Aaron Giles

Web Development


aarongiles.com is by far my oldest web property, registered in 2001. Makes sense, right? It is, after all, where I hang my hat and describe all the stuff I work on.

Over the years it has served several important purposes: describing what I’m working on, providing links to my past work, connecting my programming and music-making endeavors. But if you look under the covers, you may find the evolution of this site quite interesting!

How It Works

At the moment, this site is entirely static. I hand-edit all materials directly in HTML, with perhaps a smidgen of JavaScript here and there to help control complex content.

It turns out that after years of experimenting with blogging software and other tools, I have found that I’m just not comfortable with tons of code I don’t understand running on my system. Below, you can read about how I got here.

Motivation & History

So apparently back in 2001, I decided it was time to put my stake in the ground and register my own domain: aarongiles.com.

In those heady early days, my primary Internet-facing activity was working on MAME, so obviously I decided to focus on that. I hand-crafted a basic page, and just kept a log of what I was working on there, in bullet-point form, with an occasional picture.

But by the beginning of 2005, I had had enough of hand-editing entries, and had decided to move to a proper blogging platform: Movable Type. It was easy enough to install, and I had seen a friend of mine use it for his blog, so I thought it would be a step forward. This also allowed me to support an RSS feed for those who liked to keep track of my exploits through their favorite RSS system.

For the first year or so, I tried pretty hard to be a proper blogger, not just talking about my MAME work, but also adding movie reviews and other bits to make the site more personal. But apparently, that didn’t last long, as I soon found myself switching over to WordPress as my blogging platform. I was still feeling things out, and thought that WordPress had a more promising future, so that became the obvious next step in the evolution of this site.

Over time, I ended up posting less and less frequently, and almost exclusively again about MAME. I guess I’m just not cut out to be a proper blogger! But then in early 2008, I experienced my first WordPress hack....

You see, WordPress over the years has become the dominant web platform for blogging, and as such, it has also become a huge target for hacks. It doesn’t help that WordPress is written in PHP and is highly extensible, meaning that other people can write their own PHP code and get it easily included as plug-ins to the core WordPress install. While this is great for users, it is terrible for security, largely because most PHP programmers are pretty terrible at security.

So in February or March of 2008, my WordPress installation was hacked and retargeted for porn links. Exciting times. I decided then and there that I did not want to trust the security of my personal site to a piece of software that was horribly complex and which I did not understand. Thus, I decided the only way forward was, in true programmer fashion...

Write my own blogging platform.

Yeah, it sounds complicated, but really it doesn’t have to be. I decided I didn’t really care about comments on the site, so there would be no need for users to log in. I would create each post as a standalone html file, with the date and title embedded in the filename. Then I wrote some PHP to put it all together, showing links to categories and months on the side.

I even went through the trouble to convert all my old WordPress entries into this new format, which is why when you visit the “old” section of my blog, you can see entries dating back to the time I moved to Movable Type.

But this shift also coincided with a growing lack of enthusiasm for writing blog posts at all. You can see that after early 2008, my frequency dropped off dramatically, and even featured multi-year-long gaps between posts for some time.

What had happened in the meantime was (a) I had become a father, and (b) I had discovered that music making was my new passion.

So over the course of several years, I ramped down my MAME activities, which meant a lot less to blog about, and ramped up my involvement in music and fatherhood. There wasn’t really much to talk about until I started taking Music Theory courses at the local community college, and began trying my hand at music composition.

At that point it was 2015, and WordPress had improved a lot in terms of security. It still wasn’t perfect (and still isn’t), but at least there were decent tools like WordFence out there that helped stave off attacks. So I took the plunge, pushed all my old content to the “old” directory, and started writing WordPress blog entries again.

This phase lasted for a couple of years, with a dozen or two entries, before I remembered: Wait a minute, I’m not really much of a blogger! Why am I using a blogging platform, when really most of what I want on my site can be static pages?

So finally, after several experiments, I switched back one final time to using static HTML pages, which is where we’re at now. With luck, I won’t have another change of heart anytime soon!


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