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Simple tools

I’ll start writing about technology eventually, but I think I’m still apprehensive. I don’t know if I really want to be a tech blogger. Do you know what I mean?

I want to be part of the Personal Web. I want to engage more and replace even just a little bit of the passive scrolling with some active musing. With that in mind, I decided to build this website in the shape of a typical blog. I hope to make the place more special over time and to experiment with both the content and the presentation.

Setting up a space to write, I gave myself just enough tools to get there fast. Maybe not “as fast as possible”. I could have signed up for one of the cool new platforms like Bear Blog. Instead, I started from the things I knew. I always have to remind myself to keep things simple in situations like this, to rely on familiar tools, and to add new ones only when I understand why they’re needed.

We live in a time of great tools and frameworks. We’ve been living there for a while now, longer than my actual career as a Web developer. When I’m regularly reading about new ways of doing the same old work, it’s hard sometimes to resist the temptation and focus on what I’m trying to do. It’s also hard because “simple” can be misleading. Every tech marketing page out there is selling on the idea of simplicity. Simplifying work. Simplifying life. And then “simple” is hard to define because it’s very subjective.

I love plain text, and I feel like it’s a good starting point to think about simplicity in digital technology. It’s old-fashioned. Open your text editor of choice, type in some characters and symbols available through your computer keyboard, and save as .txt. This file may be the most durable digital artifact you will produce today. It’s yours, can be shared in every way imaginable and will remain usable for... a very long time.

There’s complexity in there, handling all the bits and bytes under the hood. But from the perspective of someone trying to jot down a few thoughts on the computer, I don’t know if it can get any simpler. Maybe that’s the reason why this site doesn’t have a CMS. I’ve set up so many different CMSes for clients over the years and yet, it felt best for me to work with files in folders at this point.

I believe HTML and CSS are simple tools. They are the declarative building blocks of the Web. I think JS can be simple too, when the goal is to dynamically manipulate the HTML and the CSS on a page. There are great (and controversial) tools in this space, and I’m sure I’ll write about some of them eventually. But there’s something fundamental about starting with a focus on plain markup and stylesheets.

It may surprise you to learn that this site is not statically generated. Pages are server-side rendered with PHP. Is PHP a simple tool? I think it can be a very straightforward path into the world of Web servers. That’s what it was (and still is) for me. Building your own “engine” is a bit of a no-no, as far as blogging advice goes, but I disagree. There’s something to be said about building from the bottom up.

I’m reminding myself of all the things that are foundational to what I do. The tools of my trade, so to speak. I’ve spent a lot of time with my tools, and with time came an acquired sense of simplicity. This is worth a lot to me.

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Tags: #thoughts #blogging #work