "media gallery" but it wasn't image-centric. Media was ancillary - something to be added to a post. Piwigo treats the images as the central issue and a post exists to provide context to it. I had thought about perhaps just using piwigo to run the site entirely but eventually decided to run it separately. I'm not actually sure when I first set up piwigo and at first all galleries were hidden behind a login, since then I've opened some up to anonymous viewers. Still haven't spent any time on integrating the two and doubt that will happen as I like having them separate entities.

note: I have removed the Disqus commenting engine completely. I didn't really have a problem with Disqus, just simply no one had commented in quite some time anyway and if someone wants to contact me they can do so via one of the social media platforms linked below or by email using the contact page.