jump to main content

New website!

The problem

I have always wanted a personal website. I have attempted several times at creating one. The first function a personal website should serve is showcase your achievements, e.g. your former experience and projects. The second function I have always seeked from my website is technical blogging. Moreover, I wanted my website to be hosted for free, without any limitations.

In regards to blogging, I wanted to do it in the simplest way. Not too simple though, as Einstein said:

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler —Albert Einstein

In my previous attempts at building a website I never reached that sweet spot: things were either too complex or too simple. In this blog post I explain what brought me to this point.

Previous approaches

A popular approach is to host a static website on Github Pages with Ruby+Jekyll. Github recently made this very easy with the personal website project. I tried twice that approach because of how easy and fast it is to set up.

The first time I set up a simple website was few years ago and I did it with a minimal Jekyll template to showcase my github projects and my skills. I had a page where I could easily write blog posts in .md files, placing the posts in a certain folder structure with a certain filename. Simple enough, right? Maybe too simple. I could not easily control the website template. I had to write my posts in markdown files. I quickly lost interest in the website and never blogged once.

The second time around was at the beginning of 2020, shortly after discovering Emacs. I saw a beautiful blog online and made it a day's quest to replicate it on my gh-pages branch. What the author was using was an R library called rmarkdown, which under the hood uses knitr + pandoc to render .Rmd files. The final touch I added was so I could write posts using my favourite markup language, i.e. Org Mode. I could write .org files, export them to .Rmd files and finally render them with rmarkdown. The website's style was stunning also! Very easy to steal some CSS from his website.

I could blog writing .org files and I had a beautiful website.. Still I never blogged once. Maybe it was not simple enough. The setup must have been working very well for its original author, a Data Scientist writing a lot of .Rmd analyses. Not so much for me.

This approach

Lately I have been very fascinated by the Clojure programming language. I will write a post in the future about it. In the websites I am lurking, the community often speaks about Clojurescript which can compile to Javascript code. Some of the cljs frameworks for simple-page applications seem simple and elegant (like most things Clojure related).

Today I found a minimal, beautiful blog set up with shadow-cljs, which had very little code, all of which was understandable enough. It looks like the author is a js and cljs developer, so it has been interesting to learn some best practices since I have absolutely zero knowledge of frontend development.

Well, I forked his repo and it was extremely quick to build the website locally and deploy it to netlify! New concepts I need to understand more:

  • yarn > npm for managing dependencies, building and releasing
  • tailwind + postcss for easy customization of your website's style
  • yarn shadow-cljs watch app to develop while hot-reloading the website a-la-figwheel
  • Connecting to the clojurescript REPL to interact with the browser

This is a very exciting environment to develop my website and customize it to my liking! No more deciphering templates and stealing off CSS, I will customize it how I want.

The second news, even more exciting, is that the author wrote a simple logic to parse .md and populate the website. This means that to write my blog posts I can write with Org Mode and easily export to .md. I will also adopt the approach used in ox-hugo, that is to have a single .org file and have posts live under a heading. I can then export a single post with ,e C-s mm, i.e. calling org-export-dispatch, narrowing the scope to the subtree and exporting to a markdown file.

I really like having the full control over the website. Deploying to netlify means that I am not limited to what Github Pages lets me do. In the future I would like to explore different things, like embedding an interactive D3 visualization or a vega-lite SVG. I am happy to need to understand the details for these integrations instead of resorting to a magical plugin in an obscure template (like with hugo).

Why blogging?

Technical blogging is a great opportunity to learn how to explain something you think you know something about and how to organise your thoughts. Before writing this post I thought I had a clear idea of what to write but at the end of the post I can see that I digressed and I could have benefitted from organizing the structure of the post beforehand. It's okay since it is my first post, but see? Already learning!

In the future I plan to write about the things I deem interesting that I am exploring. I do this for self documentation and to maybe help a fellow user who might come across the same problem I was solving and maybe it will help him save some time. I will adjust with time around a certain size and type of content. I expect the two main categories will be data science and software engineering tooling.