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Rebuilding: Dumpster fire or opportunity? (part 4 / 4)

I have already mentioned the accidental nuking of the site by tech support, the rebuild decision tied to mental health issues, and my decision to separate everything into two sites plus add Flickr for my photos. But one big question remained…if I was going to build back better, what else would I change in the process?

If I was honest with myself, I had to face the reality that perhaps, shockingly, I didn’t design the site incrementally over time the way I would have liked to design it from day one.

The problem-ridden version I had was a dumpster fire, that was clear. But could this be an opportunity to think outside the box? Could I, in fact, set the box on fire and start with a fresh page?

Yes, yes I could. So where should I start? My big four website choices were relatively straight-forward:

  • Theme/layout;
  • Front-facing design functions;
  • Behind-the-scenes functions; and,
  • Behind-the-scenes workflow options.

Theme / layout

For layout and colour, there are a lot of themes out there for websites, often coming down to a series of elements. Some sites go with a top menu and then a big splashy header, often combining that header with a slider to advertise multiple contents or the latest posts. Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime all do this with their movie listings for example — slider areas that show videos or pictures that advertise content elsewhere in their offerings. On news sites, there are often similar layouts followed by spotlight boxes, three or four across, that highlight the latest articles or popular posts to click on. High energy, lots of images or videos, driving people to click, click, click!

They may be popular, but that’s not me. I don’t want a big giant flashy site, partly as I live and die by the word, not the graphics that go with it. Heck, other than my featured image, many of my posts don’t even HAVE graphics (gasp! the latest design bloggers would be aghast with my approach!). That’s not accidental or laziness, it’s the fact that I only include what advances the story I’m trying to tell or imparting info I think is relevant. I don’t use “optional flash” to add sizzle or pizzazz. If the words aren’t working, I’m already lost. Nevertheless, even ignoring those big layout issues, I’m still left with three types of theme options.

First and foremost, the latest approach is to sell people on using “page designers”. Secondly, you can choose an theme that has a fair amount of customization options. Or third, you can buy a theme that is EXACTLY what you want, no customization required.

If you think of it like buying Microsoft products, it’s kind of like buying MS Publisher (a completely open page layout program), MS Word (as a good editor with some layout options but generally looks like a page), or a custom background for your document that can’t be edited.

I don’t want or need a big Desktop Publisher / page designer program to do my blog as there’s a lot of extra overhead that comes with it. I confess that I think the common advice that newbies hear i.e., to start with page designers, is the worst advice possible. People get into it having no idea what a post or page even is in WordPress, have no real design background, and suddenly things start going wrong, with no idea why or how to fix them. Eventually, they get frustrated and give up, when if they had started with a simple blog and theme, they could wait and complicate their lives later when they have a working blog to keep them engaged in the meantime. People often buy MS Office for business and have options to use MS Word or Publisher. Which do they use? MS Word. Publisher has its use, and most people don’t want or need the overhead to get something looking the way they want.

I played with a couple of page designer plugins/themes, but honestly, my view is that WordPress is opening up design more and more, and eventually page designers are going to be redundant since WordPress’ block options will be able to do just about all of it anyway. I’ll stick with the core.

I have looked at the third option — prebuilt static themes — and most of them are not quite what I want nor do they come with support or customization. I’m “vanilla” for my design, sure, but I at least want to add some sprinkles or syrup occasionally.

Which leaves me with the MS Word-level of theme (Weaver XTreme Plus) that I have been running for over 10 years in one form or another (premium, free, plus, etc.). As it has so many customization options, I really don’t need anything more powerful. Sometimes I need LESS power. But I like it because it allows me a format that works for me and enough tweaking under the hood to add the sprinkles or syrup occasionally.

But I did my due diligence anyway, played with a couple of new popular themes, tested the layouts, inserted some flashy graphics here and there, tried a header, and in the end, I kept coming back to what I already had for the tool.

Yet, as I mentioned earlier, I DID want to play with branding. So on my PolyWogg site, I went with my main header (a photo where I grew up, with a nice logo overlaid on it) and then added custom headers for my HR Guide, Reviews, Recipes, conference, and Astronomy. I have one waiting for trivia at some point, but I’m not ready for that yet. I’ve also gone with some “splash” pages on PolyWogg with intro pages for each area rather than simple blogs and menus, and ditched the sidebars.

Meanwhile, over on ThePolyBlog, I went with the lilypad header that I like, based on a photo from the Bruce Pit, but no custom headers for the rest of the site, and generally a pure blog-style layout, albeit with reduced content hiding in the sidebars. I have kept them — for now, at least.

Front-facing design options

For the public side of the blog i.e., what the average viewer sees, I have 21 plugins that help with design, layout or functionality. Most are relatively straightforward — adding social media buttons, controlling spam, adding a bunch of layout blocks that aren’t in the core WordPress options, adding navigation menus to go from post to post, providing links to other related posts, or simply displaying the posts in a specific format.

For the post-dumpster-fire build, I tweaked a number of things.

I already mentioned removing sidebars and changing headers, but on PolyWogg, I also have different headers for different areas of the website and with those separate areas, I also installed a plugin that lets me display different menus in each section. So if you’re in the reviews section, you see a narrower reviews-related menu; if you’re in recipes, you see a recipe-related menu. All of that is done through a special plugin (Conditional Menus).

Another part of PolyWogg has my TV Premiere posts, i.e., reviews of individual premieres, and for most of the posts in “reviews”, I created a separate index of them in sortable tables (with TablePress). But the TV Premiere list is different…it’s literally just a list of posts by date. The simplest way to generate that list was a plugin called simply Display Posts along with a related addon called Date View. Between the two, I generate a list of all the posts in that category and place it on a page. It’s a pretty powerful tool, and I may decide in future to expand it to other areas on both PolyWogg and ThePolyBlog. It makes a really simple navigation tool without a lot of overhead.

A friend constantly complains that my website shows posts in feeds as the full post, and she hates it. She feels like they should always be in “excerpt” mode so you can scan more quickly. While I understand her view, it’s a design choice that has two competing views in the design world. One side agrees with her that you should show the excerpt and let people click to see more; on the other side, they argue people want to be able to scan quickly without having to click. The same happens with newsletters or auto-feeds — if you send the entire post by email, then people don’t have a reason to click, and so they don’t go to your site and they don’t generate ad revenue. But I don’t run ads on my sites, not now, not ever. And I have always preferred the long form in feeds and on the site. One fewer click. But in the end, I decided to follow her advice, albeit for a slightly different reason. I use a newsletter (to be mentioned in the next section), and it doesn’t like certain types of blocks. If I use them, then the feed looks terrible. It looks great on screen, but not in email. Soooo, if I only go with excerpts, problem solved. I don’t use those types of blocks in the first 100 words anyway (another plugin to help where it cuts off).

