June 20, 2007

Internet vs Real World

A little life lesson:

Much to my dismay we've decided to sell our Mini Copper. It's been a super car, but with 2 car seats installed, it's crowded. I put an ad on craigslist. Nothing. I put another one on autotrader (spending $40! for the privilege). Nothing. The price was fair, the car is spotless with low mileage... hmm. Today I put a sign in the window of the car and before I arrived back to the house, I had 3 people ding me. All want test drives. Lesson learned.

January 25, 2007

New Digs

Last night I finally hunkered down and ported this blog from blogger to Movable Type. Nothing exciting design-wise, just a more functional (I hope) layout with some long overdue new features (categories, search, custom feeds, tags, etc).

I've only tested on Safari and Firefox, so if there's any wonkiness in Internet Explorer (or just in general) let me know. There is still quite a bit of fine tuning to be done and a few features I want to add. I also need to get busy tagging/categorizing old entries.

Jenn hates the new design (or lack of design) by the way ("is it finished?" she asks).... Ultimately I don't think the design matters much as the vast majority of you read this site via RSS.

Continue reading New Digs »

November 10, 2006

Importing from Blogger to Wordpress to Movable Type

The mark of a good document/publishing format is good built in import and export. Import/Export keeps you from being tied to a single system and is a hedge against future technology changes. It also allows you do things like download your data to your computer or an ipod or some other system... it give you options. Right now only Movable Type has strong built in export (it's import functions are anemic). Other popular systems allow you to import, but neglect to include a good built-in export function. Anyway I've had to convert a few blogs in the past few days and had to dig around quite a bit to figure out how to move blog content from one system to another. Here are some simplified instructions for future googlers with the same issues.

How to import to Wordpress from Blogger

This is with Wordpress 2.05 and the non-beta version of blogger available as of 11/2006. The instructions don't work with the blogger beta.

1. If you are publishing to your own domain/ftp change, change the publishing settings in blogger and to publish to a temporary blogspot blog... make sure to copy down your old settings for later (also copy the archive publishing settings). You can republish to the temporary blogspot address if you wish to see if it works, but this is not required. If you are using blogspot already then just skip to #2.

2. In Wordpress go to import and select Blogger and follow the instructions.

3. If you were publishing in blogger to your own domain, remember to change the publishing and archive settings back to their original settings.

How to export Wordpress to Moveable Type

Eric Pierce has written an export Wordpress plugin called WPexport. It was posted a few years ago and has gotten a bit crufty over time, but people on the web have continued to post code fixes in his comments. Here is a patched version that worked for me with Wordpress 2.05 and MT 3.3. You can find the original broken plugin with all the specific fixes in the comments on Eric's seeming defunct website. Perhaps he's graduated. I couldn't find a working email address.

1. So install the plugin.

2. Activate it and go to options.

3. If you have a large blog you will see a blank text box. After some time (minutes in my case) a long text file containing your blog posts the MT import format will show up.

4. Copy all the text and paste it into a word processor that can save things as simple text files.

5. Save your file calling it "import".

6. Upload that file to the import folder in the base folder of your MT installation (if there isn't an import folder, create one).

7. Within MT follow the import instructions.

May 23, 2006

Notes on Blogger vs Movable Type vs Wordpress

Warning geeky post. Most regular readers are excused.

For over a year now I've been meaning to switch the engine behind this blog from Blogger to Moveable Type. While Blogger is dead simple, it's development ground to a halt after the Google acquisition. Features now standard on other blogging systems like the ability to add a "previous" link to the bottom of a page, categories, and the ability to sort archives in ascending order are all MIA. Moveable Type pioneered many of these features and I am comfortable with the system as this is what I use to run my photoblog, but importing from Blogger is tricky especially if you want to preserve comments due to Blogger limitations.

I've been pretty happy with Moveable Type and it has steadily been improved over the years but I've noticed a falloff in 3rd party plug-ins and hacks recently... MT's sometimes hairy installation and confusing upgrade process are the system's main barriers to entry especially for non-techie users....but after everything is installed MT is fast and flexible. All this is a long way of saying I just haven't gotten around to switching because of the hassle involved.

Recently a friend recommended Wordpress, she had upgraded recently and had found it a smooth & easy process. I had tried Wordpress a few years ago and found it buggy, but recently I've been seeing lots of nice Wordpress based blogs so I decided to give it a spin. True to it's publicity I had Wordpress up and running in about 5 minutes. A few minutes later it was importing this blog and surprise surprise everything was imported correctly (the only issue was that it reverted a few customized settings in the original Blogger blog to their defaults after the import).

While the new version of the blog isn't up yet, I've been going back and forth between the systems all week. I'm biased by my familiarity with Blogger and MT, but here are some notes on the three systems for those of you thinking of switching, upgrading, or starting a new blog. All my notes are for people installing the blogs on their own webservers.

-Both MT and Wordpress store all your entries in a database on your own server. Blogger saves your entries on a google server but outputs the actual pages to your sever. MT has the option to generate static pages or the dynamically create pages. Wordpress can only generate pages dynamically. The advantage of the Blogger method is that even if your webserver dies completely, you can always republish the content elsewhere, the odds of Blogger/Google losing all your posts are small. If you server dies with Wordpress or MT and you aren't backed up offline you've lost everything. The disadvantage of the Blogger method is that if Google has a hiccup, you can't post to your blog.

