Curious about what powers the Dave Seah web machine? Wonder no more! Here’s the latest info, updated August 8, 2014.
I’ve been happily on Media Temple since January 2007, using their dedicated virtual server (dv) service after outgrowing several highly-regarded shared hosts. The (dv) provides a good balance between control, ease-of-use, performance, and price even when compared to newer services like Digital Ocean and Linnode. With tuning and caching, even the lower end (dv) w/ 512MB will serve you well at the 5,000-10,000 pageview per day mark.
In October 2013, Media Temple was purchased by GoDaddy, a company I really dislike for its aggressive approach to sales. Many high profile long-time users of Media Temple promptly left Media Temple the very day the acquisition was announced, despite promises that things would stay the same and many improvements would become possible. I was ready to jump myself to Digital Ocean, but stayed to see what would happen. To date, Media Temple has remained the same, even adding new services and capabilities. I am still pleased with the service, though I remain vigilant…
I’ve written up notes on my initial setup and the recent migration to (dv) 4.0. My review of Media Temple (dv) 4 gives an overview of the pros/cons of the service. If you decide to sign-up with them, use this Media Temple affiliate link and I’ll get a credit on my account!
For domain name registration, I’ve been using DirectNic since the late 1990s. While it’s not as cheap as newer registrars GoDaddy or Namecheap, it was one of the very first independent registrars that didn’t try to gouge you after Network Solutions lost their monopoly. I still avoid GoDaddy as much as possible.
It’s important to control your own domain name, so use a domain name registrar that is NOT controlled by your web hosting service or even worse, your website designer. When you lose control, you’re screwed because your domain is held hostage by someone else. Don’t forget to renew it yearly, or buy multiple years in advance!
I’ve run WordPress in its various incarnations since version 1.0 in 2004, except for a three-year dalliance with Expression Engine from 2007 to 2010 that ultimately didn’t work out. WordPress has remained a reliable and experiment-friendly platform, easy to modify and change, with a huge plugin and theme ecosystem. While its had its share of security issues, there are now web hosts that specialize in secure hosting and manage that for you. When it comes time to update your WordPress-based website, it’s easy to find people who know how to do it. Plus, there’s plenty of information for you to learn how to update it yourself.
You can even run an entire network of blogs with a single WordPress installation. In August 2011, I expanded davidseah.com into multiple blogs, using WordPress Networks (AKA “Multisite”), which gave me the flexibility to start subblogs. In August 2014, I’ve converted the entire website BACK to a regular single-site blog because it turns out that I didn’t need these subblogs, and it made managing the website overall more cumbersome. In the 10 years I’ve been running WordPress, I’ve maintained over a million words of my own writing with thousands and thousands of comments. It’s a good system, maintained very regularly by a small army of developers.
There are a few plugins that are essential to the way I write and post media to the site.
Site Cache: WordPress can be extended very easily by adding a plugin, but every plugin you add increases the amount of work your web server needs to do as it performs additional processing every time someone loads a page on your website. Instead of generating the page every time, a site cache-ing plugin saves the final generated code and re-serves it. This improves website responsiveness by quite a bit, which is important if you’re on a cheap webhost or are getting hammered by requests for a popular article. I have used the Super Cache plugin for years, but am now using WP Fastest Cache because it seems to do a better job of managing the various ways one can cache data. You have to keep an eye on these things, because when they go nuts your website starts showing the wrong data.
Image Management: Back in 2004, there was no such thing as WordPress image management, though a few plugins existed to put a gallery on your pages. I wanted more of a magazine-style layout, integrating photos inline my text, so I wrote my own plugin Lazy Image Layout (LZIL) that, inspired by the PHP Markdown Extra plugin, did image processing on-the-fly and saved the output. I can upload a single high-resolution image using an FTP program, and insert a special formatting string like @@(images/14/0808-picture.jpg:L120 popimg: "This is a Picture") and it will generate a 120-pixel wide thumbnail image, wrapped around by the text, that opens into a full-sized image. I have been using this system continuously to date, because I like it much better than the current Media Library and all my content uses it. Now, the plugin is integrated directly into my custom theme, as the code is really messy and not suitable for public consumption.
Besides the plugins mentioned above and the ones included in my current theme (see SITE DESIGN below) I’m using:
In general I try to keep the number of plugins I’m running to a minimum, and I avoid plugins that seem poorly-written or are very demanding in memory on my server. For example, I don’t use Jetpack because it brings my server to a crawl without lots of configuration.
Up to 2014, I used various forms of custom WordPress themes that I made myself. This year, I decided to try a very nice-looking theme called Moose Responsive Theme, which had an excellent use of space and pretty decent typography. I’ve moved all the complicated custom stuff, like LZIL, into a child theme, and fixed a bunch of the little broken things that often come with these off-the-shelf themes. This particular one is not as bad as many, as it’s based on a well-known responsive CSS framework called Twitter Bootstrap with a powerful layout plugin called Visual Composer. While some of the page components are barely usable, the inclusion of a first-class image slideshow, Revolution Slider, makes the theme overall a good starting point for customization. There are other features like Moose Portfolio, which I’m now using to generate the “Productivity Tools” page, but I had to modify them to work in the way I wanted.
The big secret about using an off-the-shelf theme is that you MUST HAVE CONTENT. I have tons of content and plenty of pre-existing imagery, so I was able to carry over my old site’s “look” into the new site layout and have it look like something. It is still taking lots of css and code hacking to make the theme work the way I want, which requires a fairly deep knowledge of how WordPress templates actually work.
I use three different ones, each for a different purpose:
I use the Adobe Creative Suite for practically everything involving images. For photo processing, I use Lightroom, as Photoshop is rarely necessary these days unless I am doing actual photo touchup or image compositing. An example of the latter are the “promotional banners” I make for the products I sell on Amazon, which combine text with several image sources.