First Steps

Posted on Sat 30 November 2013 in tech

I suppose it was long past time that I started blogging. I love to write. I also love technology and the ecosystem that surrounds it. However, despite the presence of both of those two passions, I could never quite see the charm in creating a blog. A fair bit of that, in hindsight, had to do with not feeling at home with writing a bunch of stuff inside a textarea in a browser, however nice. The tools we use to give effect to our creations are rather important. I prefer writing on paper, where the smell of the ink, the sounds of the nib hitting the paper, and the shadings in the colours generate an effect that cannot easily be communicated. However, now that I begin to write words out on my vanilla emacs frame, while knowing that I am being much more efficient a writer and an editor than I ever could manage to be, on my best day on paper, not to mention the potential of a reader, I think that it might now, just be worth it.

Let me start out with a brief description of how this blog exists, and what ideas and requirements influenced its form. When I decided to start writing stuff online, I felt that the following were important for me to do a reasonable job:

  • The editor should be emacs et al.: I refused to write inside a browser window, with few, if any editing controls at my disposal. If I need to write a bunch of stuff, the editor just has to get out of my way. That was not going to happen without a lot of effort inside a browser textarea.

  • The formatting should be minimal: I wanted to focus on content, and not how it appears. The appearance should be consistent and nice, but when creating content, the design really should matter very little. Latex makes a lot of sense to me, given that it defines a clear focus on describing the document being written, instead of how it should appear. Markdown is a lot simpler though for now, not to mention faster and more specific.

  • The content should be under versioning: Versioning digital content of any kind, makes a lot of sense to me. While I doubt I would be doing a lot of branching in the git repo holding this stuff, the diffs in the content directory are no doubt going to be helpful, if nothing else, then for me to be able to see how my writing has changed over the months (if this blog lasts that long).

The idea of a static blog generator, with heroku that supports deployments on git push seem to fit the bill quite nicely. The posts are simply markdown pieces of text, with some yaml metadata on the top that is very easy to make sense of. The entire setup seems to nicely get out of the way of creating content. The presence of a database is mostly unnecessary for my requirements. So this is what I am doing right now. I am using Octopress to write my posts and am publishing them to heroku. The instructions here by Sam are rather good. The only deviation I needed to make them work for me was to use ruby v1.9.3 instead of v1.9.2, the latter of which does not play well with the markdown library octopress uses. I also tried out hexo for a while. However, I felt that its not very mature right now. Octopress seems to have a much more active community and that definitely matters a great deal as well. I felt that Hexo was considerably simpler to deploy, however, and faster to get started with as well, particularly on heroku. Perhaps I will take a look at it again someday. Right now, I am too happy to be writing stuff to be very concerned about it.