Monolith149 Daily

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Leaping to a New Blogging Platform

Okay, it’s apparently once again time to take the leap. I’m moving Monolith149 Daily from Blogger, where it’s lived since May of 2006. Its new home is a combination of writing posts in Markdown on a local machine, generating a static blog using Octopress, and publishing the blog on Github Pages.

I’ve enjoyed the convenience of editing in Blogger and posting on Blogspot. However, with Google’s incessant and sometimes tone deaf push toward Google Plus, and other concerns about my data there, I’ve felt a growing urge to make a change.

In spite of that, I’m still an avid and nearly hourly user of Google’s vast supply of services and apps such as Gmail and documents.

So Far

Before the last move to Blogger in 2006, I was using Blosxom which was also a text-file-based source system. As I recall, Blosxom was a Perl program that dynamically generated web pages on the fly from the text sources. It ran on Monolith, which was my desktop computer for a long time, and was also my web server. That’s because this was in the “old days” when the university didn’t have a firewall and all of the desktop computers were on the Internet. That arrangement also resulted in all you’d expect to follow.

Blosxom began to bog down as the years and number of posts grew. It also seemed wise then to move my personal blog to a place that didn’t belong to my employer.

Back in 2002 when I began blogging (I recently wrote about the ninth and tenth anniversaries), I was writing the blogs on Blogger and keeping the source there. But I ftp-published them back to my desktop, Monolith, where they were served from.

A New Text Age

Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz from bloggers, and people who look like bloggers, about Markdown. It’s a simple text mark up language created by John Gruber. I finally dipped into Markdown a bit when I began experimenting with Github. From my point of view, it’s nearly the same as many wiki markup schemes that have been around for a long time. It’s both very easy and familiar.

I miss some of the ability to do things like adjust text size, change fonts, etc. However, it seems to be a fair trade for a format that’s easy to move in the future. Even in the worst case, Markdown is just simple, readable text. The source files themselves provide a useful record.


Then I somehow heard about Octopress. At first I was a little put off by the work required to install and set up yet another software package with dependencies that had to be worked out. It did require fiddling around with Ruby versions on an Ubuntu 12.04 LTS system and dealing with something called Gems and bundles. I’ve been happy enough with Perl and Python over the years to never feel the need to dive into Ruby.

Once it was all set up and working, it took more reading and experimenting to get various customizations working. For example, the default fonts for article titles were way too big and heavy for my taste. It was actually quite easy to make those changes once I’d sorted it out.


Finally, there was the question of where to publish. There’s Amazon S3 which is excellent for putting up a static site. However, there was not an AWS tool for uploading and updating a hierarchy of files. There are several external tools and I could certainly write my own code, but I didn’t want to go down those roads.

I briefly looked at Dropbox. There are some reasonably well-established services that will serve out a Dropbox folder as a web site, making it a viable choice.

However, in the end I landed on an unexpected delight: Github Pages. Octopress actually recommends Github Pages. I had recently become very comfortable with using Git and Github. Github Pages is a wonderful service that allows publishing a static web site for free. They even have support for layout and content generation.

It was quite easy and straightforward to set up the Github repo and before you’d know it, I was able to add, commit and push the blog.


The one thing that has worried me the most the seemingly heavier lifting required to actually get posts up. Would that add enough friction to impede posting? Writing the text is easy, but then follow the several steps required to publish. Granted, Octopress actually has some built-in automation for one-command deployment of new content, but I haven’t adopted its approach yet. Actually, it can probably be boiled down to one or two simple shell aliases.

And really, when I think about it, I had to do a lot of switching between HTML and rich text modes in Blogger to write even a simple post. Adding an image to a blog entry was about the same amount of work as Octopress requires. So maybe there’s not as much friction as I’d feared.


So, here I am, starting Chapter Four of my blogging life. I’ll continue to write little tweet-length posts and post simple shared links. When it became clear a few years ago that Twitter severely limited users’ ability to retrieve an archive of their tweets, I moved away from originating any important content on Twitter and focused solely on blogging it. From there, Feedburner echoed it to my Twitter account. Earlier this year, Twitter finally added the ability to retrieve a complete archive of tweets.

There will inevitably be some style adjustments and changes and, who knows, there may even be yet another leap sometime down the road. You can probably count on it. When that time comes, it will be interesting to see how long the investment in Markdown source holds up.


Updated 10 Jun 2013 6:47