Tag Archives: meta

Now With No Comments

I’ve now disabled comments here. I probably should have done this a long time ago, but every time I went to do it, a little voice in my head said that I should keep them around as they weren’t costing me anything. While that’s probably true, they weren’t really adding anything, either.

So I’ve disabled Disqus and turned comments off. The comments themselves are still kept in the database, if I want to re-enable them at some point in the future, but otherwise you know how to reach me if you want to comment on something I’ve posted.

Now With More HTTPS

Ever since Let’s Encrypt announced free SSL certificates (albeit with a few caveats, more on this below), I’ve wanted to make the change to serving web pages on this blog securely. Last night I finally buckled down and got it done. After a small mishap that involved the accidental removal of my Nginx configuration file (a droplet backup saved me from certain disaster), I generated a cert following the pretty great tutorial from Digital Ocean.

A few notes on the process:

  • For people just running a self-hosted WordPress blog, there’s zero WordPress-side configuration you have to do, which kind of surprised me. I thought I was going to have do at least install some kind of WordPress plugin, but it turns out enabling HTTPS is all dependent on your web server software. For Nginx, it’s a few lines in your site’s configuration file, and presto, HTTP over SSL (once you’ve gotten past the hurdle of generating your cert).

  • One of the first issues I ran into was the certbot not recognising my domain, returning a 403 Forbidden when it attempted to authenticate that I owned the domain in question. At first I thought this was because the DNS changes I made hadn’t propagated yet, but then I realised it was one of my Nginx access rules (the only preventing access to any file or directory starting with a period) that was preventing certbot from accessing my domain. A quick Nginx configuration change fixed that issue – I’m still not sure if it will need to access the well-known directory again when it attempts to renew the certificate, but we’ll know in about 89 days.

  • Yeah, Let’s Encrypt only issues certs that are valid for 90 days. But it’s not such a big deal, because there’s a handy way to renew your cert that you can even put in cron for true set-and-forget functionality. It’s not the annual or multiple-year certificate that you’d get from a more established CA, but you’re also not paying anything.

  • Once I had generated the cert, updated my Nginx configuration, and restarted Nginx with the new config, my blog wouldn’t load — the connection would just time out when attempting to load it in a browser, and curl via Terminal told a similar story. I scratched my head at this a little, until I discovered that my server’s firewall was blocking port 443. Oops. Bit of a rookie mistake there, and what made it even more difficult to diagnose was how I had set Nginx to redirect HTTP traffic on port 80 to port 443 — pretty standard practice when enabling HTTPS, but it made troubleshooting the issue more difficult.

Anyway, my blog now scores an A+ on Qualys’ site SSL testing suite, and all I have to do is turn think of some other stuff to write about, so there’s actually something to serve over HTTPS.

Update Dec 30, 2016: After discovering that (some? if not all) posts with images were being served as mixed content, I used this sql update statement on this page to update all my wp-content links in posts to be served over TLS. I also updated my site URL in settings, so hopefully everything should be hunky-dory.

Or… maybe not. I just realised that there’s probably a tonne of pages (mostly from the now-defunct Posterous) that would have been being served over HTTP. Still not sure what I want to do with those Posterous posts, as images as broken on all of them at the moment.

New Blog Post, Host, Why Not Both?

When I started out on the web in 2008 with a little site called Freshbytes, it was a different time and place. I needed somewhere to host the website, and there wasn’t much out there for affordable hosting for a high school student. I initially chose to go with BlueHost, which was fine — say what you want about shared hosting, but it was plenty good enough for the simple WordPress website I wanted to host, and even turned out to be more than OK for the additional WordPress websites and other static websites I started up later on (including this one).

I eventually moved away from the US-based BlueHost to the Australian-based VentraIP. Not for any particular reason, besides wanting my hosting in Australia. There’s actually very little difference between hosting in Australia and hosting overseas, besides a shorter route for what I assume is most of my “audience”. A large price disparity meant I couldn’t host in Australia from the outset, hence having to go with BlueHost, but in 2010 I made the switch, and have been hosted on VentraIP until recently.

The way I get by without a full-time job is keeping my expenses low. I don’t drive, smoke, drink, or take drugs, and part of keeping my expenses low involves looking at my recurring expenses every now and again, just to see where we’re at. It’s why I’m not a full-time Spotify subscriber, even though I enjoy the service occasionally and it’s, what, $12 a month?

Recurring expenses are a tricky thing. In the old days you’d pay for a bit of software and be done with it, at least until the next major version came out or you needed to upgrade, but these days, everything is a subscription. You can subscribe to Spotify for music, you can subscribe to Office 365, and while you can’t subscribe to a copy of Windows just yet, there are rumours that will happen in the future. You pay on a monthly basis for your mobile and internet and while that’s all well and good, you have to factor those in when you’re looking at your finances.

