Entries posted in November 2012

Reassessing what I want from a simple website creation tool

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Thanks very much to everybody who commented, both publicly and privately, on my previous entry.

To recap: I have three sites that were each generated by slightly different templating software I'd built and tweaked over the years. I was frustrated that the three copies of the generation tool had all drifted and diverged from each other, and was looking to setup a new (static) site.

The obvious conclusion was either:

  • Unify the creation tool I used, such that all four sites could be generated by a single tool.
  • Avoid the pain of doing that, and suffer through a process of using a well-maintained tool maintained by somebody else. ("Suffer" because tags would be different, and the layout/template syntax would change.)

I'd cheerfully decided to go down the second route, because life is short. But after having quick reads, then spending several hours investigating likely contenders I kept finding reasons why they weren't suitable.

Today I reworked my tool to succesfully generate each of the three sites. That was less annoying than expected, after I'd decided "I'll have to change my templates anyway, when I switch to a real tool".

So in the interests of sharing I placed my tool online, and wrote documentation:

This is not a U-turn. This is not a commitment to avoid the investigation of real replacements. This is just something I had to do as a cleanup and to make sure I fully understood exactly what my requirements were.

In conclusion: My requirements are now absolutely known, fixed, and understood. I still firmly intend and expect to migrate to something by the end of the year. Ideally something that will make tag pages, RSS feeds, and other clever things easy.

(Getting rid of literal shell usage in my templates, and unifying the way I auto-generate galleries via file globs was a useful change in its own regard - I always felt slightly dirty..)

Lookout for more summaries and reviews of specific tools when I've had the chance to relax and start looking again.

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Simple website creation tools

Thursday, 29 November 2012

I host a number of websites which are mostly static in nature, these are often hand-crafted, but three of them us a slightly hacked up creation of my own.

Given a master "template" the file foo.skx gets massaged into foo.html.

Sadly I added features randomly, and now I have three template-driven sites which are handled slightly differently. This put me in the position of having to choose between two options:

  • Unify my template-handling.
  • Use something else.

Simplifying my life is good. So I examined a list of static site generators, and a few more found by searching github.

Other than doing clever things by knowing which page is "current" I needed to do only minimal magic:

  • Conditionally include files.
  • Setup per-page CSS files.
    • e.g. This page and this page differ by the stylesheet used. (And the text content too, clearly!)
  • Setup per-page templates.

Webgen looked like a good fit, but I couldn't get per-page templates to work out. Either they would work, or I would get weird errors about blocks not being known.

Webby worked, but I didn't like it.

Poole was the next one that I got far down the road with, but it allowed only a single site-wide template. Shame because otherwise I loved its flexibility enought to tolerate writing "macros" in Python.

I've still got to test more out, but it is a fun process. I fully intend to adopt an existing tool, and not keep working on my own.

Tonight I'm going to look at a few more.

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A busy few weeks - bah humbug

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The following companies are amongst those showing Christmas Adverts on television before the start of December:

  • Tesco
  • Homebase.
  • M&S
  • Waitrose.
  • John Lewis.

I will boycott these companies until next year.

In happier news I've spent the past week or two replacing the monitoring system that we use at work.

Our previous monitoring system had been struggling to keep up with the sheer number of tests it was being asked to process. This was partly because we carry out many ping-tests, ssh-tests, http-tests, dns-tests, etc. The other reason was that our monitoring system was a behemoth of threaded-ruby, which all ran upon a single host. This made adding another monitoring host a complex undertaking.

The new solution uses a work-queue:

  • Tests to apply are parsed and inserted into a single, global, beanstalkd queue.
  • Workers continuously poll the queue for tests to execute. They then execute them, and alert on failures as appropriate.

The code is open-source, written in Ruby, and available here:

I've completed the process of tidying up the code to the extent I'm happy with it, and I believe I've also abstracted away the work-specific pieces of the code.

That said I'd not be surprised if it needs a few minor tweaks before it it useful for other people.

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