Categories
Blogging

Memory

One of the items in Alexis Madrigal’s Five Intriguing Things newsletters last week was the article “All You Have Eaten: On Keeping a Perfect Record” by Rachel Khong.

It’s about NASA’s first “Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation” (HI-SEAS) project, which is an attempt to simulate some of the conditions astronauts would expect on a mission to Mars. Eight people spent four months isolated in a special habitat 2,500 meters up the slopes of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. One of the goals of the project was to observe how the subjects dealt with a limited diet during that time.

Rachel Khong juxtaposes the project with her own experience of keeping a detailed food diary:

For breakfast on January 2, 2008, I ate oatmeal with pumpkin seeds and brown sugar and drank a cup of green tea.

I know because it’s the first entry in a food log I still keep today. I began it as an experiment in food as a mnemonic device. The idea was this: I’d write something objective every day that would cue my memories into the future—they’d serve as compasses by which to remember moments.

[…]

What I’d like to have is a perfect record of every day. I’ve long been obsessed with this impossibility, that every day be perfectly productive and perfectly remembered. What I remember from January 2, 2008 is that after eating the oatmeal I went to the post office, where an old woman was arguing with a postal worker about postage—she thought what she’d affixed to her envelope was enough and he didn’t.

I can see the appeal. I don’t think I have the persistence to keep a food log that consistently for so long, but I’ve certainly been enjoying the more frequent, more mundane “breakfast blogging” I’ve been doing this year. (I think I’ve written more this year already than in the last three years combined.) Just the act of writing things down fixes and emphasizes things in my mind. What’s mundane to everyone else is a bookmark for me, a chalk mark on the pavement of memory lane. Without these little hints, the past lose resolution over time. Entire weeks and months become compressed into a daily average — get the kids ready for school, go to work, make dinner — until the point where I can’t even be certain I’m really the one who lived through them.

But whenever I examine it, the mundane turns out not to be so minute after all. Almost every time I sit down to write one of my “mixed media” posts, I think I’ll just pop down a simple bulleted list, only to end up north of five hundred words an hour or two later; in the process stumbling over a dozen fleeting moments that had already begun to fade.

So: expect this to continue.

Categories
Blogging Movable Type

Moving to WordPress

After twelve years of using Movable Type, I have just moved the blogs on sunpig.com to WordPress. For some time now, Movable Type has been failing two of my three tests for choosing a piece of platform software:

  • Is it well documented? (Yes.)
  • Is it under active development? (No, at least not in its open source version.)
  • Does it have an active and supportive user community? (Not any more.)

I still like its architectural model of static publishing, and (partly because of that) it has a great security record, which is important if you’re running your own server. I’ve been using MT since version 1, and I’ve clung to it for sentimental and pseudo-practical reasons (“I know the templating language really well!”) for a long time, but the online world is a much different place now, and the fact is that compared to all other avenues for writing online, MT 5’s interface is poor, and I dislike using it. As a result, I don’t. I blogged less in 2013 than in any previous year.

OpenMelody was a fork of the open source version of MT 4, but it seems to be dead now.

I was considering using Jekyll, which is a modern static site generator: write posts in your text editor, run a site generator from the command line, and `rsync` the generated html files to your server. This has lots of good points: it generates static files, and it plugs directly into my standard text editor workflow — with version control! This is great if you’re a programmer and always have access to a machine with a command line. Not so great if `bundle exec jekyll build` makes you twitchy, or if you like the idea of occasionally posting something from your phone. Also, no matter how you slice it, comments end up as a crazy hack. I can see myself using jekyll for other projects, just not for our main blogs.

Ghost is new and shiny and looks like it pushes the standard blogging interface forward, but: node + sqlite. Really? They sat down and actually came up with that decision? Also, I mistrust an open source project that has a “sign up” link on its home page, but not a “download”.

Drupal would probably do the job, but my impression is (perhaps incorrectly) that it is more geared towards sites rather than blogs.

So… WordPress. Big community, well documented, under active development. Used to have a bad rep for security, but is a lot better than it used to be, and since version 3.7 even features an automatic update process to apply maintenance and security patches. It also has well-established guidelines and practices for hardening an installation. It’s “the standard” these days. I have a general preference for “off-piste” solutions, but sometimes I just want to go with something that “just works”. Mostly.

It took me a few days to prepare the migration. I pulled the trigger yesterday evening, and by the (late) end of the evening, the new Death Star was mostly operational. Today has been mopping up and housekeeping. And so far, I’m feeling pretty good about it.

The new shiny:

I put together a GitHub repository with my notes, preparation, and migration scripts in case anyone else might benefit from the experience: https://github.com/sunpig/sunpig-mt-to-wp. If you notice any problems, let me know.