Updating My Computing History

Back in 2003, Adam Kalsey started a project he called Newly Digital — a collection of stories about when people first discovered computers, got online, and so on.

At that time, I updated and reposted my “Back in the Day” post from roughly a year before, to contribute to the project.

And now, after looking back at my “Newly Digital” post while once again updating the tail end of it with my current computers, I noticed more and more links succumbing to link rot, so I figured I’d give it another refresh. So here we go!

I was born in 1973 — certainly before home computers were a thing, but at a point where computers were starting to make their way into the school system.

The first computers I can remember playing with were the Apple IIs that my elementary school had. Before long our friends the Burns had one of their own that I got to play with, while my babysitter picked up a Commodore 64 that gave me my first look at the BASIC programming language.

Eventually, my family got our first computer — an Osborne 1. This was a beast of a machine. 64k of RAM, a Z-80 CPU, two 5.25″ floppy drives, and a 5″ monochrome 80×40 greenscreen, all packed into a case the size of a suitcase that weighed about 30 pounds. The keyboard could be snapped up against the face of the computer, allowing it to be carried around — one of the first, if not the very first, “portable” computers! It ran CP/M (a precursor to MS-DOS) — aside from fiddling with the machines at school or at my friends’ houses, my first real command-line experience! There was a 300 baud modem available for the Osborne 1 computer, however my family didn’t get one until years later (when those of our friends who had also had Osborne 1 computers were giving them to us as they upgraded, allowing me to cannibalize parts from two machines to keep one running).

I first got online sometime in 1990, with the first computer I bought myself — an Apple Macintosh Classic with no hard drive (the computer booted System 6.0.7 off one 3.5″ floppy, and I kept MS Word 4 on a second floppy, along with all the papers I typed that year), 1 Mb of RAM — and a 2400 baud modem. Suddenly an entire new world opened up to me. After a brief but nearly disasterous flirtation with America Online at a time when the only way to dial in to AOL from Anchorage, Alaska was to call long distance, I discovered the more affordable world of local BBS’s (Bulletin Board Systems).

I spent many hours over the next few years exploring the BBS’s around Anchorage, from Ak Mac (where most of my time was devoted) to Forest Through the Trees, Roaring Lion, and many others that I can’t remember the names of at the moment. I found some of my first online friends, many of whom I conversed with for months without ever meeting — and many that I never did meet. Most of the Mac-based boards used the Hermes BBS software, which shared its look and feel with whatever the most popular PC-based software was, so virtually all the boards acted the same, allowing me to quickly move from one to the other. After springing the $300 for an external 100Mb hard drive (how would I ever fill up all that space?!?) I downloaded my first ‘warez’ (bootlegged software), at least one of which had a trojan horse that wiped out about half my hard drive. I discovered the joys — and occasional horrors — of free pornography. I found amazing amounts of shareware and freeware, some useful, some useless. It was all amazing, fun, and so much more than I’d found before. In short — I was hooked.

After I graduated from high school in 1991, I had a short-lived stint attending the University of Alaska, Anchorage. One of the perks of being a student was an e-mail account on the university’s VAX computer system. In order to access your e-mail, you could either use one of the computers in the university’s computer lab, or you could dial into their system via modem. Logging in either way gave you access to your shell account, at which point you could use the pine e-mail program. However, I soon learned that the university’s computer was linked to other computers via the still-growing Internet!

And here I’d thought BBS’s were a new world — this Internet thing was even better! Suddenly I was diving into ftp prompts and pulling files to my computer from computers across the globe. Usenet readers introduced me to BBS-style discussions with people chiming in from all over the world, instead of just all over town. I could jump into Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and have real-time conversations with people in other countries. The gopher protocol was essentially a precursor to the World Wide Web: text pages linked to each other by subject. I was fascinated — more information than I had dreamed of was at my fingertips.

By the time I left UAA and lost my student account, the ‘net had started to show up on the radar of public consciousness, but still at a very low level — it was still fairly limited to the ‘geek set.’ That was enough, however, to have convinced some of the local BBS systems to set up primitive (but state of the art at the time) internet links: once a day, generally at some early hour, they would dial into a special node on the ‘net and download a certain set of information, which the BBS users could then access locally. It was slow, time-delayed, and somewhat kludgy, but it worked, and it allowed us to have working e-mail addresses. It wasn’t what I’d had while at the university, but it was certainly better than nothing.