Earlier I mentioned that I have social media icons already, and I have multiple ways to do those. However, while they also include options for printing or PDF, I added two PDF-related plugins as well (PDF & Print, and PDF Embedder) as they work well with my HR guide so people can access it more easily on the PolyWogg site. I have more docs coming, so I added the functionality now.

Before I come to the big front-end change, I’ll mention quickly that I also changed my Forms plugin (to go to WPForms) and I reinstalled my trivia plugin called Quiz Maker.

All of the above changes are, for the most part, relatively cosmetic changes here and there. Tweaks, I would say. The next one is huge.

As I noted earlier, one of my biggest areas and the most work on the original site was my Photo Gallery. I paid for a premium version of NextGen Gallery and I have been using it for sometime. I doubled down on the plugin, I found ways to do things that others hadn’t, and I’ve even thrown myself into the support forum, acting as an informal extra resource for anyone and everyone. Due to COVID, the plugin developer has had trouble providing ongoing support to users of the free plugin, and where I can, I’ve stepped in to offer some suggestions. Sometimes, a week later, the support person will chime in and say, “Yeah, what he said”. Often with more aplomb and gravitas, and with additional suggestions, but a number of people have been able to try what I suggested and fix their problem. Not necessarily with “my” solution, but in testing my solution, it better defined the actual problem. I often joke that I may not be able to fix your problem, but sometimes I can break something else that I can fix.

NGG is the most used plugin in WordPress for photo galleries, it has power out the wazoo and I had almost 10,000 photos uploaded using it as the basis for my galleries prior to the crash. How many have I uploaded since? Zero.

I killed the plugin.

Remember I said I was doing my due diligence to build back better? Well, one of those changes was to go with Flickr as my online repository for my photos and video rather than embedded directly in my website. As I noted in a previous post, I went for “ease of use” over perfection. And NGG was the solution for direct embedding. With all of my photos in Flickr, what I need NOW is a good tool that lets me embed the photos FROM Flickr into the site. Now, WordPress already has a default embed option for individual items, and it works just fine. But if I want to better embed galleries or albums or subsets, then a tool like Photonic Gallery directly connects to my Flickr account and lets me embed. Another tool called Meks Simple Flickr Widget also lets me embed easily too, with a bit more control than the standard WordPress embed. But make no mistake. This is a HUGE change on the front-end and the back-end. It is also the change that reduced my rebuilding workload from a year to probably six months of normal revision.

It’s a total gamechanger for the front-end, the back-end, and everything in between.

Behind-the-scenes functions

On the back-end, I have 18 plugins that I use to manage the site’s functions. The obvious ones that many people use are there — an advanced editor, a broken link checker, tools that maintain wordcounts, security certificate manager, a tool for managing redirections within the site, and a status checker to make sure the Cron tool is running regularly.

Not too long before I lost my site, I had upgraded two back-end features, including a tool that auto-posts to the Buffer website which in turn autoposts to Twitter and Facebook for me, as well as a newsletter plugin called MailPoet that lets me send out posts to people who are subscribed to the site. When I created the initial newsletter, a bunch of people subscribed, but when I was rebuilding the site, I had to “force stop” their subscriptions and invite them to rejoin afterwards (otherwise they would have received 1500 emails saying “Hey, this post is back up”).

But beyond those basics, I made five fairly large changes behind the scenes. Each of them are significant on their own, to be honest, and most of them I had not done previously as they didn’t work well with NextGen galleries and some other tools I had running. With the rebuild, it was time to “fix” the site and do it right.

Up first was simple Google Analytics. Every site owner should get the reports of what Google thinks of their site, but I am not a slave to metrics since that isn’t the kind of site I have (I don’t really care how I rank or the load times as long as they aren’t measured in decades, people come to my site for specific content they can’t get anywhere else, I’m not a random stop on the information superhighway). Yet, even though I’m not a slave, the analytics can help tweak the site for performance and user experience, so I added a good setup to monitor it.

The obvious related area was Search Engine Optimization, and well, as I said, people tend to come to my site because they’re looking for me. They aren’t randomly searching for info on widgets that I happen to sell, I’m not a commerce site. People are either looking for specific posts I’ve written that they have been referred to by others, OR they are looking for me in particular. It’s an unique niche so the “one size fits all” advice that people say “every site should do” doesn’t really apply to my site in the same way. It’s an issue, sure, but it’s not a DEFINING issue. But I can do more to be SEO friendly, if not exactly SEO optimized. I asked in a few online fora about good options, explained that I was really looking for a plugin that does the basics without getting into the weeds, and someone referred me to SEO Press. Everything I need, and easy to run? I’m in.

Security is a necessary staple of any site, and I had a small quandary. I have tried various plugins over the years for firewalls and anti-malware, and I like several of them. But two of them didn’t work well on my servers or with NextGen Gallery. First up was iThemes. I like it, I liked the interface, it seems intuitive to me, and more than a million other users agreed with me. But the way it interacts with the main config file for WordPress for security didn’t seem to work consistently on my previous host (I was overloading their server and they couldn’t tell me why, so I eventually left that company’s hosting plan). When I started with my new host, it did it again after about six weeks, and the guy was able to narrow it down to that plugin and how how/why it was doing it. Simple fix, but not exactly warming to the heart.

I then tried WordFence, which is the big guy on the block, but it didn’t seem to be very intuitive to me at first, and then I had a conflict with an old plugin I was running. I ended up going with All-in-One security, which was working relatively well on the old setup. Except with respect to Next Gen Gallery. There is a partial conflict with their firewall settings and NGG’s update process. Each time NGG would need an update, the plugin would stop working afterwards. But if I deactivated the firewall, ran NGG, and then reactivated AIO, everything would work fine. It just didn’t seem to “complete” the update for NGG when AIO was running. AIO and NGG both tried to narrow it down, and while neither could identify WHAT was causing it, we did manage to agree that temporary deactivation fixed it. But I’m not running NGG any longer, nor the older plugins. So I joined the 4M+ people running WordFence again. I feel it is the most reliable, and it makes more sense to me out of the box with a lot less tweaking than I had to do for AIO.

Another area for the sites is how they send emails from the site. There are default ways to send stuff, and most of the default approaches get flagged as spam or might never send in the first place. Instead, I went with a new upgraded plugin called WP Mail SMTP and linked it to better email sending. I’m not 100% certain it’s a significant update, but it is a more professional way to do things.

