Bob's Tech Site


Museum

"Bob's Tech Site" first went live on , which is a long time ago in technology history.

This was the same year Microsoft launched Windows Vista, Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone, PS3 consoles hit store shelves in Europe for the first time, Halo 3 arrived on the XBOX 360, Valve released The Orange Box and 2KGames published the final Beyond the Sword expansion for Sid Meier's Civlization IV.

This blog was originally started by a 16 year-old Bobby Moss as a module assignment for his BTEC National Diploma. He didn't expect it to last beyond the end of that module, so the fact it's still going over a decade later is as much a surprise to him as it is to everyone else.

On Bob started a podcast to accompany this long-running blog, and he plans to experiment with video production in .


BTS Classic ( to )

This was the first "era" of the blog where Bob published anything and everything that interested the teenaged version of him on this blog. Whether it was a republished Bebo post or a rant about Windows Vista, it made the cut!

Bob's Tech Site v1

to

Screenshot of a very blue and white website that used framesets
XHTML, AJAX and framesets were still fashionable technologies in . Bob was also surprisingly affectionate...

This site first went live on Friday 21st September 2007 (the deadline day for the assignment it was based on). Yes, this still used framesets. However, Bob had been incrementally adding improvements to the site as he learned more during his college course.

Colours and fonts were defined with CSS, and both this and the XHTML the site used passed through W3C validators without issue. The articles had also been moved into XML documents so they could be rendered client-side with JavaScript, which was quite a novelty at the time!

Unfortunately we don't have a screenshot of the original site when it was first published, but this one created for "ApolloOS" (the pre-alpha version of ScorchOS) was coded around the same time.

Screenshot of an even older blue and white website that used framesets
"Apollo OS" later became ScorchOS. The old name is still used (with permission) by another kernel development project.

The only real difference between the two at the time was the content & another blue frameset across the top of the page to match the one at the bottom. The "Home" text is in an odd place because it was enclosed in <marquee> tags and therefore scrolled across the screen.

While the ApolloOS site ran on SourceForge, Bob's Tech Site was run on a free web host that liked to insert its own ads. Nice!

However, as the number of articles started to grow it became increasingly difficult to manage. Also, as Bob discovered writing all your articles in XML format is a "less than fun" experience. So, in the summer of 2008 he developed a new version of the site from scratch.

Bob's Tech Site v2

to

Screenshot of a very blue and white website that used CSS instead of framesets
Bob later switched to using CSS and PHP "includes" instead of framesets.

This was a complete code rewrite that used PHP to grab articles in text format and render them to the page. The layout and floating navigation was all handled using CSS.

Teenaged Bob thought putting the year you started the website was the right one to put next to the copyright symbol. Older Bob finds this notion amusing.

After developing with PHP & doing clever things with CSS there wasn't much need for the AJAX stuff he did with the previous site, hence the lack of JavaScript. However, moving things server-side was pushing the limits of what free hosts would let you do.

This was the last version of the site that was written from scratch. The reasons for that were partly down to lack of time (an ongoing problem!), but mostly because Bob felt he was spending more time developing the site than writing content for it!

Bob's Tech Blog

to

Screenshot of a Wordpress site being displayed in the WayBack machine
Unfortunately not every image was cached, but the WayBack machine did its best to retrieve this website.

The screenshot above was pulled from an internet archive so is missing some images, but this was the first iteration to use a free website in addition to free webspace.

You'll notice Bob tried to keep the same colour scheme and was a big fan of RSS feeds (which were great, until Google Reader & Twitter microblogging killed them!).

Screenshot of a a tumblr site displaying small links to content under a Bob's Tech Site title
Bob experimented with Tumblr around the same time, but he felt it didn't lend itself well to long blog posts.

Bob's Tech Site v4

to

Screenshot of an old Bloggers site being displayed in the WayBack machine
The WayBack machine also isn't a fan of dynamic JavaScript widgets.

This incarnation had a ridiculous number of redesigns, and what you can see in the screenshot is one of the early versions. Again, externally-linked images are missing because the page was fetched from an internet archive site.

While there were articles written during this period (as seen in the screenshot), there were issues migrating them across. One of them was the automated importer for Wordpress not working, but the main problem was that the posts were related to "current news" items and so didn't age very well. Bob learned his lesson and kept that kind of thing on microblogging networks where it belongs...


BTS Reboot ( to )

After graduating from university Bob decided to make a more professional site that showcased his technical knowledge and accomplishments. In later years he started adding more general interest posts and hobby projects.

Jininga!

(for six months) on "jininga.com"

Screenshot of an attractive self-hosted Wordpress blog with a dark wood background
It's fair to say "Jininga!" looked more professional than previous incarnations of this website.

This was the site that made the big switch from free blogging services to our own self-hosted Wordpress. Bob tried to preserve the URL scheme from the previous blogger site to avoid broken links.

