Some Final Meta-blogging

Now that I’ve sorted out how to style a personal theme, there are really only two things that annoy me about this WordPress blog, neither of which I can do much about: speed and security.

Speed: the flat HTML site spit out by TBX was stupid fast. Clicking the homepage link meant seeing the page before I was ready to take it in. There was absolutely no noticeable delay. WordPress is not like this at all. Sitting on the same server, it loads slowly enough that I regularly have to check the progress bar to convince myself the page is on its way. And this is with the default theme, a homepage with no images and only three basic plug-ins. It’s excruciating.

Security: Those plug-ins? They enable features like ssl and failed-login locks because security is a problem with WordPress. This morning alone a steady stream of automated, regularly paced (but failed) login attempts were logged at the site. This was basically a non-issue with the flat HTML site I worked up because there were no log-ins, no databases, no php. It was just HTML text, elegant, beautiful and solid. I miss that. Maybe (probably) I don’t understand what these log-in attempts are and maybe they’re benign, but it feels like keeping things locked down here is a pain.

Worn In

I have a pair of leather shoes that I bought in 1997. I was a student, had no money, and they were high-quality enough to cost more than I could afford. But I bought them, and now, twenty-two years later I still have them, still wear them and they are the most comfortable shoes I own.

This blog is a lot like those shoes: I’ve broken it in enough for it to be hard to give up. Even if it’s rough and worn, it fits.

Or to use a different analogy: Jack might tell Innes “I wish I could quit you,” but he doesn’t. And I guess it’s the same with me and this damned WordPress blog.

A Theme of One’s Own

This morning I finally sat down and figured out the odd element tags in WordPress and wrote up the additional css I needed to make the default theme match the solarized theme I’d built for my MOPI notes. The basics were easy, but filing off the rough edges took some digging around in the main stylesheet.

I like the results and feel like I’ve got a space I can post in again.

(Aesthetics shouldn’t matter this much but they do. They just do.)

Crosspost: And then there were permalinks

I thought I’d wait to deal with permalinks, but I had an idea while taking a walk and decided to give it a try. Five minutes later they’re done. I always forget how crazy simple HTML export is. The key is to start with nothing and only build the things you understand. Then go from there.

I’m also not messing with an external CSS stylesheet. I just have a CSS note in my TBX file and a line in the page-head element of the templates that pulls that note’s text in as internal CSS for each page on the site. So I have all the advantages of external CSS when I’m working locally, but I don’t have to keep track of a stylesheet on the server. It’s the best of both worlds.

Crosspost: An Earlier Blog Experiment

I tried to run a blog from Tinderbox once before, but in that case, I tried to duplicate the look and functionality of my fairly complicated WordPress set-up. This meant building a TBX file that was a big hairy monster of a machine. I’m proud that I got the thing working, but running it took too much energy, and I wisely retreated to the CMS version of the blog after only a few days, lesson learned.

Crosspost: A New Blog

This is the first post of a new blog experiment that I imagine as a space for micro (and perhaps not so micro) blogging. It is also an experiment in building a simple HTML blog without WordPress or some other CMS operating as middleman. I’m doing all the writing and HTML generation in a Tinderbox file that’s simple but that should be able to grow (or not) as I need it to, unlike the last time I tried something similar.

Ordinary Human Language still exists and I may continue to write there. I haven’t decided yet. That blog began as a place where I posted book and movie logs, built a commonplace book, and eventually, began sharing thoughts about how I use Tinderbox. There’s a lot there. However, the blog is moribund, has been for awhile, and my attempts to bring it back to life haven’t been very successful. In part, the problem appears to be that, for the moment, I’m not very invested in posting the kinds of things that blog grew to focus on. Beyond that, I’m also just tired of having to keep up with WordPress to maintain such a simple site.

So this blog is a new start built up from an empty TBX file composed of: 

  • three template notes,
  • one agent, and
  • one container for post notes.

Things couldn’t be more barebones than this. Yet if you’re reading, it works. And all of it came together in a couple hours this morning.

What’s posted now is very close to the look I have in mind for the blog.The color scheme I’m using is based on Ethan Schoonover’s excellent Solarized. Currently, the blog appears as a single page of posts, which will be fine for a long while because I imagine this as a text-only space. That said I am also exporting posts as individual pages, and eventually, I intend to link to these from the post titles on this page in order to create permalinks. I might also set a cap on the post count for this page and create an archive for the overflow. I’ll see though. Any changes will happen slowly and in response to whims or bursts of inspiration.

