About this Website

A Little Bit of History

This website’s first incarnation appeared in March 2004 on Geocities. It was a horrible hodgepodge that looked like it had been created by someone who learned HTML in about seven days. That’s because I was someone who learned HTML in about seven days.

For the next several months, I blissfully committed all the cardinal sins. I put marquees everywhere they would fit, and then some. My colour choices were even more horrible than they are today. Somehow I managed to avoid entirely the use of the blink tag—dodged a bullet there.

After acquiring a passing knowledge of CSS, I ventured into PHP. Humans have a tendency to use whatever knowledge they acquire, of course, so I put my new PHP skills to good use and created my own blog software. This required me to leave Geocities for more dynamic pastures.

Adding Some Chrome

I jumped from Geocities to another free web hosting service that supported PHP. Unfortunately, it sucked. So I migrated to the now-long-defunct Chromehost, which had better service and a friendlier community. For months everything seemed great. I was developing my website and my hosting situation was stable—or was it?

The problem with free web hosting, of course, is that it’s inherently unreliable. While I don’t want to perpetuate the truism that “you get what you pay for” websites hosted for free exist on the sufference of Fortune, as Machiavelli might say. Chromehost went under—literally, poof!—and I was left without web hosting.

Toss in A Small Orange

That was it. I had had enough with free web hosting; it was time to up the ante. Fortunately Seth recommended a good, relatively inexpensive hosting company, and in October 2005 I purchased hosting from A Small Orange.

I’ve been with ASO for almost 6 years now, and I do not have a single complaint. The hosting packages are affordable, the uptime is incredible, and adjectives do not do justice to the quality of their support. Not only are their response times insane, but they are courteous and effective. This was the case when I discovered that the new server to which my site was migrated didn’t have Git installed. I had just started using Git as part of my development/deployment workflow. So I sent in a ticket (at midnight Eastern Time on a Saturday) asking support to install Git, and ten minutes later the reply came back: “It is installed on the server, and ready for use. Enjoy.” Flabbergasted, I went to bed (because I was tired!), content with the knowledge that when I woke up I would be able to continue my evil plans because ASO has my back.

Sufficiently Advanced Magic is Often Mistaken for Science

(These Are the Gears That Power the Tubes)

My old website design
The second incarnation of my website, from 2005–2008.
My previous website design.
The third major design of my site, until March 2013.

At various times I have tried to roll my own pathetic imitations of a CMS. Since 2010, however, I have been using and loving Symphony CMS to power everything on this site except the blog. Symphony is more of a content management framework; by design it places as few restrictions on how you can build and structure your site—and thus, on what you can ultimately accomplish—while providing tools with such raw power that they occasionally threaten to occlude the Sun.

I was sceptical of Symphony at first, I admit. I had no experience using XSLT, which is what Symphony uses for its templates. For every page, it loads the data and renders it as an XML document, which then gets passed to the XSLT template and turned into whatever you need to output (in this case, just HTML). Once I got used to how Symphony works, I realized I had stumbled on to something special. Designing new features on my site with Symphony is just so fast and easy. Most content management systems are like Ikea products: they comprise easily-assembled, prefab modules that, if you’re lucky—or very, very determined—happen to meet your needs. Symphony, on the other hand, is like a well-stocked carpentry workshop: once you know what you’re doing, you realize you have all the tools—and freedom—you need to create the site you want.

Way back in 2004 when I was first experimenting with PHP and MySQL, I wasn’t aware that blog software like WordPress existed. So I wrote my own and called it, naturally enough, the “Very Simple News System” (or VSNS). Eventually this became VSNS Lemon, and at one point I was even actively distributing it for download. It’s not available for download any more (it’s not really all that great), but I still use it on my site.

At various points in time, I’ve served my site as XHTML 1.0, XHTML 1.1 with an application/xhtml+xml content-type, and most recently as HTML 4. I wanted to avoid the XHTML quandary and get back to the basics. I figured I could keep my head down until something better, like the much-vaunted XHTML 2.0, came along and caught my roving-markup-language eye.

When I switched to Symphony CMS as the backend for my site, I took the opportunity to refactor and switch, yet again, the markup language of my choice. Rather than XHTML 2.0, which seems to be going nowhere, I’ve happily embraced HTML5. Its various new semantically-rich elements have won me over in a way that an XML content-type never will. So that’s the story behind the doctype!

The graph paper background is courtesy of Tile-able Web Backgrounds, modified under a Creative Commons Attribution License.