Last but not least, I added an optimizing plugin. I know, I know, if you have read my previous blogs, you’ll know that a server-level optimizer was part of what killed my site in the first place. However, this one allows some granularity of control AND it provides a simple caching solution. It does a couple other things too (minify, image compression) that I don’t use, but WP Optimize is compatible with my setup and doesn’t cause gremlins to proliferate. I’ll take it.

Together, those are five pretty significant upgrades to the back-end. I had tools doing some of it before but nowhere near as extensively or even, dare I say it, “properly”.

Behind-the-scenes workflow options

When I had two small websites (for family and friends) plus one big PolyWogg site, it was relatively easy to maintain. I would never confuse any of the three with each other for the back-end as I generally don’t have to do much on the back-end for the other two. But now that I have two BIG sites to manage, and I’m administering both almost daily, I need to make sure in the back-end that I’m working on the right site!

That may seem obvious to the non-user, but it isn’t. The back-end has the same colour, layout, look and feel. Except for the small name in the top left-hand corner, you wouldn’t know you were on ThePolyBlog rather than PolyWogg. And in the first two weeks of the rebuild process, I made two mistakes where I did something confusing the two sites.

The first was simple. Before I nuked the whole account and started over, I moved ALL of my PolyWogg content to ThePolyBlog. ALL of it. Then, when PolyWogg was running again, I moved a copy of it all back. So my content was actually in two places at once, even though ultimately it would be in only one. For example, I put all my reviews on PolyWogg, went through everything, got it up and running, and deleted all the reviews from ThePolyBlog. Good to go. Except I went into PolyWogg the next day, and couldn’t find some of it. WTF? What did I do? Oops, I accidentally changed the category it was in, thinking I was on ThePolyBlog instead of on PolyWogg. I almost deleted all of them, but fortunately I just misfiled it by confusing which site I was on.

The second was stupid but potentially devastating. I run a plugin called TablePress that lets me have sorted tables on various pages. You can even filter them as the user on the front-end. But it is really only used for lists of Reviews, and since that is only for the PolyWogg site, I don’t need the plugin for ThePolyBlog site. So I went into ThePolyBlog, deactivated it, and deleted the plugin plus the data. Next day, I’m on PolyWogg and one of the tables isn’t showing right. Hmm, that’s odd. Go into the admin area, TablePress isn’t even an option. WTF? Ohhhhh. I accidentally deleted it from PolyWogg, instead of ThePolyblog. Okay THAT needs a fix. I could recover the data, no problem, but I needed to solve the confusion problem.

Fortunately, there are two easy ways to do this. Built into WordPress is an option to change the basic colours of the admin layout. Which sounds perfect except I didn’t like any of the other three simple options. Instead, I found a plugin called Admin Color Schemes which adds about 10 more. Voila!

Now my ThePolyBlog admin area is a relatively bland beige because it is the secondary site. If I lose a post, or forget something, no great loss. It’s calm, it’s soothing, it’s daily wear and tear.

The PolyWogg site? I have a very bright blue interface! It screams HEY PAUL PAY ATTENTION THIS IS YOUR POLYWOGG SITE WITH ALL YOUR BIG CONTENT LIKE YOUR HR GUIDE. Nothing calm or soothing about it. It’s not raging red, but it stands out. As soon as that page loads, I know I have to pay attention to what I’m doing.

Problem solved. I think.

Oh sure, I have other tools too, such as an admin menu editor that I used to make both sites look rather similar in the backend for administration (Dashboard / Posts / Pages / Comments / Media / Reusable Blocks/ Menus / Widgets at the top as my most active areas). I also use a nested pages tool to help me drag and drop pages, which is incredibly useful for the PolyWogg site for my HR and astro guides, even my review indices. On both sites, I used WordPress Importer to bring the data back in, and particularly on PolyWogg, I used Tako Movable Comments and Bulk Move to parse comments into 8 different pages rather than all on the one “main” page for my HR guide. For ThePolyBlog, I frequently blog about articles, so I use the Press This plugin, but I don’t need it for PolyWogg. On both sites, I use Yoast Duplicate Post to clone or copy existing posts into a new post, often to duplicate a post layout easily.

Hmm…something’s missing, right?

What could it be?

Backup tools

It would be an obvious conclusion, i.e., better backups. That’s how I got into this problem in the first place, right? The assumption is generally if you have good backups, everything’s right in the world. Except that needs to be unpacked a bit.

Any backup solution actually splits into three elements:

  • Creating the backup
  • Storing the backup
  • Restoring from the backup

If you haven’t read my previous posts, first, what’s wrong with you? How could you read this LONG post without having whetted your appetite with the previous laments? 🙂

Second, you’d know that I actually HAD backups. It was the third part that was the problem.

In fact, I was already using 3 backup options, one that was completely up to date, and two that weren’t. I’ve already covered multiple types of backup tools for a WordPress site, so let’s talk about the three I had in rotation at the time of the nuclear blast.

First and foremost, I had a complete download of EVERYTHING. It’s the simplest form of backup, but is entirely manual to do.

However, it was about four months old, and I had made a lot of changes since the last download, but it was relatively there for structure. I could have tried to restore from it AND then just add in all my content. The problem was that the latest version of my content was a bit suspect. Not completely, but when you merge different sources, you multiply your chances of an ongoing gremlin problem. Which I already had, and was trying to erase. This failure though is on me. When you’re in the process of making updates, and you have another 20 to go, it’s hard to remind yourself to “stop” and make a big manual download when you’re busy. This isn’t news, it’s why systems designs include automated backups. So it doesn’t rely on the dumb user to remember to do it. I could have gone with the existing option, rebuilt the data manually, etc., but with a small corruption problem in the data, it wasn’t clear this would be reliable. Equally, having a complete backup wasn’t the problem. I had that solved already with another tool.

Second, I had a proper backup done automatically by my server about six weeks before. I was running an WordPress-based backup tool, and I disabled it while I was doing some reconfiguration (you don’t want it trying to run while you’re in close to maintenance mode), so again, I had a complete but slightly out of date version. The problem with this one was that it too wouldn’t restore properly.

Third, the core “problem” was again, not the backup. The server runs JetBackup every single day. It had a complete backup of every day going all the way back to November 2019. It COULD restore everything. In theory. And it had a great version from about 2 hours before the nuke.

So again, going back to the top of the section — I had 3 backup options that were creating the backup, check. I had the info stored in three separate places — the host’s server area (separate from mine), within my own area (the WordPress plugin-based backup), AND I had a complete download. Check.

The first two elements wee tickety-boo (creation, storage).

The third? A restore function? Welllll, therein lies the rub. The host was running LiteSpeed Cache at the server level and it was interfering with the restore function. That couldn’t be disabled, so that’s a problem. But I had an “out”. I could download my backups, up to date as of 8:00 a.m. the morning of the nuke, and take my whole site somewhere else. Photos, WP, data, everything. All good.