New HTML Blog

Started up a new blog this morning. It’s not a replacement for this site. OHL will stay around and I might even post to it if I get over the lull of the past half year. Until then, find me at Speaks at Home.

Powder Break

I started this blog in August 2011. So it’s about to turn 8 years old. That’s exciting and I’m proud of what’s happened here in all that time. But I’m also at a bit loss with it. I’ve learned most of what I wanted to by starting it and now what started out as a bright clear day full of potential and choices feels cramped and dark and I’m not sure what it’s even for anymore. This uncertainty and confusion manifests in the thinness and performative quality of the posts from the past while. Maybe I’m the only one who sees this. Maybe because (!) I’m the only one seeing the posts (!!!!). Whatever the case, the fire has burned dim, the night grown long, and I need to dream up the dawn.

So I’m putting everything in hibernation, wrapping it in carbonite and heading out to do other things for a bit.

It’s been fun.

Storm’s Mohawk

When I was a young kid saving change to buy comics from the rickety wire rack at the 7-eleven, one of my favorite superheros was Storm. I thought her long white hair and the cloak attached to her wrists were regal and cool, and I thought controlling weather was just about the best power you could have.

Reading comics in those days wasn’t like it is today. What I read was what was on the rack when I had 35 cents in my pocket. So I didn’t follow storylines. I dropped in and watched episode of action, without much sense of how it came together with other episodes across groups of issues. So my history of Storm’s character is fragmented and partial, and there are only three specific moments that my brain has stored for easy, casual retrieval.

Moment One: Storm freezing a Sentinel with cold rain and then telling Banshee to scream at it and Cyclops to hit it with pulsed lasers. Inflexible and vibrating at two frequencies, the robot tears itself to pieces. This is a trivial moment really, only a few frames of the story, but I remember it for Storm’s dramatic posture as she’s flying in the wind.

Moment Two: Storm going out to “commune with the earth” after her months in space fighting the Brood. Unfortunately, Earth feels abandoned and is mad at her. Storm calls up the elements and for the first time in her life feels the cold of the rain. Rejected, she retreats back to the mansion. I remember this moment mostly for how I felt when I read it: the earth wasn’t being fair. Storm had been through a lot and needed its support. It didn’t seem right that after all she’d been through, this was happening now too.

Moment Three: Storm, not long after, showing up in black leather and a mohawk. She looked great and seemed really cool to me. Why do I remember it? This is tougher to figure out than with the other images, but I think that, in part, it was one of the first moments when I realized that people change, and so as crazy as it sounds, it’s a moment where I started to figure out something important about the world. I think too that I must have picked up on the barely-crypto queerness of the transformation ( cf. image and dialogue above). And finally, however silly it sounds, I also think that I remember it because it established what I take to be a nearly inviolable rule of life: sometimes, and especially after major events, and definitely after traumatic experiences, you need to change your hair.

Which brings me to the reason I’m writing: this blog. After the stress of the past two weeks, I think I need to fiddle with what things look like around here. It may not be pretty. It may get ugly. But in the same way hair grows back, theme options can be restored. So I’m going to play around, experiment and trust that things will find their way to the good.

So buckle up, hang on, and stay tuned.

Hackers Suck

Sixteen days ago, my site went down. I called my host to see if something was wrong with the server. They said “no,” then checked some logs and then asked to shut down access to my site, saying it’d been hacked.

Things were a mess and trying to get them cleaned up was a long exercise in frustration. A few days ago, I more or less gave up hope and tried to resign myself to the fact that I was going to lose what I’d posted and that if I kept blogging, I’d be starting over from scratch. I’d been telling myself for the few days before that that I was at peace with the possibility and that if I lost everything, I lost everything. But once this possibility was no longer simply a hypothetical that I could be philosophical about, once it was about to become a reality that I was going to have to come to grips with, I discovered I wasn’t okay with it at all.

Then that same day, as I was writing off the site and trying to convince myself it was okay that I was writing it off, I was talking with a few friends, and they asked some questions, made some suggestions—good questions and good suggestions—and something clicked in my head and I saw what to do.

And now today, the site is fixed, cleaned up, and running on a new server with a new host. The story of how that happened is too much to tell this evening. (Maybe I’ll fill in the details later.) For now, I just wanted to post and say “this happened” and also that hackers—and all other people who enjoy breaking things just to break them—suck.

A Bit of Blog Love

Blogging was a thing once. Then it wasn’t and then it seemed like it was again. And now…who knows. I’m pretty sure I don’t much care whether it is or it isn’t. After all, sweater vests aren’t a thing (even if they ought to be) and I wear those, which is just like blogging. See?

