Migrating (temporarily?) to Jekyll

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I’ve made the decision to migrate this site temporarily away from Brimstone and into a static site. The reasons for this are pretty straightforward and nothing too controversial I hope; time/effort/headspace, and workflow/what I want from this site.

Brimstone, my custom blog/cms/indieweb software, has been a bit creaky for a little while. While I stand by the code and design decisions I made when I first drafted the update a while ago, it’s still running off of Symfony 3.4 which is way behind the newest version. I tried upgrading a few times but I struggled with it. I was going to upgrade by basically re-implementing in the latest version of Symfony in order to implement some features around multi-language posts I’d been toying with but the world kept getting in the way (see recent events and this thing), and it became less and less important. The final nail in the coffin of Brimstone-as-it-was is the fact that, a few days ago, it suddenly stopped rendering <textarea> and <select> tags. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s a PHP upgrade on my shared hosting which has broken some of Symfony forms used to generate the HTML forms. This effectively means I can’t write any posts!

It was in my future plans to implement ActivityPub and Micropub endpoints, which would allow me to use desktop and mobile clients to post however, again, that should really come with an upgrade to the rest of the codebase. Right now, it matters more that I can write for my blog at all rather than doing it in a correct or idealised way. Life is still very much happening around me, and if I start a project now then chances are Symfony will move on a little bit further by the time it’s finished and I’ll end up playing catch up again!

The second reason is the type of workflow and presence I want this site to provide me. Over the last few years I’ve been getting more and more into managing more and more of my work and life in Plaintext (got an upcoming post planned about that too!) and it’s been a fantasy of mine for a little while to write a post in a markdown file via a text editor (for articles) or the commandline (for notes) and upload that to my site within a few strokes. My previous workflow was to write articles in a text editor and then copy/paste the markdown into a web form. Not totally crude but required a few step. For notes I’ve always just used the web form straight. I really enjoy hanging out in a text editor and writing this way. I wrote my entire PhD thesis in markdown via a text editor, so it’s a workflow I’m comfortable with.

For these reasons, a static site suits me for the moment. They also mean that this probably won’t be a short-term change. I do love writing software for the indieweb, but ultimately I just kinda like blogging and microblogging. Microblogging is something I do very intermittently, and I’ve noticed I kinda do it in spurts. I still don’t plan on going back to Twitter ever, so I’ll just hold off microblogging for a little while. It may mean more “Update here’s how I’m doing” style articles for the mid-term.

It does mean that I lose the ability to POSSE my notes and articles to Twitter and Mastodon so some folks who’d otherwise read them (friends/colleagues) won’t get the chance to do so but tbh I don’t mind that. The big change is that my URLS and, aha, “permalinks” will be changing. Tbh my permalinks was a design flaw in Brimstone and I didn’t follow the indieweb guidance on URL design. Whoops. There is also the question of what I do with my notes. I, thankfully, wrote a feature in Brimstone to export all my posts as XML files which will be straightforward to iterate over in python and convert to Jekyll posts. I will likely not post further notes but instead create a notes page that archives them, but I’ll need to figure out how best to do that as I am not a very advanced Jekyll user and the aim is to keep things simple for the time being!

In the immediate short-term I’m not going to be doing too much, maybe posting some articles. I won’t even be changing the design of the site much. After my PhD viva and corrections I’ll spend some time learning how to write a Jekyll theme and make the site look like how it used to, as I kinda liked the design. Following that, I’ve been getting into Esperanto lately (I know, I know…) and I’ve had a fantasy of being able to write a post in multiple languages and have them link to each other automatically. Turns out Anthony Granger wrote about an elegant solution to this which I may experiment with.

Anyway, that’s it from me for now: goodbye Brimstone and hello plaintext for a while. At least until compiling the site gets old ;-)