The Tar Pit: technicalities

002 July 27, 2013 -- (asphalt tech)

So I’ve erased myself, replaced my mind, it's a clean slate

I would argue that the tools used to create some arbitrary kind of art, or craft, are completely irrelevant. The argument is supported by past pieces of art, some of which were made in very rudimentary conditions, a fact which at the same time doesn't make them any less "artistic" than newer, more "sophisticated" creations. Some would even argue the opposite: that earlier art has more personality, since it involved more sweat and blood. This is of course bullshit, as there are many handcrafted works that look dull1 and some chaotic geometric shapes that can be described purely mathematically2.

That is, tools are of little importance to the consumer, while they can make a big difference for the producer. Some hundreds of years ago people were writing using quill pens and parchments, while more recently Douglas Adams wrote on an Apple computer. While this makes no difference whatsoever to the reader, they helped the writers be more or less productive, given that quills and parchments are easier to use than clay tablets, although significantly slower than your modern keyboard. Sure, it's not that pencils are in any way "inferior" to computers; they're just different tools serving different purposes.

The eternal issues of Content Management Systems

About nine months ago or so I felt that Wordpress was no longer the right tool for me. I had already known that it had its problems and I had used various palliatives that kind of worked, only not in the way I wanted.

One of the smaller problems of Wordpress was its inner workings, that require a fully working, fully configured LAMP3 environment. There's not much to say about that, this kind of setup is now a de facto standard on the web. However, the really small stuff killed me. For example, pingbacks mysteriously stopped working without me even noticing once I changed the router in my internal network. The new router didn't support NAT loopback, while Wordpress was continuously making requests to the public IP address, making it impossible to reach itself4. I solved the problem later by doing some DNS voodoo, but the fact remains that I was desperate about trying to fix a system that doesn't work reliably anyway5.

Then there was that issue of spam. For a blog that got a comment per month or less, the old blog™ received a shitload of spam, so much that the (non-premium) Akismet queue couldn't handle it. This was frustrating me, since I was now spending more time doing moderation and checking for false positives than doing, you know, the important stuff.

Finally, all these problems led to performance issues. After attempting some holistic server-side optimizations, I had to get a new server to ramp up loading time. I also tried some stricter security measures such as IP banning, but again, this incurred a lot of overhead from my side, and mind you, I can't say I find the idea of being a sysadmin too attractive.

The zen of static site generation

About nine months ago, I realized that a static blog would solve all these problems and pose some others. On one hand, a static site loads fast, has a simpler design, which makes it a lot easier to configure and customize, and it eliminates comment spam by design. Since I'm into Haskell, Hakyll seemed like a good idea, even though there are other pretty good alternatives out there.

On the other hand comments, I admit, are kind of a big issue. For a while, I looked into third party commenting systems, or writing my own, or even using the one from Wordpress, but I realized this would bring back the spam nightmares I had previously had with it. I also thought about proprietary alternatives such as Disqus, but Disqus is a service with terms that I don't necessarily agree with. So no, I wouldn't have them owning the comments of my readers.

Therefore, I have given up comments altogether. Once the blog has a contact page, you'll have the option of commenting on my stuff by sending me an e-mail or a message on whatever social network I'm on. Moreover, feel free to link my posts to Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and whatever social network you're on, and drop me an e-mail if you feel like I should give my input. Other than that, I don't really feel like turning back to comment moderation, I think that I should focus on writing and not much more.

Die Sprache

I'll end this post by mentioning that I deliberately chose English as the main language6 for The Tar Pit. I'm not a native, nor a particularly good English speaker or writer, hence this gives me the occasion to improve my skills and evolve, which was pretty much my motivation from the beginning.

I am also hoping that, being written in one of the most widely spoken languages on the web, the blog's more obscure content will reach a bigger audience. I'm well aware that this could change. Maybe Simplified Chinese will become the new hot trend in five years from now, which means I'll just have to learn it and use it in writing.

As for why The Tar Pit, stay tuned, you'll find out soon. Really soon.

  1. There are those that call themselves "slow artists", who find great pleasure in spending tens of hours in making intricate, beautiful patterns, which can nowadays be reproduced by a computer in a matter of seconds. Both are awfully symmetric, both lack personality, thus rendering the whole "automatic versus handmade" debate useless.

  2. Fractals, dynamical systems in general.

  3. Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP

  4. I documented this on my previous blog (in Romanian).

  5. It's not that pingbacks are not reliable by themselves. It's that the XML-RPC protocol, or rather its implementation, is crappy. I agree that in theory pingbacks are a really cool idea meant to fire up discussions, but in practice they never seem to work quite right.

  6. Maybe not the only one. I don't know, I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.