All of this preamble is warm-up to me trying to show some love to My New Plaid Pants a blog about beautiful men in great movies and TV that I’ve read daily for at least the past eight or nine years. If blogging isn’t a thing, I don’t care as long as this blog continues to exist.

I don’t know the author, Jason Adams, in person, but I think he’s great just the same and wish we lived in the same city and were best friends. His blog is funny yet totally unapologetically sincere. It is also somehow—and seemingly impossibly given the number of posts going up every day—1) not his day job and 2) not all he has going on. It boggles the mind.

So why sing the praises of Jason’s Pants today after all these years? Let me explain.

First, for reasons I’ll leave unspoken, I thought of and went searching for this post containing the picture of Alexander Skarsgard sitting off to the side here. Importantly, what I wanted was not the photo—(sorry Alex)—but instead the exact wording of the suggestion that we might, to our dismay, think of this picture the next time we try on a bathing suit, a comment that to this day makes me laugh out loud.

Second, finding the specific post took some time and effort because there are A LOT OF POSTS ON THIS BLOG. Skarsgard’s tag alone had 242! So as I undertook the “onerous” task of flipping through all of those pictures one by one, I stumbled across this post which screencaps the hell out of a scene from True Blood so wonderful that—to keep my life from seeming a drab worthless wasteland of day after day after day and then tomorrow too—my mind let it slip from my memory. But now I have remembered and am overwhelmed and may have to watch the whole series again. Damn your Pants, Jason Adams!

Third, the next day I went back to the blog only to discover that the final post before the weekend was Adams letting everyone know that he was going to rewatch Shcrader’s film about Yukio Mishima’s life, death and fiction: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. The photo that ends the post—I think it’s a still from the film that is mimicking images from a famous late-in-life photo shoot—is a showstopper: the male artist objectified and beautiful.

So today, all my love to My New Plaid Pants. May you strut your stuff for years to come.

The New Site: un bilan

The last few months I’ve been working on moving this site off WordPress. That meant transferring all the posts to Tinderbox, setting up all the links, and creating the templates that would produce the HTML output I wanted to have. Everything except the templates was donkey work and took days and days. The templates took time as well, but I was learning about export and HTML and that was useful and exciting.

And when I was done, the file worked like magic. All my posts were suddenly arranged in a sensible way based on content rather than chronology. I could build up links (both href and visual) and could write outside the framework of a timeline. I began to imagine ways of writing that involved something I thought of as “portal posts”: single posts that would appear on a blog timeline but which opened into a system of pages—a kind of mini-, discrete hypertext—accessible only by way of that initial post. I wrote the first of these to explain some of what I learned about export. (It looked like this.)

Then I uploaded the site with a welcome message and the first of what I hoped would eventually be many of these portal posts, and almost immediately, I realized I was in trouble.

The trouble is that I’m a tweaker. (No, not that kind of tweaker.) I like to fiddle and change things and I do this continually, everywhere on this site. There are posts on this blog that I wrote in 2011 that, when I looked at them while preparing my TBX file, were revised to fix problems I found. The movie log of La Mort de Louis XIV that posted less than 12 hours ago? WordPress currently lists 28 revisions to that post.

Once I posted my site, I immediately saw places to fiddle and since that’s half the fun of the site (maybe more), I fiddled and then re-exported and re-posted the site. And then I did this again and again and again. Then I started trying to just replace individual files. This quickly became complicated: I was doing it wrong and breaking things. I didn’t know enough about what I was doing on the server to be sure how to use the output TBX was providing. I’d fix things and then mess something else up.

This was fine: I was learning and I was sure that eventually things would become stable. I’d figure out what to do and become practiced at it. But at the same time, I also realized that I didn’t know enough to predict when I’d reach that moment of stability. I suspected though that I knew little enough to guarantee I’d be learning by crisis-management for a long while.

Clearly I was in over my head and was going to be spending tons of time figuring out basics on my own. I knew too that my patience for floundering with mechanics when what I really wanted was to be working on content would be very limited. So I gave up on the whole “manage a site manually” plan and went back to letting WordPress do the heavy lifting.*

Yes, that means dealing with the limitations of my chronological timeline, but I’ve got an idea about how to make my portal post concept work. What I’m leaning toward is to use my TBX file—which I now know works—to create and to export these tangles of notes with this change: I’d write their intro page with the starting links as a post on my timeline and all the rest sitting as flat HTML files in a subdirectory. I’m still thinking that through though, and so we’ll see. For now, the export posts I wrote for the now-defunct “new” site will appear here as a series. Not great and not what I’d intended, but better than nothing. This series—posted here as I’d imagined it working on the new site—starts with this post.

