Some small tweaks to this site

originally shared here on

It's been a while since I used my own website as much as I did during this year's WeblogPoMo. The daily posting routine revealed some small annoyances which made visiting this site a little less fun.

For starters, I haven't redesigned this site since I got COVID back in 2021. 13 year old Tim would have been mortified at how long we've gone without a big redesign.

That's not to say I didn't try! I experimented with (and coded out) nearly a dozen different potential layouts.

The one I had the most fun with was a 90s Memphis style layout where the background elements were independent SVGs that were subtly animated.1

The problem I'm realizing2 is that I'm not a particularly skilled designer. I know what good design feels like, but I haven't taken the time to articulate what good design feels like.

The other problem? Building websites isn't fun for me anymore.

The tools you use to build websites are all essentially the same. There is functionally zero difference between a monolith Rails app running Postgres, a monolith Laravel app running MySQL, a static site generator powered by a Rube Goldberg-ian series of GitHub actions, or a GraphQL-powered React app.

The biggest casualty of choosing to build software professionally is my desire to learn new web technologies.

Instead of forcing myself to sit down and spoon-feed myself a puree in the form of a Next.JS tutorial, I'm leaning into other areas that interest me more.

Offline, that includes fixing up my house and lawn, writing, and being a better parent/husband.

Online, that includes playing with generative AI and sharing more of my thoughts on this blog and in my newsletter.

But even while I'm exploring other interests, that doesn't mean I can just let this site deteriorate and fill up with prickly weeds.

So over the last couple days, I made a couple small changes to this page that subtly improve the user experience. Most of these changes come in the form of discoverability.

When I launched this version of my site, I decided to lean into the linked list style of posting.

This was a great move because it's allowed me to (1) share interesting webpages with y'all, but also (2) make an archive of thoughts and ideas that inspire me.

Earlier this year, I added tags to all my posts. That process is what first made me realize that once I posted something on this site, it was next to impossible to find it again without jumping into a Rails console and searching for it.

Now that all of my posts have tags, I wanted a way to better visualize what topics I tended to think about and navigate through them.

If you visit the main page of this blog, you'll see a section at the top that explains what I tend to write about along with some groups of tags.3

I also made some slight CSS tweaks so the site looks even better on mobile.4

The main page is another source of stress for me over the past couple years.

As previously mentioned, my blog is mostly linked posts, but I do occasionally post longer essays and these shorter posts.

My main page had two separate sections to display my longer posts and my recent links, but these sorts of posts vanished into the ether.

My solution was to display a stream of all the posts along with their tags and an indication if it's a link post.

Like I said: these are small tweaks.

But small tweaks are sometimes all you need. It's important to maintain our virtual spaces.

Just because I'm not inspired to build new websites doesn't relieve me from the obligation to keep it functioning the best I possibly can.

And a positive consequence of these changes? You can expect more shorter posts from me like these!

  1. The problem I ran into was how inefficient these animations were. One of my main goals with this site is to be as energy efficient as possible. I should probably get off Rails and switch to a static site generator to be even more efficient, but this is good enough for now. And I at least didn't make it worse by deploying a big energy vampire that just made some squiggly lines wiggle up and down.  

  2. Maybe "realized" is the wrong word, because I've known I'm a mediocre designer for the past 20 years. "Accepted" is probably more accurate. 

  3. It was a fun exercise to print out the list of 448 tags and pick out the key ones. 

  4. For some reason, I didn't realize that if you have a parent element that honors the dimensions of the screen, but then you have a child element with a max-width tag set that's bigger than that, mobile Safari will just stretch the content of that child beyond the bounds of the parent, causing it to cut off the content on the sides. That is a 💩 experience.