Building Foundations

or, welcome to my home page!

The Digital Me badge Best viewed in any browser badge

I created this website about a year ago, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do with it. I’ve had some kind of website for almost twenty years. For the majority of those twenty years, I’ve used WordPress on a shared-server hosting service.

Tech people like to pooh-pooh WordPress. It runs half the web, so obviously it can’t be cool. I won’t claim that it is cool. But if WordPress was one thing, it was stable, astoundingly so for an open-source framework built for the web in PHP and JavaScript.

I ran the same WordPress installation on my website continuously for sixteen years. Sixteen years of upgrades, database migrations, changing themes, and my own personal tinkering. And you know what? It just worked. I can’t say that about any other software I’ve used in those sixteen years.

I reboot my computers at least once a month. I don’t go more than a few years without completely wiping and reinstalling my operating system.

I’ve worked on software development teams in which serious professionals will claim that we cannot possibly salvage a project without a full rewrite on a codebase less than three years old.

Even huge corporations with collective centuries of software development experience will insist that breaking changes and forcing manual migrations on their users is the only possible way forward.

And yet WordPress still works. You can still read my blog posts from 2006. Not that I recommend them: I was young and stupid.

Admittedly, I have little experience with WordPress as a developer. I generally stuck to a small set of widely-used plugins and themes, and only briefly dabbled in writing my own. For all I know, a developer building on WordPress as a platform has just as many horror stories as anyone building on the ever-shifting sands of web technology.

But as a user, WordPress was just there. It worked. It required minimal maintenance. Upgrades were so consistently reliable that I consistently ignored the advice to “back up your database and files” beforehand. Some of the upgrades were mildly irritating — the browser-based graphical editing tools always felt a bit clunky — but they were never showstoppers.

The most serious flaw I encountered in sixteen years wasn’t caused by WordPress at all. It was a MySQL upgrade, applied by my hosting company, that did something funny with the text encoding. I still haven’t figured out exactly what went wrong. If you do go delving in my blog archives, don’t be surprised to find a few ãrtífḁcts.

When I decided to start a brand new blog on a new domain, after sixteen years of reliability and stability with WordPress, obviously I would decide to scrap it all and build my own from scratch.

Why? Because it’s fun. As great as WordPress was, it wasn’t actually giving me what I wanted from a personal blog: a place to have fun. To tinker. To experiment.

GeoCities badge with animation of a satellite orbiting a planet GeoCities badge with an eagle icon Slowly spinning badge: Geocities; Your home on the web; G Home Pages Badge: Free home pages at GeoCities

I remember my first experiments with the web: writing HTML by hand and uploading it to GeoCities. Nobody talked about “content” back then: We had “home pages.” They were stupid. They were pointless. They were often unreadable due to ill-advised choices of color and animation. But every page was a creative expression. Every eye-watering color scheme and migraine-inducing animation was a deliberate choice made by another human.

That’s the web I want to create in. Not in the aesthetic sense — these days I have neither the eyesight nor the patience to wade through blinking red text on a stone-texture background — but in the sense of creative possibility inherent in the notion that each page could look completely different from the last.

That’s what WordPress lacked for me. Its greatest strengths — uniformity, consistency, reliability — are exactly what I don’t want from my new site.

Created with Emacs badge with GNU logo Learn HTML badge

In future posts I will delve into more detail about what I’m actually using to build this site. Or maybe I won’t. It involves Makefiles and Emacs. Or maybe it won’t! Who knows? You’ll have to wait and see.

Valid RSS badge

Subscribe to my RSS feed for regular updates:

Badges from The 88x31 GIF Collection.