It really wasn’t supposed to be this hard. All I wanted to do (famous last words there, yes) was to

  • consolidate all my various bits of writing in one place;
  • have control over how posts were tagged, categorised, and presented;
  • not have to fire up a Web site like to create posts;
  • use Disqus for comments; and, most importantly
  • be able to stop hand-coding raw HTML (at least once I had things set up to my liking) but use Markdown or something very similar instead.

How hard could that be?

Lawyers have a saying that applies to dealing with witnesses: never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to. Software development, and Web development, and blogging, too often are all about not knowing what questions you’re even asking until they bite you where it hurts.

What you are reading here was originally set up using Jekyll Bootstrap (hereinafter “JB”). That gave me the illusion of getting up to speed quickly, by defaulting or masking parts of the underlying Jekyll parsing engine. Jekyll, as the JB introduction takes pains to make clear, is not a blogging engine; it “does not come with any content nor does it have any templates or design elements”. JB itself is a layer on top of Jekyll with support for theming, commenting, and Rake tasks to make nuts-and-bolts work easier.

Jekyll Bootstrap itself is an odd beast; though the Web site claims that the latest verion is “0.3.0 released on 24 Feb 2012”, and in the README, no such release exists in the Github repo’s release list. It’s very confusing for a new user (who wishes to use it for writing) to just come in, pick up a current, stable version, and Get Stuff Done. I accept that there’s a lot of stuff under the Jekyll (and JB) hood that I ought to learn. There’s a lot of detailed doc for JB. But the “quick start”, as alluded to earlier, gives you the illusion of getting up to speed quickly.

The other major contender for “here’s what you use on top of Jekyll” appears to be Octopress which, as the currently most-recent blog entry says,

…is basically some guy’s Jekyll blog you can fork and modify.

He’s in the midst of rebuilding it nearly from scratch as a “selection of gems, each semantically versioned with is own documentation and tests.” (Cue raucous applause and breathless anticipation.) Once Octopress 3.0 is a real thing, you’ll just install a Gem or three, and the Github repo you keep your Octopress site in will just be your stuff, not (as in the case of my current JB-based repo) ~300 commits to which you add your stuff.

Until then, however, I’ve a few questions I need to find answers to, for now in terms of Jekyll Bootstrap:

  • How can I deploy development branches (and test/view them) without disturbing my public, master-branch-based JB deploy?
  • Why can’t my pages.html file find my posts even though my tags.html can?
  • How come my sidebar isn’t being displayed, even though the markup is basically as-generated by JB?
  • What’s the best way to normalise case for tags, to ensure that a capitalisation typo doesn’t either render something difficult to find or clutter up the tags.html file unhelpfully?
  • and so on.

If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

Jeff Dickey

Software and Web developer. Tamer of deadlines. Enchanter of stakeholders.