-MT has the easiest and simplest export option (It has a one click option to output all your entries to a nicely formatted text file which can be easily imported later). Exporting with Blogger or Wordpress via a custom template is not difficult if you know what you are doing, but there are no easy presets for novices. There are a couple of WP plugins to create text files but all of them have issues. These are two of the best I've found: Script #1, Script #2

-Wordpress has the best import features hands down. It allows you to import blog entries from a number of systems and seems to do so flawlessly. Even comments are correctly handled. MT's allows you to import from a text file, but that file must be in the MT's format. Obviously it imports it's own export files perfectly, but I have yet to find a perfect solution for getting Wordpress or Blogger to output files that can be easily read by MT. The main issue is comments which always seem to get screwed up. Blogger doesn't have an import function-it simply doesn't exist. I once helped a friend write a little PHP script to email each of his WP entries to Blogger via Blogger's 'Mail-to-Blogger' function. It was a bit of a kludge but it worked, it would be easy enough to do this to get a MT database into Blogger as well. Comments would be lost.

-If you want to customize the mechanics of the blog, you have an extremely limited set of tags in Blogger and it's impossible to get under the hood and add a missing function like yearly archives [blogger's tags]. There is no plugin mechanism. Given Blogger's lack of development (there have been no major functional upgrades in almost 2 years) you're pretty much stuck. Moveable Type and Wordpress both have richer tag sets [MT Tags, WP tags]. Both are also highly customizable via plugins. In MT perl is the preferred plugin language, in Wordpress it's php. Both allow you to use php in page templates. The big difference at least to the user is that MT plugs are accessed through easy to read tags. Wordpress modifications are php code and are accessed by bits of php code which can be difficult to read. Another drawback of php as used in Wordpress with dynamically generated pages is that a small typo can make the entire blog simply disappear until the error is fixed. Even the admin interface can vanish. Because MT can generate static files, your blog will still exist if you make an error, you just can't post new content. Another Wordpress issue: on some servers you will need to fiddle with htaccess files to creating google friendly permalinks.

-You can style pages in all 3 systems using CSS. Blogger basically only has a single template which it uses for everything. MT and WP both allow you to style archive pages and individual pages as much as you wish.

- All three systems now have good standards compliant templates to choose from. On the web countless scores alternate templates are available... good, bad, and horrible. Design-wise I like the Blogger default templates best although all of them are overused. Moveable Type and Wordpress default templates are more functional with the crucial additions of both search and categories.

-The biggest difference between systems to the reader of your blog will probably be speed. Perhaps because both Blogger and MT generate static pages, those pages load much faster than the same pages generated by Wordpress. But it's not just the pages that are slower, it's also the admin interface and the speed with which the blog updates (If you set MT to dynamically generate pages it is still much faster than Wordpress on the same server with the same content). In my case Wordpress pages often took several seconds to load while MT/Blogger pages were almost instant. There are sites devoted to Wordpress speed tweaks that do improve things. The biggest improvements came when I installed a caching plugin.

-Perhaps I am just being dense, but I found the Wordpress archive schema difficult to wrap my head around and spent way too long massaging urls so that they appeared the way I wanted (I want urls for the new blog to match those of the old so that people's links don't break). I've had no problems in MT making the archives conform to my wishes. Blogger's archives aren't super-customizable but a simple admin interface provides several easy archiving options.

-Two Wordpress selling points of note 1) it is open source so if you're a gearhead you can tinker endlessly and 2) it supports Widgets-small modules you can add to your sidebar and move around with ease.

-Both Blogger and MT play well with google. For reasons I don't fully understand wordpress pages are googled less well, especially interior and archive pages. To test this I set up 3 blogs using default templates on the same server containing sentences with unique nonsense words and linked to them externally. Two weeks later I googled. Items on all 3 index pages were googled (MT first, Blogger second, WP third). Searching for words in archive pages, the WP results where missing completely.

-Wordpress is much better at dealing with comment spam in the default configuration. MT can be brought up to speed with plugins (the Askimet plugin ported from wordpress is particularly effective. Blogger's spam controls are invisible to the user and uncustomizable, but I have to admit they generally work fairly well blocking most SPAM before it arrives. All systems allow for moderated comments.

So what are my conclusions:

I recommend Blogger to most people who lack coding or designing experience. It's easy, it works, and it's hard to break.

I recommend Wordpress to those of you who like to tinker, especially if you are into php. My issues: difficult to read code, confusing archiving, and lack of text export are all offset by Wordpress' almost infinite customizability and it's active community. I was tempted by the huge number of user plugins and easy to use widgets but ultimately I was looking for a balance between control and simplicity.

My choice was the one I started with, Moveable Type. Movable Type is perfect for people who don't care to fiddle around under the hood as long things work reliably. Installation is the only real issue. Otherwise I like the clean code, the speed, the power, and the easy archiving. I have found plugins to work around most of MT's limitations. And I came up with a solution on how to get my Blogger posts & comments imported-- first I import from Blogger to Wordpress which grabs the comments correctly and then I export to MT via a plugin. Now if I could just stop comparing the systems and actually do the work of putting up the new blog.

February 15, 2006

Here, there, everywhere

Blogging can sometimes be a seemingly thankless endeavor. Even reading reports of x number of visitors from this country or that, the task of posting images or words sometimes feel like something we do for ourselves rather than some theoretical audience on the other side of the screen, but recently I installed a bit of code from gvisit onto my site which plots out ip addresses on a google map and gives you an rss feed of the actual cities of your visitors. Put that feed into a ticker and suddenly you feel a bit more connected to the world. Hello Long Beach, Dubai, Istanbul, and Chino. Yo yo yo Ruesselsheim, Tblisi, Chicago, and Brooklyn. A shout out to Perth, Malaga, Herdon, Berlin, Jersey City, and the scores of other places that scroll by all day. If you are a blogger yourself I recommend this.

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