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Current plans

Things currently on my near-term radar, web development-wise:

  • Finish up a web site that I’m doing pro bono for a friend. This one’s been on the back burner since we moved, but I’d like to actually get it knocked out at the beginning of the summer.
  • Get a site build in the Pyramid web framework. Just because I can; there’s really nothing more to it than simply curiosity; I’ve never built anything in a Python web framework and I want to. I doubt the site will be public, as at the moment I don’t even have a host that would support running it. (I also don’t have a site in mind to use for it. This really is just a toy project for my own interest.)
  • Build my own static site generator. A bit of a crazy idea, to be sure, but none of the ones I’ve looked at quite support all the pieces of my personal blogging/site paradigm — at least, not easily, and not in a way that’s straightforward to set up and maintain continuing with my current blog. There are a few advantages to writing my own:
    • It’ll do everything I want to it. Because I’m writing it.
    • It won’t have a lot of extra pieces floating around that I don’t need, because I’m writing it. (Those pieces are undoubtedly great for other folks; I just don’t need them.)
    • As with Pyramid, it will increase my own familiarity with various Python tools.
      • Pyramid uses Mako (and Chameleon, but I’m not interested in that one at present) templates out of the box. I’ll probably build whatever I build using Jinja2 initially, unless I’ve already fallen completely in love with Mako, in which case I’ll just stick with that. In any case, my familiarity with Python templating languages will have increased substantially.
      • I’ll have some experience with pulling and handling the content from the WordPress database, probably using some of the Python tools for interacting with the database and/or XML content. This will be valuable professionally on both the WordPress and Python fronts.
    • It’ll simplify my actual writing workflow dramatically. (More on this below.)
    • It’ll get me out of a dependency on PHP. This is always a good plan, because PHP is the worst.
    • It’ll get me out of a dependency on WordPress. WordPress is great for what it is, but I don’t really need the hand-holding or a lot of its power, and I get plenty of time with it working on other projects, so it’s not like I need my own site to keep me fresh on it.
    • These last two points together result in my not actually needing PHP or indeed anything but HTML supported by my webserver. If I decided to host everything locally, I could do that. This also minimizes the need for specialized caching setups, etc. — if I ever get Fireballed (probably not by Gruber, but by somebody), well, most servers do just fine handing out HTML pages; it’s the constant regeneration of page content by PHP that gets you in trouble and requires you to have caching set up on any major WordPress site. This is, from my current standpoint at least, an unalloyed good: by and large, if the web server isn’t on fire, you can probably get to my content.
    • A non-trivial corollary to that: my site is no longer vulnerable to all the nasty attacks on WordPress (and every other database-driven, dynamically generated CMS). It’s just HTML.

Workflow improvements

As promised, some comments on how building a static site generator will improve my workflow. At present, my workflow is something like this:

  1. Create a post in Markdown using Byword. I have folders set up for each of my blogs (as well as for other projects) on my hard drive. I do this for three reasons.
    1. I would hate to lose all my content because of a server crash. I like my host, and I make backups, but bad things happen.
    2. I like the organization it provides, and like having all my content available in plain text.
    3. I like being able to use version control on my content; all my writing is additionally backed up by getting pushed to Bitbucket regularly. This post, too.
  2. Export the content — either after exporting it via Byword’s handy export HTML functionality, or copying over the Markdown directly.
  3. Switch over to Chrome and log in to the WordPress administration page for whichever blog I’m posting to, and paste the content in. Depending on whether I exported HTML or just kept the Markdown, I need to enable or disable Markdown processing for that post. (I try to be consistent, so now that I have the Markdown on Save plugin, I just copy over the Markdown.)
  4. Publish the post.

This isn’t particularly onerous. Where it gets much worse is when I have to edit anything, because if I want to keep my local copy in sync with the version actually live on the web, I have to make sure I copy over any changes I made. Before I had the Markdown on Save plugin installed, this was especially painful: the changes had to come back over manually: no copy-paste for me. It’s a bit better now, but still obnoxious.

By contrast, my new workflow (once I finish the generator) will look something like this:

  1. Write the content in its own specific folder on my hard drive (just like I do now).
  2. Run a single command line script that will generate the finished file and push it to the web server.

That’s it. All done. Moreover, if I want to edit the content, I just change it in place and rerun the command line call. This reduces pain points all along the way for me. It makes it easy — trivial, even — to write, edit and publish my content anywhere that I have internet access, even really terrible internet access. It matches my actual writing workflow much better. It even makes it trivial to make sure the version controlled content matches what’s on the internet! (Yes, a nerdy concern if ever there was one.)

So that’ll be a fun summer project, and when I’m done, there’ll be a public repository up on Bitbucket that people will be free to clone and fork as they desire. (As an acquaintance noted, that probably won’t happen much if at all: people are opinionated about these sorts of things. Case in point: here I am writing one of my own, despite the fact that others exist.) So here’s to the summer!

Pipe up!

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