Thoughts on Construction

The site you’re looking at is very much under construction.

It’s been years since I’ve tried to use WordPress—decades, probably. But Laura wanted a place to post some pictures that isn’t that face-place, we had some reasonable domain names lying fallow, and it felt like a good little project, so I thought I’d give it a go.

And cobbling this together has been—interesting. As a first real post, here are some thoughts on the setup so far. I’ll try to amend this as I sort things out.

What’s been (relatively) easy:

  • Basic installation. I’ve built this using the Bitnami WordPress blueprint in AWS Lightsail. I’ll confess, I’m not completely sure how much this saved me over just configuring an EC2 instance, or how much flexibility I’ve lost, but installation was easy.
  • Basic installation. Lightsail was easy to set up, but I’ve decided that I really don’t want to manage this myself, and I’ve moved to a managed host. We’ll see how this goes; if I like them, I may advertise them here.
  • DNS setup. As part of this project, I consolidated the domain registration and DNS on Route 53 and configured everything there. I’ve used Route 53 for a few other domains, and it’s always been simple and straightforward. No complaints.
  • TLS setup. Once I’d set up the domain, using the Bitnami bncert-tool (which uses Let’s Encrypt underneath) to set up HTTPS was quick and painless.
  • Email setup. Email was mostly painless. However email is set up under the hood simply didn’t seem to work. I ended up creating a new email account where I host my mail and used the Post SMTP plugin to plumb things through that account. A bit of a hiccup, but one easily cleared.

What hasn’t:

  • Navigating the commercial ecosystem. Maybe it’s to be expected given that so much of the web is built on WordPress, but most of the themes and plugins are fairly aggressively monetized. If I were maintaining commercial site, paying a few hundred bucks a year for a killer theme or photo gallery would be a no brainer. But it’s hard to navigate the ecosystem to identify reasonable free options for a non-commercial site you want to run on the cheap.
  • Choosing a theme. There are a lot of themes to choose from—nearly 5,000 in the gallery—and the search options are obscure to a newbie. Moreover, while you can, e.g., sort the whole collection by popularity, you can’t combine that sort with a filter to find popular themes with particular features. I ended up choosing Astra because it was the most popular and appears to be reasonably customizable. We’ll see how it goes.
  • Fixing up formatting. A lot of the details of how formatting is done are lost on my. I’ll cop to the charge that I’m a CSS idiot, but I’m not sure why some of this is so hard. For example, the sidebar you see to the right contains blocks that list recent posts, recent comments, and filter posts in various ways. You’ll also notice that they’re all styled differently. That’s not intentional. Things look a lot better after the move, but posts look different on the front page and in the stand-alone view. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Choosing plugins. The Bitnami installation came with some plugins preinstalled. And there are gobs of others. But what do I need? A spam filter? Security? Caching? Image optimization? And what the heck is this Jetpack plugin that claims to do “just about everything”. I guess I’ll figure this out as I go along.
  • Choosing plugins. This seems somewhat easier with the managed host. At least they provide some good suggestions. We’ll see how it goes.
  • Private posts. We’d love to be able to keep some posts a little more private—pictures of the kids, for example. But while it’s easy to find plugins that will allow a private post, I’m not yet clear on the right way to make them not show up as “private posts” for unauthorized users. It’s not clear how important this will be, and I think I have a hack, but I’m surprised this is so hard.

Things I worry about:

  • Scaling. This service is running in a very tiny (and very inexpensive) host. Given that the readership right now is hovering around zero, that’s a pretty reasonable place to start. I just hope nobody posts anything that gets popular.
  • Scaling. I’m a lot less worried about this with the new host. In theory, scalability should be pretty good. Maybe when we become popular like Google, we’ll have to rethink.
  • Security. This was my major reason for moving to a managed host. The spam that flooded in was horrible, but I’m not sure I want to be in the business of keeping the entire stack patched. This should be someone else’s problem; they can’t be less competent then me.

So that’s where things stand. Wish us luck.

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