Stronger! Faster! More explosions!
This blog upgrade has been in the works for a long, long time. Back when we first decided to start a blog, I tried installing Movable Type on our server only to find, four or five hours later, that I couldn’t get it to look the way I wanted. I had this dueling blogger design in my head, and Movable Type just didn’t seem equipped to make it a reality. But hey, I thought, I’m a wily web guy — I’ll just create a blog manually through an elaborate series of server-side include files!
It worked well enough, except for the drudgery of manual archiving — periodically copying and pasting all of our main-page entries into their permanent resting places. I kept it up for a while, but as procrastination took hold and I let an increasing number of weeks drift by between each cumulative batch of archiving, the chore became easier to ignore until it reached absurdly out-of-date proportions. I’ve blogged about this before, after my last stab at archiving. Before this site upgrade went live today, the archives were more than three years behind schedule. And having a poorly maintained blog made both of us apathetic about posting here at all.
I’ve used WordPress to build some other sites, so I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult to adapt our existing site’s look to the spiffy WordPress content management system. A year or so ago, I spent a few hours doing just that — until I hit a road block. You see, I was able to create a main page for the blog that looked basically like our old page, dueling author content and all, but getting the archives to behave the same way stumped me. I spent several more hours tweaking PHP code with no success, and several hours after that searching through WordPress forums, codices, and plugin documentation, searching for some way to make it work. No dice.
You see, WordPress has no native function for displaying posts within a specified date range, and no way to split a single database query between two authors with two separate feeds. I was able to create the main page by initiating two separate database queries, one for each author, but when I tried to use the same code for archive pages, WordPress would just pull the most recent entries for each author — not our archived entries.
A more sensible man might have decided that this was far too much trouble for something of little importance anyway, and just scrap the old site design for something new and, well, possible to implement. Instead, defeated, I retreated into petulance for the better part of a year. Whenever Justin made suggestions about changing the blog’s design rather than pursue the hobgoblin of my foolish consistency, I’d whine about how it’s not that difficult to update the relevant include files and FTP them to our server, and that he should just do that instead of pestering me. But our ill-kempt blog had become more of an embarrassment than an asset, and he really just wanted to start from scratch. I can’t say I blamed him.
So, when Justin posted a message to Facebook last week indicating that he was thinking about starting a new blog of his own, I sprang into action. A new survey of WordPress possibilities revealed that, in February, someone might have solved the archive problem, finally making it possible to create dueling author feeds for old blog entries. A test of his method worked like gangbusters. A few days of heavy lifting later, here we are.
So, we now have a functional site with all of your favorite five-year-old blog technology — RSS feeds, comments, searching, and bona fide automatic archiving. Well, almost automatic archiving. I ended up putting it all together in a pretty ghetto way (I don’t include metaphorical “elbow grease” and “rubber bands” in the blog’s new footer for nothing), but it works. And I’m really digging it.
I’ll add category functionality before too long, and sooner or later I may start eliminating the HTML-tables-as-design-tools strategy that’s still more or less in place, even after the upgrade. I’m a fan of pure CSS design, but that’s another problem to tackle on another day. In the meantime, welcome to Shrubbloggers 2.0!