Strict Standards: Only variables should be passed by reference in /home/public/fp-includes/core/core.fpdb.class.php on line 289
Unfinished Thoughts

Unfinished Thoughts

by William Flake

Unfinished Thoughts 3.0

Simplicity is beautiful.

The idea of aggressive simplification was the guiding principle of the Unfinished Thoughts 3.0 redesign. The result of these changes is a leaner, more agile platform which removes everything that detracts from the most important part of the weblog: the content.

Behind the Scenes

Since its inception, this site has been run on a custom-coded engine. The most recent iteration of this legacy system was filled with years of cruft, half-implemented ideas, and poor design decisions. Rendering every page required lookups in 5 different database tables. Writing a new entry required me to relearn and retype a complex hierarchy of HTML tags. Most features were scabbed on to a single file of code, making maintenance a nightmare. Every feature and edge-case that broke was completely on my shoulders, detracting from my ability to simply write.

In its place, Unfinished Thoughts is now run by Flatpress. It’s a simple, flat-file blog engine. No database lookups, no sloppy mistakes from an unchecked amateur coder. Instead of forcing me to write that complex series of tags for the benefit of machines, I can now write using John Gruber’s Markdown syntax, which reduces all of that formatting to a few simple keystrokes. After a few tweaks here and there, I now have a system which will allow me to focus on the content of my writing and less on the code.

A Refreshed Reading Experience

The new design features a simplified reading experience as well. Fonts are larger, text is carefully spaced, and the layout has been simplified. No more omnipresent sidebars advertising posts from years ago. No more huge comment counts begging you to interact. Instead, you can now see my words, and, if you so choose, the words of fellow readers in a clean and clear format.

Photos look better than ever. Pictures are no longer thumbnails piled up on the right side of a post. Instead, they have been moved front and center, matted, and given the space they deserve. In addition, nearly all of the photos and illustrations on throughout site have been upgraded to high resolutions for readers using high-dpi displays like the iPad (3) and new Macbook Pro. With these changes, photos aren’t just an afterthought, but are an integral part of the reading experience.

I hope to be able to use this radically simplified platform as a way to share my thoughts and experiences with you. Thank you for joining me as I re-embark on this journey.

Winding Up

Well, well, well. What have we here? It looks vaguely like… a website! blows off dust Wow! I don’t think it’s been touched for months!

Okay, I’ll admit, it may appear that maintaining a daily blog is out of my grasp. And sorry about leaving you with such a cliff-hanger of a post. Allow me explain. No, there is no time; let me summarize.

How a Website Crumbles

Or, The Straw That Broke the Website’s Back

About the time I redesigned the site a year ago, the spam-bots decided that my open comment forms were too enticing to pass up. I was tired of getting so many spam messages, especially during Salkehatchie week (when I had an actual reader or two.) As a patch-up effort, I wrote the simple “What is the sum of these two numbers” CAPTCHA you may have noticed. In theory, it should have worked well; in reality, it didn’t work. It was far too complicated for its own good (my bad), failed to stop spam (my bad), didn’t let real people comment (my bad), and I pushed it live just before leaving town (bad timing). In my rush to fix the site during Salkehatchie week, I crippled the system and left my code filled with fragile junk. Fixing the problems my rush-job caused on a two-year-old fragile codebase was not going to be an easy task.

So, faced with a daunting code-cleanup job, I did what any small time coder with other things on his mind would do: nothing. For months.

Moving Forward

That major rewrite is currently going on. I have refactored all of the blog code, making it more stable, secure, and easy to build upon. These changes required that I change the style code (which also had a LOT of built-up cruft.) Heck, I’ve even updated the ePortfolio to reflect the new Gen. Ed. Competencies. There’s a lot more work to do to clean up the place, but a lot of the hard stuff is out of the way.

This is just the start. With a leaner and newer foundation, I’ll make this website and blog a place that I can be proud of again.

Thanks for bearing with me.


Posting Delay

Apparently, history repeats itself. Our planning for tomorrow’s very busy day required my attention more than a blog update. I’ll have full details coming soon, but for now, I’ll simply say that today was very good (and a complete turnaround from he Tuesday slump). There’s still a lot left to do, though. I’ll write again after the Long Day.

Salkehatchie Tuesday

Dad warned me that the Tuesday gremlins might attack today. Attack they did. It was a day that tried my patience, set us back, and gave me the opportunity to learn what a site leader needs to be.

The Good

The roof is nearly half done

We made a bunch of progress on the roof. One side is completely reshingled, and the other side is completely stripped and is ready for the already cut new wood. Should be able to finish most of it tomorrow before it gets too hot. My thanks again go out to Elizabeth Hilliard for teaching the people on my site how to roof this morning, and for teaching me how to teach others.

The floor of the bathroom is back in. Tomorrow morning we can lay the floor and seat the toilet. The kitchen is all cleaned up, and all of the existing cabinets have been polished. The wallpaper is down and we are ready to paint. We have a bunch of small projects which are going to take off this evening. I crawled under the house to run new electrical lines which should be finished soon.

The Bad

The deck. After a full day of work, we did not make ANY progress on it. Where the leader on charge of it spent his time I will never know, but we are not any closer to having a deck than we were Monday night. Looking at it, i wqs starting to feel like Carl (a reference that campers here will immediately understand. However, it is not all bad; i now have the inspiration to more strongly take control of my site, setting ddefinate goals, and occasionally, if necessary, setting my foot down. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Time. Wew had major time management problems. First, we left late. Then, we had the entire team wait as we pulled materials out of the shed. Frank then went to Lowes. With all our tools. In all, we lost over and hour and a half of the cool part of the day standing around waiting. It was awful, and I felt terrible. We’re going to fix this. It was definately a learning experience for me.

The Ugly

Did I mention under the house was muddy?

Me, completely covered in mud

Tomorrow will be better. I can feel it.

Salkehatchie Monday

I apologize for the brevity of this post, but our team planning meeting went absurdly long this evening and I’m already exhausted.

Today was the day traditionally known for its demolition. Our experience today was much more constructive.

Vance made considerable headway with the bathroom. The water damaged floor was torn up, and to our pleasant surprise, the joists are all solid. We should be able to have the floor replaced and the bathroom functional, albeit unfinished, tomorrow.

The kitchen cabinets, which appeared to be in bad condition, ended up being merely coated with layers of grease. After a thorough scrubbing, we’ve decided not to paint the cabinets, because they look really good as is.

The roof was my main priority for the day. We started on the back side of the house, stripping all of the shingles. Only two of the plywood sheet had to be replaced, and we made good progress shingling it up.

For tomorrow, we have a bunch of good plans. We, unlike some of the other sites, are in a good position after our first day of work. More details will follow tomorrow. Good night.