The first official year of Somnolescent has had me figuring out little webmaster things I’d previously had no experience with. So far, it’s been really good, no doubt helped by our excellent hosting and a little bit of common sense on the part of all the Somnolians.
Nevertheless, we’re really only just getting started here. As the world continues to churn around our collective, I’ve a few major upgrades I’d like to perform on our internal and external server infrastructure going forward.
Moving to WordPress
(Note from mari: I usually queue these posts up some time in advance, and since writing it, a bunch of spiders crawled out of Nucleus’ corpse and necessitated the move earlier this month. By the time you read this, it’ll have been done weeks ago.)
At present, we use a CMS called Nucleus for Letters from Somnolescent. It works, but for our needs, it’s certainly not ideal. The lack of current development and patches leaves us at a security risk, and there is a severe deficit in documentation that makes customizing it a mess for me. I had to reverse-engineer the default theme to make our current one. Something as simple as forcing HTTPS on it required updating the theme, the
.htaccess, and setting all internal URLs to point to the HTTPS version of the site, on one of several similar-looking and scattered admin pages.
I have several complaints about Nucleus’ usability. The fact that the “add item” page times out after a time, thus killing often the only draft of a very long and thought out blog post, is absurd. So is the bizarre and clunky mix of WYSIWYG editing and HTML tags that often leads me to go back through other people’s posts and add paragraph tags. The author pages are so useless that our theme actually links to categories with each person’s name to group their posts. Again, it works, and it’s pleasingly 2005, but that only goes so far when you’re walking on eggshells with it.
My work with my personal blog has proven that the only viable drop-in blogging package that’d suit our needs is WordPress. I’d need to convert the blog theme over, but the switch should make things infinitely better both on our backend and for our UX. The better editor alone, with its actually functional page preview, will make the switch worth it.
A Unified Filebase
Somnolescent is a busy bunch. We constantly have assets for all our projects lying around, and it makes keeping everything safe and organized a chore. Keeping offsite backups is something I encourage everyone to do, but cloud storage isn’t something the whole group can really invest in themselves. (Plus, I don’t trust Google. Or Amazon. Or anyone with our data.) We can’t just use our hosting for it, because it’s technically against TOS and really just not what all the unlimited space we have is meant for.
My proposal: an internal Somnolescent filebase. Using something like a Raspberry Pi, I’d be able to give everyone in the group their own private accounts on a slow, but stable cloud storage running on a home server in my house. Anything goes, anything can be uploaded. Just a pure dumping ground for every little obscure bit of media and trivia the group sees fit to throw on it. A 2TB external drive should do fine, and I’ll be using another external to keep backups of the filebase when I do backups of my own computer every two weeks or so, hopefully.
And speaking of backups…
A More Stable Backup Solution
Right now, I take monthly backups of everyone’s sites using a spindle of spare DVD-Rs I’ve had lying around for years now. That spindle is close to running out.
I’ve been one to neglect backups in the past (usually for lack of money), and it’s always come back to haunt me. In short, I’d really like to rethink Somnolescent’s backup strategy come next year and make sure as much of our working copies, castoffs, and experiments survive. Finished work, too, naturally.
Part of me feels obligated to take care of the files and things the group trusts me and my hosting with. Our computers age, and our tinkering occasionally goes wrong. Having lost my entire music library, plus the projects for my next album in the Fusion Fuckup earlier this year has made me very aware that this stuff can blip out of existence when you’re not looking. I can’t prevent me or the group from ever losing anything ever again, but I can mitigate the vast majority of the threat now.
I had to shutter the Gopher back in May when I wasn’t able to get Pituophis to play nice with my shitty second iMac I used as a “server”. That thing’s sold and long gone now, but given that about any computer will do in serving Gopher menus (again, a Pi, perhaps), I’d like to get something dedicated and bring it back to life again. It was a lot of fun to play with, and even if people tend to look at it more like bad web pages rather than an upgraded FTP like it’s actually useful as, we enjoyed playing with old clients and writing things to serve them with.
Being honest: Gopher’s back in vogue. That seems a little funny to say, but 50-100 new servers go up every single year, and the number of indexed selectors continue to grow. Veronica’s indexing 390 servers as I write this. It’s by no means the powerhouse it was in 1992 or so, but people are interested. There’s a lot of life and uses left to explore in that burrowing little protocol that could, and we’d like to support it again.
The cheapness of Raspberry Pis make them really suitable for servers that aren’t moving a ton of data really quickly. As said, they’d make an ideal NAS and an ideal Gopher server, but I think they’re suitable for something like a Somnolescent IRC network as well. It’s not a top priority, as Discord has been rather good to us, but in the event it runs aground, we’d like another way to communicate.
We were originally looking into Jabber/XMPP for this, as it does technically come with our hosting, but the little known detail that it requires a Unique IP (and thus an additional bit added onto my DreamHost bill) killed those plans. Having our own IRC network would let us replicate the mess of channels we have in the server at current and let other people into the proceedings, potentially. Not to mention: Somnolescent originally started as an IRC channel. It’s not a stretch for it to return.
These are just a few of the ideas I’ve had for upping Somnolescent’s infrastructure game. I’m treating this like a big to-do list for 2020: making sure our stuff’s safe, making sure we’re working efficiently, and potentially having some new toys to play with.