Plus ca change

Been browsing through some of Mark’s old posts, and I have learned three things.

First: all Bruce Schneier’s excellent Crypto-Gram newsletters are on his personal site now, not in the Counterpane Labs, because the Labs don’t seem to exist in the same way any more (“With the formation of Counterpane Internet Security Inc., Counterpane Systems has changed its name to Counterpane Labs and no longer does outside consulting. We continue to perform world-class research in cryptography and computer security.”) I wonder why?

Secondly, the Firebird Link Toolbar (the thing that gives you Next, Previous, and Up buttons, if the site has specified where they should point for the page you’re looking at) is really, really handy. I really must do that specification for pages here. I’ve just noticed how, after browsing around Mark’s site, how irrationally annoyed I’m already getting when I can’t step from one page to the next using the toolbar on other people’s sites. See, Mark, there is a point to all that work you do, although I doubt your point was “make surfers hate everyone other than you”.

Thirdly, considering that the stuff I was reading was from early 2002, around eighteen months ago, a hell of a lot of links have succumbed to linkrot. Even from people I’d consider high in their class, like, say, Anil Dash (not wishing to pick on Anil specifically here; that broken link was just the straw that convinced me to write about this particular camel’s back). The links fortunately don’t die completely in most cases; instead of 404s, you get a front page or an archive page for the site you’re directed to. But Cool URIs don’t change. Personally, I think that inventing the One True URL Scheme for your site right off the bat, as soon as you start building, is a pretty unrealistic ivory tower hope; I mean, maybe TBL can do it, but I sure as hell can’t. What this means, I think, is that any site that has a lot of small content, like a weblog or a news site, will, over time, accumulate a massive forest of .htaccess rules or similar that keep old links alive but allow you to deprecate them. I’ve done what I am able to do here; when I moved from MT to Vellum, my IDs for the posts changed (because I couldn’t work out a good way to keep them the same), and hence links like Simon’s to my original Pingback idea would have broken; he linked to, and the post is now at To handle this, I set up the following rules in .htaccess for my weblog:

rewriteengine on
rewritebase /days
rewriterule ^([0-9]+).cas$ /days/mt2v.cgi?id=$1

and mt2v.cgi is a Python CGI with a great big lookup list in it. I could have just added a massive load of Alias directives or something similar, but mt2v allows me to catch any old links that I missed and show a “sorry, try the index” page. We now appear to be a lot closer to the One True Way of URLs for permalinks to weblog posts, specifically that specified by mpt in his definition of the ultimate Weblogging system, so perhaps it is easier to specify your URLs correctly from the outset now. But that’s taken a couple of years to refine with a hell of a lot of people working on it. In practice, if you’re running any kind of site with lots of stuff in it that isn’t just static individually created and named pages, then be prepared to build a big set of redirects every time you redesign anything on the back end, because you’ll realise you want to change the URIs then too.


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