Movable Type 6.2

I may have moved this blog to WordPress, but my opinion of the system hasn’t really changed; I still think Movable Type was a better-engineered system right from the start, and it’s only really licensing and product direction that have steered me to join the mainstream. Well, that and WordPress having matured to the point of no longer annoying me quite enough to prevent me from seeing past its obvious attractions.

MT had its quirks, though. One of which was file uploads, which went… ach, basically anywhere. Ten years into an MT install and you’d have media files strewn in every damn directly on the server, it seemed. Trust me, I just cleaned out this server.

No more! Last week saw the release of Movable Type 6.2, which includes such innovations as:


Website administrator […] can configure default settings for upload that including default upload destination.

Well, gosh. Maybe there’s life in the old Perl dog yet.

Considered impressions following a week of general use of an iPhone 6s Plus, having upgraded from a 4s which was getting very crufty and had what only the very polite would call a ‘battery.’

Holy crap.

Blurred books

Blurred books

I find it surprisingly difficult to browse second-hand books on market stalls. Too often the serried ranks look like this — I can discern book-like shapes, but as I try to make out the authors or titles the world starts drawing in around the periphery. Even when I can read the words I don’t recognise any of them.

The first time I built my own PC I found myself sitting in the car park, terrified the list of components I’d agonised over would elicit knowing grimaces from the testosterone-laden atmosphere inside. I even had an uncomfortable time in a bicycle shop some years ago as I struggled to work out how much of my intimate knowledge of late-80s velotech was still relevant.

It seems obvious to promote and advocate for bookshops against the encroachment of Amazon, but we shouldn’t forget that to the uninitiated — and even to the unpracticed — they’re alien, vaguely threatening environments. There are reasons other than convenience for the steady rise of online shopping.

The main thing physical shops have going for them is human contact. Very, very few shops capitalise on that advantage. But then, dealing with humans is hard.

Domestic drones

New from the MySociety genii:, capsule the curiously-capitalised PlaceOpedia. Think Google Maps ? Wikipedia. Brilliant. Except that, as I write, all the links read

Tumblr, blogging, and all that jazz

Where Tumblr Came From – Anil Dash

many of us who were familiar with blogs already saw tumblelogs as “just a simple blogging template”, similar to what we were already doing on Movable Type or WordPress at the time, rather than a fundamentally different medium.

Despite that myopia, there was a lot of momentum around simplified, media-rich blogging at that moment in history.

Just read the whole thing. Blogging: it’s not as simple as it seems, and history is littered with the corpses not just of dead blogs, but of dead blogging systems.

(– via everyone)

Let’s hear it for Bundler

Turns out the solution to my broken Staticmatic install was as simple as:

bundle install

Yeah. That simple. Durr. But big respect for Bundler, a simple tool that solves a subtle problem – in this case downgrading the versions of a bunch of gems, rolling them back to whatever I built this system with in the first place, but doing all that only within this project.

Yeah, I know that’s what it does, but I didn’t really know that’s what it does. I should probably RTFM for some of this stuff.

Back in the Saddle III – Octopress

For giggles, another exploration in this series is a completely different animal, namely Octopress. Now, I’m not a complete stranger to command-line static site generators – I built in StaticMatic, later adding a blog using the same templates and stylesheet driven by Melody (the open-source Movable Type 4 fork). Both are now dead projects, so I’ve some interest in revamping that site too.

Problems strike immediately, as the Octopress install instructions require a recent Git (currently: some old crap), and RVM (broken, somewhere). These are easy enough to fix, but in installing Ruby 1.9.something under a new RVM I seem to have nuked my gem set. Which means I’ve now completely broken StaticMatic. Oh, drat. This, incidentally, is why normal, sane, well-adjusted people shy away from command-line tools. If you live in them every day then all is well, but if you only sort-of understand them there are so many ways of screwing things up by accident, it’s just not funny.

Aaanyway: with the prerequisites sorted, time to move onto Octopress itself. And it works. OK, so I had some path problems with the configuration system, but once I’d got those sorted rsync deploy locally worked well, and the default output is pretty nice. I’m a big fan of the prebuilt video player, too. That’s the sort of thing that makes my life an awful lot simpler.

The rake/Jekyll import from WordPress worked well, and in principle I could redeploy my blog on Octopress almost immediately. So why haven’t I? Well, I may yet, but my hesitations at the moment are about time.

Publish time is an issue. On my Mac Pro, rebuilding after adding a new post takes about four minutes. It’s a single-threaded sort of thing, so I suspect my laptop would be slightly quicker (SSD, and all that), but I’m concerned that’s long enough to discourage quick posting. I note with interest that one of my favourite bloggers, having jumped to Octopress, set up a Kirby blog for quick posts. Well, to replace a Tumblr, but the point remains.

My other time issue is tinkering and learning time. While the default theme looks nice enough, it’s not completely to my taste. Delving into it is where the wheels start to come off, for me – hence my brief post yesterday. Notably, there’s precious little documentation and very few code comments on what the heck is going on in the templates and stylesheets. I love Compass, but I need help getting my head around someone else’s code of this complexity, and I suspect this is why so many Octopress blogs have stuck with the default.

