Adventures in CMS

For almost 6 years, I have been hosting this site at Webfaction, but late last year we were warned that they had been purchased by GoDaddy and they would be transitioning their hosting over to another GoDaddy company (tsoHost) this month. They were supposed to transfer our accounts over to the new host, unless they’ve weren’t able to, presumably due to a technical limitation of what we host on our sites.

Surprisingly, a month ago, I received an email saying that they were unsuccessful in migrating my account, and as a result, on September 15th, my site would go down, unless I transferred it manually myself. No further explanation was given why. Maybe, as Gabe Weatherhead stated, and I quote:

they don’t know how to host anymore. Maybe they lost the one person that had the keys. Maybe they outsourced their infrastructure to interns.

That left me in a difficult spot, as I now had to find another host.

Well, maybe not so difficult. I already had another VPS at a different provider that I use to host, as well as being a playground for various self-hosted projects. I figured the easiest thing to do would be to just move everything over there. While I was at it, I thought maybe I could try a different engine/CMS for this site. This site has been running on WordPress from its inception.

For a while now, I have been looking at static site generators, especially the flat-file ones. A system that avoids databases like MySQL was quite alluring, as it avoids that layer of complexity, leaving everything to just a hierarchical folder based structure. Now, I know not all SSGs use flat files, so I excluded those that used databases. After narrowing the list down, I settled on Hugo and Kirby. After a little more experimenting, I settled on Hugo. It seemed interesting enough, and I like the fact that the posts would be in Markdown, and that the whole backend could be hosted on my Mac, with just the final compiled version pushed to the VPS.

As far as themes go, I’m not a designer, not by a long shot. However, I can read CSS to an extent, and I have had my fair share of experience modifying themes to my liking. Thus, I set about looking for themes for Hugo. What I was looking for was a relatively minimalistic theme, just like what you’re seeing on this blog. Too many elements all over the screen can be quite distracting, and does not fit the volume nor content of this site.

I quickly realised that it was going to be a challenge. Firstly, there were not many minimalistic themes to my liking, and the ones that were minimalist enough, had too much on the backend and was not as easy to set up as I thought. If I had more time to dedicate to this project, I probably would have persevered, but I don’t. I spent the better part of Saturday evening and night, until around 2am, learning how to set up Hugo, and to customise it to my liking. I had settled on a theme, Mainroad, that fit my needs. Things were looking up. Then I found an annoying flaw. Small, but annoying.

The Mainroad theme, on the main page, only shows an excerpt of the entire post, which is not a problem at all. What is a problem, however, is that the excerpt ignores all formatting, and lumps everything as a single block of text. So lists and paragraphs all appear as a single block. Like I said, small, but it annoyed me. Initially I thought maybe it was something I had done while I was modifying the theme, but when I went back to the theme’s own demo site, I saw it did the same thing to the posts there.

By this time it was 2am, and I had been working on it for hours. I had almost completed everything I wanted to do with it, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Not willing to go hunting through the code to try to fix something the developers themselves had not been able to, nor to embark on a further hunt for a theme, I decided to use ol’ trusty: WordPress.

Within 10 minutes, I had the entire site set up (sans domain redirection). All my posts were imported, and I had even chosen a new theme for the site (this one). I liked the previous one, especially since it allowed me to use the photo I took of the Natural Bridge Falls in Queensland, but I wanted to try something different.

(By the way, the Twenty Twenty-One theme relies too much on WordPress’ new block editor, which while interesting, is definitely not to my taste, and may be considered ugly even, at least right out of the box.)

This site is not complete yet, however. A few small things still need to be touched up, including the implementation of SSL (Update: Implemented on the 1st of September 2021).

PS: Some of you may wonder why the heck I even bother with this site, considering I rarely post anything, and you make a good point. However, this site is just a front of sorts. Behind this site, under other subdomains, run a number of services, including a YOURLS instance, and a few services from that I set up years ago, amongst other self hosted apps (nothing remotely illegal though). Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not here. 😉

Until next time.