Except we had done a full restore. Which completed without errors. And yet there were gremlins in the new version. If I went to “new host provider X” and installed those versions, chances are that some of the gremlins would remain. AND I had already paid for the website for the next three years. Which meant I would be paying again somewhere else with no guarantees of a successful restore, I would have to “pay” to try it out, and I would likely have to repair everything manually as I suspect part of the gremlin lay in the creation initially.

I needed a fourth backup option

I mentioned above that generally you need an option that generates and stores the backup and permits restoration. All good. But all three of my options above were generally tied to the server that my site was running on. If it malfunctions, all three of my results were generally at risk. It’s not exactly technically accurate, but I tend to think of it more as an unmitigated risk. I wanted a fourth option, and by happenstance, it links to another tool I had in mind.

I already said that I was going from 1 active site + 2 inactive sites, to 2 active sites and 2 inactive sites. Or put more simply, doubling my workload (1 active to 2 active). There’s an app for that though.

Well, technically, there are plugins or websites for that. What they all basically do is tie all your websites into a single interface. They have different ways to do that, some require a separate website to be created, etc., but you end up with one ring to rule them all, errr, one site to administer them all. Sorry, my precious, I got distracted.

In the end, I went with ManageWP. What I essentially can do, for free, is link all four websites into the ManageWP site, and it will let me go to that site in order to THEN go to any of the four sites for individual management. Or if I want to upgrade a common plugin on all of them, I can do it from the main site. It’s a bit like running MultiSite, without the sharing of plugins and themes. Each site runs its own install, I just get to share admin in the background.

Know what else I can do? Add a regular backup that stores that backup on a TOTALLY separate server and doesn’t require me to do downloads manually. It costs me about a $1 a month per site to do it, but for about $50 a year, I have a fourth backup. One that, in theory, I should be able to re-install on any server anywhere with no issues in the future, and isn’t quite as dependent on the original server. More of a “pull copy” than a “push copy”.

I can’t rely on it as my SOLE tool, but it is a nice addition to the ones I already had. So I’m ditching the server-based one, since it had some challenges running properly anyway with a cron issue, I still have the daily backups, AND I will set a schedule for regular full downloads, something that will be simpler now that I don’t have 10K photos installed with it too.

Wait, didn’t you say it would take you six months?

I did say that. I estimated a year if I was rebuilding EVERYTHING the way it had been, including the photo galleries. Working at a normal website management pace. When I ditched the gallery tool to upload into Flickr, I reduced that estimate to about six months. It seemed ambitious, even though a few people thought I was being dramatic. Nope, I knew it was going to be a lot of work.

Yet I managed to do it all in six weeks. How? By killing myself.

Starting on March 6th, when I fully committed to the rebuild, I worked about 4h a night for Monday to Friday every night and week. EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Sometimes longer. It was not uncommon for me to start working around 7:30 and at 2:30 to be shutting down so I could sleep. Sometimes I would work at lunch too. Or from 5-6 in the afternoon before supper. Some nights I wouldn’t start until 9:30 or 10, or I would watch a bit of TV while doing the grunt work.

And make no mistake, it was straight grunt work. No fun, no designing, no creativity, it was either reconfiguring plugins until my eyes crossed, or opening, editing, and resaving posts or pages until everything started to blur together. At a minimum, it was 4h a day through the week for six weeks.

On weekends? I generally doubled- and tripled-down. For each Saturday and Sunday in those six weeks, I generally worked a minimum of 10h a day on the rebuild. I’d take a break, hang out with Jacob, do some more, eat, watch some TV, and then be back at it for the night shift. Between the regular week 4h/day x 5d, and the weekend of 10h/d x 2d, it was about 40h a week I was spending on the website. On top of working my normal full week for work.

I’ve been doing almost nothing else for the last six weeks in my spare time. My estimate is that I spent somewhere between 240 and 260h to build it all back the way I want it. If I had put a more normal 10h per week into the rebuild on top of my normal workweek, it would have been the full six months.

But I just wanted to do my due diligence, check a few things as I went, but then to just blast through. It took about 2.5 to 3w of that time to get through most of the structural changes, testing new plugins too, and to get PolyWogg relatively where it needed to be. I then spent 3w getting all the content back up to where it needed to be, and another half week or so putting the final touches on some of the elements. It was a ton of work, and almost none of it was fun. It was just a grueling slog.

How now, brown cow?

About the 5.5w mark, I had to take a break one day and just BLOG about something. I needed to feel a sense of progress. That I could actually create NEW content again. So I wrote a few posts and it gave me enough of a boost to get over the final hump.

There are a few niggling things I want to tweak, or fix. There are about 100 posts where I am missing a photo that will need to be repasted from Flickr instead of from an upload to the gallery built into the website, but generally speaking, I’m done. The sites are running almost at full capacity.

And yet, I’m essentially starting from scratch. I sent out my invites to all the previous subscribers, and only 2 have resubscribed. I even sent all the invites MANUALLY so it wouldn’t go to their spam filter.

I’m also posting a bit each day on this journey, summarizing what I went through, part catharsis, part transparency. And because I have those great trackers, I know that almost nobody is reading any of it. My traffic is way way WAY down from low to mid triple digits all the way to single digits. I get almost no comments, not here or on FB. I’m typing into the abyss.

I’ve been here before. Hopefully it will grow again as I write about more interesting topics that don’t sound like I’m writing computer manuals in four parts. Or, in the end, if nobody reads it, then my site is a glorified digital diary.

But it’s back, and I hope, better than it was before. Time will tell, I suppose.




Building back better for my website (part 3 / 4)

I already discussed the fall of my website and the hit I took on the mental health side before I could commit to rebuilding my website. It’s just too important to me to simply let it go, and honestly, as much as I pretended it was a real choice, it never likely was an actual option. But if I’m going to rebuild, might I revisit some earlier decisions that I had made in the previous version?

Bifurcation is a lovely word

I have had a dual online personality for quite some time. PolyWogg vs. ThePolyBlog. It is a regular conundrum…I had my initial website as PolyWogg.ca for almost ten years and my personal email was ThePolyBlog for almost the same length of time. About seven years ago, I tried separating all of the content into two sites — PolyWogg.ca and ThePolyBlog.ca — thinking it would somehow improve my blogging approach. But at the time, I was blogging sporadically and the division itself never made a lot of sense. I couldn’t really picture in my head what the real difference between the two sites was…and honestly? I could go either way on just about every topic.

Take something about mental health for instance. I am PolyWogg, and I’m writing about mental health, shouldn’t it BE on the PolyWogg site? But I’m BLOGGING, shouldn’t it be on the ThePolyBlog site instead?

Eventually I gave up due mainly to the large overhead of running both sites without a clear delineation between them, and rerouted ThePolyBlog to PolyWogg. Either website would take you to PolyWogg. I’ve debated over the years letting ThePolyBlog.ca domain lapse, but something always held me back a bit. A niggling thought somewhere in my head that maybe I just didn’t separate things out right the first time.

So here I am again. A giant site of 1.6M words that is really quite large for a site. With a TON of pages and posts and photos, oh my.

Could I split the load between two domains?

The wisdom of the crowd

If I was going to separate the two, then there were two giant questions to ask myself:

  1. Which elements would go to which site?
  2. Would I brand the sites differently (and how)?

I reached out to friends on FaceBook, and I had trouble articulating the questions in a meaningful way to get much useful feedback. One overwhelming suggestion was to make PolyWogg just about my HR guide (under the rubric of my “professional” side), but that is peanuts of the whole. Sure, it’s popular, I’ve gotten a lot of hits over the years, but in terms of content, my HR guide takes up about 10 pages, perhaps 30K words. A drop in the proverbial bucket. And if I’m honest, as great a niche as it is, once I retire, it will be of diminishing relevance over time as I get more and more removed from the working world.

I was hoping for guidance from the crowd on branding, but it didn’t go too far, and I had trouble articulating what I meant. I have about 10-12 different areas that I blog about, but I can’t run them all as separate sites, I’m not THAT squirrelly.

In the end, I went back to basics. And instead of focusing on content per se, I thought of the division more as a question of products. Which opened a productive thread of brainstorming with myself.

I do, in fact, have generally two types of products.

The first are what I consider writing products. I have my HR guide, of course, that’s the biggest. And it is associated with PolyWogg, so that is easy to put on that site. I also have a bunch of “reviews” that I do … movies, books, music, TV premieres and seasons, and even podcasts of late. They tend to be “stand-alone” items, very formulaic in layout, a consistent product that I “produce”. I’m also working on a guide for astronomy, I have trivia games underway, a small but increasing collection of recipes, and a report from a 2002 HR conference. All of these are finite products.

The only thing they DON’T have is much in common with each other. So I found a way to have about six different areas on the same site, all linked from the main page, but once you get into the sub-areas, all of the sub-areas have their own menus and their own headers. All completely different but shared under the same site. I had considered trying to do this a long time ago with my old site when it came to the Photo Gallery, but it never quite worked right, and with another 6-8 possible additional areas, it was way too much work previously.

I designed a bunch of different headers using Canva, uploaded them to the site, assigned conditional menus and headers, and voila, six sub-areas within the same site, yet totally different branding for each of them.

My second “set” of products are my blog posts. Most of them are a bunch of little areas, nothing too huge on their own, nor are they necessarily “products” like the stand-alone ones in the first batch. Instead, these are more running commentaries or musings about a variety of topics. I threw them all into the ThePolyBlog site, updated some of the categories to collapse a bunch together, and then grouped them into a few small menu collections. I’m not 100% sold on them yet, so I may make some tweaks in future weeks, but it works for now.

The first group I call simply “Life”. I started to call it “Lighter Fare” as it tends to be a bit more about my life in general, experiences of different types, maybe some family trips. I also have jokes of the day / humour posts in there. But when I added “computers” (which includes all the website drama) as well as “family” which includes my posts about my son, some mental health stuff, my parents, etc., it no longer seemed entirely “lite”. So I grouped it under a general heading just called “life” — which has posts about jokes, websites, experiences and my family. All big chunks of who I am.

The second group is harder to name, and I struggled even more with it. It is generally a collection of posts about more serious topics that I have tentatively named “The Little Grey Cells” (with a nod to Hercule Poirot). Learning is a huge area for me, with lots of posts about courses and non-fiction books, and I had another area about ideas (around governance or development, for instance), that I merged into “Learning and Ideas”. And just as with “Humour”, I have one that is more general in nature and called simply “Quotes”. Some are funny, most are more thoughtful. I merged a bunch of posts about health, mental health, philosophy, gratitude etc under “Health and Spiritualism” and then merged anything to do with writing, publishing, books, libraries, etc. under “Writing and Publishing”.

I maintained a third area for my posts about Goals. I have a LOT of posts on the site about goals, goal-setting, monitoring, tracking, bucket-lists, etc. as well as individual goals and how I’m doing on them. It seemed like an obvious grouping all on its own.

And finally, for a fourth area, I added one simply called Challenges. To be more precise, these are my Reading Challenges, with the materials for 2019, 2020, and 2021. I enjoy running them on FaceBook as a little book club, and I wanted to keep them somewhere. I considered putting them on PolyWogg.ca with the book reviews, but they’re not really “products” in the same sense and they didn’t really fit with the “reviews”.

Ease over perfection

I have already posted that I’m back up and running, but I confess I decided to cut a fairly large corner in my rebuild. (Well, it seemed like cutting corners at the time. Only time will tell if it was a cut corner or a brilliant tactical move.) I chose to NOT rebuild my photo gallery on the website.

For a very long time, I have wanted to be able to share my photos and videos online. I’ve tried standalone galleries, I’ve worked within WordPress, I ran separate installations on my website, I considered totally different software, and I even went with SmugMug for a couple of years. But the biggest irritant previously was that I was paying for other sites or running extra software when what I REALLY wanted was to embed my photos and videos WITHIN my regular website. And in the last year, as I said earlier, I spent a lot of time up until February of this year getting those photos and videos into the site. An enormous amount of work. And ultimately, fixing the uploading of photos was what triggered the error by the technical support people in the first place.

So when I looked at how much work it had been just to get it to where I was at in February, I couldn’t in good conscience think that was the right way to go a second (or seventh) time. It was just too much work.

I didn’t want to go back to SmugMug, Google Photos is dying, a few other big sites don’t handle video properly, and then I decided what I really wanted was to reduce my workload at the same time as I was trying to find a good working solution. I didn’t want perfection, I wanted something that worked well and cut my processing time. If I was going to pay for something new, I wanted easy.

I use Mylio already for managing my photos and videos. It isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t add all the overhead the way Adobe products do. Nor do I want to shell out the cost each month for the proper Adobe package I would need. And what does Mylio have built-in? Export options that let me send by email, export as pictures, save as a video, or…wait for it…upload directly to Flickr.

I already had a free Flickr account from back in the day that I’ve used sparingly over the years, trying out things here or there, or for sharing photos for a photography course that I took a few years ago. I spent an hour or two doing a deeper dive to try out a bunch of features and testing uploads, as well as finding ways to embed Flickr photos and galleries in my site. And then the kicker came. Flickr would let me upload small videos easily. No conversion of format, it would handle just about anything I threw at it, and then I could embed them into my website whenever and wherever I wanted.