Within a few years, though, the ‘net suddenly exploded across public consciousness with the advent and popularization of the World Wide Web. Suddenly, you didn’t have to do everything on the ‘net through a command line — first using NCSA Mosaic, and later that upstart Netscape Navigator, you could point and click your way through all that information — and some of the pages even had graphics on them! It was simplistic by today’s standards, but at the time it was revolutionary, and I joined in that revolution sometime in 1995 with my first homepage.

Since then, there’s been no turning back. Over the years, my computers have been upgraded from that little Mac Classic to:

And, of course, this blog has been running for more than 20 years. It started as simple hand-coded update posts on my early personal pages in 1996. In late 2000 I found a script called NewsPro that was essentially a very early content management system (CMS), and then just over a year later I moved to MovableType, which was only about three months old at the time. MovableType started strong but eventually pivoted to focus on the enterprise space rather than home users, and in 2006 I moved over to WordPress.

WordPress has lasted by far the longest, though I’ve been getting less enamored with it for a while. But realistically, after this long, I’m unlikely to put the effort into finding something else — and as far as I know, the blogging CMS I really want hasn’t yet been written.

Some years my blog gets more posts than others — the rise of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter certainly pulled me away for a while — but I’ve never let it fade away completely, and I certainly don’t intend to let it die. I may not always be rambling away here a lot (though the demise of Twitter has certainly spurred me to be more active here once more), but I’m unlikely to ever entirely disappear.

Blogging CMS Wishlist

High on my reasons why I wish I had the knowledge (or the time and energy to gain the knowledge) to code my own software: As far as I can tell, nobody has yet written the CMS I want to use for blogging.

Basically, what I want is early-2000s MovableType, only with some modern updates. I’ve long missed many of the tweaks and customizations that I could manage with MovableType that I can’t do on WordPress.

Pie-in-the-sky featureset:

  • Self-hostable or installable on a hosted server (Dreamhost, etc.)
  • Micropub compatible so I can use MarsEdit or other such third-party editors
  • ActivityPub/IndieWeb compatible for federation (at least outbound, ideally bidirectional so that federated replies could be appended as “comments”)
  • Generates a static website instead of building every page when its called
  • Only regenerates necessary pages when updates are published, full-site rebuilds available on demand
  • Some sort of templating “building blocks” system for assembling different pages, posts, or sections thereof
  • Basic templates that are fully standards-compliant and accessible (HTML5, ARIA when/if necessary (since static pages shouldn’t have much dynamic content), etc.)
  • Templates should also be microblogging compatible
    • Example: Titles are optional, and shouldn’t be the only item used for permalinks to any given post, something that bugs me about my current blog template but I haven’t figured out how to fix yet
  • Markdown for writing and storing posts
  • The ability to generate multiple versions of posts/pages on rebuild
    • Example: Output both .html and .md versions of a blog post, so a “view source” link could be included in the post template; readers could then easily click through to view the Markdown version
  • Import posts exported from existing common blogging or microblogging systems (WordPress and Twitter, in my particular case)

Things I don’t want or care about:

  • Fancy drag-and drop “block” editors like WordPress’s Gutenberg
  • Comments (beyond pingbacks/trackbacks/federated responses)
  • Having to do everything on one machine (edit locally and upload)

I’m sure there are plenty of other things that I could put in the wishlist or the “no thanks” list, but those are the first ones to come to mind. Every time I’ve done a survey of static site generators, they consistently fail one or more of the above.

Honestly, I think I could live without much of the above, if I could find a static site generator that would allow me to blog and manage posts and pages from anywhere (my desktop, my laptop, my iPhone, my iPad, etc.) through the Micropub API; logging into a web interface of some sort should be possible if necessary but not required for general day-to-day post publishing.

