My site is fully switched over to Micro.blog. Everything has changed. Not just the look — I plan to work on that and try to make it more the way I want — but the URL scheme.

There will be breakages. I’ll fix things over time, but let me know about any you see.


This Site Now Has a Dark Theme

As you’ll have noticed if you’re looking at this post on a device set to dark mode, I’ve added a dark theme. At the moment it’s just automatic: if your device is set to dark you get the dark mode, if light, you’ll see it as it has been for the last year and a half. I might add an option switch at some point.

Let me know if anything looks weird.


Star Ratings

Giving star ratings to things I’ve watched, read, etc, is not something I ever did until I started using Letterboxd. It looks like I started logging films in September 2019 (the August ones were a bulk mental dump when I first set up my account). I didn’t start them automatically posting here until the November, and I’m sure I’ve missed one or two along the way.

My initial thought was just to log the films that I watched, as an aide memoire as much as anything. But Letterboxd encourages you to give the films star ratings. I’ve been doing that, but all the time I wonder what exactly I mean by them.

Which sounds like a strange thing to say. I made the choices, after all: I set the rating. Surely I knew what I meant when I did it?

And that’s true enough on each occasion. I know what I mean when I give the rating. But that’s the thing: it’s what I meant at that time. All it means is what I thought of the the film at the time I added the entry to Letterboxd. I’m not trying to make a statement about what is good in absolute terms. I’m just saying something about what I thought about the film at that time.

I like to think that I judge each film on its own merits. At the very least, I try to judge it in terms of what it’s trying to achieve. A five-star drama and a five-star comedy are very different things. It won’t be very meaningful to compare the ratings I’ve given to different films and see if there’s a hierarchy of my preferences. Though it is fair to say that any film with five stars is one of my favourites.

While Letterboxd encourages star ratings, it pleases me that you don’t have to give one. Unlike, say in some online surveys, where zero is not an option. I don’t know, though, whether a Letterboxd ‘no stars’ should count as ‘zero stars,’ or just the choice not to rate it. I intended the latter with Can’t Get You Out of my Head, as I made clear in the post.

It seems that I rarely watch anything less than three-star, though. Either I’m very discerning, or I only watch things I know I’m going to like.


Hit Me Up in the Comments

It’s been a long time coming. When I moved my website to Nikola last year, I said:

All the comments on the blog will disappear. They’re not lost, and I plan to get them back, but I need to find the best way to do that. For now, comment via Twitter or Micro.blog.

– Me, Last year

Getting them back, and setting up another system for comments, has taken me till now. I’ve had other things on my mind.

That post was in April 2020. In May I wrote about various commenting systems I had experimented with:

But Disqus is known to track its users and show ads, and I don’t want that for anyone who might comment here. … So far I’ve tried:

  • Isso: you have to run a service on your site. I couldn’t get the service to respond.

  • Staticman: I couldn’t get its service to start. A problem with configuring the private key setting.

  • Remarkbox: at the time of writing this is still active, but I’m not sure I’ll keep it. It works like Disqus, in that the comments are hosted on a third-party site, which is not really in keeping with the whole static site/indieweb ethos. It’s not advertising driven like Disqus, but it behaves a bit strangely, at least on here. We’ll see, though.

– Also me, Not quite so long ago

Remarkbox was active for a while. It worked, but it was just too weird in the way it handled users. I also tried Intense Debate, which is made by Automattic, the WordPress people, and is hosted on their servers. It worked, but I could only post comments using Chrome, for some reason. I’m a Safari user, and even if I weren’t, that’s a no-no.

So for a while I didn’t have comments at all. I wonder if anyone noticed.

But recently I tried Isso again, and something clicked this time. It worked more or less without me having to do anything – at least, that is, when I ran it from the command line on my server. When I ran it as a service – that is, automatically, in the background, the way something like that needs to run – it just didn’t work. A bit of Ducking led me to this post, which, despite being partly about Apache, when I use Nginx, gave me the pointers I needed to get it all working.

Isso keeps the comments on my server, rather than being an external service, so it’s much more in keeping with the principle of owning my own content. And I’ve imported the old comments from the WordPress site. I got some error messages when I ran the import, so I don’t know if they all made it over, but at least some of them are here.

I need to work on the styling a bit, I think, but other than that it’s all good to go.


After the Money's Gone

Robin Rendle raises a concern we should all (who write on the web) have:

But if my URL is dead, my website dies with it.

My work shouldn’t be presented in the Smithsonian behind glass or anything, I’m just pointing at this enormous flaw in the architecture of the web itself: you’re renting servers and renting URLs. Nothing is permanent because on the web we don’t really own any space, we’re just borrowing land temporarily.

– Robin Rendle, Inheritance

What happens to our websites after we’re gone? There needs to be a way to memorialise them, make sure they’re still around in some form. Archive.org is great, but it doesn’t keep the canonical URLs alive. Famously, Tim Berners-Lee wrote, ‘Cool URIs Don’t Change.’ Disappearance is the biggest change of all.

Although I see from there:

Pretty much the only good reason for a document to disappear from the Web is that the company which owned the domain name went out of business or can no longer afford to keep the server running.

– Tim Berners-Lee, Cool URIs Don’t Change

Hmm, is that a good reason? and it’s surprisingly slanted towards companies, considering the origin of the web, and TBL’s place of work.

(And speaking of cool URIs – or domains – home.cern? That is fantastic!)


