Diaries & Blogs & Sites, Oh My!

I had originally planned to write this post to introduce this new blog. But real-life events intruded in the form of AirBnB guests and not getting much sleep (you can read all about that here). But here’s the original post … finally!

As long as I can remember, my Dad has maintained a diary. When I was young, I used to see him scribbling away every day and had no idea what he was doing. I must have asked him what he was doing at some point β€” though I have no recollection of doing so β€” since I eventually knew that he was writing the daily events of his life down and that he’d been doing so for years.

Again, I don’t think I ever asked him when he first started. [Shows how good of a son I was, eh? πŸ˜›] But I do know that he had a lot of old diaries. We used to move a lot back then because my Dad was in government service and would be transferred to a new city every couple of years or so. I remember us packing away his diaries into big cardboard boxes as we prepared to move each time.

Seeing my Dad write on his journal made me want to start a journal of my own. I think I finally did so when I was in sixth grade, around 12 or 13 years in age. My Dad had had to move yet again to a new post and the wife of the new incumbent at the old post gave me a diary. I started writing down my daily life in that diary.

But I don’t think I continued that for too long since I think I just gave up because I was too lazy to write every day πŸ˜› I did keep that diary for the longest time though since I called it my second brain and would jot down story ideas, random doodles, and all sorts of other things in that diary. In fact, I think I remember having it with me up till the late ’90s. Then I lost it somehow β€” I have no idea how or when …

But I did take up keeping a journal again a few years later β€” probably when I was in the 9th grade. So only a couple (or three) years later. But it seems like such a long gap now. This time around, I kept at it and continued writing down my thoughts every single day.

A few years later again, I learnt shorthand. If you’re wondering what that is, I can only say that I’ll be talking about a lot more stuff which seems incomprehensible to you because it was all so long ago β€” almost another age, in fact β€” so buckle up πŸ˜€

Anyway, I learnt shorthand soon after leaving school, so this would have been in 1989, and so started writing my diary in shorthand β€” for extra secrecy πŸ˜› β€” since most people couldn’t read shorthand. Eventually though, I began forgetting my shorthand due to lack of use and so began mixing bits of shorthand and with lots of normal English. And soon even that stopped and the diary was back to plain old English.

Fast forward 10 years and I was living in the US and it was 1999. I was still writing my diary daily. I had gone to a comicbook convention in Michigan and incongruously, came across a stall selling Delphi and bought a copy. [In case you’re wondering, Delphi was a visual programming language similar to Visual Basic, but then again, both those names might sound like gibberish to some now πŸ˜› Both languages survive on to this day in various forms but this story is not about the programming languages so let’s move on …]

I wanted a good project to try out coding in Delphi and I think at that time blogs were just getting popular. I don’t remember if I’d already moved my diary online in the form of a hand-coded (in HTML) blog, or if my Delphi project came first. But I do know that I was certainly interested in blogs around this time …

Blogger was just getting started and I also remember GreyMatter, which was coded in Perl. Back then, Perl was the bomb β€” and if you’re wondering, that’s an old timey saying from back then, when the word “bomb” would send people scurrying for safety and/or get the utterer evicted/barred from a plane.

I know I tried both Blogger and GreyMatter, but I now don’t recall if this was after writing my own blogging software, before, or during. But what I do remember is that I did write my own blogging software, and it was called Blog πŸ™‚ With Blog, I could write blog posts on my computer and later publish them to a web site whenever I wished.

Actually, I just realized that the timeline of how things went can be found in my own blog from way back when πŸ˜›

TL;DR; I apparently did have a hand-coded blog on the Internet, had wanted to try out GreyMatter, couldn’t get it to work and so had started coding Blog.

The upshot is that I coded my own blogging software β€” and got a cease and desist from Blogger for having what they called a too similar name … but that’s another story β€” and used it for many years to run my own blog. In fact, it was Blog which led to me meeting my wife … but that wasn’t for a few more years and that again is another story.

At that point, I was hosting my blog on a free hosting site like GeoCities or Tripod, which were the MySpace of their time. [And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, suffice it to know that they were mass-hosting sites where people could host their own content … and just move on from the topic of MySpace πŸ˜›]

I hadn’t yet gotten to the point of getting my own domain. I don’t think I’d even thought about it since I was careful about spending money β€” spending on a domain and web hosting seemed like too much expense back then. I think I got my first domain β€” this very one, farook.org β€” back in 2002 and then moved all my content off of the free hosting sites. Having my own blogging software helped here since all my content was on my own machine and it was easy enough to point the app at a new domain and have it re-publish all the existing content.

