Initialisation of Web Log
Why make a “blog”?
To record thoughts and ideas so they can be explored and referenced more reliably, they should but put into words. There are some ways I personally already do this, through general note taking and across a few social media websites, but these have some immediately apparent limitations:
Personal note-taking is hyper-customized and the product is often indecipherable not only to others, but even to other versions of yourself.
Writings on a “social media” service are ephemeral, volatile and constricted. You are rather volunteering statements as a data commodity to a consolidated and owned amalgam of controlled “community”.
Both of these vectors of thought-export are hard to use in reference, even if you hold local notes in a neat framework (you probably do not version or date your notes, rather simply edit as current).
The need for an effective way of ratifying thoughts weighs on me when considering the above. Not so much that I think my thoughts are especially valuable or that they must be shared, but that I want a new approach to extorting, exporting and cataloguing them for personal reference, thereby amplifying their usefulness and removing volatility. I believe the blog model, alternatively known to our ancestors as the evergreen asset that is a “diary”, provides an ideal middle ground between committed brief public statements with temporal dimension and exploratory lossless local scribbling.
What about the content?
The content of this blog comprises some analysis of things I work on, and, at least on the diary side, notes from a “Think Hour” informational exploration ritual, both itemized in longform and as part of a quasi-diary mode. The problems I have with writing, thoughts and note-taking as laid out previously have left me as an internet ragpicker… but now a full almanac of digital archaeology and an info-hoarding archivist operation can unfold.
What do we expect?
I want to be mentally fitter, happier and more productive by utilizing this blog as a personal record with less artifice than the version of myself and my thoughts I present anywhere else, even locally. This is somewhere to exercise my big wet brain, improving my ability to refer to old ideas and invent new ones. These are some things I am hoping to obtain from writing and using this blog, thank you.
Design of Web Log
Naturally this site/blog is constructed around the ideas presented above. Very content focused and not very showy or branded. Just a place to place pieces of writing. Luckily I enjoy the look of bare-bones HTML, and coincidentally the simplicity of something fairly bare-bones in function would allow me to save time using and developing my already rudimentary skills in programming (web development?) trying to make the blog work/look consistent across devices and etcetera.
I wanted two streams/directories of posts to differentiate between levels of conceptual fidelity, offer some flexibility and to cast a broader net for things worth putting into posts. Along with this I needed some way of searching through posts to refer to them easily in the hopeful eventuality of their quantity outweighing my capacity for immediate mental recall. That sums up everything I really wanted, though it is probably worth saying that I preferred for there to explicitly be no other functions or features bloating the site.
Inspiration & Reference Sites
Some of the original sources of inspiration come from blogs I used to enjoy browsing long ago, on the blogspot platform. One I still have bookmarked and seems to be maintained is this one by Ben Mauro. Another example is Geekanerd. The more personal nature of them is very cool when viewed in todays world where the popularity of this platform/mode of writing has diminished. However, more contemporaneous inspiration was drawn from:
Paul Graham’s website and essay list is very nicely informational and antiquated.
Cosma’s Home Page, mostly sections that aren’t actually the weblog, which seems like it might be some kind of blogspot or wordpress powered thing.
I made sure to crib heavily from the blog of Dustin Tran, who has a nice presentation of posts serialized by date.
It’s worth mentioning the “jekyll untrue minimal” theme by Cyevgeniy here too.
Initially I was thinking about finding a service that uses a CMS like WordPress and hosts, but eventually after some research settled on creating a static website using jekyll and hosting it using GitHub Pages. Some things I specifically had a look at and considered before reaching this conclusion were WordPress (.org & .com), medium, ghost.org and joomla to name a few. Deciding to create a static website let me have more control and while being more work I wanted to try my hand at doing html/CSS myself. Jekyll makes the process much easier anyway.
The site is very simple html and css/styling. There are some nice teal coloured links, which change style on hover, and the body of the site is narrow and centred. The directory pages for posts are presented by using a split and the content/items are aligned toward the split on either side. I had some trouble trying to use float to create the layout and then again when trying to use the split method for the header menu, which features two buttons that I wanted centred similarly. I ended up using an list with flexbox items to achieve this presentation after getting stuck trying to make a simple split work with the additional rightmost menu option (tag browse).
Alongside this basic foundation I used and will use caesium to easily compress and resize images so that they are lightweight and are 360px wide, to work with the narrow centred layout of posts. These are placed in an assets folder in the website root directory. Drawing the directory lists of posts and the tags is done with simple logic via Liquid in Jekyll. I also made some quick welcome page graphics in Photoshop.
The tagging system also makes some use of Liquid functionality. To create the system I first tried to make a plug-in, before finding out these don’t work when hosting through GitHub. After some searching I found this post by Long Qian and followed it, making a small edit to the python tag generator script as it didn’t seem to work correctly with sub-folders in the “posts” directory. I made another edit to the code that prints out the tags on the tag page, as it wasn’t delivering them in alphabetical order.
Typing this out makes the creation as a whole sound extremely straightforward, and it seems like an awful lot to type for such a simple website, but I had no experience did spend a lot of time learning and enjoying the process.
Learning & Improving
After I finished building this thing, I was hoping to be able to use the remote theme or author a RubyGem. When this didn’t immediately work I decided to simply clone the GitHub repository into a new repository and do some fiddling and add content. When I decided to go the cloning route, I wanted to follow advice laid out by Matthias Lischka, but I didn’t (couldn’t?) as this post appears to assume you are using a base repository owned by someone else.
These “theme” centric issues I want rectify with further work. I understand that a “theme” brings a framework of layouts, includes and styles to your content/default-site, and the remote theme applies those from some other public repository to yours - but I stopped trying to make this work after what felt like an acceptable threshold of tweaking was passed. What may or may not be incompatibilities with other parts of the theme or how they are incorporated (the dual post folders and tagging system for instance) and not being immediately sure of the alternative in packaging as a RubyGem I gave up and decided this was an area for future improvement and learning.
Aside from this, the design, although intended to be simple, is extremely tame and lame. With some further practice and learning about styles I should be able to craft something more complex or showy without diverging from the original design guidelines, by pushing my limits with basic html/css further.
With the technical side of blogging covered now, the next immediate subject of future improvements is being able to write good. Keeping things concise without losing nuance, and circumventing my tendency to ramble unrestrained will take great expansion of my diminutive executive brain branch. I will increase reading of other blogs as a primary aid. Maybe blogs about web development, two birds but only one stone.
The GitHub website and using git is also something I have a hard time getting to grips with. Commits, remotes and separation of content and code are fundamental and basic concepts I am neglecting to confront and understand totally.
I am writing this using Ghostwriter. I tried some other markdown editors but a lot of them want my money, and this one is open source and just as effective in my opinion.
This old looking website has been a great resource to cover all the basics of making and hosting a website, of which blogging is intertwined.
There are many good articles from experienced bloggers on transitioning blogs between platforms. I found this much more useful than any article that is targeted at newcomers to blogging, which often have very evil intent in trying to control your destiny.
At some point I was wondering about hosting a blog or site using Google Drive. I have this bookmark which might have been part of this reading, but it looks like it is mostly about the traditional hosting Google offers.