From Tumblr to Octopress

The move from WordPress to Tumblr a few years ago felt great. All the focus was on posting content and I was liberated from the need to administer a blog. Since then Tumblr has struggled with stability problems while implementing weird “social features” like photo replies (but no native text replies) and getting obsessed with things like New York Fashion Week. Recently they added these dumb labels and I recognised Tumblr is going too far in a direction I’m not interested in.

I first became interested in (well, aware of) generated flat file publishing systems when I read about Brent’s homemade system over three years ago. Only a couple of months after that I got a job working on a site that was using a similar flat file system on a much larger scale (it’s only recently been replaced). I was intrigued by the big advantages of such a system: speed and simplicity.

My loss of respect for Tumblr coincided with reading about Octopress on Matt Gemmell’s blog. It sounded perfect. It’s the kind of new wave of “hacker” software that’s well designed and a joy to use. I credit Github for this great trend.

Transistion

Getting my content out of Tumblr was a breeze with Jekyll’s blog mirgration script. I had to make a few wholesale modifications to some paths and similar things in the post files the script created but this is where Octopress imediately demonstrated it’s advantages. I was able to do regex find and replaces across 500+ posts in a few seconds using TextMate. Doing something similar to posts stored in a database would be a real pain in the ass.

Redesign

The default Octopress theme is the most elegant default theme shipping with any CMS I’ve seen but it offers more than I need and in any case, I want a unique look for my blog. The CSS of the default theme is made to be customised and continuing the for hackers ideology its organised into 25 (yes twenty-five) Sass files which compile down to one CSS file. Every feature of Sass is used, everything is modular, everything is a variable. I was hoping to reuse some of the responsive stuff but it was too complex and I ended up throwing it all out and starting again with my own CSS.

Logic in the template files is handled by Liquid which made them easy to modify and generally work with.

When I first started out blogging with WordPress around 8 or 9 years ago I would compulsively redesign my site. Looking back this was fantastic, with every new redesign I’d learn so much. It might say something about my maturity or current state of mind that even though I’ve been using this design for over a year and moving to Octopress was an ideal opportunity to change it, I’ve kept everything the same with only some subtle updates.

I’d love to create some publicly available Octopress themes just as I did for WordPress and then Tumblr.

Images

The only thing missing is a simple way to process images. I need something that I can easily pass through an original, have it resize to a small and a large, upload them to a server somewhere and return some Markdown pointing to the large surrounded by a link to the larger one. I’ll write a simple script to do this for me and the result will be images decoupled from my publishing system.

Update: I solved this problem with an image resizing script.

Conclusion

I’ve been using Octopress for a week now and I’ve immediately noticed the blazing speed. I don’t write much that gets big traffic but I can rest assured know that if I do it’ll no doubt handle the load with room to spare. Another great advantage is the simple ability to use proper version control for the whole site, both the code that generates it and the generated blog. I love the whole workflow.

While I’m not publishing with Tumblr anymore I still use it to read the Tumblr blogs I follow. All week I’ve been seeing this promoted in the dashboard sidebar. It feels like I left just in time.

§

Service

Before I left work this afternoon I thought I’d try a different barber closer to my new office. I checked online and discovered there wasn’t one as close as what I’d hoped so I resolved to just stop in at the same barbershop I’ve been going to for the last couple of years.

When I got there the “closed” sign was hanging. I looked at the opening hours on the door: “Mon-Fri 8am to 5:30pm”. I looked at my bike computer: 5:14pm. I got the attention of someone inside and asked what was going on. She said it takes them 15 minutes to clean and they won’t start on someone in the last 15 minutes. I tried to talk her around. She was steadfast.

This pissed me off and I vented on Twitter:

My hair takes 15-20 minutes to cut. I’ve been going to that barber for years. Not anymore.

I got a couple of responses suggesting it’s a bit drastic to cut ties considering I’ve been going there so long.

The fact I’ve been going there so long is another reason they should have served me. Would it be so difficult to cut someone’s hair 15 minutes before you close, clean up around me and stay back 5 or 10 minutes? For someone who’s spent hundreds of dollars there over the years?

There’s nothing exceptional about this barber and for me, barbers are interchangable. There’s literally 20 options a short distance from work and home. There’s nothing at all tying me to my regular barber, they’re simply one of many very similar options. Serving me after they’d turned the sign (even though it was 15 minutes before closing) may have created a tie. Instead they’ve given me a great reason to choose someone else.

