Site update

Longtime visitors may notice some differences around here. I’ve not just redesigned this website, but have moved it to an entirely new architecture and hosting services.

Since 2011 I’ve run my personal blog on Wordpress, the Internet’s most popular content management system. (Before then I was on Movable Type, another blogging platform.) And it’s served me well! I’ve written more than 130 blog posts over the seven years since I first launched, ranging from personal reflections to travelogues to reflections on history to criticism to quantitative analysis — plus plenty of random asides on cool things I wanted to share from the Internet. Though a few of my posts over the years read awkwardly now, most hold up well as I’ve reviewed them the past several months.

But as I’ve developed my technical skills over the past few years I’ve also realized that there might be a better way. Sites like Wordpress are “dynamic,” which means that every time someone visits the site, it’s generated on the fly. This is pretty impressive, and has some real upsides! But it’s also slow, adds lots of vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit, and is frankly overkill: I don’t need a robust content-management-system to post essays, links and photos once every couple of months.

Instead, the new movement is toward “static” websites, where the website is generated at the moment of publication, not when the visitor arrives. This means the page is basically just text and basic HTML, and thus faster to load and more secure. The downside is that this method isn’t currently as user-friendly. The dominant tools for generating static sites require at least some degree of coding knowledge to create and publish. (My website lives in a folder on my computer; to publish it I run code in the Terminal to knit together the website from my text files, and then again to publish the knit website online.)

Unlike in 2011, though, in 2017 I (barely) have the coding sophistication to manage this. So partly in search of improvements (my old Wordpress site was getting pretty sluggish) and partly as a skill-building exercise, I’ve transitioned my full website over to the static-site generator Jekyll over the past few months. I’ve also moved from my old shared webhosting service to Amazon Web Services, which powers much of the Internet today. Because I have a lightweight static site now, and because AWS charges by use instead of a flat fee, I’ll hopefully save some money with this switch, too!

Not everything will be smooth; I’ve already spent countless hours manually going through the 130-plus posts in my blog’s history to make sure they’ve converted properly from Wordpress’ idiosyncrasies. Among other things I’ve had to reformat every single image I ever uploaded and re-add every bit of embed code my Wordpress blog had. But I’ve learned a lot in the process and hope the faster loading experience has some benefits to you, my reader, as well!

I’ve also made some design changes beyond the architecture. My old blog showed most articles in full on the front page; now I show just a preview and a thumbnail image. I’ve also eliminated some of the images and menus that used to take up space in favor of a more minimalist layout.

If you notice any broken formatting that I’ve missed, please shoot me a message and I’ll fix it.

Meanwhile, if you subscribed to my old RSS feed, you may need to update it. My new feed is: