A new look for 2009

A header image from the blog's previous design; Aral holding his Nabaztag bunny at Hack Day.

Lest you jump to conclusions from the title, no, I haven't had botox. My beloved blog, however, did just get a facelift (she's a little sore but recovering nicely!)

It's time to say hello to a new iteration of my little corner of cyberspace in preparation for 2009. Video is definitely a more central element, as it is in our online lives these days. I will make an effort to Qik as much as I can in the coming year. I will also be showcasing recordings from the <head> web conference.

I love simplicity but I'm as prone to the complexity that arises from the passage of time as the next guy. This blog has been going for quite a few years now and had built up a lot of crud. I started blogging in 2001 on onrelease.org, using the precursor to Wordpress, called b2. The blog then became FlashAnt, and finally, it moved to this domain and onto Wordpress, all the while carrying along with it a bunch of baggage, some of it dating back to the days of b2.

Truth is, for the longest time, this blog has been a typical example of a cobbler's child — hacked when and where I found the time, not even (*egads*) in Subversion — in other words, barefoot all the way. I hope to give it a bit more love and attention going forward, starting with this redesign.

I want to thank Nurudin Jauhari for his excellent Hamasaki 1.5 theme, which I customized for the design.

(There are a few things I'm not happy with currently, such as how the text scales, so expect incremental updates in the coming days and please do let me know in the comments if you notice any issues.)

Looking back...

Looking back at how this domain and the blog has evolved through the years — thanks to the excellent Way Back Machine — is a bitter-sweet melancholic experience as so much of my life is actually intertwined within the virtual pages of this blog.

The first entry for the site, dating from January 16, 2001, unfortunately doesn't have the Flash sidebar or the header image but it's amusing to see where it all began (oh, please tell me I didn't make the navigation in Flash — how young I was, how naive!)

The November 27, 2001 version is basically a huge table of images (*gasp*), sliced in ImageReady, with a message stating "i'm going to have a respectable... well *a* site up here soon" [sic]. Apparently, I thought it would be kool do ignore proper capitalization and break words up using long series of periods. That must be the web design equivalent of wearing bell bottom pants in the 70s.

The site also originally linked to the ACK! extensions I wrote back then. What's ACK!? It was probably the first Flash framework ever, written by Branden Hall. Ah, those were the days! :)

At least the May 2002 version of the site shows that I was becoming aware of standards back then. The site states "This site validates as XHTML 1.0 strict and CSS 2.0." Woot!

The July 2002 version goes even further to state:

I am a firm believer in Internet standards and the virtues of CSS and I'm glad to see that, for the first time, the major version 6 browsers appear to be standards-compliant and that the major browser manufacturers have started to make efforts towards this end. This is a far cry from the early days when each one was trying to gain market share by differentiating itself as much as possible from the other. The only thing this resulted in was frustrated developers, confused users and all-round inefficiency.

Aww, I'm beginning to like you now, Early Me :)

(Of course back in those days, as a Flash developer, people gave me even weirder looks than they do today when I mention standards and stuff.)

It's worth noting that, although the Way Back Machine couldn't capture it, the site at the time was built entirely in Flash. It was the first large-scale web application I built on my own, following my experience working with Branden and Charlie on the k12 virtual school. I remember it had an intelligent preloader (which I later made into a component for the Flash MX Most Wanted Components book) and all content was kept in HTML and SWF containers that were loaded in by the shell. I'm going to rummage through my backups one of these days so I can find it and maybe even dust it off as a historic relic :)

On October 7, 2002, at 17:03:51, this blog started life as onRelease() with the first post:

What is onRelease()? onRelease() is a place for me to release the random stuff that happens to fall into my head to make space for more stuff. If that random stuff happens to benefit others, all the better!

What started as a personal blog quickly became more a political blog as I found myself unable to write about technology when faced initially with the specter and then the reality of the war in Iraq. It's hard to write about movie clips when you know that people are dying everyday in a senseless war.

My posts sparked heated debate within the Flash community and, if nothing else, got us discussing these important issues, which is not something that we were doing up to that point (at least not in the community). It was also a coming of age for me, albeit a very public one, where I discovered that your choices do matter and that yes, we can change things!

However, after a while I felt that the blog was no longer making a difference and, quite frankly, I got bored of having the same discussions and seeing the same abusive comments from the same people who watch Fox News and who voted George Bush back into office for a second term. So I decided to close down onRelease() and start FlashAnt, sans the politics.

In September of 2004, I apparently had a lot going on (based on the simple message greeting visitors on this site). I had also just moved by blog from onRelease to FlashAnt. (My company at the time was called Bits And Pixels, it then became Ariaware, and, more recently Yeah, Let's Do It! One more name change and I should finally have something I like!)

On May 8th, 2006, I used the migration script I wrote to move from b2 to Wordpress and, at the same time, from FlashAnt to aralbalkan.com. I also started using the K2 theme, which I've been using ever since in various guises up until this latest update (thanks, K2!)

On May 9th, 2006, I made my first blog post on aralbalkan.com. It begins:

You no longer have to log in to comment on my blog.

How fitting! :)

I've always found comments — your feedback, opinions, knowledge — to be one of the most valuable and rewarding things about blogging. Through the years, I've learned so much from your feedback that I can honestly say that I would be a different person were it not for your comments. I know Jeremy disagrees (and he's not the only one). Interestingly enough, I saw that Jeremy was apparently running a commenting experiment on his journal at about the same time I was enabling comments for everyone on my blog.

I'm not entirely sure what I was thinking with the header image from the May 2006 version of the site. I can only imagine that it was a combination of (a) too much time on my hands, and (b) a digital camera.

Aral and his Mac, a romance

On August 8, 2006, I made post announcing that I'd just ordered my first (and up until the end of last month, my only) MacBook Pro! Oh my goodness, that was over two years ago! I've never been as happy with a computer as I am with my trusty MacBook Pro. In fact, I just got a new one and I still miss my old baby. I was thinking of putting her up on eBay but I just can't bring myself to.

You have to understand, when I was on PCs, I used to upgrade every six months or so in the misguided belief that maybe if I got a faster computer things would work better. Truth is, the operating system is fundamentally flawed; it's not the hardware! :)

I can't say it enough: having a Mac with me these past two years has made me a happier person, and a better developer. Thank you, Apple!

Recent past

Apart from a different header image (and new content and a bunny widget, of course), not too much changed with the blog until the last facelift which brought with it the wider format, the huge header images, and the Nabaztag bunny widget.

And, in closing, thank you!

What started out as a simple announcement of a design iteration has turned into a brief retrospective of this blog and, thus, I cannot end without thanking you, my dear readers, the 80,000 or so of you who visit every month. (I just can't visualize those numbers — a Wembley stadium-full of visitors every month — that's just nuts!) I hope that the many years of posts here has helped you in some way.

Beyond the cosmetic changes, you will find that there are some functional differences that hint to a fundamental change in how I am planning on using this blog going forward. I will be making an effort to blog more frequently, both via video and text, on the issues that I am passionate about, on the technologies that I'm working with, and from the events that I attend and speak at. You'll also find longer articles in the Featured Articles section so that they don't get lost in the daily flow. Finally, and as always, I will be sharing with you tips, tricks, and workarounds I find for things — while hacking code and hacking life — and I look forward to receiving your feedback and your invaluable contributions in the comments.