Website history, redesign, and relaunch
In 2003 I got my first personal computer – that is, a computer which belonged only to me. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, we had a couple different computers – an Apple IIe, then a 386 PC, then a 486 PC and so on. When I was in the 10th grade my older sister went to college, and we got internet access at home so we could email her. My good friend Brian, who was 2 years older than me, advised me not to bring a computer to college, because by the time I graduated, it would be obsolete, and that any decent college would have plenty of up-to-date computer labs. That was good advice back in 1997. I entered graduate school in 2001, and that was still the case. There were plenty of computer labs. As a Linguistics student, I spent most of my time reading, not using a computer. But in 2003, I did research in Germany for the summer, and I thought I needed a laptop, so I got an iBook. That was a great decision. I used it for acoustic analysis of the recordings I took for my research on the Swabian dialect. After returning from my summer research, I got a new office mate in the German department, who was a big Mac geek. He introduced me to the terminal, and I got quickly got hooked. I had taken a Pascal class in 11th grade, but we never really learned anything useful. Now I started to learn how programming could automate tasks for me, like re-naming files and such using BASH.
Around the same time, I started thinking about what I would be doing after graduate school. At the time, I wanted to become a professor, and I got the idea that I should put my CV online. The University of Michigan allowed each student to create a personal website which they hosted. I learned how to create a simple webpage using Netscape Communicator, which, in addition to having an internet browser, also had a WYSIWYG webpage creator. One of the features of this program was that you could switch the view to see the actual html source code. I quickly became fascinated by this, and started learning to write html by hand instead of using a visual editor.
In addition to my CV, I also quickly added some more stuff to my website about my other passions – cooking, and music. I couldn’t find any page examples from 2003, but the wayback machine had some from 2007-2009, which wasn’t that different.
Not long after I had created my first website in 2003, I proudly showed it to my friend Luis. He said “cool” – you should start a blog. I ignored that advice until December of 2006, when I finally decided to try out WordPress. I am pretty certain I used the Kubrick theme for several years, which was the default theme back then, but I can’t seem to find any evidence of it. So at that time I had some my blog on WordPress, but the rest of my site was still in hand-crafted html, with a few server-side includes for some of the sidebars and header. In 2010, I decided to redesign and put everything into WordPress, to give more of a unified experience. I chose the new twentyten theme, though I created a child theme to customize it a bit, including adding some fancy semi-transparent header images via some custom php image manipulation.
In 2010, the hardest part of redesigning my site was my recipes, and in 2020, the same was true. The RecipePress plugin I was using has not been maintained for a number of years. I had made some manual updates to my own copy here and there over the years to make sure that it continued to work with updated versions of PHP and WordPress, but it had grown stale. I had tried at some point to convert to RecipePress Reloaded, but the conversion utility did not work for me (probably back in 2015 or so). Last summer my wife suggested we consolidate all of our recipes on our family blog. I tried converting again, and again failed. But then recently I decided to give it one more try, with a slightly different approach. I discovered that RecipePress Reloaded is once again maintained, and I still like it better than many of the other recipe plugins for several reasons. The main thing is it is not always trying to get me to upgrade to a paid version. Also, it has custom post types and taxonomies, like the original RecipePress, which make it easy to create a nice navigation like I have had for the last 15 years. It took me about 4 hours on a Saturday, but I was able to modify the export.php file to output the RecipePress post types into the new RecipePress Reloaded format. I simply installed RecipePress Reloaded on my family site, manually input one recipe, exported that, and then compared the export to the export file from this site. I kept modifying the export code until I could produce the same results. I was not able to get the featured images to work, so I ended up doing those manually, and I think there are still a few minor issues, but I saved a ton of time typing.
Once I had my recipes migrated, I could then choose a new modern theme, with better Gutenberg support and more responsive for mobile. So far I have gone with the Prefer theme, which seems okay so far.
And finally to the main point – I have decided to start blogging regularly again. I created a Beeminder goal to blog once a week (if I miss a post, I will have to pay $5). I think I will mostly continue with the topics I have focused on over the past 14 years – programming, WordPress, LaTeX, photography, and maybe some new stuff as well.
I have long said that I am the most avid reader of my own blog. That is, I write down stuff that I want to remember again, and maybe someone else will find it useful. I suspect that in many cases, not that many people find it useful, but every once in awhile, blogging about something obscure like how to convert a clothes dryer from natural gas to propane has helped a bunch of other people.