Is it perfect? No. But it is WAY easier than the perfect solution of embedding directly within the website. And suddenly all of the rebuilding work looked a LOT more manageable. My “up to a year” projection was down to perhaps “six months”. So I upgraded my Flickr account to the paid “pro” version, and I’ve uploaded more in the last three weeks than I did in the last three years. It isn’t “embedded” in the site yet, it’s just on Flickr so far, but I’ve linked a few pages here and there. I will eventually add an “index” to the Flickr Gallery somehow and include it as an option on ThePolyBlog.ca. For now, I’ll settle with sharing albums to FaceBook.

A final question before I began the actual rebuild

Okay, step one — I committed to the rebuild. Step two — I decided how to divide up the content overall. Step three — I had a solution for my photos that would be a lot faster than the previous solution, if not as efficient, and about the same or a little less for effectiveness.

But if I’m going to “Build Back Better”, what exactly does “Better” mean? All of the above was mostly about building back “different”, not necessarily “better”. It was better for a bit of workflow, and some branding, but could I make it better in the way it WORKED too?

Continue reading at Rebuilding: Dumpster fire or opportunity? (part 4 / 4)




My existential angst as a dead blogger (part 2 / 4)

In my previous post (The Fall of PolyWogg (part 1 / 4)), I covered the technical fall of my site. After the nuke went off, I spent a full week attempting to work through all the technical options to get my site back up and running. And repeatedly failing. I knew I had all the data, so there was that consolation, but the rest of the site? It was looking increasingly like I was going to have to erase everything, nuke the entire account, and start over. I had managed to partly fix two other sites that I host on my account, one for a friend and one for my brother, but beyond that, I was not positive either one were any more reliable than my main PolyWogg.ca site.

So as I reached the end of February, I had to accept the reality. My site was dead. 24y of content, 17y of running a website, and I was at square one. My blogger days were done.

Understanding the magnitude of the loss

I have a hard time explaining the loss to others, because there is no other word for it except loss. I was in shock. A major part of my identity is tied to that blog. I consider myself to BE PolyWogg. And the website is as part of that reality as my own body and soul. They go together. I pour my heart out on that blog, sometimes writing about stuff that I have never told anyone about before. Not even my wife. Or my son. Or best friends. I dig deep, I bleed out on the screen, and sometimes my psyche is so raw that when I’m done writing, I’m spent. I collapse into bed, exhausted. Like I have nothing left.

If I want to look at the numbers, I had 1600 posts and 200 pages of information up on the site. 1800 “docs” with some 1.6 MILLION WORDS. Almost every one of those words mine. There are only three things on the site that aren’t mine in that total count: a report on an HR conference that I still host that is almost 20y old, and two blog posts by my wife. The rest is ME.

If you want to comprehend the volume, 1.6M words is about the length of twenty mystery novels. Now think of it in those terms, as if an author lost all of their work-in-progress or a doctoral candidate lost their thesis. Perhaps they have drafts to rebuild from, but the thesis or the WIP? Gone. Now take into account I had lost 17y worth of work on the structure AND thousands of hours building and running the site over the years.

All of it gone.

It messed with my head

As I said, the loss put me in shock. I shut down emotionally and mentally, combining way too well with some challenges I was having with a leg wound. It messed with my head enough that it scared the crap out of me. How? Try this on for size.

I actually considered NOT rebuilding. I don’t mean I briefly thought about it, I mean I was seriously asking myself if I even COULD rebuild. If I had it in me to do. If I did a few nights a week, it would take me about six months to rebuild. It wouldn’t take much to even have it take me a full year. That is NOT a joke. That’s how much work was involved in rebuilding. I knew it would take an enormous amount of work.

And I didn’t have the energy to even think about committing to it.

Let me give you an equivalent for the leg wound. I was so frustrated with it that one day when I was getting examined, and I was waiting for them to come in with the diagnosis, I was running through dark scenarios in my head. And I realized that if they said they had to amputate, I wouldn’t have asked for a second opinion. In my head, I would have been like, “Okay, is this an out-patient thing we can do today?”. I just wanted to get through, I didn’t care about the “right” outcome.

For my website, I was looking at it and thinking, “Okay, maybe I should just let it go. Get a life somewhere or something.” Bearing in mind that I define myself as a WRITER, who exercises that muscle by BLOGGING, because I don’t feel like I have the time or energy to write full books right now. Yet when I retire, I have a long list of projects I want to undertake. Things I want to write about. And to post on my blog. It’s almost my ENTIRE retirement plan, outside of some fitness and travel. Andrea won’t be able to retire for several years after me, so this is my big scary goal.

But here I am saying to myself, “Okay, it’s gone, let’s move on.”

WTF?

What was GOING ON with my head?

A spark of energy

I’ve reached out in recent weeks for some mental health care, and the first question they always ask is, “Are you having any thoughts about harming yourself or others?”. And the answer is simple. No. Sure, I might have thought of a couple of thousand ways to torture the tech support person who killed my site, but not serious ones. Just fantasizing as therapy.

But IS IT that easy a question? No, I’m not thinking of harming myself, but I wouldn’t have pushed back too hard about amputation or just killing the site completely. That doesn’t exactly scream self-preservation or self-care either.

My GP consult doesn’t see signs of clinical depression and my regular counsellor thinks most of what I was experiencing was a combination of factors including frustration with the leg and shock at the loss of the site, helplessness in being unable to immediately fix either one, and a giant overlay of “COVID isolation sucks” dampening everything down.

I tend to think both are right. But at times I also wonder if because I don’t act like a typical patient that I could be faking them out. If a mental healthcare worker asks me a question, I don’t dodge it. I embrace it full-on usually. Getting me to talk? Never a problem. Getting me to get to the point in your 50-minute hour? Sure, THAT’S a problem. But getting me to open up, talk about things, diagnose the issues, and contextualize it within a larger frame? I can do that in my sleep. Yet it can also make it look like I’m more functional than I am. Let’s face it, I’m an analytical squirrel on a GOOD day. And that can mess me up.

But as the second week of my status as a dead blogger continued, some of the shock wore off, and I could more ask myself, “Really? Are you really going that way? CAN you go that way?”

And finally I asked my wife for a blunt assessment as the person who knows me second best to myself.

Could she see me ever being happy without rebuilding?

There was no need for the Jeopardy theme, she knew the answer without having to think about it.

Which I also knew, or I wouldn’t have asked the question. I was trying to protect my mind from the shock during week 2 by framing it as a choice. But there was never any real choice.

