Blogger Newbie Adventure

Just writing every day is enough of a challenge, but starting a blog is also a technical adventure. The fact that it’s possible to set up a blog at one setting is itself a technical miracle. I know – I tried to set up 3 blogs and they each took one evening. The following’s from memory, not notes, so I’ll get some details wrong…

I knew I wanted to host the blog at, but wasn’t sure which tool to use. If you’re thinking about setting up a blog, especially if you intend to serve it from your own web site, it may not be the 15 minute click-and-type that’s advertised.

On a friend’s recommendation, I took a look at MoveableType but it’s a pretty techie tool – setting up CGI settings and privileges and all the rest. I did all that but finally gave up when I found that my ISP, XO, doesn’t have a required Perl function installed, and not likely to put it up just ’cause I asked nicely. One long evening gone.

Then I got started with Blogger, and got it upstreaming to my server. But I was seduced by Blogger Pro’s features and bought the $40 upgrade. Then when I tried to update my post, it wiped out all traces of the work, on my server and, of course, I had no record on my own machine. There I was at 1:30 am staring at an empty text entry area. These are omens I flee from, even though it was surely something I did in my zombie state. Second evening gone.

So I turned to Radio, as I kind of knew I would all along. I looked into Salon Blogging, a Manila-based service, but it felt a little like an AOL kind of pre-packaged deal, and, more importantly, I wanted to distance myself from the liberal aura of the place. Don’t get me wrong, I default to progressive-liberal causes, as long as they’re not served up by big government. If I’m going to show a conservative knee-Jerk the error of his ways, I want to come in under his radar. Blogging from Salon is like telegraphing your punches.

I went to Radio UserLand and got my third user name, worked through the ftp settings for the upstreaming, and it worked pretty much as advertised. The reason I have 3 Radio user numbers is that I’ve downloaded the demo 3 times. I’m sure I paid my $40 once, but can’t find the password from that registration. Apparently that’s not uncommon. A friend tells me he just gets a new demo every month, even though he too paid his fee. To be fair, I haven’t emailed Userland to check it out or posted it on a discussion board, since it’s probably a hassle for them.

Userland – Ma Bell Analogy
Universal Service” was the motto of the long-departed, monolithic AT&T when it owned and installed every telephone handset in America. In those days there were no phone jacks or pre-wiring. Your single telephone was hard-wired, enshrined almost, in a central location using stout wires so it would never fail. Ma Bell took their motto seriously. They conveyed the impression that the Chairman didn’t go to bed until everyone’s phone was working.

That’s how Userland feels to me. You can sense Dave Winer’s hand in every nuance of the company and the software and, I assume, in the customer support. That’s a good reason to patronize a boutique developer, but it makes me reluctant to be, well, a whiner. Besides, Radio is easily worth $80, so I’ll just get another license.

Glutton for Punishment

As soon as you get one level of tech under your belt, you sign up for another challenge. The Blogger experience taught me I didn’t want to edit in a browser text box, as Dave Winer repeatedly points out. Beyond fear of loss though, is the annoyance of not having an Explorer-based WYSIWYG text environment, because I use Mac OS X – the preferred OS for people willing to be ghetto-ized in exchange for bringing grace, dignity and beauty into their lives. I use DreamWeaver a lot, so I could compose there and just copy the source HTML into my Radio posting box. But I hate to fire up such a huge environment just to make links and heading & blockquote tags more convenient. I looked at Clarisworks and Entourage for editing, but their code was too busy to my taste. BBEdit is world’s best text editor, but it’s just not wizzy enough for me.

Then I remembered the Mozilla Composer tool. It’s an elegant, big-font text entry environment. The links take seconds and posting the source is 3 clicks and a copy-paste. It also gives me a third level of archiving – the Composer docs get saved to my own blogs/year/month folder path, just as Radio saves them in its own directory. Composer feels elegant and forgiving to me, so it’s a mystery that it’s not even mentioned on the What-Is-Mozilla product page. Presumably the author lovingly crafts HTML by hand.

The Missing Theme

Naturally I then wanted to switch from the default theme. Going to Bryan Bell’s amazing themes collection, I found what I wanted: slabblue10.fttb. and saved to my Radio/Themes folder (by Explorer 5.1 (OS X) , I expect to see it as an option the next time I fire up Radio and go to Preferences/Themes. But the theme is absent from the Radio choices and the file’s contents look different than Radio’s included file themes. Mozilla is able to download it, but it still won’t show up in the theme selection page. Maybe tomorrow night.

Just think of the unbelievable tales we’ll tell our grandkids about what it was like in the old days – uphill both ways!
11:21:06 PM    

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