Blogs & Such, Act I

If you’ve searched through the back entries in this blog, you will know it started out as an attempt to learn a bit more about blogging software and hosting a blog. I had originally set up a  Blogger site called moreblaze.blogspot.ca— which Leslie still uses. Blaze was an initialism of Bruce, Leslie And Zak’s Electronic blog and became a staple in my online nomenclature. My first entry was at 4:21 on November 29th, 2002. I (we) continued dabbling on Blogspot until September 2005, when I decided I had enough.

The idea of some external agency hosting — and controlling — my personal files and intellectual property bugged me (and still does); there is too much about online copyright that is fuzzy to make that situation overly comfortable. I would much rather be in control of the servers and the actual files than to trust some unknown agency to back them up and keep them private. There was also the issue of compatibility; I had already lost years of diary entries when I lost my old Apple IIc. I still have the floppies, but no way to access them. Was I going to trust some IT company to still be there year after year?

And this was before Google bought Blogger and there was a lot of less investment in the finer details. When it comes to software, I am a bit of a control freak and I didn’t exactly like the way Blogspot managed the interface or my ability to modify the blog itself: I’m just not much of a standard template guy.

Anyway in August 2005, I started toying with the idea of hosting my own blog. I had an old Ruby iMac with a copy of OS X Server 10.3 that I used as a testing server and it seemed natural to start using it to host my own stuff. After some research I settled on Blojsom, a java based blog platform that used flat text files as a storage method: that seemed safe enough. It also seemed pretty easy and foolproof. On September 1, 2005 I posted my first entry; ironically about the difficulties I was having getting Blojsom to work properly.

Note: the more curious of you will remark that there are in fact entries older than Sept 1, 2005. When I got around to adding a bunch of old poetry, I decided to back date the entries to the date that I originally wrote them.

Around about the same time I had been playing around with MySQL, an open source relational database. It’s not something I have ever gotten extremely comfortable with, but at least I know the basics, or at least, enough to f*ck it up when I get too cocky. (An occurrence that Anthony, my old Hole’s IT contractor, would say was all too often.) Along about the end of September I had been getting frustrated with Blojsom and tried out WordPress for the first time. My main issue with it was that it seemed to limit me to one blog per installation and that wasn’t going to work for what I had in mind. Still WordPress was based on a MySQL back end and I was getting to be an expert at that wasn’t I? But then I would lose my safe flat files wouldnt’t I?

Almost exactly a month later I finally gave up on Blojsom, installed WordPress on the Ruby iMac, retrieved the blog entries from the old Blojsom blog and moved on. I had solved the multiple blog issue (thanks, Google) and managed to set up a nice blog for Zak to play with. Which he did for about as long as a teenager does anything, then promptly ignored it. WordPress at this point was in version 1.5 or 1.6. Version 2.0 with an awesome backend UI came out in December of that year, and I have never regretted moving.

And so November 12, 2005 found my first entry under the category of Random Picture of the Day and the start of more and more non-computer related blog posts.

But I digress… The next big event was the big Ruby crash of ’05. The Ruby bit the big one, and I was faced with trying to retrieve all my files and data. I got a new iMac (flatscreen) and retrieved the (thankfully) healthy harddrive from Ruby, installed a fresh installation of WordPress and was up and running again pretty damn quickly. But was at a bit of a loss on how to retrieve the blog entries, as they all resided in a MySQL database on an external drive. MySQL, as you may or may not know, has (or had at that point) no UI and it was all controlled by terminal commands that were at least 50% gobbledy-gook to me. Suffice it to say that in the end, with my old pal Google, I figured it out and we were cooking with gas once more.

Somewhere around this point I looked into domain names. After all, no one was going to visit my blog if they had to type in http://24.68.54.xxx to go to my blog. I settled on a free service called NoIP. I had to renew my membership by following a link every couple of months, but other than that it was free. Basically I entered the (semi) static IP (the weird number above) of my cable modem at home on their website and reserved macblaze.hopto.org as my personal domain. I then set up a route on my firewall at home directing traffic to port 80 (the www port) to be directed to my iMac. So now all calls for that domain name were then forwarded to my home computer’s WordPress installation and they got my blog. Cool!

Somewhere in there I also designed/modified my own theme (I did mention the control issues, didn’t I?). After I got it the way I liked it it remained relatively stable until a couple of months ago when I finally designed a theme from the ground up and made it more flexible. Look for more changes in the future.

I continued on merrily for a bunch of years after that. The only significant changes were a new mac mini for my personal use in March of 2009 (the old iMac became solely a blog server), the introduction of mobile blogging and the rise of blogging apps. When the iMac blew up in November of 2009 I had to do the whole song and dance of moving the MYSQL databases again, this time to the Mini, but it all worked out fine.

In January 2010, two things happened. I finally got my own domain (the current macblaze.ca) and I finally moved my WordPress installation to external hosting at GoDaddy. The domain was about $12/year and the hosting worked out to $60 a year or so. The main impetus for this was I was going to set up a site for my brother (beakerwood.ca), and if I was going to do for him, why not move mine as well. It all could be loaded on the same installation so I wasn’t paying any extra and hopefully would see some speed gains from their professional servers.

A word on privacy and control. While I am now using an external host and theoretically this does give GoDaddy access to my files, it is not the same thing as using a blog service and trusting them with your backend. The TOS (Terms of Service) are entirely different and my database is controlled by my passwords, not theirs. A quibble that is meaningless in this age of hackers and computer nerds but still, I don’t like the idea of anyone else controlling my intellectual property. I make regular back ups of the DB and the content on my own machines and am pretty disaster-proof.

At this time I also got access to GoDaddy’s email service so I could set up my own info (@) macblaze.ca email address for fun. (Incidentally this brought me up to 10 email addresses, only 4 of which I actively use). It lacked IMAP, which was annoying as I was pretty connected by this time (iPhone, iPad, 3 computers) and having to check the same mail on all my devices was annoying, so I didn’t use it for much; still don’t.

That’s pretty much it. I am learning more CSS and a bit of php to try and modify the blog as it suits me, but WordPress’s healthy development community generally supplies me with all the plugins I could want. Last year I started to make more of an an effort to post everyday and as of today the blog has been running for 8 years and 4 months with 1,192 posts.

So why all this long-winded and overly verbose history of my blog? Well I am getting pissed with GoDaddy. It’s slow, it keeps timing out, and frankly it’s time to break something again. So this month I am going to move to a new host. I have my eye on an account at StableHost. It’s only 4 bucks (maybe 6 if I upgrade) a month and gives me my IMAP email and is pretty highly regarded on the forums and such.

So…. there might be a wee interruption at some point. I have no idea how long the process of moving everything will take. Redirecting the domain can cause an up to 24-hour gap (although I’ve seen it happen in less than an hour) and moving the data and files might take a bit longer.

At some point I might continue my thoughts about blogs and intellectual property. I have a lot of them and they are mostly confused and illogical so you might enjoy the experience. 😉