Performing Pages

Every month Google, or specifically the ‘Google Search Console Team’ sends me an email showing the ‘Top performing pages’ on my site. Presumably that means the ones to which they, Google, have sent the most people.

Consistently, the top one is a post from 2012, about a particular use case of Pandoc. Specifically: Tip: using Pandoc to create truly standalone HTML files.

So it’s clear that if I want more engagement here – or at least more drive-by readers – I should write more technical-support-type articles.

That’s unlikely to happen at the moment. That page was a complete mess, though. There were artifacts left over from WordPress plugins, and the whole thing was displaying at the wrong width for reasons that I don’t understand. So I’ve cleaned it up, and now at least it looks a bit more welcoming for the hundreds of visitors who come every month.

I’m not even sure what it describes is still necessary – Pandoc has had a lot of changes since then – but it’s not wrong, so oh well.


Site Update

As you might notice if you look around here, I’ve made some changes to the layout and presentation of the site. Nothing very dramatic, but the header and sidebar look a bit different.

I’m open to – and seeking – constructive criticism. How does it look? Is anything misaligned, or confusingly laid out, or hard to find?

Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter.


Static Leads to Static

I’m almost beginning to wish I hadn’t switched my site to static generation. Not really, though. I’m very pleased with the way the site is performing, with how it looks, and with how easy it is to change things.

It’s just the non-static parts that I want to get working that are complex. By which I mean comments, of course, and Webmentions.

Comments are obvious. And the “obvious” way to make them work with a static site – and one that has good support built into Nikola, the generator application I’m using – is Disqus. But Disqus is known to track its users and show ads, and I don’t want that for anyone who might comment here.

So I’ve been trying other options. But none of them work as easily as you’d hope. There are always complexities, difficulties, bits you have to glue together or even build yourself.

So far I’ve tried:

  • Isso: you have to run a service on your site. I couldn’t get the service to respond.
  • Staticman: I couldn’t get its service to start. A problem with configuring the private key setting.
  • Remarkbox: at the time of writing this is still active, but I’m not sure I’ll keep it. It works like Disqus, in that the comments are hosted on a third-party site, which is not really in keeping with the whole static site/indieweb ethos. It’s not advertising driven like Disqus, but it behaves a bit strangely, at least on here. We’ll see, though.

Lots of blogs manage without comments, of course, including many of the most successful and long-running ones. But I’ve always had a fondness for them. They were building communities online long before there was a Facebook or a Twitter.

The other way to join the conversation is to send and accept Webmentions. I won’t try to explain those here, but again, there’s a certain amount of infrastructure needed to get them working, and I’m not quite there yet.

Still, it all means I’m learning things, which is good. And my posts and pages are just text files, which is as they should be.


If you’re seeing this, then the new static version of my site is successfully running on its new server. Details here.


Website Changes

Abstract/TL;DR

I’m changing my site. Everything should go on working, but comments will disappear for a while.

Details

I’m changing both the server my site runs on, and the way it’s built. I’ve been using WordPress for the blog since I started it in 2006 (before that I used LiveJournal, and at some point I imported those posts, so the earliest entries go back to 2002). Just recently, though, I started having a problem with it.

Everything was still running OK, but I couldn’t post to it from external sources. So I couldn’t use MarsEdit, which is my preferred way to post, or the Micro.blog app for status updates, or even services like IFTTT, which has been adding notes and ratings for all the films I’ve watched over the last few months, from Letterboxd.

I’m sure I could have tracked down the cause and fixed it. But then there’s also the fact that I recently got round to upgrading to WordPress 51. I had avoided that because I didn’t like the new editor when I tried it out before. I don’t know quite why, but eventually I bit the bullet and upgraded.

And I hate it. I never really cared for the online editing experience at the best of times, which is part of the reason I preferred using MarsEdit. But I just have a visceral bad reaction to the new editor.

Add to that that static sites are a) much faster to serve and b) what “all the cool kids” are using nowadays. I started to look into moving to a static site.

The two big players here are Jekyll and Hugo. I’ve used Jekyll before, when I was at SAHSU. The documentation for the RIF2 is hosted at GitHub Pages, and that uses Jekyll, so it’s worth having a local implementation for testing, which I did.

But as a programmer, there can be times when you want to change the tools you use. Jekyll is written in Ruby; Hugo is in Go. I don’t know either of those, and while I like learning new languages, that wasn’t the purpose of this exercise.

In short, I wanted something that is written in Python, and I found it in Nikola.3 For reasons too boring to explain, I had trouble with it on my existing server, so I’ve set up a new one at Linode. I’ll be switching over to it later today. You shouldn’t see any changes, except:

  • All the comments on the blog will disappear. They’re not lost, and I plan to get them back, but I need to find the best way to do that. For now, comment via Twitter or Micro.blog.
  • The Atom feed may be broken. I’ll try to get that fixed. The RSS feed should still be fine, and at the same location as before. Anything that uses it should carry on working without any fuss.
  • If you follow me via WordPress.com (Hi Andrew), sorry. That’s going away. Try my RSS feed instead. Or Twitter; all posts automatically get Tweeted to my timeline.

  1. Which may have in part caused the problem. ↩︎

  2. Rapid Inquiry Facility. ↩︎

  3. Named after Nikola Tesla. ↩︎


Site Moved

This site is now running on a Linux virtual private server (VPS) at Linode. There may be some teething problems from the move, so please let me know if you see anything strange.