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Setting up my new blog

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.
Confucius

I’ve finally come around to set up my new blog/web site. It’s a bit of a perpetual project of mine, and I’ve started a number of blogs over the years, some of them in-character.1 I will eventually try to republish them all here.

But this is a new start, and my situation is different than it was before,2 so perhaps this will be the definitive endeavour! At least, let’s hope so…

One key thing about blogging is that it needs to be as frictionless as possible. At least once everything is set up as you like it—and I am a bit picky about how I like it. Once things are in place, adding a blog post should only be about writing, and not about tags or formatting. These are difficult to eliminate completely, but they can be reduced to a minimum, hopefully.

Blogging platforms offer many advantages, one of them being simplicity and ease of use. The problem with most is that they come with their own format which you cannot easily change to your liking. Other platforms are very flexible, but pose security problems. Many have the added problem that your data is not your own anymore, tucked away somewhere.3 For all those reasons I decided to go with my own solution and I looked at the various options that were available to me. Most solutions use a type of Content Management Software (CMS), often a database, to manage blog posts. This is particularly interesting if more than one person writes posts for the same blog, as the CMS can manage access and make sure everything is in sync, but that’s not my case and so I decided against using these. In the end I decided to go with a static web site, and to use a Static Site Generator called Jekyll to produce it. This may seem counterintuitive, using a tool to create a static site, but there are advantages (and disadvantages of course). The advantage of using a generator is that, once you’ve set things as you like, adding content is as simple as adding a text file with usually no HTML at all. The files are actually plain text files, and they use only simple markings4 to denote italic or bold and the structure of the text. That let’s you write without slowing you down. Then you hit a command and the site is rebuilt as needed, with the text inserted where it should be, using templates and some SASS and Ruby magic.

Of course it’s not all that simple, you need to know what you’re doing, know at least a little bit of CSS and SASS. Prior knowledge of markdown helps. Knowing you way around a terminal, typing commands and installing a toolchain, shouldn’t scare you. I’m a software developer so these things don’t bother me (in fact, I like that part of it). And you need to know how you want things to look.

I’ve always been interested in fonts and typography, and I’ve always been picky about the aesthetic of things. It’s one of the main motivations behind building my own blog instead of using a platform. I’ve read essays5 on typography, nodding all the while. Implementing these principles is not always easy, though. But I found a great project based on the work of Edward Tufte, which I adopted immediately.

Then it’s a matter of how you want to structure things, categories if you want them, or separate sections for different topics, for example. Aside from the blog, what sections do you want? How do you format the menus? Once you’ve settled into a structure, then you need to build upon it as time permits.

For those interested in learning more about static sites generators are, there are a couple of good articles explaining them here and here, and also on the pros and cons of static versus dynamic web sites here.

In the end I am making a blog for myself, with the expectation that no one but me will read it. So, why make it then? Because of the process of writing things down is interesting. Because when you write in a public place, with even a remote possibility that someone will read it, then you write differently. Because, who knows, it might be of interest to someone else out there.

So, since I’m doing this for myself first, I might as well enjoy it and appreciate the way it looks!

  1. The personal scrolls of Drablak, a mystic of the Lok’groton

  2. My health issues leave me with more time on my hands, although with much less energy to tackle tasks. 

  3. This will be the problem I’ll have to solve to import those other blogs I had over the years. 

  4. HTML is called a markup language (that’s what the ‘ML’ part means). These text files use something called Markdown, to contrast with the fact that it’s a simpler version that compiles ‘up’ to HTML. 

  5. For example Butterick’s Practical Typography 

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