or, couldn't you just pay a designer?

I get this question a lot, and I think it deserves a longer answer.

First, about this website. This is my personal website. I also maintain a professional website, which is the one I put on my CV and which I use to promote my consulting gig^H^H^H business. This is where most of my writing goes.

Every once in a while, though, something I write turns out to be too too obscure, or completely non-technical. It is not too appropriate for a professional website, not in 2018 anyway, so I publish it here.

Now, why the looks?

Originally, this website had a look that was somewhat inspired by Plan 9 from Bell Labs, whose decaying corpse has released many souls from its cage, with this one being the most active. Its UI looks like this. I made a few changes here and there, but if you squint really hard, you might see the resemblance..

This is what the Internet that got me interested in computers looked like. Part of it is pure nostalgia but the other part is an honest belief that this is a better interaction model. Infinite-scrolling blogs with information that's difficult to browse and retrieve, which grinds a quad-core machine down to a halt, is not progress.

It is the model that modern audience is most adjusted to, so I would never recommend something else to anyone who does not have the luxury of choosing their audience for a website. I do, so this is what I use.

Neither do I think platforms like Facebook are a good interaction model. On these platforms, you don't find information but, much like in Soviet Russia, information finds you, and it just so happens that it's the information you like, because Zuckerberg would get really poor, really fast if Facebook served us information that we dislike. Plus, the dumber we are, the better the ads work, so this is great in the long run, too.

Of course, the look has nothing to do with the content. But the look is part of the message. Mine is not a grassroots message, whatever that means, but it is a call to reflection.

If you would like to make your website look as good as this one, the navbar images are generated using this beautiful piece of software. There will be plenty of UX designers to tell you how wrong it is, but honestly, after browsing the modern web for a while, I wouldn't take their advice.

Besides, it's really simple. At one point, this site used to run on WordPress. It was nice but the administrative hassle was tremendous — tons of security updates, a bunch of programs (nginx, MariaDB, PHP...), a fragile web of config files, all to serve text and a few images. I got tired of it. I am not a system administrator by trade and I admire the patience and willpower of anyone who is. Aware of my own limits, I decided to ditch the whole thing.

Right now, this site is generated by a home-made script that has 120 lines, 48 of which are comments. At one time, I also had a small Python UI for it, which was around 150 lines. But I didn't really need it; most of it got abstracted as a handful of Emacs Lisp functions to help me write HTML code and generate boilerplate. That's maybe another 100 lines of Lisp or so. (To be completely fair, that's about 10,000 lines of C code...)

All of these include a bunch of assumptions about structure, so they aren't as general as Pelikan or Jekyll — this isn't a subtle way of saying that the people who wrote those are idiots. I just don't need all the things they need.

It's not web scale, in fact I could probably host it on a 486 (and I swear to God, one day I will, just to prove a point), but it does the job and it works the way I like programs to work. I'm one of those people who practice what they preach.

March 30, 2017

Last updated: July 16, 2018