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Blogging Frustrations & (My) Internet History

Posted by Rick · March 7th, 2005 · No Comments

It’s been a frustrating weekend. Because of that, I failed to keep my promise to write a follow up post to “The New Fascism” article I wrote last week. The frustrations center around development of the website for my future law practice; the blogging software I chose for that project (ExpressionEngine) is apparently incomprehensible to me.

Most people — rightly — won’t care about the software that powers websites I’ve built. What does it matter that Unspun™ is “powered by” MovableType?

But the choice of software upon which to build a blog has a big impact on those who set up, administer/maintain or write blogs.

I might as well say this up front: I wrote this post mostly for catharsis. Unless you want to learn a little about the frustrations of running a blog, you probably don’t need to read it.

Update: As usual, the problem was traceable to something unknown outside the software I was trying to work with. The web server itself wasn’t configured in a way that was friendly to the way EE handles paths. I’m so used to MT working with my server that I didn’t realize EE might want things set-up differently.

Inauspicious Internet Beginnings

I’ve been using the Internet since before there were web browsers. As a philosophy major at California State University, Fresno, I took an interest in the relatively nascent, rapidly growing field of Cognitive Science. One of my professors, Pedro Amaral, turned me on to the Internet as a source of information and a tool for communicating with others via “email” and “IRC” (Internet Relay Chat). All interaction via the Internet at that time was essentially text-based, using “telnet” programs and 300 baud modems when not directly connected via a Unix terminal in a computer lab. Images could be obtained, but had to be downloaded to be viewed. (And at 300 baud, that took a loooong time!)

The WWW (WorldWideWeb; what most people think of these days when you say “Internet”) was invented in 1989, but the first web browser was not able to handle embedded graphics (although the program itself looked graphical, as opposed to the “look and feel” of sitting at a Unix terminal).

By the mid-1990s — at which time I was working my way up the food chain at various ISP (Internet Service Provider) start-ups — Mosaic (later, Netscape) came out. Almost immediately, I had my first website, a collection of about three to five static web pages with some basic information about me and links to other websites I liked. (The detailed story of those days and how I — not once, not twice, but multiple times — totally missed simple opportunities to become a multi-millionaire will have to wait for another day.)

First Contact…with Blogs

By the beginning of 2003, I had caught on to the idea that making your website useful to others meant frequently updating the content. I decided that hand-coding my website with new content — new content which I was posting often enough and in a style such that I could call it “blogging,” although I had no “blogging software” — was a pain in the neck. And around that time, I first heard about blogs and blogging software.

After looking at several possibilities, including GreyMatter and MovableType, as I recall, I finally settled on pMachine. It looked easy and promising. I don’t recall the details now, but it turned out to be anything but easy and promising for me. (Actually, I didn’t find it incredibly difficult, but getting friends to “co-blog” with me failed because they couldn’t get the hang of pMachine; thus, it was not promising and I abandoned it.) I tried to get a refund, but downloaded software, according to the pMachine policy, is non-refundable. (I don’t blame them.) Whatever money I’d spent on the license went into the “lesson learned” category in Quicken.

Somehow, I discovered MovableType. Unspun™ was born with the post “Eyes Open” on April 24, 2003. As I recall, I took the title from the Star Trek: Next Generation episode where Picard is stuck on a planet with a Tamari who has brought him there so their two species can gain an understanding of one another. The Tamari communicated only via metaphor. The details are unimportant now, but the Tamari lost his life in the quest to establish communication with Picard. It seemed reminiscent of Shaka, when the walls fell. In the end, Picard was able to say to the Tamari’s comrades “Sucath, his eyes open.” He had, after all, come to understand. And with the discovery of MovableType, I was no longer Darmok, on the ocean — I embarked on a new voyage: Unspun™.

MovableType has been a good package for me. But as with the Internet and email, so with blogging. Evolution has sometimes felt like devolution as spammers swarmed over the commenting features like so many Borg, seeking to assimilate my site and turn it into a galaxy of porn-links. I implemented anti-spam features, including forcing the moderation of comments (unless you use the TypeKey feature; after much pain on my part, my site is one of the few where that feature actually works). And the blog spamming scum turned to trackbacks, which I have to scour two or three times a day. Even moderated comments still have to be deleted by me until/unless they end up on my mt-blacklist.

And there are membership features I’ve seen on other blogs which I wanted for a new idea I have.

ExpressionEngine and RHDefense.com

ExpressionEngine (or “EE”) promises to bring me greater protection against spammers and more features, including the ability to sign up members and provide (so I understand it) content viewable only by them.

I’ve registered a new domain to create RHDefense. The name, to those who know me, makes sense. I’m Rick Horowitz and I intend to practice criminal defense law when I graduate law school in 2006.

But EE evolved out of pMachine. All my memories of frustrations with pMachine come flooding back…in spades.

I can’t figure out something as simple as how to create new webpages. Documentation doesn’t seem to help. I’m not stupid: I’ve not only built Unspun™ and other sites on MovableType, but I’ve written perl scripts and computer programs. I’ve built networks. I still periodically do computer and network consulting.

So what’s the deal with EE? The installation is essentially a few clicks and you have a templated-website “up” and “running” — not.

RHDefense is, in my perhaps not-so-humble opinion, pretty. The problem is, it’s pretty useless.

Anyway, that’s my long, whiny, almost certainly unnecessary, explanation for why I didn’t get the follow up article done as planned.

But this post was really more for me: I needed a little catharsis before realizing I’d once again tricked myself into giving up hard-earned cash for non-refundable software with great promise and what is apparently (for me) an insurmountable learning curve.

Categories: Blogs & Blogging


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