Now, they’ve also stuck with the defaults because there’s plain good decision-making involved here. Octopress is opinionated software, and while I don’t agree with the choice made by the Hibari folks, most of Octopress slots nicely into my thinking about blogging. Which is cool.

I doubt I’m going to take the plunge just yet, but it’s good to know the option exists. It’s a radical platform, but I can see why so many geeks are enjoying it.

How to tell which generation of web app you’re looking at

Web 1.0: hell is other people’s HTML.
Web 2.0: hell is other people’s CSS.
Web 3.0: hell is other people’s @media queries.

Back in the Saddle II – Habari

My assumption, when embarking on this little series of posts, was that I’d jot a few brief notes about the blog engine alternatives I explored by way of review. Pretty much, that would be that.

Trouble is, each of the projects I’m trying is more-or-less freeware, built and maintained by volunteers. They’ve made decisions based on how they want to use their product, and to a some extent any ‘review’ I might offer would be more a comparison between my preferences and intentions and theirs. Which is of stuff all use to anyone else.

So the short version of this post is: I wanted to like Habari, I really did. But I’m not using it because… well… I don’t. I’m sure it’s great. But it’s not for me. Here’s an example:

habari-menuThis is the top-level Habari menu, and pretty much the main bit of interface offered up by the system. I thought this sort of menu was cool when I first saw it in NeXTSTEP circa. 1992, but in practice I find the waggling-the-mouse-like-a-gear-lever dog-leg manoeuvre annoying as anything.

The apparent goal is to present a thoroughly minimal interface, to get out of the way as much as possible. That’s admirable, but there’s always a trade-off involved in simplicity, and for me this falls too far on the side of ‘absent’ rather than ‘simplified.’ Besides, poke only a little deeper and you quickly stumble across modal dialogue pop-ups. Habari is not, at this stage, impressing me as a system which aligns with my ideas of good taste.

Importing my blog archive (from a WordPress database) was seamless and trivial, which is great. But can I find an off-the-shelf theme I like? No. Not even vaguely. Now, again, I have very particular tastes here, but almost everything in the theme repository looks like dodgy ports from WordPress circa 2009. It’s not at all clear which remain maintained.

OK, so let’s take a brief look at how themes are built. I’ve never been a fan of WordPress’ ‘pepper PHP throughout the template’ approach, much preferring Movable Type’s template tags. Intriguingly, Habari offers both alternatives, the former via RawPHPEngine, the latter via HiEngine. But:

If you’re looking to start building themes in Habari, and you’re not accustomed to building templates using a syntax similar to this, then you should most definitely not use HiEngine. Instead, you should look into the native PHP support provided by RawPHPEngine, which is faster and better at teaching you real PHP, which can be useful when creating more complex themes.

–(From the project wiki).

Ouch. Yeah, we’re not going to agree on that. Heck, the last few sites I’ve built I’ve done pretty much in HAML, I’ve really no interest in going back to ?php if ( blah ) ?whatever?php? nonsense.

Upshot: Habari might be great, but I’m not the right user for it.

Back in the saddle

After several days of mucking about with alternative blogging solutions, I’m… blogging again. Here’s the summary, more for the sake of record keeping than interest:

Movable Type part I

This blog has been running on Movable Type since I started, and it’s needed surprisingly little maintenance throughout for more than a decade. Updates are a bit of a pain, and commenting hasn’t always worked, but for the most part it’s (a.) worked, and (b.) looked fairly consistently like shit.

However, the server was eventually running MT4.something, which has been end-of-life for some time. The looming horror of a major migration coincided with a period when the Movable Type 5 upgrade only made sense if you could read Japanese, thanks to the somewhat unfathomable story of its parent company. The open-source MT4 continuation project Melody, meanwhile, looked promising for a time… until it crashed and burned. All of which probably factored into my losing interest in blogging for a while.

So: hello, 2013. I miss blogging. What shall I do with this site?

The obvious answers:

  1. Take a data dump, check its integrity on a local server, then update that local server to the latest MT5 and have a play. Or–

  2. After 12 years, succumb to the masses, port the whole thing over to WordPress, and be done with it.

MT5 local hosting on OS X

Web Sharing was slightly broken by Mountain Lion, which would have been annoying except that my Mac Pro hasn’t had a clean install in the four-or-so years since I bought it. It hasn’t needed it, but it has got a little crufty around the edges, so many of the problems are probably my fault. There are bits of MacPorts and Homebrew and I think something else kicking around, a bunch of stuff compiled from source – it’s a mess in there.

I do have Apache up, MySQL is up, and cpan did sane things with all the Perl modules. APXS was easy to fix, but I ran into this compiler issue, and unfortunately don’t understand how to implement the fix. So I’m stuck with plain old cgi, not even mod_fcgid let alone mod_perl. Ugh.

Good enough for testing, though… and good enough to discover that Movable Type fails to restore backups from Ah. That’s a problem. UTF8 errors, apparently.

So while I have a working MT5 install locally, I don’t have a feel for how old blogs get pulled across into the new Site containers, nor how the (considerably different) MT5 feels with lots of posts.

I also don’t have backups which I know to be good. Which is always a worry.

This is pretty much where this blog petered out for 18 months, and where this blog post will leave you in suspense.

To. Be. Continued.

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