Blog Outage Resolved—Visual Feedback Request

My blog-related to-do list on Friday consisted of the following tasks:

  1. Figure out why the blog was loading slowly despite not using much media.
  2. Set up backups for the blog.

The problem with this order, I discovered, was that if I totally crash my website in step one, I then have no backup to restore from. So, long story short, I managed to mess with the settings in my .htaccess file in an attempt to enhance browser caching but instead managed to totally take my blog offline. So, I was very much regretting not having reversed the order of those two priorities.

At first, I wasn’t too concerned; all my files were still visible in my server, but were just not displaying online. I emailed support at my host, and they said they could fix it and restore a recent backup in just a few minutes, which was a huge relief.

But their fix didn’t work—it instead deleted everything. After a bit of panic, I was able to get them to more thoroughly restore from a backup, which took several hours but did in fact work.

So, apologies to anyone who tried to load this blog between approximately noon and 6pm Eastern Time on Friday.  Things were down then, but everything is back to working again now.

Even better, the blog really should be much faster: I’ve started using a CDN, have enabled both browser caching and server caching, and have minimized the CSS/html files. I’ve also made some changes on the back end that make my site less dependent on third-party plugins for basic functionality. For example, I’m no longer reliant on a plugin for the notes and blockquotes I use.FN 1 Please let me know if you’re experiencing notable delays in accessing any of the pages.

I’ve also made several stylistic improvements over the last week. Most changes were cosmetic, and I would welcome any feedback you have on the visual appearance of the site. More substantively, you can now format your comments with Markdown syntax.

If you’re not familiar with it, Markdown is a great little markup language that is designed to be readable as written, and to supply html formatting when needed. (Wikipedia description; home page.) The way it describes itself is as “easy-to-read and easy-to-write.” For example, to put a word in bold with html, you enclose the word in <strong> tags, which is not very readable. (It looks like <strong>this</strong>.) With markdown, you just enclose it in double asterisks (like **this**). That way, the raw file is very readable and the output file is identical to what you’d get with html. As detailed in the quick reference guide, you can use it for bold, italics, links, lists (ordered and unordered), headers, and much more. The five that seem most useful for comments are:

  1. Bold:     **bold**

  2. Italics:      *italics*

  3. Blockquotes:      \>blockquotes

  4. Bulleted lists       * bulleted lists

  5. Getting Markdown to treat a special character as a literal character: normally, if you type *a word* it will print as “a word. If you want it to print the prior version, you need to type “\*a word*\

In writing the previous paragraph, however, I discovered that Markdown does not handle nesting tags within larger elements fine. You can nest bold and italic fine (So you can provide particular emphasis to a word in an emphasized sentence.) But you can’t use tags inside a bulleted list, or in a header. Which is why the list above is not a real list. I could go back and make it one with html (which is what I did in this note) but I thought it would be better to keep the example list in the Markup syntax I was describing—limitations and all.

The idea of all this is that it will be there if you want to format your comments, but be totally unobtrusive if you don’t want to bother with it. This is better than what I started with—no formatting ability—and what I had just before: A wysiwyg editor that took up a lot of screen space (and was basically unusable on mobile) whether you wanted to use it or not. Please let me know if you dislike anything about this setup or would prefer to go back to the wysiwyg editor.

Also, I have added in the ability to edit your comments after you post. The default time is five minutes, which strikes me as a bit low—though I guess it mitigates the problem of people editing comments after someone else replied. But I’m open to raising the limit if others also think this is too low. Just let me know if it bugs you.

Still on the blog-to-do list:

  • Add an “About Me” page
  • Build up the pagerank of the site until it is at least the first result for its own name.FN 2
  • Find ways to link the blog to social media (which I mostly don’t use otherwise) or get it a bit more attention. This one probably won’t happen until 2018 at the earliest.
  • Commit to a regular posting schedule once I figure out what readers want and what is sustainable for me. I have more than enough to say—the only issue is getting it down on paper(?) and posted here.

Anything else I should add to the list?

Regular posts resume Tuesday. Thanks for reading!

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