Oh, and it needs to be installed and managed by someone who has a higher-than-average knowledge of computing and tech geekery, but doesn’t do this stuff for a living. Someone who gets annoyed when they call tech support and have to start with the “is it plugged in?” level of questioning, but who also gets annoyed when software assumes that you’ve been immersed in this kind of stuff for decades. There doesn’t seem to be much out there other than WordPress that does a good job of bridging between “it just works” and “I eat, drink, and breathe code in all my waking and sleeping hours” levels of capability. I don’t mind, and even enjoy, poking at the guts of things when I have the time and energy, but I don’t want to be required to do a week of research to figure out what the terms in the “how to install” documentation mean.

So — I don’t suppose that anyone knows of my magical unicorn blogging software actually existing anywhere?

Twenty Years of Blogging

Twenty years ago today, I became a blogger.

Admittedly, the date could be argued a bit, as I’d had my own website since 1996, and even back then had been in the habit of making short, dated updates that were usually site-related, but sometimes just personal ramblings. And I didn’t come across the term ‘blog’ until a few months later in February of 2001.

But on November 25, 2000, I moved from hand-coding updates into a static HTML page to using a script called NewsPro to manage and automate posting updates. So that’s what I’ve been using as my “official” blogging start date.

In the past 20 years, my posting frequency has waxed and waned (waning more often than waxing, admittedly) but has never disappeared altogether. I’ve moved platforms from self-hosted (first NewsPro, then MovableType) to hosted (TypePad) back to self-hosted (WordPress). Sometimes self-hosted meant on a server in my apartment; these days I use DreamHost as my hosting provider, but I still use a manual installation of WordPress rather than using the WordPress.com hosted service. I don’t tinker as much as I used to, but it’s still nice to get into the nuts and bolts from time to time.

Most of the time I’ve been doing this, I’ve just been another one of the many random voices on the ‘net, never one of the Big Names. The closest I ever came to breaking out of that…well, you can look back if you want, but I’m just glad that it’s in my past. Maybe I’ll have more to say in another three years on that twentieth anniversary, maybe not. Generally, I’m fine with just tossing my occasional thoughts on Apple, Star Trek, politics, and whatever else pops into my mind into the electronic void to see if anyone picks up on it.

If you’ve been stopping by and checking out my ramblings from time to time over the years — thanks! If you’re a new visitor, thanks to you too, especially if you’ve made it this far through this post. You might want to check out this somewhat random collection of notable posts, or just see what was posted on this day in the past (which will work for whatever day you read this).

And, of course, there’s my alter-ego DJ Wüdi side project to be promoted: A weekly (except when it isn’t) Twitch broadcast where I play an eclectic mix of music (mostly focused on alternative dance genres like goth, industrial, EBM, and various flavors of electronica, but with a fair amount of other stuff tossed in as I feel like it). Tune in to Difficult Listening Hour on Saturdays at 1 p.m. Pacific time, or cue up my past archives (plus more mix sessions) on my MixCloud page.

Twenty years down — and hopefully, twenty (and more) yet to come!

Jumping Ship?


…if, while moving over to my new digs, I were to take advantage of the one-click WordPress installation offered by Dreamhost and finally dip my toes in waters other than those of Movable Type, are there any pieces of advice I should know about? Plugins I should pay particular attention to? Tips or tricks I should know or avoid?

So far, I’ve managed to track down PHP Markdown and PHP Smartypants, and have activated Akismet, but that’s it (and all this is on a non-public test installation). I’m particularly interested in seeing if there’s a good (easy to implement) ‘tagging’ solution, such as I’m using here in lieu of categories. Googling for ‘wordpress tags‘ tends to bring up lots of information on the formatting tags used in WP templates, which isn’t what I’m aiming for.

Anything else?

iTunesWhat Is Life” by Mullins, Shawn from the album Big Daddy (1999, 4:09).

coComment Enabled

I’ve been seeing rumblings about coComment for a few weeks now, but finally decided to take a closer look when I noticed it up and running on a post at The Republic of T. coComment is a service that lets you track the comments you’ve made on other weblogs, keep track of when people have responded to them, and so on…basically, trying to make sure that those comments you leave don’t just disappear into the great bit bucket of the ‘net.

So, I’ve signed up, and have enabled coComment integration on this site (for all future entries, at least…all entries on the main page have been rebuilt, the rest of the 3801 entries will be rebuilt eventually) — Movable Type integration was a snap with their included instructions. I don’t figure a huge percentage of my readers will be using it, but it’s there for those who want to.

iTunesBring on the Dancing Horses” by Echo and the Bunnymen from the album Pretty In Pink (1985, 4:00).

