About/Website

You can find quick updates about stuff I'm doing with the site on the Meta page.

I built my original website on my company site, http://www.d6.com, in 1997, using emacs and plain old html, and then I proceeded to not update it for 9 years. The relatively small friction of having to telnet to the server, edit the pages, or copy them back and forth was enough to deter me from updating at all.

My friend Justin Hall made this hilarious full length screenshot of my original homepage for posterity's sake...or to mock me, not sure which.

Chris Hecker's Home Page (20070221).png

As time passed, I accumulated more and more material that I wanted to share with people—lectures, articles, opinions, and the like—but I just never got it together to update my webpages.

When I started thinking seriously about finally updating my site again, I figured I needed to switch to some sort of content management system that could be updated via a web interface; if I was ever going to update the site regularly, I needed to greatly reduce the friction.

I looked at forum software, and then blogging software, but after prototyping a site with Moveable Type, I decided it was too limited for what I wanted. Blogs are basically like diaries, with time flowing in one direction, and a strict tree-structured hierarchical organization of information. I really wanted a relational database—a graph instead of a tree—with categories that overlapped and crossed each other and allowed pages to be stored in multiple places at the same time, and the ability to sort the content in multiple ways.

I realized I didn't want to keep a diary, I wanted to write a book.

I started looking at wiki engines as an alternative to blogging software. I wasn't really interested in the community editing part of the wiki phenomenom—I wanted to retain editorial control[1]—but the ease of updating and the rich graph structure was appealing. Around this time, I discovered MediaWiki, which is the wiki engine that runs Wikipedia. It's robust, open source and freely downloadable, actively developed, supports categories to get the relational database aspect of what I wanted, has inline TeX-based math typesetting (which will be increasingly important as I put more original content and notes up on this site), and it's skinnable.

That last point—skinnability—is important, since I think the default Wikipedia style (called Monobook) is pretty ugly. It's fine for Wikipedia, but I wanted something sparser and more elegant. Basically, I wanted something that looked like a slightly modernized version of my original hand coded html. I looked around, and almost all sites using MediaWiki are using the default included styles. I started to despair, but I eventually found this article about using MediaWiki to build a "normal" website, and from there found the Beagle Project had released their source to their very nice looking skin. I took this as a starting point, and heavily modified it myself (also using some of the css from the Mono Project), ending up with what you see now. I didn't know any PHP or CSS when I started, but there are tons of online resources for this stuff, and it's trivially easy to play around and learn.

I also wrote some plugins to help with some things I wanted to improve and clean up, like category listings, the list of recent changes, etc. You can see the list of them here. I will put the source to all my plugins and my skin up soon.

I hope this site will eventually contain all the information I have to share. I hope you enjoy it.

If you're new here, you can start by...

If you find any bugs in my pages, erroneous information, or if you have suggestions or feedback in general, please contact me.

todo: lots more work to do on this page

  1. I think Wikipedia and public and private wikis are totally awesome and revolutionary communication tools. It's not that I don't love you and care what you have to say, it's just that this is my book...definitely go make your own website if you want to contribute to society! :) However, if you want to talk to me about my contributions, please feel free to contact me, I'm eager to hear your thoughts.
This page was last modified on 9 July 2010, at 22:32. 

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