Web development is the skill that irritates me the most. It has improved over
the years. The tools available today are far superior. But, I only glimpse at
better web design skills. I often times struggle to understand why some websites
look the way they do. Even with full access to their source code, replicating
them isn’t always evident. There are
CSS tricks I refuse to practice
in the aim of simplifying what I imitate. That means some layouts don’t look
exactly the same.
Years ago, I promised myself not to waste effort trying to do the webdesign by myself. And yet this blog’s design is a topic on itself. One I have worked on too many times. It is a personal character trait: optimization is my favorite procrastination.
Which was the trigger this time? Since I moved to Hugo
, I have been happy thanks
to their well-organized themes gallery. It offers a lot of attractive designs.
Most of the time, I find something far better than anything I could produce
myself. Still, there is a undeniable irritation in my mind, when I use someone
else’s design to express myself. I started with the
which was an excellent design for a blog. Yet, it then fell short with my
motives. This led me to the
. It was a
better fit and it served me well over the years, until it felt bloated.
Wowchemy served first academics, then research groups too, then almost
everybody else. The creator found success and patronage in this evolution. But
all those new responsibilities bloated
Wowchemy beyond my taste. And for some
reason I couldn’t resist the urge to update. I could not leave it frozen in the
version, which I was already satisfied with.
The updates were always painful, I somehow could not find the update guides. In the author’s aim to simplify installation and serve new users, I felt he ruined updates for old users. Every new internal design choice annoyed me more. Focused on serving his new users, but not aligned with my preferences.
My anger accumulated until I wanted to give it a try and do it myself. I remain
Wowchemy’s academic layout, but I aimed for a minimalist and
simple design. I prefer to reuse elements as much as possible, and make
everything feel almost the same.
It turns out, simple and minimal is an elusive goal. I could cut out a lot of
formulas, and the testnet bitcoin tip box, demand
although not yet implemented, the search functionality.
CSS styling is still a nightmare, but since I discovered Tachyons
it has been
a lot more manageable. I rely on their examples, which are minimal and
effective. I’m well served by FontAwesome
for the icons.
With those dependencies, I can now build each page as I like. The internal
HTML is a lot simpler, I limit the amount of
div containers I use. I make
the effort to style everything with
tachyons and reduce the custom
continues to be a steep learning process. There were moments where I struggled
trying to achieve my desired alignment and look. It turns out some
necessary to get some effects. Many other times it is my lack of skill that
prevents me from reaching the page design I aspire.
I’m currently happy with the result. I eliminated most of the front matter
configuration. That makes it easy to write my content in
org-mode and export
it to markdown, which
Hugo understands best. I use
org properties for fine
control over the exporter, particularly on the about page. There I use org-cv
which I designed to manage all the content in a single org file. Then export it
with \(\LaTeX\) to pdfs and to markdown for this website. I can only achieve
that consistency by doing everything myself. I’m surprised how far I could get
CSS alone. I can arrange the layout within
CSS and minimal nested
HTML, that makes it a lot simpler.
Pretty much, I’m over scratching my itch. I have a simple website and I can work again on the content. I don’t have the update problem, because I’m the updater. I decide when to update this site, based on my needs and bug fixes. I have my own interest in focus. A 3rd party theme instead tries to solve many problems for its users, which raises the complexity. I have less of a documentation problem, because the theme is small enough to fit in my head. Most of the layout is content based not structured data, which makes it much easier to relearn or adapt.
But I had to make so many design choices I did not foresee, and I had to face
certain realities. I can’t get rid of
than I imagined, but now I know a little more what I’m doing.
Software archeologist – Recovering Physicist – Dancer
As scientist I studied the physics of the very small quantum world. As a computer hacker I distill code. Software is eating the world, and less code means less errors, less problems. Millions of lines of legacy code demand attention and have to be understood and simplified for future reliable operation.