I've had a problem getting this new blog template to work the way I want, but I have largely solved it. Or, more accurately, I've hacked around it. I had been hoping for a more elegant solution, but in the end I simply went back to Blogger's conditional template tags for my individual blog post pages.
That actually imposes less of a load on my server, since Blogger generates those pages as static HTML instead of doing all the PHP rendering stuff on the fly, and I can easily make (and have now made) the sidebar different for the different views of my posts. On the other hand, the PHP is simpler to work with because I would only have to edit the include files, instead of the main template, when I want to make changes. I'm keeping the PHP sidebar and footer for the home page, monthly archives, and for other pages as I deploy the new design around this site.
As I said, it's a hack. Still, as a total non-programmer, I'm not too disheartened. Even Dave Winer, who's been blogging longer than pretty much anyone—and helped invent most of the stuff that makes blogs what they are—writes:
I think we must all go through this rite of passage, the docs for Apache are so cryptic and inadequate. The design of Apache itself is weak. But it is workable, you know that eventually you'll puzzle it out...
I puzzled out a solution. That's no surprise. After that, the server is "a patchy" piece of software to start with.
Here's the basic summary: new-generation high-definition video discs like HD-DVD and Blu-ray include heavy-duty encryption to try to prevent people from copying them. Unfortunately, since people actually need to watch the movies they buy, and since eyeballs cannot be encrypted, the fact is that no matter how heavy-duty the encryption, the only way to keep it that way is to keep the digital decryption key (a string of numbers) somewhere on or in the playback device—but to keep it a secret.
In other words, to play by the movie industry's rules, your HD-DVD or Blu-ray player or hi-def disc-compatible computer needs to hide something from you, its owner. Needless to say, that didn't work for too long. Some geeks extracted a decryption key and posted it online.
The movie industry has used the execrable Digital Millennium Copyright Act to try to get Google to stop indexing the number—a string of hexadecimal digits—and has sent takedown letters to numerous bloggers and other websites that had posted it. One of them was the social news site and geek darling Digg.
Digg rolled, and started deleting posts and banning users, possibly permanently wounding its credibility among its users. And prompting a flood of stories about nothing but the decryption key, which now has its own MySpace profile, as well as T-shirts and songs and stuff.
Yup, that worked really well.
UPDATE: Digg has given up and decided the blocking/banning was a bad idea.