[techtalk] Web diary.

Mary Gardiner mary at puzzling.org
Wed Mar 21 23:46:24 EST 2001

For those who aren't subscribed there has been discussion on the issues
mailing list about techtalk.

The first point is that someone has noted that this list tends to be
women asking and men answering. This post isn't about that, but head on
over to issues at linuxchix.org or achives thereof if you are interested or
have comments.

The second point I brought up, which I have at least once before, but
haven't gone out of my way to help change, is that the techtalk list is
mainly a forum for beginning users/sysadmins, and not for programmers. I
suggested a hackers list - people suggested that first I try techtalk as
a forum for hack-y discussion. We can talk about a list split if there
is a sizeable split in posting level between beginning questions and
techie questions.

In the meantime I am using the prefix ADV in the subject, although
programmers and designers will find that the material is not especially
advanced at all. If others decide to post extended techie threads here,
they may wish to follow.

So, I was encouraged to post about the design/design issues of my web
diary templating system that is in the throes of being written.

Basically, you can see my present web diary at

I want to be able to dynamically generate entries, so that the date gets
put on automatically, and be able to redesign the pages and have the
design apply to all my pages without much effort on the archived diary
entries. This is pretty standard for web diaries.

A lot of people have notify lists to say - 'visit web page, have new
entry.' Since many of my readers are interested in the content, and some
have email for free and web for $$$, I actually want to have a mailing
list that mails out my latest entry to people, and they can use the web
to see the archives, or drop in occasionally.

First of all, the machine that hosts puzzling.org is a sysadmin whim
machine, meaning that the guy who owns it occasionally nukes it for a
new OS/mail server/something. Hence I do not wish to store diary entries
in a database, since they are not as easy to backup as flat files. Also,
since my diary entries are large pieces of text, I think flat files are
the best ways of storing them.

I also subscribe to an argument on kuro5hin recently about ugly URLs. I
don't want the URL to be
http://puzzling.org/diary.php?year=2001&month=3&date=21, but instead
http://puzzling.org/diary/2001/march/21.html or similar. That way,
/diary/ can be an index to every diary entry, /diary/2001/ can be an
index to 2001 entires, /diary/2001/march/ all march entries (actual
text, not index thereof), and of course /diary/2001/march/21.html
today's entry. It's also easier for other people to link to a particular
entry (GET strings aren't overly permanent looking :) )

So, I have two options:
I can upload today's entry in its basic form and manually run a script
to generate the html in design-of the week, or I can run script on home
machine and store data locally. This means re-generating indices too of

I can use PHP (preferred option, over Python simply because I already
use Python and am using it for the more ambitious project of restarting
my Nomic game with online voting and so on, and would like to learn PHP)
to generate each page as viewed. This would translate to ugly URLs, but
I can (I'm told) use URL re-writes so that the viewer sees 'pretty'

The second option is preferred because it is essentially less work after
setup - I just upload the data file and the script gets run on it when
the page is viewed.

The disadvantages of dynamic page generation such as waste of cycles are
largely irrelevant since I am only serving a page every few minutes.

So that's my current design. I upload a basic text entry to somewhere,
when someone views the page it prettifies it and indexes it
automatically to next and previous etc (there will be some way of
determining the latest entry too). It has the added bonus of highly
linkable URLs. Any comments?

Now there is one problem with the dynamic pages: the mailing list. Is
there any better way of noticing the addition of a new entry aside from
a cron job (ie directory notification or something)? I would like to be
able to write this in Python since it is fairly trivial to get it to
talk to Mailman, which I'll use for the list.


Mary Gardiner
<mary at puzzling.org>
GPG Key ID: 77625870

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