I have an Aperture library named ‘Fish and Stirling Engines’. It contains pictures of fish… and Stirling engines.


They’re not very good photos.



Fanfare, Golden Bull, Ocean Shanghai (left to right) moored off the coast at Tynemouth. Three more large vessels are out of shot – see MarineTraffic.

The light’s nicer right now, might go and have another try.

Update: it’s snowing. Hard. Hard enough that I can no longer see the ships. Stuff that.

Update 2: Chris Hadfield has posted an alternative view of these ships. They’re the little specs bottom-right of the photo in this tweet (click for full-res):

— Hadfield is in space. Cool.

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 StoryCog.com 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.

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.

Linux, Apple, and all that

“On Linux, it just felt that whatever went wrong it was my fault for not RTFM.”

(from Mike McQuaid)

Read the comments, too. Apple stuff “just works”, but only if you buy into the whole ecosystem. Same for Google, and Microsoft… and (I’d argue) Linux. Sure, with Linux you can choose FLAC or Vorbis for your audio, but that’s still an ecosystem you’re buying into.

I wish it wasn’t like this, which is one reason just about everything I’ve written for the last decade has started out as plain text. It’s the one common format that, I suspect, I’ll still be able to read in another 25 years’ time. As for stills and video… sheesh, I’ve no idea. And that’s scary.

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 quernstone.com. 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.