I had to rebuild.

We have the technology; could I rebuild it better, stronger, faster?

Continue reading at Building back better for my website (part 3 / 4).




The Fall of PolyWogg (part 1 / 4)

I want to talk some more about my website, and if last September was version 5.0, then the version I had as of February of this year was probably about version 5.2. I had added a few extra features, added some functionality, and expanded the base. I had made extensive progress with my photo gallery, and overall, I hate to say it, but I was feeling pretty good about it. From January 2020 to February 2021, I had drastically upgraded a TON of stuff on the site, and I felt like it was generally under control.

Jinxing myself

If feeling like things are going well, then February was probably a karmic risk. I was spending a little extra time on my photo galleries, and I was starting to feel like I had almost reached critical mass. I had 2005, 2006, and 2007 on the site, plus “regular 2008” and most of “wedding 2008”. I hadn’t quite finished the wedding albums, but most things were working so it was only a matter of time until I did. I was about halfway through the wedding albums, with my eye starting to turn towards the honeymoon photos, and beyond.

Except I ran into a small problem with the galleries. When I went to upload photos, I basically would open an upload window in the NextGen Gallery plugin, upload all the photos, make a number of tweaks, upload the videos, make some more tweaks, save it all, and then share it to FB.

But the upload was throwing errors for some reason. It took a while to narrow down even what the error was about, but essentially it would start uploading, and regardless of the progress on any file in there, if any one file took more than 30s OR the whole process ran more than 2m, then the files would time out. Now you would think that would be easy to figure out where the problem was — obviously there was a server setting somewhere that was timing out on me. Yet when I worked with the Level 1 and 2 support people with the hosting provider, we could not adjust the settings to prevent it.

Of course, I had to work through standard initial responses. “It’s a plugin conflict” … nope, I already tried deactivating EVERYTHING else. “It’s a theme conflict” … nope, tried that too. “It’s a problem with the plugin itself” … except it was the same version as the month before, no updates, AND I have the premium version. No change in the plug-in, but suddenly my server wasn’t letting me upload consistently. We tried modifying a bunch of different variables, mostly to make it more efficient so it would complete before it timed out, but we couldn’t seem to stop the 30s and 2m timelines. The plugin developer gave me a work-around so that it would do one file at a time, no concurrent loads (the default is 6-8 at a time in segments), and it worked most of the time. Right up until a file reached 30s and then it would time out. The 2m limit was still active though.

Now, the simple solution normally would be to do much smaller batches OR upload using FTP, but both added a bunch of extra steps to the process, so I was still trying to find WHERE in the server I was timing out.

Enter the dragon

I don’t want to appear overly dramatic, but I don’t know how to avoid it. I want to be fair, but at the same time, someone screwed the pooch. With the multiple attempts to “fix” things, someone in Level 2 support got the bright idea that there was something wrong with the configuration of my WordPress install. That it was taking too much overhead, and that was why things were timing out. That’s completely unrelated, but whatever, let’s not quibble.

Anyway, they sent me an email on a Thursday morning that said basically, “Okay, I’ve run an optimization on your WordPress databases and activated compression. I know that you said you didn’t want compression on your site, but it will speed things up, and the uploads should be able to complete.” He included pics / screengrabs of the front end of my site to show that it was all working.

I got the email on my personal account while I was working, and my immediate thought was, “Oh, crap.”

First and foremost, I’ve run compression on my site and it screwed up a BUNCH of things. It took some effort to undo them. Now, I ran it at the plugin level, and he was running it at the server level, but it scared the crap out of me. If he had asked me, I would have initially said no, not a chance, but might have been able to be talked into it. Except compression on the site wouldn’t affect my uploads — that would make my site render faster for front-end facing, but it wouldn’t improve my uploads, would it? (Answer: No).

Secondly though, I was wondering about the optimization process. When you run optimization, it often asks you what you want to do as part of your optimization:

  1. Simple optimization, looking for deleted entries that need to be cleaned up, etc.;
  2. Deleting revision histories, i.e., if you made a change, the previous “x” number of versions of that post are still available if you have to revert to an earlier version;
  3. Deleting auto-save / auto-drafts, i.e. if you leave the post open in edit mode for awhile, while you’re doing something else, and don’t close properly, your last “auto-save” is sitting there;
  4. Emptying the trash;
  5. Removing old comments that are left unapproved;
  6. Removing old transients, i.e., unattached orphan bits of info;
  7. Removing ping-backs and trackbacks to other websites;
  8. Removing orphaned meta data for posts and comments; and,
  9. Removing orphaned relationship info.

Generally speaking, what you keep or delete can be “everything” or “nothing”, and every point in between. The first one (simple optimization) is generally done by everyone, without too many problems, as can removing orphaned meta data (#8), relationship info (#9), transients (#6) and the trash (#4). But the rest? That’s highly personalized. I tend to keep up to 4 revisions in my history on current files, just in case I screw something up and want to go back in time without having to do a restore from backup. Older stuff? Sure, no problem, but recent revisions? Some plugins set the cut-off at 2w, which is reasonable, but I had no idea what the support guy had run. Auto-saves? Old comments? I didn’t have anything in the pipeline at the time, but it wouldn’t be the first time in my website history if I had examples of both that I didn’t want to lose.

So I wasn’t exactly thrilled that they had run both compression and optimization without checking with me first. But, the front end was working still, so should be okay, right?

The best-laid backup plans

Later that night, I tried to login to my site and it wouldn’t let me in. I had to actually go in through the server settings, reset a plugin, and then login manually a different way. Odd. But I figured maybe the optimization had messed something up. No worries, all in, reset, all good. Except it wasn’t.

I noticed one of my pages on the front-end looked fine on the blog home page, but when you actually clicked on it to go to the main page, it threw errors. In fact, ALL of my posts were throwing an error when it was on the full page for the post. Umm…Then a few other glitches cropped up. Okay, something’s not right. Time to go to the backup and revert the current version.

As an aside, there are 4 types of backups generally for WordPress sites that are self-hosted. First, you can make a manual copy of the entire site and download it. It’s incredibly time-consuming on a large site, but you can do it. Second, you can run a plugin that will make a backup of the site and store a copy either on the server or send it to some sort of off-site cloud storage. Third, you can run an external software that will backup from the server to a third-party site. Or you can use server software to backup everything.

I had some older versions of the site fully downloaded, so that was always an option, just old. In addition, I ran a backup plugin that had some versions saved on the server. And the big option, the server software option, had daily full and incremental backups. I had run into glitches previously where I had to use the server backup offered by my hoster, and they have always worked well. Even though they screwed up my site Thursday morning, there was a full backup run and available as of 8:00 a.m. that morning. Perfect, I restored from there.

