Day of the Jekyll

I’ve never seen the film or read the book, just wanted to make a terrible pun.

My new project is to make a new blog! Now you can tell that this hasn’t got very far by the fact I’m posting this on my WordPress.com blog. The new one is still only hosted locally on my laptop, but should be up on Github Pages soon. I’ll probably keep posting here anyway until I’m reasonably happy with the new one…

The idea for the new blog is to host it on Jekyll, a static site generator which allows you to write new posts in Markdown and add them straight to your blog. Because the end result is a pre-generated static site, it loads very quickly and can also be hosted cheaply or for free. In particular, Github offers
free hosting for Jekyll sites. I’ve been planning to learn to use git properly for a while now, and this is should motivate me to do it. Plus I should get more useful practice with HTML, CSS, terminal commands and whatever else comes up.

I’d seen a few Jekyll blogs around and liked the look of them: the default seems to be a clean, minimal design that’s easily customisable (here are some examples). I was particularly inspired by this blog by W. Caleb McDaniel, which turned up on Hacker News at some point and is about a hundred times nicer than most academics’ blogs. Interesting that a history professor has out-geeked all the physicists and mathematicians. Reading up a bit more, I realised that he’s actually gone a good level further than I was planning and his site is not actually Jekyll but a static site generator he wrote himself, but the end result is definitely in the same style.

I was also very taken with his blog’s colour scheme Solarized by Ethan Schoonover. I get occasional severe migraines and almost always have disturbances to my vision, like flickering and blind spots, before the headache starts. I think this has made me hyper-aware of flickering and afterimages in my normal vision, because I now find it hard to read off a bright white screen for any length of time. I’ve installed a browser plugin, Change Colors, to convert websites to light grey text on a dark grey background, and find this much easier to read (as an added bonus, it’s useful when I come across a really eye-wateringly garish site). The Solarized colour scheme, however, is extremely readable, probably the best light colour scheme I’ve come across, and is very pretty too! So this is another thing I plan to take inspiration from for my own blog.

My final reason for trying Jekyll is that I already really like Markdown. I used LaTeX throughout my PhD, so I’m very used to writing documents in a text file. LaTeX is great when you actually need it (i.e., when you’re typing out hundreds of equations), but is massive overkill for a simple text document, so when I discovered Markdown I was really pleased with it. It’s also a lot more fun to type than HTML with all its irritating <s and >s. For me, the best thing is that adding links is so simple and frictionless that I’m much more motivated to reference things carefully and acknowledge all the sources I use. Typing out a load of HTML or LaTeX, or clicking buttons in a GUI feels like such a pain in comparison! Currently I write my posts in Markdown, and then copy and paste them into the WordPress.com editor. It’s rather a clunky system, and I don’t really need the bloated set of features on WordPress.com, so something simpler that I can customise as I go may suit me better.

So, that’s the plan anyway! I’m already running into a fair bit of hassle doing the blog migration, so I may be less optimistic about the process soon… As with the Zyring project, I plan to write up notes as I go, covering installing Jekyll, migrating my old blog, hosting on Github and customising the blog. This is mostly for my own benefit, for writing practice and future reference, but it may possibly be helpful to others.

I have no idea how fast this will progress, because everything’s a bit up in the air for me at the moment – my new job’s been put back from August to October, and I’ve got to figure out what the hell I do until then. I definitely don’t want to be paying two extra months’ rent without a job! So at the moment I have loads of spare time, but I have no idea how that is going to change. Anyway I’ll tack on a contents page to the end of this introductory post as and when I add new material.

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