To go off on a tangent for a moment, this is something that I’ve always considered important β€” being able to own my data. I don’t like exclusively cloud-only services which hold on to my data since then I have no control over my data. If they go out of business suddenly, I might not get my data back. I know it’s probably irrational given how businesses are structured, but that’s how I’ve felt and I’ve always taken pains to use (or build) software that lets me keep my data locally. Sure, I might back stuff up to the cloud, but I also want a local copy, or two, or three πŸ˜›

As I mentioned above, by 2002 I had my own blog running on my own domain and was using my own software, Blog, to publish to the blog. [Yes, I know, that’s a lot of “blog”s πŸ˜›] I met my wife in 2003 because she downloaded my software, liked it, but couldn’t get the comments system (which were not part of the software) working. She was in Canada, but I was back in Sri Lanka by then. We talked online and eventually ended up marrying a couple of months later when she flew down to Sri Lanka so that we could get married πŸ™‚

So, I got married and the blog continued on. I tried out a lot of blogging solutions over the years β€” pMachine Pro, Expression Engine, and Movable Type are solutions that I recall using. Two of those are still around today, one is not.

But eventually β€” I forget when, and am too lazy to go searching in my blog β€” I wanted more out of blogging software than my app, Blog, could provide. Blog created static HTML pages and couldn’t have the fancy dynamic plugins and gewgaws that upstart new platforms (at that time) like WordPress could provide. I wanted to have these shiny new toys and the easiest solution seemed to be to switch to WordPress and stop worrying about how I could add those features to Blog. And that’s what I did …

The blog carried on for years more and I continued to journal my days. Perhaps not as diligently every day as I’d used to, but I did try to keep up. Eventually though, I got too busy and the blogging became too onerous β€” a chore rather than something I really enjoyed doing.

I’d also become more active on Twitter at that point and was tweeting a lot and I had the brilliant [or not πŸ˜›] idea of cross-posting my tweets on to the blog. So I set up a plugin to do that and that’s what the original blog at farook.org has been doing for years now. It’s hard to believe, but that blog has been going on close to 20 years now, even though some of that has been on auto-pilot.

Last year, what with the pandemic and having more free time on my hand and so on, I felt like writing again. I probably should have gone back to my old blog, but I wanted to try something new. Medium appeared to be all the rage at that point and so I decided to try it out and started a new series of posts over there. Those posts too fizzed out after a while, but I started posting there again this year after I got inspired to write a couple of short stories.

At this point though, I began thinking of my original principle β€” not having data stuck on somebody else’s server and actually owning my own data. So I began looking at alternatives to Medium.

I liked the simplicity of Medium and the site design. So my first instinct was to go with something which looked like Medium but which allowed me to own my own data. That’s how I came to learn about Ghost. Ghost is simple, easy enough to install, and could be hosted on my own server so that I had ownership of my own data. Better still, Ghost could import all the posts I had on Medium!

So I set up a test Ghost blog, imported in my posts from Medium, and started working on a template for the new site since I wanted something with a custom look. It took me about a week in between work to get the template working and while I was happy with the template, I wasn’t as happy with Ghost by the end of it πŸ˜›

Now don’t get me wrong, Ghost is great at what it does and it was very fast. But I lacked the bells and whistles that I had with WordPress. So I started looking around. I realized that some of my old friends from the bygone days of blogging β€” like Expression Engine and Movable Type β€” were still around. But there were also new players like Grav which looked interesting and exciting!

But in the end, I landed back at WordPress πŸ˜› My wife Laurie and I have used WordPress on many sites over the years and not just for blogging either. We’ve built business sites on WordPress, knowledge-bases, directory sites and so on. We know WordPress and we like the amount of flexibility and freedom it offers due to the huge library of plugins and themes it offers.

So, I went back to WordPress, took the Ghost theme I’d cobbled together and converted it over to be a WordPress theme, found the right plugins for what I wanted (or updated some to provide the additional functionality) and ended up with this site. [The link is for the benefit of anyone who might be reading this on Medium since I do cross-post stuff over there …]

I started my first diary around 40 years ago and I started my first blog around 20 years ago. Things seemingly being cyclical, it appears that it might be time for something new. So we (my wife and I) are starting this new blog where we hope to blog together. We might not blog as often as I used to when I did daily posts, and both of us might not post with the same frequency, but we do hope to have some stuff up here on and off. So stay tuned …

BTW, my Dad still writes his diary every day by hand πŸ™‚

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