§

Last week’s This American Life podcast episode, a rerun from 1997, was all about conventions. At 37:38 starts the saddest story I have ever heard, bizarrely starting at a NeXT convention and a Steve Jobs comedy roast. I’m not sure why this story hits my usually somewhat callous heart so hard but I was deeply moved.

§

Tim O’Reilly tweeting:

Seems to me that Kickstarter is the most important tech company since Facebook. Maybe more important in the long run.

I’d say Kickstarter, a service which completely turns the table on product development, artistic endeavours, innovation and brings new meaning to the whole concept of supply and demand, is definitely more important than Facebook, a service which facilitates friends chatting and sharing photos.

What is important about Facebook? What’s it brought us that didn’t exist before or wouldn’t have existed otherwise? Nothing but Zynga that I can think of.

§

Photo replies, ask, fan mail and now highlighted posts. I mean, just look at this shit. The core of Tumblr has remained the same but the steady addition of gratuitous features pandering to the teenage masses participating in an online popularity contest has put me off. It was a refreshing switch from WordPress, a good 590 posts and a couple of years but Tumblr is going in a direction that is not for me.

When I get a chance I’ll be moving Valhalla Island to Octopress or a custom system similar to Brent’s. Hopefully this tool will help me smoothly transition the archive.

§


With Apple’s focus on the stuff that matters it’s surprising to see the very old link pointer cursor change in Mac OS 10.7.3. Stranger still considering the direction towards touch interfaces.

§

Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart, is disgustingly obese proof that money can’t buy beauty. External or otherwise. It boggles my mind and sickens me to think that someone with such vast financial wealth made from literally plundering the land would be so anti-tax.

§

The Dumbest Idea in the World

Maximising shareholder value that is. Roger Martin in his book Fixing the Game:

Imagine an NFL coach holding a press conference on Wednesday to announce that he predicts a win by 9 points on Sunday, and that bettors should recognize that the current spread of 6 points is too low. Or picture the team’s quarterback standing up in the postgame press conference and apologizing for having only won by 3 points when the final betting spread was 9 points in his team’s favor. While it’s laughable to imagine coaches or quarterbacks doing so, CEOs are expected to do both of these things.

[…]

If this were the situation in the NFL, then everyone would realize that the “real game” of football had become utterly corrupted by the “expectations game” of gambling.

This is why I’d be bothered about Facebook’s IPO if I had an account there, the focus will be moved from what’s best for you as a customer to what’s best for the shareholder. I don’t even know why Facebook would want to do it, they had $3.5 billion of revenue last year, they don’t need the money and they’d lose control.

§

Tesla Model S →

I’m definitely not a car person. I’ll go as far to say that cars are inherently flawed and even fuelled by 100% clean energy their prevalence has many negative consequences. But I digress, I wanted to write about the couple of things Tesla did right.

  1. It looks like a regular car. Not that the Prius is a great example of an electric car but I think they really fucked up by making it look so unlike “normal” cars. And not that I think regular cars look or function that well. I think not freaking people out with radically ugly electric cars is a good step towards adoption.
  2. The mileage the 85 kWh battery gets (480km) makes the car usable in the only scenario where cars are truly appropriate: travelling as efficiently as possible to remote places.
  3. They made it regular sized. It can even carry 7 people with a special seat configuration. Like I said a couple of days ago, a tiny car with low range that just carries one person is barely better than walking.
  4. It uses a regular power outlet with the option for a higher powered specialty charger. The Leaf requires a special thing installed by an electrician in your garage making impromptu charges impossible.

I think they’ve done a lot of things right to get it widely adopted.

But I think they’ve gone wrong with the ridiculous number of options. There’s 54 possible combinations of model, wheel and roof. Those are only three of many other decisions you have to make. The possible combinations go into the thousands. $250 for an optional parcel shelf!? Just decide for me whether it’s a good idea, if it is, put it in and charge me for it.

The same goes for the battery capacities. It’s obviously the most expensive thing about the car so removing capacity reduces the cost making it more accessible but it also removes the number one advantage: long range.

§

Thousands of parents illegally homeschooling:

At a get-together of home schoolers in a suburban park in Brisbane, one mother, Cindy, said she was about to start home schooling her son but was afraid of the paperwork involved.

“I’m not planning (on registering) because of the work involved,” she said.

“I’m not very organised and disciplined in that sense so that would be a big thing for me to undertake.”

Wow.

§

Not The Solution

The Segway didn’t spawn a transportation revolution because what it’s trying to replace is walking, the simplest, cheapest, most convenient and most environmentally friendly transport there is. Walking is the preference. If it can be walked people want to walk it.

The same goes for these kinds of tiny electric cars unveiled every six months or so and sold as the “answer to urban stress and pollution”.

