The journal really started as part of the old Aquarion site back on Netmanor. I was keeping a daily-ish diary of what I was doing and thinking, mostly as an exercise to keep me writing. Most of the entries for the first six months or so have gone the Way Of All Things, but in April I found out about this new thing called “blogger” that I could use. This kind of revolutionised how I was using the site. Previously, stuff got written up in longhand on the bus in to and from university, on trains, occasionally in class. I would transcript it in the evening into a local copy of my site, transfer it back to uni over floppy disk or Zip drive and upload the new version of the site.
Blogger made publishing new articles really very easy, but to some extent took a lot of the planning of articles out of the system. On the other hand, everything I wrote in Blogger was converted into Klide – my original CMS – and from there into Epistula (Klide’s replacement) and eventually into WordPress earlier this year. Nothing before that survived, which says something about offsite backups, I suppose.
Aquarionics went though four of its 16 – so far – redesigns in the first four months as I gradually got a better idea of what I was doing. Redesigning a site with ten years of cruft has its very own varieties of “interesting”. There’s a lot of entries which contain stuff that only really works in context of the design they were originally written in, and whilst almost everything was written assuming black text on a white background, that’s not really universal either. Lastly, whilst around Epistula’s start I set up a series of CSS styles for common stuff I would want cross-design (Float this picture right, caption this, this is a Q&A section, this is an amazon link) not only does stuff prior to that randomly fail, but sometimes stuff afterwards does as well, as the classes have evolved to suck less in newer browsers.
Originally, Epistula was going to keep everything in an arbitrary XML format (see XML is the new black, from May 2003) based on XHTML with some custom attributes and compile it into whatever HTML the design required on render (which it would then cache until the next edit. Fried Caching in action), with the added bonus that stuff could be compiled into PDF or LaTeX instead. However, in the interests of Actually Relaunching The Site, this was ditched and everything was just saved in either text, textile or HTML form with a flag indicating which. I still somewhat regret doing that. I’ll talk more about Epistula tomorrow.
On top of this is the things that just fell down the cracks, like the article on the Sunderland Student Games which I should put back at some point. Changing hosts, reworking the site, transferring everything between CMS systems, all these things cause entropy, and every so often I’ll go looking for something I’ve posted that just isn’t there anymore. Half a dozen stories, for example, or readings of a poem I never typed up.
The above is kind of one of the problems with Aquarionics as a whole, which is the shear weight of badly indexed content makes longer-term relevant stuff harder to find. A lot of the Articles are still useful, but almost all of the diary entries aren’t. There’s a whole bunch of crappy fantasy schlock that shouldn’t be anywhere, let alone on a site people might visit, and other bits of writing I’m less upset for people to discover (Though most creative writing stuff goes on Faction Fiction, which – as you can see – is just as well updated as everything else. Though that’s mostly due to more creative writing going on things not yet public). Since useless stuff rarely becomes useful, and useful stuff will only atrophy, the best bet might be to go though everything in the system and add a “This is still useful” flag, and periodically review it and remove it from things that lie.
(Part three is technology)