Design §

I often focus too hard on the design of websites to the detriment of the content, so the design of this site was intended to front the content. Originally I didn’t even have a title on pages, but I’ve never been able to pass up the opportunity for a subtitle…

Still, all metadata about the article is relegated to the sidebar, and all of it but the table of contents of the article being read disappears into the horizon as the user engages with the content. In the spirit of YAGNI, there are explicitly no up-front categories. There are tags I can link to (e.g. from the home page), but they are not part of the interface.

The philosophy of the design is heavily inspired by Tufte CSS, though my implementation is almost certainly not as well rounded. I do, however, have a similar implementation of sidenotes. Mind you, my version is much simplified — the mobile version currently has no support for toggling! (Update 2023: toggling support was added some time last year…) I was also particularly struck by the notion that structure should be embedded in the text, so my CSS only supports two levels of headers.

Typography §

Much of the design of this site is inspired by EB Garamond, Georg Duffner’s excellent digitization of Claude Garamont’s classic typeface. As a culture, even as we gain, we have lost much to the advent of the typewriter, the supremacy of ASCII, and the regimented binary thinking that computers demand of us. I hope the elegant letterforms, with typographical colour reminiscent of ink on a page, can serve as a ‘memento analogou’ that the digital exists to serve the needs of the analogue, never the other way around. In fact I deliberately chose the variant intended for smaller point sizes, which amplifies this effect in a way I enjoy. Sue me ☺

The dropcaps use the initials variant of this font put together by many people, but significantly by Tim Greinert, who completed the remaining designs apparently over the course of about a week. They are just rendered in <span>s: I wanted to do something more sophisticated using the ::first-letter pseudo-element, but Chrome and Firefox rendered the positioning drastically differently, so I eventually gave up. The background is at least rendered using a ::before so shouldn’t harm screenreader accessibility.

The logo is rendered in Euphoria Script by Sabrina Lopez. It’s a stylized version of the turned ampersand, the symbol for ‘par’ or externally-scheduled parallel execution in linear logic.

Code is rendered in DM Mono, with thanks to Saoirse/withoutboats, whose beautiful (and informative) website first introduced me to it when I was reading about Ringbahn, their implementation of a safe API to io_uring in Rust.

The body text is rendered in plain old Times New Roman, or its free substitute Liberation Serif if available on your system, to minimize distractions whilst reading.

Technology §

This is a static site, backed by Hakyll. I looked around at several options, but I eventually ended up back where I started — Hakyll has been my mainstay for my personal website since at least 2010, for several reasons:

  • Haskell as a language seems well-suited for Web development — its productivity allows me to minimize the code I need to write, while its type system helps me catch silly mistakes;

  • Hakyll has a simple DSL that can get a site up and running in just a few commands (the full Haskell code for this site, which includes some features I’m not using at the moment, runs to about 300 lines).

At the time of posting, a couple of other alternatives appealed to me. My first port of call was Rib, which has been superseded by Ema. I gave it a go, but found Ema introduced a lot of complexity for its hot-reload functionality, a use-case I don’t care about much.

I also tried Slick, primarily because for some time I’ve been meaning to get more comfortable with Shake after reading the excellent Build Systems à la Carte paper. But I found that Slick’s defaults were not a great match for me. I much prefer structured-XML Heist templates to unstructured-text Mustache templates, and as a result I spent some time trying to get Heist working with Slick. As I did so, I came to a few realizations:

  • Once you’re not using Mustache templates, Slick doesn’t really provide much over raw Shake;

  • Shake is very powerful and general-purpose, and therefore significantly less ergonomic for site generation than Hakyll’s equivalent Rules and Compiler monads;

  • Heist’s new compiled mode is heavily advised by modern resources, but again adds a lot of complexity to aid runtime performance, something I don’t care about too much.

After spending a while poring over Heist source and trying to get various things to work, I eventually realized I was spending too much time fiddling with website technology instead of writing content, so I fell back to my old familiar Hakyll, and replaced my 6+ source files with one site.hs. Some day, I would like to build a type-safe templating language that understands both its target language and the types of its arguments.

I also owe an acknowledgement to Rohan Jain for reminding me that clean URLs are possible in Hakyll.

Content §

One big change from my previous implementation is that I have two content paths: one raw HTML path, for pages that require precise control over the generated markup; and one in which the content is written in AsciiDoc, using AsciiDoctor.

I’m a big fan of AsciiDoc as a content language. It presents an ergonomic frontend like Markdown, but unlike Markdown compiles to DocBook, a semantically rich language with many backends and a well-specified standard. The result of this is that AsciiDoc content is somewhat insulated from the inevitable vagaries and inconsistencies of a language designed to be written conveniently by humans.

As an implementation, AsciiDoctor also has the advantage of being highly customizable, which allows me to produce content well-suited to my website, rather than having to adjust my templates and stylesheets to match the whims of my backend.

My aim here is that I should be able to produce content with very little overhead where required, allowing me to write short pieces to capture the state of a problem I’m thinking about, without having to think too hard about it and distracting myself from the original concern — an aim at which I have obviously failed in my very first post!

Source for this website can be found on GitHub.