And so that’s what happened and where things stand.

Onward and upward.


* The other factor was that a lot of the donkey work on the new site wasn’t done. I had all the post texts and links, but most of the images and videos were missing. Adding them back—and I wasn’t willing to lose them—was going to take a lot of time. It wouldn’t be worth the time to add them if I soon ditched the HTML site because I couldn’t maintain it. So there was pressure to make a decision quickly. With my quickly emerging sense of how to little I actually know about the running a web site—I’ve still not figured out how to make a relative URL from the root that works to throw out one (I thought) simple example—sticking with WordPress was the safer bet.

“I Have No Professional Training”

So I made the leap to my fancy new flat HTML blog site…and now I’m back on WordPress. The experience made me think of William Hung singing “She Bangs”. (I hadn’t thought of that in what? fifteen year?)

Tinderbox gave me the tools to punch way above my weight class: I have a site that works like a dream on my computer but making it work from a server…is not something I can do reliably.

I’ve retreated to WordPress, laughing (because the fact I’m back here is funny) but also with tail very much between my legs.

More soon… 🙂

Big Changes in the Works

For awhile now, I’ve been working to migrate this site off of WordPress. This has happened behind the scenes and has been slow going. The new site isn’t complete—most of the images still need to be placed for example—but all of the text is there and everything is functional.

What that means is that now I’m sorting out when to make the jump from here to there and how I’ll cope with the inevitable change in permalinks that I lack the skills to deal with invisibly (if that’s even possible).

The rough and still evolving plan as it stands now is:

  1. to place the new version of the site in a subdirectory for a while and to publish a link to it here. This will give me a chance to see if things work for real and for people to see the change is coming. Once the link to the new site is published, all new posts will be published there and this site will go dormant.
  2. to set up the new site to serve the root address and to displace this WordPress blog to its subdirectory. I’d publish a link to the old blog’s location on my new site. The date for the move will be announced here before it happens but will probably be in the week following step one.
  3. to write up a series of posts explaining how and why I’m going to use Eastgate’s Tinderbox to manage the new site.

So major changes and exciting times.

Stay tuned…

Experimenting. More Soon.

Posting has been slow here. Partly it’s because of standard end of term business. Mostly it’s because I’m experimenting with the possibility of moving this blog off of its database and translating it into a set of static pages.

This is a mad enterprise but an interesting one. I’m learning a lot and at this point have a working prototype hidden away. Much tinkering is happening.

More soon…

New Theme

I’ve used Suffusion as the theme for this blog from the beginning. It was always a bit overkill—you can tweak anything and everything—but it let me make my blog personal and I stuck with it.

For the past few months, I’ve been forced to live in iOS. Suffusion can handle that no problem, but the mental shift has been a bit of a challenge for me. Drastic change that throws everything up in the air will help.

So I’ve installed a new theme. It’s simple and clean, but nothing worth tweaking is tweakable. That’s odd—I like to tinker—but it also feels a bit like clearing the pipes. Which is always a good thing, even if, in the end, the change turns out to be temporary.

Twitter Break

Dear Timeline,

First off, I just want to make it clear that this isn’t about you. We’ve had some rough times in the past, I know, but that was all about me and my bad judgement and we worked through it. I unfollowed those that needed it, followed those that did, even figured out your lists and used them to get my shit together. After that, we had a good run and good times. Real good times.

But ever since the conventions things have gotten pretty fucking intense and it’s to the point that I can’t take it anymore. You’re obsessed with the minute-by-minute back-and-forth of the most horrifying election in recent memory, and it doesn’t seem to shake you or wear you out, and crazy as it sounds, I love that about you. I do. It’s just that it never fucking lets up ever, and if I stay in the thick of it like this I’m going to wind up on blood pressure pills nursing an ulcer or worse.

And I’m not blaming you. I know I said I was interested in all this crap, that I encouraged you with likes and retweets, and more and more follows. Fuck, I even live-tweeted Republican debates in the primaries knowing I had maybe two active followers. It doesn’t get more “fuck yeah!” than that. You believed that passion was real, and I did too for awhile.

But now, months later and with the shit storm approaching category 5, minute by minute attention to the campaign is more than I can handle. I’m not cut out for it, and I need to step away, need a breather, need a break.

But please please please don’t get the wrong idea. This isn’t about something you’ve done and you know I can’t quit you. I’m just deleting you from my phone because I can’t say no when I’m looking at you there, and I need to say no for at least a bit.

