Laws of Computational Metaphysics

In the post “Welcome to 3.0”, I mentioned a number of reasons for the redesign. Better permalinks. Better comments. Upgraded feeds. Not hideously green. All sorts of good stuff.

I also upgraded from Movable Type 2 to Movable Type 3. MT3 offers a number of improvements, such as a better web interface and a more sophisticated plug-in system. However, the truth is that I could have done the whole redesign in MT2. And I was reluctant to upgrade, because:

  • I had already paid for MT2, and MT3 would have cost more money.
  • MT2 could operate using flat files, but MT3 requires a database, which would have required me to upgrade my web hosting plan.
  • MT2 was working Just Fine, Thanks.

But eventually all of these became not-true. First, MT3 became free for personal use. Second, my web host made MySQL available for all their plans, even the El Cheapo ones like mine. Third, Jacques alerted me that MT2 was not, in fact, working Just Fine, Thanks. The unpatched security hole was enough to convince me.

So it wasn’t enough to just start creating new posts using a new template — I also had to import all the old posts so I could shut down MT2 permanently. Unfortunately, technology has (surprise!) gotten in the way.

Importing the posts themselves wasn’t too bad. As long as you remember the simple rule of Movable Type upgrades:

  • uploading your posts by FTPing them to the import/ directory: GOOD
  • uploading your posts via the “web upload” feature: BAD

then everything works out alright, mostly. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that even though most of the old posts use raw HTML, and all of the new posts use Markdown, MT correctly formatted them all. Unfortunately this cleverness doesn’t apply to comments, but I’ll take what I can get.

What’s more annoying is permalinks. The old site just had monthly archive pages, not individual entry archives, so it had permalinks that looked like this:

By contrast, the new site has permalinks that look like this:

This is pretty yucky for a couple of reasons. First, unless I am reading the documentation incorrectly, MT3 changed its archive formatting syntax so that you have to represent months using numbers. Strings such as “Apr” are right out.
Ok, fine, I can use numbers for months, and I can even fix everything up with mod_alias.

But then there’s the second problem: all my old posts used anchors (the #29 part) in the permalink. What I didn’t know back in 2001 is that the anchor never gets sent to the web server, which mean I can’t use that information to redirect the old posts to its new location. (Oh, you could always try to do the redirect on an individual basis using JavaScript, but the search engines wouldn’t be able to follow, so screw that.)

So I’m doing the next best thing, which is to redirect each old-style link to the appropriate monthly archive page. Straightforward enough, although I am wondering whether I should put in some special cases for the two or three posts that had wider than usual linkage. For example, if someone links to the aforementioned:

then my poor webserver only sees this:

but I know that the person actually meant to go here:

and not to some other post made in April 2003. I’m not sure what the proper thing to do is here, but I’m tempted to go with the ugly hack that will help most people and annoy the remainder, rather than the cleaner solution that will annoy everybody.

Anyway, this little tale of woe is all just a roundabout way of getting to my Laws of Computational Metaphysics. I used to have one, now I have two. I’m sure someone has stated these laws before, but here’s my formulation:

  1. Information that resides only on a single hard drive doesn’t exist.
    This one is the most important, since this one bites both geeks and non-computer geeks all the time. (Computer geeks: raise your hand if you’re older than 22 and you’ve never lost data.) Among non-computer geeks, only very very very smart people like my kid sister and my mother can be made to understand this problem. So for everyone else my default advice is not, “Get yourself a good backup system,” but, “Don’t store anything important on the computer, ever.”

  2. Permalinks that contain an anchor don’t exist.
    Law #2 has a narrower scope, but I think that amongst the web nerd set, it’s underappreciated.

Feel free to add more Computational Laws of Metaphysics in comments…

13 thoughts on “Laws of Computational Metaphysics

  1. You can use the [short month format]( for your links.

    I have this law that I refer to as the quantum mechanics of system upgrades, because where things are isn’t good enough, and where things are going isn’t good enough either. It’s kind of stretching the scientific paralell. There’s probably some French philosopher who I’d do better to name the below after, but I hate philosophers, and I’m too busy to read French.

    *No current system is good enough. However, no future system is worth waiting for.* This basically boils down to: there’s nothing that will solve your problems now, but there’s also nothing that will solve your problems coming along in the near future, so if your problems are worth solving you have to have at them with whatever’s out there now.

  2. I would like to point out that I am 58, and I have internalized Law 1, although you were not my source for this bit of wisdom. I have, in fact, never lost data, thanks to obeying this law. I was deeply grateful for knowing it when the folks in computer repair at Averatec decided that wiping my laptop’s hard drive was a good idea, although my complaint was that the left click button keep freezing the cursor. I am also, I should emphatically add, not a computer geek.

    — Mom

  3. Hmmm…?

    MovableType always required at least BerkeleyDB storage. Though I’ve long-since abandoned it for the more robust MySQL, I *thought* it was still supported.

    And there *are* [upgrade scripts]( which will take an MT 2.6 database up to MT 3.3.

    There’s something to be said for getting a fresh start. But, speaking from experience, it is *possible* to continue on with one’s crufty old URL scheme forever.

    Still, I like the new look and the comments on the individual entry page, etc. So congrats…

    Now all you need to do is upgrade to [3.34](

  4. Apropos of Law #1, I was going through a very tedious business of transferring data from an old mac last week. After much headscratching, I have been reduced to transferring data via floppy disks to a newer computer…

    I waited too long to move the data to a newer platform…

    It is quite weird to me that I have been backing up documents from computer to computer, from disk to disk so that yesterday I opened up a copy of a poem that I wrote during the administration of Bush Sr. on a Mac Plus. I even have drafts of the essay I wrote to get into college.

    I don’t actually back up as much as I should, but it feels like I’m always backing up.

  5. Adiv — wow, floppy disks. On a Mac, no less. You were running out of time there. 🙂

    Jacques — Do I have comment moderation turned on?? I thought I have it turned off.

  6. Ah, now I see that your first comment got held for moderation. That doesn’t make *any* sense, particularly because your second comment *did* make it through without moderation. So something is wrong here.

    Anyway. MT 2.x could in fact run off of flat files — otherwise I would have been unable to run MT. 🙂 They might have removed that feature from the documentation at some point.

  7. Update: Yes, I have moderation turned off. My current settings are:

    * Accept comments from: anyone
    * Authentication status: not enabled
    * Immediately publish comments from: anyone

    So color me puzzled.

    PS: haha, *this* is the way to boost my comment count!

  8. Hard to say. The message I got from MT just said, “An unapproved comment has been posted on your blog, for entry #377…”

    I supposed junk mail filter is the only other knob left to turn. It was set to “0”, the default. I’ve backed it down to -10. I hope this works, because everything else is already on the most liberal possible setting.

  9. To be

    The Appearance Is

    The consciousness is

    Conscious is.

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