Initially he chose a mainstream web host but found that while it was very reliable it was incredibly restrictive. The web host we moved to afterwards offered some of the flexibility we wanted but struggled with uptime, which meant that ultimately this was a pretty short-lived re-branding.

When the web hosting wasn't causing trouble however it did the job of getting Bob to write content on a more regular basis. The most popular article was about installing and customising Minecraft on Fedora, which had multiple sequels and updates.

Bob's Tech Site v6

to

Screenshot of an attractive self-hosted Wordpress blog with a dark wood background
The initial theme was an incremental improvement on "Jininga!

After having a bad experience with premium web hosts Bob decided to go for a dedicated VPS appliance he had complete control over.

Unfortunately due to other commitments Bob wasn't able to post many tutorials or reviews. Most of the posts were about the things he was busy with, but not personal projects. This likely had... limited interest.

Screenshot of darker-looking self-hosted Wordpress blog with a dark wood background and darker UI theme
Bob still likes dark UI themes, but this was the last time he used one for a website.

A problem that dogged it from the start though was MySQL memory leaks. The initial fix was to jump from having 512MB RAM to 1GB RAM on the web server, which at least increased the interval from the site crashing once a week to once every few months.

But towards the end of 2016 the only way to keep the site up for more than a few hours was to run a cron job that regularly restarted the database server. Creating a fresh droplet, installing from scratch and putting the site behind a CDN annoyingly didn't resolve the issue. So Bob decided it was time to make a clean break from Wordpress and try something new.

Bob's Tech Site v7

to

Screenshot of a webpage with a dark left-hand column, white background and tiled images for each article
Articles were displayed with tiled images for the first time to make them more discoverable from the home page.

Bob ended up spending the best part of a year kicking around different ideas ranging from building something bespoke with Laravel, Django or Ruby on Rails to pre-existing CMS systems like Ello & Octopress. In the end he settled on Ghost because it enabled him to quickly & easily write/translate old posts into Markdown, learn a bit of Node.js and avoid having to deal with flaky web databases.

He took the opportunity to go through all the previous content that had successfully been curated from all six iterations of the site that came before. Useful content that had aged well was rewritten in markdown. Articles that didn't age so well were either dropped or slated for new rewrites later on in 2017.

The first 'alpha' version was made publicly testable in November 2016. While the original plan was for it to go live in February 2017 Bob brought it forward a month because new updates to Wordpress were making the existing site so flaky it was going down every few hours. Uptime in December was below 60% and response times were awful.

There were some consequences of launching early though. The URL scheme this site used for posts over the previous 7 years (i.e. https://bobstechsite.com/dd/mm/yy/article-name.html) had to be dropped because there wasn't time to set up the necessary redirects. Bob also avoided promoting the new site on social media for a couple of weeks because there was still work on the back-end to do and there were still old articles languishing as unfinished drafts that needed to be completed so they could be published as new content. But despite these initial drawbacks, it turned out to be a good replacement.


BTS Latest ( to today)

The latest "era" is all about Bob's passion projects and his thoughts on the state of technology.

Bob's Tech Site v8

to today on "bobstechsite.gitlab.io"

Screenshot of a webpage with a dark left-hand column, white background and tiled images for each article

After spending six months systematically trying to strip third party fonts, scripts and other components out of Ghost to prevent third parties tracking visitors, Bob finally decided to just handwrite a static HTML5 website. He also wanted to use this as a technical exercise to show you can still display content on a modern website in an accessible way without needing to run any JavaScript or insist on fibre broadband connections to function.

A lot of thought went into ensuring the same theme and content could be used across different device categories and connection speeds. Downloading an article and its assets can often be measured in Kilobytes rather than Megabytes, and everything degrades gracefully when that's needed. It uses HTTPS, HTML5, CSS3 and RSS2. All images are JPEGs that have been cropped and scaled to a sensible size by default instead of expecting every client device to download massive files and then do it on-the-fly.

Bob took a lot of inspiration from this guide to brutalist web design. He also followed W3Schools accessibility guidelines and tried to implement ideas from the WAI.

The URL scheme switched to https://bobstechsite.gitlab.io/yyyy/article-name.html and the hosting moved to Gitlab pages because running an entire VPS was no longer necessary. The reason it took so long is Bob also took the opportunity to curate his content a little better and make better use of RSS feeds.

Finally, Bob added "alternative themes" that people could use for a range of reasons. If you want a hint of nostalgia you can switch to the "blue retro mode" CSS theme by heading to View > Page Style in most browsers. You can also switch to a high contrast theme or disable CSS entirely from the same menu. The "Autumn colours" theme is a hangover from the development of the website.

Screenshot of the latest handwritten website with a high contrast CSS theme
Screenshot of the latest handwritten website with a classic blue and white CSS theme
Screenshot of the latest handwritten website with a more autumnal CSS theme