I never used to do an annual review of everything that I’m paying on a recurring basis for, but with the subscriptions and recurring expenses staring to pile up, I thought I’d take a look. Sometimes subscriptions are better value for money, and sometimes they aren’t. For example, I used to pay every year for each new major version of Lightroom, but when Adobe came out with the Creative Cloud Photography plan which included Lightroom and Photoshop for around the same price I was paying for Lightroom, it made sense to move to that instead of just paying for Lightroom alone.

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Barley for WordPress →

Barley for WordPress is a super-cool plugin that lets you make changes to posts on the front-end, rather than having to dive into the WordPress editor to make your changes. Great for if you spot a typo, updating a link, or re-writing entire paragraphs.

But I don’t think I’ll be using it, because as Shawn Blanc discovered, it converts posts into HTML from the WYSIWYG/Markdown backend that I enjoy using. That’s a super-minor issue and shouldn’t discourage “normal” users from picking it up, but it just doesn’t work with my post workflow, you know? I’d rather edit in Markdown than have to write messy HTML in posts.

Hopefully one day soon the WordPress folks will bring native Markdown support to self-hosted WordPress blogs, not just ones hosted on WordPress.com, but until then, I’ll be sticking with the excellent Markdown on Save plugin.

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Small visual update and RSS migration to FeedPress

Just a quick update: I’ve migrated this site’s feeds from Feedburner to FeedPress. You shouldn’t have to re-subscribe or anything, and if you’re already subscribed via your favourite RSS reader (I’m using Digg Reader these days after the great Reader-pocalypse of 2013), then you shouldn’t have to do anything. And if you’re not already subscribed, what are you waiting for? Subscribe today — it’s honestly the best way to keep abreast of the infrequent updates around here.

Secondly, there’s been a slight change to the visuals of posts. I’m slowly working towards the gold standard of how I want my blog to look, but until I find a really great theme I’ll just continue to customise this one. If stuff looks a little off, it’ll most likely be a temporary thing. Probably. Unless I don’t notice.

As you were.


We’ve become obsessed with fancy designs, responsive layouts, and scripts that do magical things.

But the most powerful tool on the web is still words.

I wrote these words, and you’re reading them: that’s magical. I’m in a little city in British Columbia; you’re probably somewhere else. I wrote this early in the morning, June 20th, 2013; you’re probably reading it at a different time. I wrote this on my laptop; you could be reading this on your phone, a tablet or a desktop.

You and I have been able to connect because I wrote this and you’re reading it. That’s the web. Despite our different locations, devices, and time-zones we can connect here, on a simple HTML page.

I wrote this in a text editor. It’s 6KB. I didn’t need a Content Management System, a graphic designer, or a software developer. There’s not much code on this page at all, just simple markup for paragraphs, hierarchy, and emphasis.

via Words.

In my never-ending quest for a new blog theme, I’m constantly on the lookout for something that looks similar to the ideal theme I have in my mind, which is as whimsical as a light summer’s breeze. I’ve used the current theme for around two years, and as much as I like it, it might be time for find something new.

Choosing a new theme is harder than it might sound: you can’t just pick any theme that you think looks good. Most of the time, the live demos of potential themes don’t really give you a feel of how your content will look in different skin. When looking for a new theme, you have to consider things like typography and layout, and even then, you still have to worry about the WordPress-specific stuff; post formats, video embeds, images with captions, and so on. You have to be super picky about the theme that you do eventually choose, because it’ll likely represent the whole look and feel of your blog/website for years to come. It’s no small undertaking, if you take it seriously (which you should).

And honestly, one of the hardest things about making choosing  a new WordPress theme is that it’s kind of hard to find something even vaguely suitable, never mind one that has the layout and features you might be looking for. There’s an absolute tonne of themes out there — which you might think is good, until you actually start looking for something that suits your particular site. Check out any theme catalog and you’ll see a million and one themes which are totally unsuitable for a blog. I know that WordPress is now a fully fledged CMS and whatnot, but remember when it was about writing content that you could publish online? What’s with the portfolio/magazine/everything-but-a-focus-on-actual-words themes all over the place? Look at the first nine or so themes on WooThemes — apparently one of the better WordPress theme shops out there — and tell me how many would be suited to, you know, publishing actual words.

Even those statically-built websites (Jekyll, Octopress, and the like) have great default themes. As much as I like WordPress, I’ve been tempted to switch to blogging with Octopress in the past, but haven’t really looked into it seriously. There’s a lot of WordPress advantages that mean I haven’t left just yet. It has an insane community, for starters, and it’s extremely extensible and customisable. Plus, I’m kind-of, sort-of, familiar with PHP, making WordPress a pretty good fit so far. Unfortunately, it’s also a victim of its own popularity: it’s gotten to the point where trying to find the right thing for what you want to do might be more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe I should have backed the Ghost Kickstarter after all.

