I’ve attempted active blogging several times, each time with a different technology, and often sputtering out due to the fact that I haven’t really prioritized the activity. This Celestial Toys blog is the longest-lived so far, and has been ported to a new blogging platform at least once. This post describes some of that background and where I’m going next. At the time of this writing (December 2017), I’m using the Hugo blogging platform.
My first blog was sometime in 2007 while working at University of Oregon. It was also named Celestial Toys and used Wordpress, which stores its content within a SQL database. When I left the University, I neglected to back up my data from my accounts, so it appears that my original Celestial Toys content is lost forever (I may have a MySQL export somewhere on my drive, but I haven’t been able to find it). This trapped in SQL problem is something I have sought to avoid since then, favoring plain text and non-proprietary formats and storage.
$\LaTeX$ and Markdown for School
While I was getting my Master’s and PhD at University of Oregon, I became very familiar with the powers of $\LaTeX$ in terms of expressing the technical and mathematical notation needed for my academic homework assignments, research papers, and ultimately my PhD Dissertation. But more importantly, I learned to use Markdown as the scaffolding for my prose, and to escape into $\LaTeX$ when necessary (e.g., for writing logical theorems). This allowed me to write (and read and reread) my prose quickly and efficiently, while providing me with the necessary expressive power of $\LaTeX$ for specialized, non-prose, purposes.
As someone with very poor handwriting, the ability to produce beautifully laid out and formatted homework assignments tickled me and made the process more fun and far less frustrating than using a pencil or trying to use a word-processor.
My PhD Dissertation was actually written in Markdown, and then post-processed by a tool called Multimarkdown into $\TeX$ and from there into a final PDF.
Scrivener and Markdown
Along the way towards adopting and embracing Markdown, I learned about a commercial piece of software called Scrivener which was designed to help author and organize large and complex documents. Amongst its features were the ability to author in Markdown and easily generate $\TeX$ and PDF. I quickly fell in love with Scrivener, and then just as quickly realized its impracticality for my needs. Specifically, it’s document storage mechanism was not version-control friendly. And I rely upon the safety net provided by version control (at the time, I was using subversion, and eventually git). So that became an influence that has guided the evoluation of Smartdown.