New Year, New Blog

Once Upon a Time on the Internet

Once upon a time, I had a blog. This was in the days before social media, mostly. I’d occasionally write some longer things, but often times I’d just share links to things I found interesting. Sometimes I shared pictures. I even did a series of interviews at one point. It was never a terribly popular blog, but that wasn’t really the point. It was a creative outlet for me, a chance to work in a different medium - prose instead of code.

I read other people’s blogs as well, which were often the source of the things I found interesting. First with Bloglines, then Google Reader, I followed hundreds of like-minded people and read the things they wrote. It was a simpler time.

Social Media and the Demise of the Blog

Along came Twitter, which was the first social media network I joined, though it was far from the first. It was new and exciting. I enjoyed following people that were interested in the same sorts of things that I was. Twitter at the time had earned a reputation for being banal - mostly people talking about what they were eating for lunch - but nerd twitter wasn’t like that at all. It was a continuous stream of people sharing things they found interesting or posting links to what they’d done. Sometimes it was discussions between people on an interesting topic, discussions that were a lot harder to have in other mediums such as blogs.

Twitter made it trivial to share links and small snippets of daily life. Inevitably, the arrival of new content on my blog slowed. A little at first, but shortly it became a trickle before it stopped altogether. More social media arrived: Facebook made it easy to share things with friends and family, Instagram made sharing photos fun. There was almost no reason to use a blog anymore. I wasn’t alone, a lot of the blogs I read at the time are no more. The people aren’t gone, they’re just posting their thoughts elsewhere.

And Now Here We Are

Fast forward a few years (ok, it’s more than a dozen since this story began). I still use Facebook and Twitter, but noticeably less than I once did. I’ve come to see social media as the junk food of consumption. It tastes good at the time but leaves you feeling unsatisfied. There are still good things there, but they’re increasingly harder to find and you have to wade through a lot of garbage to find them.

I’ve also been missing my creative outlet. I had once enjoyed writing longer pieces, explaining how I’d solved a problem, reviewing a book I’d read, and introducing people to something I’d discovered. That wasn’t really possible in 140 or even 280 characters, not in any meaningful way. I’d also taken up photography as a hobby, and while Instagram and Facebook are fine for sharing that sort of thing, neither is a great forum for it.

Ultimately, I want a digital place to call home, where I control (and own) the content and how it’s presented.

A look around the internet shows I’m not alone. Cal Newport, an author I enjoy who is decidedly anti-social media, has been making the case for blogs. Jeremy Keith is as well, and others too numerous to mention. Countless others never lost the habit and didn’t succumb to the siren call of communicating to the world exclusively in bite-size content.

A Phoenix Rises From the Ashes

So I built a new website. The technical details about what it is and how I built it are a story for another post, but now that it’s up and running this will be the place where I post most things. Links/photos/longer posts will be here, and then I’ll share them on social media. I want to own my own writing, for better or for worse, and there’s really no other way to do that other than your own website at your own domain.

The new blog and this very blog post were actually started a couple of years ago, but that’s how side projects go. This was never a top-of-mind project, but something I’d tinker with from time to time. Life’s a lot busier than it was a dozen years ago, and my attention span isn’t what it used to be (whether social media is partially to blame for that is a topic for another day). But no matter, it’s done now.

This is definitely a work in progress. I brought over most of the content from the earlier versions of this site, but not all of it. Some of that content has been reviewed and revised to correct typos, formatting issues, and dead links, but that will take a while and so if you spend any time in the archives here you’re likely to find all of those things. If you do, feel free to let me know (via Twitter, I suppose, or Github if that’s more your thing.

Cheers to the new year, and to new (old) things.

Some Software Was Harmed in the Making of This Site

As noted on the about page, I decided to write my own software to run this site.

The following technologies were harmed in the making of this site:

VPSLink has good deals on VPS hosting. I pay \$24 per month for a 256mb VPS, with impressive uptime. I originally intended to go with Slicehost, but they had no slices available at the time (and didn’t for several months as I recall), but I have not been dissapointed with VPSLink.