Help: .htaccess redirects

Never having quite gotten the hang of .htaccess redirect requests, I’m hoping someone out there might be able to give me a hand with this.

I would like this…


…to map to this (though not wrapped onto multiple lines, obviously)…


Similarly, for multiple tags, this…


…should map to this (and so on, as more tags are added)…


Any ideas? Thanks much in advance!

iTunesMexican Women” by Throwing Muses from the album Just Say Yo (1988, 2:49).

TypeKey broken?

I’m not sure how I’ve managed to do this, but while disabling the OpenID Comment plugin (which was apparently causing issues with submitting comments, and wasn’t really being used anyway), I’ve managed to break the ability to log in via TypeKey for authentication. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what’s going wrong — all of my code looks like it should be doing what it’s supposed to — but for whatever reason, the link to log in to TypeKey isn’t showing up.

So no TypeKey until I figure out what I broke. Meh.

iTunesSweet Dreams” by Marilyn Manson from the album Smells Like Children (1995, 4:53).

Folksonomy tag support added

One of the things I’ve wanted to add to my site for quite a while now has finally been added: tagging, along the lines of del.icio.us or Flickr. Admittedly, I still have a ways to go in getting all my old entries correctly tagged, but that will come with time. For now, they’re showing up in a few places.

  1. On the main page of the site, the tag listings below each post that previously pointed to Technorati search pages for the individual tag now do tag searches internal to this website.

  2. Also on the main page of the site, there is now a ‘This Week’s Tags’ box just below the Table of Contents. This is a quick list of just those tags that have been used on posts within the past seven days…a handy overview of what I’ve been babbling about over the past week.

  3. On individual entry pages, the tag line below the post now searches internally (just as on the front page). There are also now quick links to search on individual tags on del.icio.us, Technorati, and Flickr.

  4. The main archives page now features a tag cloud listing tags used within the past month (31 days, actually). The tag cloud is also size-weighted by the frequency of each tag’s use.

  5. Lastly, I tweaked the tag search results to be a little more useable — rather than a simple listing of links to each result, I’ve added the entry excerpt for each result to give a little more context than just the headline.

All this is thanks to the excellent Movable Type plugin Tags.app.

As with everything I fiddle with around here, questions, comments and words of wisdom are always appreciated (whether or not they’re heeded is another thing entirely, of course…).

LJ-style links for Ecto

This is actually fairly simple, but you never know.

For ecto users who want to post LiveJournal-style links to LJ user accounts (such as [djwudi's info]djwudi) into a weblog entry on a non-LJ system:

  1. Open Window > HTML Tags.
  2. Click the + button to create a new tag set.
  3. Paste the following code into the ‘opening tag’ box (as a single line):
    <a href="http://www.livejournal.com/userinfo.bml?user=%*">
    <img src="http://stat.livejournal.com/img/userinfo.gif" alt="[%*'s info]" width="17" height="17" /></a>
    <a href="http://www.livejournal.com/users/%*/"><b>
  4. Paste the following code into the ‘closing tag’ box:
  5. Assign a command key sequence (optional, of course — I used option-command-J).

Viola! You’re done. Now, just type someone’s LJ username into a weblog post, select it, and choose the new tag set (or type the command key sequence you set), and the LJ-style link is created.

Yet More Tweaks

A few more tweaks and oddments:

  • Re-worded the post metadata.
  • Added Technorati tags to the metadata.
  • Added pseudo-hidden ‘admin only’ links to all posts, comments, and TrackBack pings, allowing for single-click jumps to the edit screen for each item.
  • Used SimpleComments to combine comments and TrackBack pings into a single chronological list.
  • Added small icons (yanked right from the MT interface, actually) to comment and TrackBack listings to more easily visually identify which is which.
  • Added a :hover effect border to comment and TrackBack listings.
  • Comments I leave will display with a colored background to easily distinguish them from visitors’ comments.
  • Lots of templates updated so that all a links have an associated title attribute.

And…that’s all I’m remembering right now.