While I’m gone, I’ll be checking the morning headlines and the magazines. Please don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not a statement and not a competition.

It’s just bye for now,
BC

Five Years

I first posted to this blog five years ago today.

When it began, I was only just back from a long summer in southern India. I was waiting to hear word about the date for defending my dissertation and had some time on my hands. So I decided I wanted to figure out what was possible to do on the web knowing nothing and figuring things out as I went along. The only technical condition I set for myself was that whatever I did would sit on my own domain and not on some company’s social platform. I got things started by writing up logs from the book notes I’d kept as I travelled and soon after that started my commonplace book.

Back then I knew less than nothing about what I was doing and so those early weeks and months were a bit of rock-n-roll, by which I mean exciting, veering out of control, and generally one wrong move away from burning to the ground.

The most obvious example I can think of involved my treatment of date stamps, something that in blogs should be assigned more or less automatically. But not on my blog. No way, no how. I decided—and this is so typical of my mind that if friends or family had been watching as I worked they would have shaken their heads and said “of course, naturally, we could have guessed, let him be, there’s no stopping him”—no, I decided (because “reasons”) that date and hour stamps would not indicate dates and hours. Instead dates would key to a sorting scheme I invented to organize posts into looping sequences of topics. This system was odd, indecipherable to outsiders and worked exactly as intended, but it was also cumbersome and clearly madness. After a few weeks, I scrapped it and transferred all the date and time info (which I had been entering into the body of post texts) into the date/time field where they belonged and let them determine the sorting of posts as they should have done from the outset.

The biggest questions I’ve wrestled with as I’ve posted have not however been technical. They’ve been about my uncertainty over how personal the material here should be. Initially, the site sat behind an elaborate password system. When that was removed, my name was nowhere to be seen and I shared the url with no one. Eventually, I added my initials and began to share links with close friends. After awhile, I started sharing them on twitter. Now my name sits on the front page and I’ve accepted that what’s here sits in full public view.

These changes were milestones but have left no direct trace unless the early versions of pages are sitting in system logs somewhere on the server. However, I can follow, I think, this slow process of change in the posts that I’ve written. The nervous writer plucking out a tune on only slightly non-academic language-strings in the early posts or miming the various “hey I saw this and this is what I think” posts I saw frequently on other blogs has over time become—haltingly and slowly and without much confidence—the writer who nervously and unexpectedly (most of all to himself) responded in very personal terms to the Orlando shooting.

In their own way, but perhaps less obviously, my Tinderbox posts were also intensely personal and were an important step in the evolution of my blog. They marked the point where I first considered the possibility that my blog, which I treated primarily as a conversation with myself, might also offer something useful to people I didn’t know. I was familiar with writing like this: I read it all the time on other people’s sites and it helped me figure out how to do my own work when I was having problems. But assuming that voice as my own, saying “This is what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, maybe it will help,” was very new to me online and working on those posts forced me to think about how to speak knowledgeably without the defenses involved in academic posturing. In the process, I experimented with making hypertexts and even translated a piece of my dissertation online.

How to be here, how to speak, what to speak about and in what voice. These remain vital questions for me when I sit down in front of my blog. And they make it a worthwhile project (for me at least) even when I’m posting infrequently or writing posts that sit at arms length from my daily life. How to speak myself into the world is a question I still don’t really have any stable answers to, and that means that, even with five years under my belt, I’m still happily looking forward to the next five.

And to anyone who’s reading, thanks for being here.

Reading & Screening Lists

I’m back from Spain as of last night and have stuff I want to write about in the coming days and weeks. To start things off though, I’m going to introduce a change to how things are done here.

When I started this blog, I used it mainly to write brief responses to the books I was reading and to the movies I was watching. These served as lists of what I’d read and seen and provided a reason to pay attention and reflect. They also gave me a steady stream of subjects for posts and got me blogging.

The logs were a success. I enjoyed writing them and over time kept adding to the list of things I logged: first TV shows, then theatre, then exhibitions. But as a result, and perhaps inevitably, the logs have become a chore. I have lists and lists of logs I’m supposed to write, often on things about which I have nothing really to say. So taking a cue from my catch-up posts of the past few years, I’m going to stop trying to log everything. Because, sanity.

Instead, I’m going to keep a few simple lists of what I read and watch. (You’ll find them in the right-hand column.) When I have something more to say about a book or a movie, I’ll post a log and link to it from the list.

This change should keep me from living under a perpetual (and demoralizing) backlog of “posts that must be written!” and will hopefully create some space for me to write about other things.