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Blogging like it's 2001

I once described myself as being like one of those people whose houseplants always die, only with blogs. While that's (hopefully) clever and (relatively) accurate, I wasn't being entirely fair to myself. I have kept my Tumblr, The Pablo Edison Mix rolling for very nearly four years now. Updates there have never been very frequent, and I've sometimes gone months without posting, but I've never abandoned it completely. Still, I think starting this site here probably counts as my sixth or seventh attempt to launch and sustain some sort of serious online journal, and while I have every intention of following through, I must admit my track record in this area doesn't allow my hopes to rise very high regarding my chances for long-term success.

Of my previous attempts, I think my favorite and certainly the one that lasted the longest and saw the most frequent posting was something I called "Flocculent Device" that I started shortly after moving to Seattle in 2001. One of the things that I still think I did right with that blog, was that I chose to publish using Blosxom – a very simple, lightweight blogging tool that uses a perl script for publishing, and a directory of text files to store content instead of a relational database. One of the things that eventually went wrong with that effort was that I started to envy some of the bells and whistles I was seeing on other blogs created with more complex software. For a while I added features using Blosxom plugins, and as I recall I eventually managed to migrate the whole thing over to Movable Type. Blosxom's plugin architecture I would say is reasonably clean, but after awhile I was running a lot of plugins at once, and maintenance became a chore. When I switched to Movable Type I was hoping that having a platform with more built-in features would make that easier – which it did, in a way, but then it became too easy to spend more of my time twiddling with settings and rearragning layout design, and less of it on writing interesting blog posts.

That last bit is the key lesson learned here. Regardless of the chosen tool (indeed, I think I need to have less regard for choosing tools in this area) I have to be on guard against my tendency to spend time on design and implementation details that I ought to spend on actually, you know, writing about stuff. Indeed, I have a lot of fear of writing (more on that in another post, perhaps) and aversion to the work of it, and will easily use fiddling with HTML as a way to avoid writing while still seeming like I'm "working on my blog". Pretty soon, I start to feel like all my posts are just announcing my latest changes, and devoid of actual meaningful content. At which point, it's not much longer before I lose interest in the whole thing.

So anyway, as I say, lesson learned, and I'm determined to keep the guts of this as simple as I can this time around. Blosxom is still around, but I feel that it's showing its age, and doesn't seem actively developed much any more. I realized what I really enjoyed about that were two main features: being able to compose with plain text files, and having the tool render the site as static HTML. I don't enjoy trying to write in online form fields, and I don't think the site should be making database calls for every page view. There are any number of static site generator projects available nowadays. I'm getting more proficient with Python lately, so I wanted one written in that language if it suited. PyBlosxom is based on dear old Blosxom, and besides the Python angle it works in familiar ways and seems to have an active community around it. I was seriously considering it. Unfortunately, I found it still follows Blosxom in relying on file system metadata for entry metadata, which leads to issues with the order in which posts get diplayed if you want to go back and make changes later to a previous post. There are various plugins that attempt to work around that issue but they all seemed hacky and besides I'm supposedly trying to avoid starting down the road to plugin madness. In the end, out of the plethora of available choices, I selected Pelican which seems pretty great so far, and which I will strive never to mention again. I am writing this post right now using vim, I can publish with a couple of shell commands, and I'm happy.

I plan to keep the old Tumblr going as well, but that's more for pictures, videos, musical selections, and quick links without too much commentary. Here I'll be working mostly on longer written entries, using this to try to get some of my thoughts down in words. I may also use it once in a while to post links to items of interest, but generally only if I have something I want to say about them, otherwise I'll just post those on Tumblr again.

I'd like to end this with a word about comments and discussion. Pelican does support including blog comments via Disqus, but I won't be turning that on. I'm using Disqus on Pablo Edison and have nothing against it, but again in the interest of keeping the technical side of things as simple as possible, it's best to do without that here. I know from experience that comment functionality just gives me another rabbit hole of fiddling to go down. That said, I would be interested to know if anyone has any thoughts about things I'll be posting here. The top of the page has a link to my home page and from there you'll find several ways to get in touch. Personally, I still sort of prefer email, but that's not without its drawbacks, and besides I hear it's for old people. So feel free to reach me via social network if you prefer that. I'll do my best to write back, or in some cases might turn my reply into another post here. If I want to quote anybody's email, I'll be happy to either give credit or keep it anonymous, depending on the sender's desire.