Change We Need

You’ll have noticed that things look a little different today. It was time for a change.

I’d been using Movable Type for many years; more than five, at least.

When I first started using it, it seemed flexible and powerful, but quite complex. For one thing, making changes to a MT-managed site required laborious and error-prone editing of intricate templates. Once one’s templates were edited in this way, upgrades of MT itself became an even more unattractive proposition, as one now had to port one’s changes to a new, probably incompatible set of templates.

This has effectively kept this site running the same version of Movable Type for many years. MT has moved on to version 5.0, but this site was stuck at 3.34, because I couldn’t steel myself to do the upgrade. Everything worked well enough and you know the old adage, right? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The trouble is that technology moves on. Not only was running an old version of Movable Type an ever greater security risk as new vulnerabilities were discovered, the Web itself had moved on and left this old version of MT for dead. Whereas everything these days works with AJAX, my Movable Type installation was still doing everything with CGI scripts, fifteen year old technology. That’s a lifetime in Internet years.

Another problem was with the Movable Type code itself. Occasionally, it proved necessary to delve into this, but it’s a mass of very complex Perl. I’m proficient in Perl, but it’s not the most legible of languages at the best of times. Where it goes really awry is when the programmer makes heavy use of Perl’s abortive attempt at OO (object orientation). Movable Type understandably, yet ultimately also lamentably, makes great use of this feature.

Aged technology isn’t necessarily bad per se, but in this case, it was bad. MT was designed to use CGI scripts to generate static pages. That worked well in an earlier, more innocent age, but on today’s Web, that approach generates high server load as comment spammers all over the world attempt to add their links for Viagra and Russian dating sites to your pages.

Now, I don’t know how modern the latest version of MT feels or which of these problems have been addressed in which way by the authors, but I didn’t really care to find out, either. Back when I started using Movable Type, it was very powerful and arguably the best of breed. Budding competitors were still busy playing catch-up.

That was more than half a decade ago and there are now some very mature alternatives available. They are also vastly easier to use; I really can’t emphasise how much easier. Tricky template editing has all but given way to drag-and-drop technology, with widgets like sidebar blogrolls and archived entry listings being a mere mouse gesture away from being added to a your blog and automatically configured. Wow.

As far as I’m concerned, the clear winner of the publishing platform/content management sweepstakes has got to be WordPress. I’m very impressed with the design of the system and the ease of use that stems from that well thought out design.

I’ve spent the day getting the new site ready. 95% of the work was accomplished within minutes. The remainder has been, as always, in the fine tuning: installing plug-ins, minor editing of templates, patching up botched data after importation, etc.

There are almost certainly still broken links, but I’ve taken care of the obvious stuff with some Apache mod_rewrite magic. WordPress actually contains a good deal of its own magic to make all kinds of strange links point to the canonical link for an item, so this wasn’t nearly as hard as it might have been.

The new site is really quite simple, but looks good, I think. I hope you agree.

The old site was too busy. Gone are the AdSense banners. Gone is the Flash. I don’t want to see Flash in my daily browsing, so why should I make you?

Gone are all of the widgets with links to Amazon. Gone, too, is the obligatory list of links to other sites. In fact, gone, even, are the links to other areas of, most of which were only of dwindling historic interest, anyway. One or two of them will find their way back home in the coming days, but I intend to keep the site free of pointless clutter.

Also consigned to the celestial bit bucket is the old mailing list for notification of new blog postings. Instead, there’s a field at the top right of the front page where you can subscribe to e-mail notifications via FeedBurner. A more modern way to stay abreast of updates is to subscribe to this site’s RSS feed in your favourite news aggregator. If you don’t yet have one, I suggest Google Reader as a place to start.

I hope the new look and feel will encourage me to post more regularly. Maybe Sarah can even be drawn out of the woodwork, although that’s probably hoping for a bit too much. She spends most of her time at the computer on Fa(e)ce(s)book, keeping up to date with subatomically trivial events in the life of people she once bumped into in a supermarket. That stuff makes my rants here seem Shakespearean in prosaic value and universal in relevance.

Well, it wouldn’t be me talking if I didn’t get a dig in somewhere, would it?

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