Changing wings on the plane, mid-flight

I’ve been talking about it for what seems like forever. Over the past week, I finally started to make the jump. If you’re reading this entry, the DNS changes have propagated to your neck of the woods, which means you’re getting the new version of this site. The title of this post is a phrase former colleagues at Lycos used when we were redesigning a site or changing the backend while the site continued to function live on a public server. A task which seemed impossible, but had to be done.

Take note that the conversion is not yet complete. I’m normally a person who likes to have everything polished and final before presenting it to the world. But this time, I decided to go ahead and change the DNS records to point to the new site, and let you see the customization, conversions, and fixes as they happen.

What’s different? First of all, an entirely new hosting service with servers running Apache under FreeBSD UNIX. This is a big change for me because of my former heavy reliance on ASP and Microsoft’s IIS web server. This new site represents my commitment to shifting over to PHP, MySQL, and other open-source tools. Although I like getting under the hood and into the technical details, I’m a designer, not a developer by nature. So the switch is a little cumbersome for me. Even without a programming background, fortunately, PHP shares a lot of similar concepts with ASP. So at least I already understand the concepts behind simple if statements, for loops, and string concatenation.

The next big change is a jump over to Movable Type to power this log, and eventually, multiple portions of this site. I’ve documented some of my frustrations with Blogger in the past. It was (and still is) a great tool to launch someone into blogging. But the instability of Blogger servers and the application itself got to me after multiple instances of disappearing archives, transfer errors, and service outages (like the one yesterday which forced me to create and archive my HotBot entry manually). I was using lots of ASP to circumvent the restrictive features of Blogger, create both monthly and daily archives, and format dates and timestamps to my liking.

After writing sporadic entries for the past 10 months, I wanted more features for this site, including the ability for readers to add their own comments, categorized entries, a working RSS feed, and permalinks to each entry rather than to a day’s worth of entries. Some of these features could have been shoe-horned into Blogger-generated content, but not entirely to my satisfaction or with my limitations in programming knowledge. Movable Type adds all of these features for me automatically. It also eliminates the need for most of my old ASP workarounds which existed solely to spit out content the way I wanted it. Now, any manipulations will be tackled with PHP. As I’ve said, I’m not a programmer, so I’m learning much this stuff for the first time as I go.

Have patience with me. Expect the code base, features, and style sheets to be changing frequently over the next few days. Pieces of the site may not be formatted correctly yet. They may not even function properly. My entire portfolio will be offline until I figure out how to shift it over to a MySQL database and rewrite all the dynamic pages using PHP. My contact form will not work until I change the processing to use sendmail. And I need to find a way to automatically redirect all the old archive requests (/log/default.asp?id=xxxxxxxx) to point to the new MT-generated PHP files. Once I get the underlying technology more stable and have it generating all pages as it’s supposed to, I may begin to work in some design changes, and let that be a public process as well.

Have advice about MT or PHP for me? Requests? Feedback? Comments are now open in most of these entries, so come on in. Make your self at home.