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Straight from Owen Tyme's keyboard

Building a Blog

October 29, 2023 — Owen Tyme

After a rather frustrating and enraging experience with a particular social-media-platform-that-shall-remain-nameless suspending my account for no apparent reason about ten minutes after I had a page setup for my pen name, on Friday, I wasn't in to the mood to deal with another social media platform.

The biggest alternative, the social-media-platform-formerly-known-as-twitter currently seems to be a huge dumpster fire, so instead, I set my mind to creating a blog to accompany my author website, because I need some way to communicate with fans.

Requirements

I set out to find blog software that met the following requirements:

  • Able to generate static HTML pages
  • WYSIWYG editing
  • Can run on my own computer
  • Simple
  • Disqus.com comments

Static HTML

My author website is built on Feather Wiki, which is basically a small, self-editing, multi-page HTML file with embedded JavaScript to handle the real work. It's a fascinatingly simple and easy approach to making a website and once you're ready to publish it, you just turn off the editing features from the settings page, save it and upload. Ideally, I was looking for the means to setup a blog with a similar piece of software.

WYSIWYG

WYSIWYG = What You See Is What You Get. Ideally, I wanted software that made itself easy to use by allowing me to edit pages like a word processor might edit a document.

My Own Hardware

I use Linux, exclusively, so I needed something I could run from my own computer.

The KISS Principle

KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid! Finally, I want something simple. Honestly, there's a lot of software out there for making websites, but almost none of it is simple and the install instructions for most are incomprehensible, to say the least.

Open Source developers are awesome, in general, I love them for giving things away for free and I often do the same, but man, they need to learn to write better documentation. Sorry guys, but you know it just as well as I do!

Sadly, simple software installation is just not something most of them even bother to try and make happen, so we're stuck with installation instructions that are not even close to simple.

The Comments

For a previous website, specifically a wiki, I embedded a Disqus widget on each page. That's a very useful website for adding comments to an otherwise entirely static HTML page, which allows logins from Google, the social-media-platform-that-shall-remain-nameless and the social-media-platform-formerly-known-as-twitter, on top of the usual e-mail and password system most websites use.

The Solution

In the end, I stumbled across and opted to use BashBlog. BashBlog is dead simple, being nothing more than a shell script (the Linux equivalent to a DOS/Windows batch file, though shell scripts are much more powerful). Since I've dabbled in generating a static HTML website from a shell script before, this turned out to be ideal. The script itself is rather elegantly simple and easy to modify. It also turns out that BashBlog supports Disqus.com comments, with a little easy setup.

So, with a useful tool in hand, I experimented with making a handful of small modifications, like adding the cover image I originally planned to use with the social-media-platform-that-shall-remain-nameless.

So, that just leaves the WYSIWYG editor, which I still lack. However, I did install a plugin to BashBlog that lets it work with Markdown (a simple text format that interprets various symbols as bold, italics and a whole slew of other, useful things) instead of forcing me to write HTML files, directly. Then I modified BashBlog to call out to a program called ghostwriter, which just happened to be available for my Linux distribution of choice (Linux Mint). Ghostwriter allows me to see my Markdown text side-by-side with the rendered text, so it's almost as good as a WYSIWYG editor.

In the end, with this combination of tools, I've got a simple blogging system that allows me to update this website with relative ease and which I'm comfortable customizing to my own needs.

Conclusion

So, to recap my earlier points, let's look over my list of requirements and check off a few things:

  • [X] Able to generate static HTML pages
  • [?] WYSIWYG editing
  • [X] Can run on my own computer
  • [X] KISS
  • [X] Disqus.com comments

I almost accomplished all I set out to do and I can accept that one answer that's neither yes or no, for now. In the future I'll have to experiment with other software that can directly edit HTML files, which I could call from the script (Libreoffice can do this, but the trouble is I need incomplete HTML files without wrapping <body> and </body> tags), but that's a task for another day.

I hope this helps others in a similar position and I hope this helps others escape the social-media-platform-that-shall-remain-nameless and it's dumpster fire alternative, the social-media-platform-formerly-known-as-twitter.

Addendum A

After all that anger, frustration and work to make a blog, a friend of mine mentioned the existence of Mastodon. Honestly, I hadn't heard the name in quite some time, but it turned out to be open source (yay!). The biggest server, mastodon.social, has extremely simple rules and a privacy policy that's actually human-readable, though still written in the esoteric tongue of lawyers, demons and demon-lawyers (which only barely qualifies as English).

By comparison, the social-media-platform-that-shall-remain-nameless used an exhaustive set of legal documents that very carefully spelled out all the ways they were allowed to misuse my personal information for the sake of the bottom dollar, while simultaneously trying to hide that fact in the esoteric tongue of lawyers, demons and demon-lawyers.

So, the end result of Friday's frustration is this blog and my new Mastodon account.

Addendum B

In the mean time, the social-media-platform-that-shall-remain-nameless has responded to my appeal to my account getting suspended by restoring it without actually telling me what they think I did wrong. I find myself wondering, is it worth the frustration? I'm really not sure and until they give me a clear response to what the heck they think I did wrong, I don't see the point in using the social-media-platform-that-shall-remain-nameless.

Honestly, would you? Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice...

Tags: blog, html, websites, shell-script, social-media, mastodon, social-media-platform-that-shall-remain-nameless

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