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Linguist, post-doc, etc.

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21 December 2020

Less is more

by Tiago Tresoldi

I spent a considerable part of my doctorate researching minimalism in the arts, with certain restrictions on der Rohe’s proposals. But this post is not about the contrast between modernist action, neoclassical marble and the purpose of the ruins: it is about my new page and this blog.

A minimalist building
330 North Wabash in Chicago, a minimalist building by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

As most people who have been “netcizens” since the mid-90s, I lost count of how many times I started and abandoned websites and blogs. One of the reasons is that it is a fun activity: it is programming, but a different kind of programming that is closer to art, as we seek to satisfy both ourselves and a generally unknown and anonymous audience. However, the academic career has for some years now required “serious” researchers to have their own pages, usually sober listings of teaching activities and publications. The most daring ones allow themselves blogs, which together with some other social network (among which Twitter seems to emerge) manages to give some human color to the words, some “blood to the carcass” as Manzoni said.

When I decided to resume the project of a personal page, about three years ago, the decision immediately fell on static generators like Jekyll, Hugo and Pelican. Maybe they are a little less fashionable nowadays, but the proposal remains very valid: to focus on the content, usually writing pages and posts in Markdown, and to have a system that takes care of the entire organization of the site, even more so in files static files that can be hosted very easily.

But the practice of static generators reminded me, in some ways, that of LaTeX. The principle that we can focus on the content and have the system take care of the typographical minutiae is beautiful and to some extent holds, but anyone who has written anything concrete in LaTeX, having to refine the position of tables or struggle with vertical spacing, knows that this is precisely more of a principle than a description of the workflow. The same happened with these generators: I tried several, and, along with normal computer issues like incompatible libraries here and outdated plugins there, I quickly realized that I ended up spending too much time on the site structure and its appearance. Some time ago I saw a mock graphic, in XKCD-style, that illustrated the inconvenient truth of many analogous systems: websites and blogs maintained with “traditional” services like Blogger (which is getting worser by the day) or Wordpress tend to be more updated and alive than those created with these generators, often not surviving the fateful “first post”.

In the end, I decided to simply give up the functions of supporting a blog and write a trivial Python script that converted Markdown sources to HTML using pandoc. It served for a certain period, but it was already too limited. Returning to static generators, I had the same bore of a few years ago: too many configurations, too many details, too many demands for a flow that should be fluid and fun. And so the “less is more” decision was made: use only the services of GitHub Pages, extending only the extremely necessary for my wishes, and quickly putting a website and blog on the air. It is possible to host any type of site on GitHub, but this service, in which I don’t even need to compile the pages locally, forced me to have fewer options and (I hope) create more content.

As any page is “under construction”, but I am very satisfied with these results. In one day I managed to have a page with the type of theme I wanted (this somewhat “geeky” template that vaguely resembles a terminal), with the main sections I will need, and with the skeleton of a blog ready and running. For new posts, it is enough to write a file in Markdown, as I am doing now for testing, and commit to the repository - which can even be done online, directly on GitHub. If the service is canceled, I can always migrate to alternatives, or even switch to some other tool.

Well satisfied with the results, now it is time to return, after years, to blog more. And close this post that was mostly inteded to fill the void. :wink:

tags: blog