Matt Kopala

Software Development, Technology, Travel

Setting Up My Blog

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After having this on my to-do list for a long time (years?) I’ve finally set up a blog at my own domain.

My Internet history

This isn’t my first personal web presence independent of sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Back in college I had a homepage at the University of Arizona on the server there. It was ugly. My lack of design skill was abundantly obvious. The page was so 1996. But I got to put up whatever content I wanted, in the format that I wanted.

My next site didn’t come until I left the US in 2003 to travel around the world. I got an account on the SDF Public Access UNIX System and used it for my email and website. It started as a very simple HTML site, was quickly converted in to a site dynamically generated with Perl. After a couple of years, I got myself a domain and a shared hosting account, learned PHP and MySQL, and it became Matt’s Travels Around the World.

Why Blog?

Fast-forward to 2011. I’ve been wanting to put up a blog for a while, but haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve always found myself consuming huge amounts of information, solving technical problems, but only sharing a small fraction of this. So, I wanted to share more, in a way that’s easy for me, in a format & style I like, and with all the trimmings. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. are all great, but just not the place to put up longer posts, where you want to embed links, add source code, include images, and format things however you want.

Some of my reasons for blogging:

  • A place to remember stuff
  • Catalogue & save links
  • Share useful information
  • A place where I can post information and share by URL
  • Most efficient way for people to get to know me, my interests, and my skills
  • Incentive to organize old notes & publish them

Blogging Options

Ok, so I’m going to put a blog up on the web. Great. Now which platform & tool do I pick?
Wordpress, Tumblr, Blogger, Posterous, Typepad, Jekyll, Octopress, Squarespace, LiveJournal, Movable Type, Textpattern …?

Wordpress and Jekyll

I almost went with WordPress, since I’ve become decently familiar with it as a result of developing a plugin for it. But then, just last week, I was at the Ruby::AZ meeting, and Curtis Miller did a presentation on Jekyll. The timing was apt, and I was intrigued by the “Blogging for Hackers” tagline. It sounded a little bit too static for my tastes, but Octopress was also mentioned during the presentation as a more fully featured solution, and I made note of that. I’m a big vim and git user, so picking something where I could use my version control system and text editor of choice has a lot of appeal.

Features

A couple of days later, I hopped on Google and started researching blogging software. I found a review chart that helped give me an idea of features that I might want. A review of various options reminded me what was out there. I found a good summary of what to look for in your blogging software as well.

Some features that I wanted:

  • Categories/Tags
  • Source code embedding w/ syntax highlighting
  • Lightweight markup option
  • Powerful editor
  • Comments
  • Clean design & theme
  • Latest Tweets / Recent Posts widgets
  • Prominent posting date (I hate when I read an article and it’s not dated)
  • Twitter/Facebook/Google+ buttons/integration
  • Easily extensible

There are plenty of other features, but these are the ones I came up with as important to me.

Octopress

Then I started searching more specifically about Octopress and Jekyll. I found some good articles which helped guide my decision. I agreed with these thoughts on control and workflow, and I pretty much found myself WordPress is probably overkill. I liked the idea of learning more Ruby by adopting a blogging tool written with it. I decided that for now, I’d just go for it, and put something up with Octopress. If I need more later, I’ll figure that out then.

Comments

Commenting on blog posts is built-in to dynamic frameworks such as Wordpress, but as Octopress and Jekyll are “baked”, and are just a collection of static HTML pages. To add comments to blog posts, you have to add something like Disqus, which a lot of users seem to like, but not everyone. I’ve seen plenty of sites that let you comment directly using your Facebook profile. Some also using Google Plus. I like that you can comment immediately and don’t need to sign up for an account with these options. I personally would like to seem some sort of combination of these, with the “Like” and “+1” options, but more like the Stack Exchange system.

Setting it up

Today I sat down and decided to push through and get everything setup.

I already had a micro EC2 instance that I had set up a week or two ago to host my blog & whatever other websites, services, and content I feel like hosting.

I followed the Octopress instructions and installed RVM, and Ruby, and initialized everything. I edited the configuration file and added my Twitter handle and Google+ ID, and turned on the Tweet, Google +1, and Facebook Like buttons.

I logged in to my Google Analytics account, which I hadn’t used for years, and added the URL for my blog in to there as well. If I’m going to put up a new blog, and spend hours typing content for it, I might as well know who’s visiting it ;–).

Then, I popped open Vim, a browser tab with Markdown syntax, and started typing away. This is what resulted.

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