Either I’m not looking in the right places, or what I’m looking for — a minimalist theme with great typography that’s responsive and optimised for the kind of writing you see right here — just doesn’t exist. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever find the perfect WordPress theme. The current theme — Minblr, from Themify — is pretty good, but it’s not perfect. There’s honestly not a lot I could do to improve it without making some major changes, and if I’m going that far, it might just be easier to find another theme altogether, you know?

Of course, I could just go ahead and make my own from scratch, but WordPress themes are a lot of work. Besides, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel — if I can get by with customising something someone else has already made, I’ve saved a tonne of hassle, and probably extended my lifetime by a few years to boot. You don’t know pain until you’ve experienced web development pain.

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On Starting Again, Earth-Scorching, and Legacy

You’re familiar with the scorched earth concept, right? Wikipedia says it’s a military strategy where a retreating force destroys anything in their path that might be useful to the enemy. It’s this idea that if the enemy captures that territory, it’ll be useless to them. The scorched earth concept is mostly applied to retreating forces since there’s a higher likelihood the enemy will capture that land anyway, but here’s the rub: it can also be used for advancing forces, too.

I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting an entirely new blog in my head over the past week. Not just “Benny Ling’s Bling 2.0”, but something entirely new and fresh.

On the one hand, the idea of starting again is exciting. Leaving all the old stuff behind so there’s no baggage, nothing tying me down or holding me back. Free to explore new horizons, a place to write about stuff I find exciting and things I’m enthusiastic about, and so on.

On the other hand, I’m the kind of person that would feel extremely sentimental about all the old stuff I’m leaving behind. I mean, I get sad throwing away parts of my childhood, even stuff that I have absolutely no rational use for today or in the future, stuff that I haven’t touched for years. There’s quite a number of posts here that are nothing more than short sentences on a particular topic — which is great, sure, but compared to some of my longer pieces?

When I first started this blog I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be a Tumblr-style reblog-fest where I’d repost any old trash from my social network, or whether I wanted it to be only about my writing. At first it was the former, and for a little while, I wrote a few bits here and there about cool things. But somewhere along the way I must have decided that maintaining such a blog was either daunting/exhausting/too-much-work or all of the above, because I soon stopped posting about stuff I had written and simply linked to stuff online that I thought was cool.

And don’t get me wrong, I still think most of that stuff is cool and/or worth your time, it’s just that, well, is my blog the right place for it?1 Do I want that stuff to have the same permanence as the stuff I’m proud of, the stuff that I’ve written personally? Stuff like my gaming reviews, pieces on why iOS is kicking Android’s butt, and putting together home servers.

Which is why I’m drawn back to this idea of starting again, and having a place for just my writing. It’ll mean less updates, even more sporadically than they currently are, but maybe — hopefully — it’ll mean an increase in quality.

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You win some, you lose some. →

On the plus side, link posts now work, which means I can send you down internet rabbit holes much, much easier (click the title of this post to look at a nice picture. SFW and all that).

On the minus side, YouTube embeds have an issue where they’ll display larger than they’re supposed to. HTTPS Vimeo links didn’t work either, but I can deal with that.

You win some, you lose some.

A few blog-related things…

Quick update time: after much gnashing of teeth and fighting with ALL THE STYLESHEETS, I’ve made the theme a little wider which means it now fits images a little less than 720 wide.

The good news is that this theme is nice and responsive, which means it looks different based on how wide your monitor is — go on, resize your browser and try!

The bad news I think I broke YouTube links. I think YouTube videos now look a little different than they did before, but it’s not a huge deal.

Oh, and I also updated the theme, which means that photo and video posts will actually show photo and video content when you’re looking at the RSS feed. Sorry to my RSS subscribers who had to click through every once in a while.

That’s it for now!

This post part of Blogtober 2011, just a little thing of mine where I (attempt to) post something up on my blog every day in October 2011.last week, people. Home stretch!

Blogtober 2011, or, Because I Don’t Have Enough Work On My Plate As It Is

Basically, because I don’t have enough work as it is (October 2011 pretty much means Battlefield 3, I’ve already put some 12+ hours into the beta in just under a week), not to mention the end of the Uni semester (Official release of Battlefield 3 is October 25, last exam for the year is October 29, you do the math), I’ve decided to take up Blogtober for another year.

The last time was back in 2009, and that went okay — let’s see how we go, two years on.

Same rules as the last time: a photo here, review there, random ramblings scattered throughout, but always a post a day. And catch-up posts where I forget — and sometimes even a little WordPress trickery when I’m a little late. I probably won’t be publishing anything from Posterous, but you might see the odd video or photo from me. Oh, another new rule: all posts published must be as original as possible. Photos taken by me. Video taken by me. Etc.

Epic Android post, coming right up…

This post part of Blogtober 2011, just a little thing of mine where I (attempt to) post something up on my blog every day in October 2011.