Ruby on Rails

I haven’t found a better platform for developing web applications yet, although I’m keeping my eye on the up-and-coming web frameworks in Ruby, Clojure, and Scala. With the merging of Merb into Rails 3, Ruby on Rails looks to get even better.

MySQL

Actually, I like PostgreSQL better, but I run a Wordpress site on my server that needs MySQL so I’m using it for this site instead of running two database servers. I actually tried deploying with SQLite originally, but I ran into issues with it. It takes some doing to make MySQL run well on a memory-constrained VPS, but it’s possible (tip: don’t use InnoDB).

Blueprint CSS

Developing complex layouts that work cross-browser is painful. Blueprint is a CSS framework that makes it less so. It’s currently only used on the administrative portion of the site, but I plan on reworking the main layout with it as well. I’m also planning on playing with 960gs, which is similar (better, in the opinion of some).

jQuery

JQuery is really, really good. I could go into all the reasons why, but Chris Wanstrath and PJ Hyatt already did. I’ve used Prototype for a number of years, and JQuery just seems to fit better. There’s a huge library of plugins available as well. The only downside is the somewhat light documentation available for it, although that seems to be changing.

Capistrano

Here’s my rule for web application deployment: Automate the Very First One. This really makes all the difference in the world, especially for side projects like this. When deploying is trivial you will do it all the time. As I was working to get this new site out the door, I spent part of an afternoon at the local coffee shop to fix the few remaining issues with the code and get the server configured. In that time, I deployed the site 6 times. My point: deployment has to be easy or you won’t do it. Capistrano makes it easy.

Phusion Passenger

I’ve always used Mongrel for hosting Rails apps but Passenger (aka mod_rails) is the new hotness in Rails hosting, and with good reason. Once it is configured on your system, web deployments become very easy. There’s almost no setup, and you don’t need all of the monitoring infrastructure that mongrel requires. It runs under Apache, and as a result uses somewhat more memory. This is certainly offset by the ease of use and administration.

Ruby Enterprise Edition

Provided by the same folks who brought you Passenger, REE reduces the memory usage of your Rails application by roughly 30%. On a memory constrained VPS such as mine, this is a huge deal. I was a little concerned about running a different version of Ruby than the one I was accustomed to, but lots of people are running REE these days, and to date I have had no issues.

So that’s the tech behind this site. As I add some additional functionality here, I will be bringing in a few other things, and I will write about it as I go.

Git

Git has a steeper learning curve than Subversion, but it’s definitely worth learning it. It’s blazing fast, clean, and has some impressive features, particularly around merging. For this project, I just used it locally, without ever pushing to a server. I’d recommend using it even when you’re not collaborating with other developers.

So, what did you use to build your latest project?

Welcome to the New Site

I’ve maintained a blog since sometime in May of 2005. As with many blogs, posting regularity varied. Sometimes it was daily, sometimes a month or two would go by with nothing new at all.

This is something different.

The content on the old site changed over time, just like it’s author. Interests come and go, technologies that were once shiny and new have lost some of their shine. I stopped writing short posts that were mostly links to other people’s content, and starting writing longer articles. I did some interviews, and a bunch of book reviews.

Then, as is prone to happen, I got busy. In the time I’ve been writing this I’ve gone from having one child to having three. My job responsibilities have changed. This site got a bit neglected as a result.

So a while back I started thinking about the site, and what I wanted it to really become. And I thought. And then I thought some more. My thoughts evolved over time, and I’ve settled on what I’m launching here today.

I’m a curious person, and always have been. My interests are varied, and change often.This site is a reflection of those facts. Some of the content from the old site has been migrated to here, much of it was not as it was either not relevant or didn’t fit well with the new site. The focus of this new site will be whatever happens to have my interest at the time: mostly technology, software development, and entrepreneurship, but extending into other areas as well. I will continue to do interviews and book reviews, and have several of both to publish in the very near future.

I hope to write here on a more consistent basis, but they will be longer articles and as such it’s not likely to exceed more than once or twice per week. I’ve created a new section just for links to interesting things, called Curiousities, and there will be content there daily.