New theme, who dis?

Screenshots of the old and new themes for the blog, side by side

I’ve deployed a new theme on the blog. If you’re reading this in your feed reader, firstly, go you, because so few people do nowadays, but also, please click through and have a look.

The theme I’m using is GeneratePress, with mostly default settings. This replaces one of the default WordPress themes that I was using before.

Why the change? Mainly page bloat; whilst the default WordPress themes are very extensible, the output code includes shedloads of extra JavaScript, CSS and style tags which result in web pages which are bigger than they should be. Whilst I’m at no risk of exceeding the data transfer limits offered by my hosting company, it does affect the speed of the site, and not everyone has unlimited mobile data or a fast connection.

I learnt HTML at a time when it was the done thing to hand-code pages – indeed, back when I used Blogger and later Movable Type as my blogging tools, for the most part I used themes that I had written all myself. JavaScript was used very sparingly, and the HTML and CSS code was nice, clean and simple. So seeing the code soup that was being outputted by the default themes was off-putting.

I also think about this blog post by Terence Eden, ‘the unreasonable effectiveness of simple HTML‘, where he gives an example of someone applying for housing benefit on a PlayStation Portable (PSP). This is presumably because it’s the only portable device with a web browser that she can use. But because the HTML on is so clean and lightweight, the old, under-powered web browser on the PSP is still able to render it, and she’s able to get the information that she needs. A big, flashy web site oozing with various JavaScript frameworks, loads of tracking scripts and adverts everywhere just isn’t going to work on such an old device.

And then I saw this toot today:

I can't help but notice the new Apple laptops rate "Video Playback 22 hours, Web Browsing 15 hours" under battery life.

Congratulations web developers everywhere, it's now more computationally intense to render a webpage than video playback!

— Brad L. :verified: (@reyjrar)2023-11-05T04:41:28.299Z

Web pages are getting so full of cruft, that they require more processing power than video playback.

So, that’s why I’m going with a lightweight theme. It makes the web site much more accessible to more people. GeneratePress seems to output lighter code that displays fast, and it offers a good balance between extensibility and speed. It won’t be for everyone, but it seems to work well for me.

The times, they are upgrading

An AI generated image of a superhero emerging from a server cabinet, generated using Microsoft's Bing AI Image Creator

Hello – if you can read this, then the server upgrade worked!

I’ve wiped the previous server image (yes, I remembered to do more than one type of backup this time), and installed a freshly upgraded version of Linux. This means it’s running on Debian 12 (codenamed ‘bookworm’), and version 12 of Sympl. Sympl is a set of tools for Debian that makes managing a web server remotely a little easier, and is forked from Symbiosis which was originally developed by my hosting company Bytemark.

Going nuclear and starting from a fresh installation was for two reasons:

  1. The next version of WordPress, which will be 6.4, will have a minimum recommended PHP version of 8.1. This server was running version PHP 7.3, and whilst I’m sure future versions would work up to a point, it’s a good opportunity to upgrade.
  2. I’ve had a few issues with the previous installation. The FTP server software never seemed to work correctly, and the database (MariaDB) would lock up almost every time I posted a new blog post. Hopefully, this won’t happen anymore.

As this is a fresh WordPress installation, there may be a few things which don’t quite work yet. I’ve imported the existing blog posts and pages, and the theme is mostly the same, but I need to re-install the plugins and probably need to amend some settings. I’ll sort these issues out over the next few days.

WordPress in the Fediverse

A screenshot of the settings page for the ActivityPub plugin for WordPress

If I’ve set up everything correctly, then you should be able to subscribe to this blog in your favourite Fediverse app, such as Mastodon, by following .

You’ll need to install the ActivityPub plugin, and then it should just work where your fediverse username is @your-wordpress-username@your-domain.tld. If you’ve used a plugin to disable author archives, such as Yoast’s SEO plugin, you’ll need to re-enable it for this to work.

I found this guide particularly useful, as it links to Webfinger to test that you’ve set it up correctly.

(Update: since this post was written almost 12 months ago, the ActivityPub plugin has been formally adopted by Automattic and so enjoys wider support)