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Hello Octopress

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A week ago, I re-deployed as an Octopress-powered site. It is a much better fit than Drupal CMS.

In Drupal, most everything is customizable and I can configure multiple forms for writing multiple kinds of posts; in Octopress there’s only one way to write anything. It was interesting to construct so many different ways to input and output information in Drupal, but ultimately it only distracts from doing work (i.e. expression). While Octopress is pretty limited in turns of customization (you can really on tweak the cosmetic styling), this helps to focus on writing versus tweaking. It changes one’s attitude.

Virtual Ubuntu

My recent use of virtual machines has also turned my attitude towards writing and making things. Whereas before I obsessed over the systems I used on a daily basis, I’ve become much more devoted to results rather than processes.

My personal PC has long been a multi-boot Windows and Linux machine, but recently I was introduced to VMware and immediately fell in love. Whereas it was a pain to use Linux before – requiring a few minutes time to boot into Linux from Windows – I am now running my Ubuntu machine virtually in VMplayer. I can reach my Linux environment in seconds, and additionally access all my Windows applications at the same time. And it is trivial to format new OS installations, or to revert system changes (via snapshots or backed up vmdk files). I find that I am no longer obsessing about the UI and features of my Linux desktop (or even my Windows desktop) as I had on my prior Linux laptop and desktops.

And so my attitude about the desktop PC has changed. On a virtual machine where everything is so easy to change, the only persistency is the content you write; time spent customizing the OS and UI environment becomes less important because you are apt to boot into a new virtual machine in the near future and lose everything you’ve customized anyway. (For my personal word processing and organizing, I’ve already embraced cloud computing in a huge way.) Together, Octopress and virtual Ubuntu leave me little to play with besides writing posts.

Web Hosting

Octopress works by baking code into static HTML pages. These pages are then deployed on your favorite web server – mine being NearlyFreeSpeech.NET. While it would be possible to deploy my site locally on a VM, I am behind a dynamic IP address and could not map to my virtual server.

My blog workflow is as simple as editing posts saved (or shared?) in a /posts/ folder, and occasionally calling rake generate and rake deploy from the command-line to copy the static files to my space on Posts can be edited in your favorite (Linux) word processor, but I typically have used the vim editor in the shell.

The command-line may be a put-off to some, and indeed I would have sought something more ideal a few years ago, but I’ve come around to believing that web forms are not necessary. As I’ve extoled above, customizing web forms on Drupal really just detracts from productivity and expression sometimes.

Useful vim symlinks

A few useful symbolic links worth setting up in the Octopress install are as follows:

ln -s source/_posts posts #This creates a shortcut for editing posts
ln -s source/_includes/custom templates #This is where you can override your design template
ln -s sass/custom styles #this is where you can override your CSS styles

Additional pro tip: Run rake preview in a spare Ctrl+Alt+Fx console to serve up your web pages locally.

First Impressions

Octopress is very good at what it does – blog posts – and does so in a minimalist manner.

It also ships with a pretty theme which I have styled somewhat to differentiate myself from other vanilla Octopressers. I had designed my own theme from scratch for my last site which turned out poorly, and so I wasn’t keen on starting from a blank page, though I remain glad to have done it at least once to really learn how inherited templating works on a CMS like Drupal.

Second Impressions

There does not appear to be any plug-in for image galleries yet (via fancybox or so). I will have to look into this further and consider contributing to the project.

A final quote

The default typography is very nice so I have decided to share a quote from a cool dude:

I’m not smart. I try to observe. Millions saw the apple fall but Newton was the one who asked why.

Bernard Baruch 24 June 1965