Writing About Things

October 18th, 2015  |  Published in etc

I pushed v1 of a little project up to a new puddingbowl subdomain this evening.

Things is meant to scratch a few itches:

I’ve been meaning to redo this site as “a real site with a blog attached,” I’ve been wanting to not use WordPress anymore, and I’ve been wanting to write things that aren’t blog entries. Things only satisfies one of those criteria right now: It’s not WordPress. There’s not much content on it at all, and of what there is, one of the things is a repurposed blog entry.

Anyhow, here’s why I think I’ll like working on it:

Reviews

I wanted to start writing reviews about things, and I wanted to try to do better than a lot of informal reviews I end up stumbling across when I’m trying to learn more about something. When I was trying to learn about standing desks a few years ago, I kept coming across all these reviews written from the perspective of someone who’d been using one for all of a week. That didn’t help me understand the products, and it really didn’t help me understand what you’re in for with a standing desk.

Reviews in general are kind of like that. I’m really thrilled when I come across one where the writer is circling back on their initial review months later, or simply hadn’t bothered to write about the thing at all until they’d had some time with it. Most of the time, though, you’re getting initial impressions. It’s that way from commercial sites because they’re under pressure to have those early impressions out. It’s that way for personal sites because people mostly seem to want you to know they have a thing, and they don’t often care to come back around and note that it was a bad purchase, or that it broke and they threw it out, or that they just don’t care to use it anymore.

So, the core of Things will be me trying to improve the situation for anyone considering purchasing a thing I happen to own and wanted to write about: I want to come back to each one I write later on and offer the long-haul perspective on it.

The reviews I write get a score based on how long I’ve owned a thing. So, for instance, my initial review of a Schwinn Loop folding bike—which I’ve owned for less than a month—gets a lower score than my review of the Quicksilver, which I’ve owned for just shy of a year. I could figure that out for myself and periodically update the site by hand, but it’d be better to automate that.

That’s where the backend comes in:

Middleman

I was introduced to Jekyll as “a static site generator built on Ruby.” If you’re like me and maybe had several Rails projects behind you when you first heard that, you might think things like “oh, cool … I bet it uses ERB or maybe even HAML for templating!” and you got a little excited over that.

Jekyll very pointedly does not use Erb or HAML, and after almost three years of coming in and out of contact with it in a professional capacity, I don’t really want much to do with it in my spare time.

Middleman is a static site generator built on Ruby, and it does use HAML right out of the box, along with a few other pretty nice things. I’m having fun with it.

One of the ways I’m taking advantage of having HAML templating is in the review templates: I put the date I bought something I’m reviewing in the metadata of a review, and that changes the visual presentation of the review. So that Loop review has a red warning box, and the Quicksilver review is a sooting blue.

Next

So, that’s that. The reviews (such as they are) are the featured content. I’d like to move some of my tool- and things-related blogging from here over to there, and I’d like to start building sections about tools I use a lot over time.

I also want to use what I’m learning building out little features here and there to redo this site. That’s gonna take some time because I don’t want to use somebody else’s pre-packaged theme.

That’s kind of what got me on this kick: The theme for this blog dates back to when Blueprint was the new hotness in CSS frameworks. Someone bundled it up for WordPress, I poked at it a little to personalize it, and here we are. I’d like to climb just one level up the ladder, to using Bootstrap and HAML to put things together. Still someone else’s CSS framework and all the rest, but it’s just a hair bit more I can play with.

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