Another year, another blog redesign

Hello and welcome to jnrbsn.com, formerly jonathanrobson.me. Exactly a year ago today, I wrote about my blogging platform indecision, and unfortunately, the indecision continues. You're looking at my new website/blog.

The first change that affects you, the reader, the most is the new design. It was built using clean standards-compliant HTML5 markup to create an extremely minimalistic and content-focused design. My goal with the new design (as well as other changes described below) was to minimize distractions and overhead and maximize simplicity and accessibility.

The second change you probably noticed is the new domain, jnrbsn.com. I wanted something shorter and more consistent with my online social identity. Everything from the old domain should automatically redirect to the correct place at the new domain. Also, my RSS feed is now located at http://feeds.feedburner.com/jnrbsn (the old address will remain working as well).

From WordPress to Jekyll

Another, slightly less noticeable, but important, change is that I switched from WordPress, the uber-popular personal publishing platform powered by PHP and MySQL, to Jekyll, a "simple, blog aware, static site generator" written by Tom Preston-Werner of GitHub. Here's the description from Jekyll's README file:

Jekyll is a simple, blog aware, static site generator. It takes a template directory (representing the raw form of a website), runs it through Textile or Markdown and Liquid converters, and spits out a complete, static website suitable for serving with Apache or your favorite web server. This is also the engine behind GitHub Pages, which you can use to host your project’s page or blog right here from GitHub.

So why did I switch? In short, for simplicity. I love WordPress. I think it's one of the most well-written PHP apps out there, but I barely used a fraction of its many features, and I always felt that it was kind of pointless to have a dynamic, database-driven website that mainly serves static content. So I found Jekyll. It gives me more control and more simplicity at the same time. It allowed me to get rid of a lot of overhead and focus on the content that people actually see. No more messing with PHP and MySQL and trying to tune them (in fact, the EC2 instance that hosts this site is running a minimal Lighttpd web server and almost nothing else). No more constant WordPress security updates (and worrying about exploits). Also, the static pages allow me to make my site super-fast. It makes me a little nostalgic about the internet with which I grew up...

"Jekyll is a well-architected throwback to a time before WordPress, when men were men, and HTML was static..." — Mike West

Migrating was easy too. Jekyll even has an automated WordPress migration tool. Although, I didn't use that feature since it wasn't hard for me to migrate manually, because I didn't have very many posts and I was already using Markdown formatting. And now, with Jekyll, I can store my entire site (including content) in a Git repository for better, more consistent revision control for my code and my content. I'll be typing up another post in the near future describing my process and open sourcing my code so stay tuned for that.

From Slicehost to Amazon EC2

Lastly, I switched hosting providers as well. I've been using Slicehost for a few years, and for the most part, I've had hardly any problems. My biggest issue with Slicehost is their lack of an SLA, and unfortunately, I've been faced with the downside of that a couple times.

Firstly, I've experienced unreasonable amounts of downtime for which I received no notifications and was not reimbursed at all. So basically, you could have an entire day of downtime and never be notified about it and still have to pay your normal monthly bill.

The other really bad experience I've had with them was actually at work. The company for which I work was using Slicehost for an external monitoring server. One day, out of the blue, the people at Slicehost noticed what they thought was an unusual amount of outbound traffic (this was from the monitoring server, of course). First of all, any experienced system/network admin should have been able to figure out exactly what the traffic was from with a little investigation, but that's another story. The real problem is that they assumed the VPS had been compromised and immediately shut it down and changed the root password without asking us. The only notification we got was one email that was sent after the fact. I shouldn't need to explain why that was a problem.

So I switched to Amazon EC2. First of all, they guarantee 99.95% uptime and reimburse you when it drops below that. Also, it ends up being less expensive than Slicehost for my usage (with Amazon, you pay only for what you use rather than a fixed monthly cost). There's also a ton of other benefits like better security and scalability and the ability to create and destroy as many VMs as I want without having to change my hosting plan. In short, Amazon gives me more peace of mind and flexibility.

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