Except the restore only partially worked. It gave me a restore…from almost 14m before. None of my recent work in the last year had restored, nor any of the content. Huh? Okaaaaaay, how about Wednesday? Tuesday? Monday? Nope, none of them would restore properly. Nor would the full-download version of the backup or the plugin ones stored on the site. None of the backups would complete. F***.

I ended up dealing with a CSR who was actually decent, and he figured out that for some reason, the caching software that all of their servers were running, Litespeed, was interfering with the restore. In essence, it was telling the restore that the files were already there, so it wasn’t restoring all of them. Crap. That caching software can’t be disabled. It is at the full server level.

Between the CSR and myself, we managed to run a series of “manual” restores on the Thursday morning version and in the end, we got all of the data back. It wasn’t accomplished by the rules according to Hoyle, but it was done. Whew.

Enter the gremlins

The backup completed, and I seemingly had everything back, but then I started to notice some gremlins. I’d go to edit an old post, and the photos I had linked to wouldn’t show in the editor. If I did a preview, some of them showed, I would refresh, and everything would be fine. Okay, looks like a simple caching problem. Then I would come back to the page, and something else wouldn’t work. I tried editing again, and a paragraph would be “missing”.

It looked at first like it was just “gone”, but then I would notice that the block was still there, it was just NOT SHOWING the text. So I would click on it, switch to the HTML mode, and it would give me a really weird set of codes. Blocks that were the simplest blocks of all would suddenly have almost CSS-like styling codes embedded with them. Huh? Where did THEY come from? How are they merged with my HTML content? WTF?

For my photo galleries, I had been embedding them on pages (rather than as posts), so I was running a plugin that displayed the pages as “nested” trees. It makes it way easier to manage them than as part of the standard WP page interface, yet with the gremlins, the tree wasn’t working consistently. I couldn’t move pages up or down, or I could move one and then have to totally reload the page before trying to move another. WTF x 2?

And then I started noticing some other gremlins. A couple of key plugins that I use were not working / loading at all, I started to get errors in the admin screen, which I could dismiss, and then 20m later, I’d get a similar but just slightly different one.

Finally, I ran into a problem where none of my reusable blocks were loading. Okay, that’s a problem. I tried disabling a few plugins and reinstalling them, I even tried reinstalling the core WP files. Nada. The gremlins remained. It almost looked like I had malware or a virus working its way through the install, but I don’t think so.

I think it was just that the restore had not properly restored everything.

Which left me with a choice

I tried a bunch of things, no luck. No new options from the tech support people, although I was a little bit gun-shy about their help anyway. They were the ones who nuked things in the first place.

So I gradually came to the sad and sobering realization. I had 24y worth of data, and while I had it back, the website that I had crafted over the last 17y was basically now unreliable. The foundation was shot.

I knew I could rebuild, with a massive amount of work. Did I want to?

Continue reading at My existential angst as a dead blogger (part 2 / 4).




I’m finally back in business for my websites

Well, it has been almost two months since the technical support people at my website hosting partner accidentally nuked my site. The changes they made screwed up the site and the backups wouldn’t restore properly, leaving me with a huge reliability problem for some of the content. Pages that would work one minute and crash the next, posts that wouldn’t display properly, some pages or posts that disappeared altogether yet were still “active” on the site. Glitches that were annoying and not something I could leave in the site nor was I able to simply “fix” them.

I had all my data, but I needed to nuke the account and rebuild everything entirely. I rebuilt two sites that I host for others, and the content of those was relatively easy with a few annoying features, but it was the main PolyWogg.ca site that was the biggest challenge. 200 pages, 1600 posts, 1.6M words, 400 comments…all needing to be reloaded. And, as I noted, some glitches were embedded in several posts that required me to essentially reload things manually.

Working around the clock

But after two weeks of existential angst and six weeks of working at least 4h/day (at least 10h/day on weekends), and about 260 hours of work in total, my sites are back in business.

Because I had to rebuild the sites, and I didn’t want people getting daily update notices, I had to “force unsubscribe” anyone who was subscribed to my original feed for PolyWogg. Back on March 6, I sent them all emails to say, “Well, the site is down, and I’ll email you again when it comes back up”, while redirecting people to Facebook or Twitter to find me for now or in the future. I’m a little sad that many of them won’t resubscribe, but that’s the nature of the beast when running websites.

Today, I re-invited everyone to rejoin, we’ll see how many do. I now have two feeds though, one for each website.

PolyWogg.ca which includes my more formal “products”, such as my HR Guide, reviews, recipes, and astronomy-related posts;

and

ThePolyBlog.ca which includes my more informal blog posts, such as posts on Life (experiences, family, humour and computer-related topics like the website itself); The Little Grey Cells (more thoughtful topics like learning and ideas, writing and publishing, quotes, and health and spiritualism); goals; and my annual reading challenges.

If anyone else wants to subscribe by email, here are the two links:

Of course, people may prefer to access my posts through Facebook (PolyWogg.ca) or via my Twitter feed (@ThePolyBlog), as I try to post notices of new content to both feeds. I had to “force stop” the feeds during the rebuild process too, albeit one seemed to occasionally update anyways on Facebook for a few posts, but everything is back live again.

Of course, the work is never done

I have a few areas that will require more work still, but that isn’t entirely due to the website torching. As I rebuilt, I took the opportunity to redirect some of my efforts in a bit different direction. As a result, some of the solutions are not totally compatible with the previous structure. My trivia efforts had to be reset, my photo gallery is moved over to Flickr, and I’m taking a whole new approach to my PolyWogg Guide to Astronomy. Most of that change though is that as I did the other changes, I figured out better ways to handle those options too. That’s a longer term project though, and I’ll get to it over time. I don’t need to relaunch with those today.

On the other hand, I’ve done pretty well. Both sites (PolyWogg.ca and ThePolyBlog) are running about 45 plugins in total, and about 20 or so are new ways to handle the content (replacing older plugins that I was running before). I’ll blog about that in a bit more detail as the week goes on. More importantly to the reader, I have 604 posts / 45 pages / 570K words on PolyWogg.ca. Plus about 230 comments, most related to my HR Guide. Meanwhile, ThePolyBlog has 879 posts / 14 active pages / 981K words, plus about 220 comments. I’ve also streamlined the categories on both sites quite a bit.

As the planet starts to emerge from the COVID pandemic, one of the phrases being used is “Build Back Better”. I’m not 100% certain that it’s perfectly re-built, but it’s definitely better than it was, with more extensive branding for sub-areas, particularly the PolyWogg “products” like my HR Guide.

And more importantly?

It’s all the way back, baby! Onward!