A better (i.e. smaller, electricity powered) car is not the solution to transportation and social problems in urban centres which have been designed around the car but don’t need them.

These cars barely carry two people, never luggage and they only have a range of around 100km (which actually means a range of 50km if you want to get home). There’s much better ways to transport a single person that kind of distance with no luggage through a city. They feel like steps towards the future imagined in Wall-E:

Wall-E hover chairs

We’re so car dependant/absorbed that we can’t even look away from cars as a solution to our car problem. It reminds me of that Henry Ford quote (possibly joke?): “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” There are a lot of problems with cars in cities, just as there were with horses 100 years ago and everyone thinks the solution is a faster horse.

§

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

YES!

It seems completely bizarre that Arthur Brisbane has to ask this question but I see this constantly at work. It’s especially prevalent during election campaigns when it’s a constant barrage of reporting on what he said and what she said with zero verification on whether there’s any truth whatsoever in those words.

Via Daring Fireball.

§

How I Manage Personal Finance

  1. Every transaction I make gets entered into Quicken Essentials with meta data. If it’s an online transaction I do it immediately. If it’s away from the computer I keep the receipt and enter it when I get home.
  2. All recurring transactions including regular bills and my salary are stored in Quicken and fall into view automatically as the date arrives.
  3. Each week or two I login to my bank account or credit card website and reconcile the transactions. Confirming there’s no anomalies between how much money I think I should have and how much I actually have.

There’s a number of advantages to my approach:

  • At any time, without logging into any websites I know my complete financial situation across all my accounts and cards.
  • I have descriptive and consistent meta data which if you’ve ever looked back at the cryptic list of transactions in your bank statement you know is valuable.
  • I can use the meta data as criteria in live reports like how much cash I withdraw at ATMs, spending on alcohol, bike stuff or more boringly, to help me complete my tax requirements.
  • I always know what my balance is going to be in the near future plus income and minus bills.
  • “Doing my finances” is never a chore. It takes a few seconds to enter each transaction as they happen and only a few minutes to reconcile each week or so.

I also think there’s a less tangible benefit of “dealing with” every transaction I make. Without looking back through the history I always feel like I’m across where my money is going and even if I’m going through a period of spending a lot, it never feels out of control.

My financial situation is purposefully simple and this may not work for everyone but it works very well for me.

Side Note

Quicken Essentials is a bit rough around the edges. I’d love to switch to Koku but it’s missing scheduled and recurring transactions, an important requirement.

§

Pearls Before Breakfast →

This is almost 5 years old now but was recently brought to my attention again and I want to talk about it.

Short version of what happened: one of the world’s greatest violinists, playing one of the world’s most intricate pieces of music on one of the world’s most expensive instruments posed as a busker in a subway for an hour and on the whole he was ignored.

I’m partially playing devil’s advocate as I agree with the point they’re trying to make, that people are too preoccupied with their meaningless, mundane, routine existences to experience something truly beautiful, but…

It is not a surprise to me that people unlikely to be fans of classical music (because it’s not very popular in general), by definition on a schedule either to catch a train or get to work, in freezing cold temperatures, in a place designed around moving people through as quickly as possible, in a place with a lot of atmospheric noise aren’t stopping to listen to this guy.

Do the same “experiment” in a park on a weekend with lovely weather and I’m sure you’d gather a decent crowd.

§

How To Buy Things

  1. When you see something you want don’t buy it.
  2. Instead add it to a list.
  3. Every few weeks review the list, remove the things you no longer need or want.
  4. If you have the urge to impulse buy something because it’s on special, don’t buy it if it’s not on the list, optionally add it to the list.
  5. If something on the list is on special or has remained on the list after multiple reviews, buy it.

I’ve used this system for a couple of years and it works well. Over time I’ve avoided buying 1000s of dollars worth of stuff that, as time has passed, I’ve realised I don’t need or want.

§

  1. Anyone can enter whatever they want, they’re just text fields.
  2. This is a website on the internet, drinking age varies between countries.
  3. Why would you have to be drinking age to view a website about alcohol anyway? It’s not like it’ll turn your USB port into a beer tap.

What a waste of time.

§

Escalators

The way people behave on escalators fascinates me. When faced with an escalator with minimal obstacles you have two options:

  1. Keep walking. Get double the speed for the equivalent effort.
  2. Stop walking. Go the same speed, or slower for zero effort.

It blows me away to see people walking briskly through a shopping centre only to stop dead on an empty escalator. To choose doing nothing and maintaining speed over making no extra effort and doubling your progress says something greater about a person I think.

§