My Super-Simple Blogging Tool Chain:
Breevy > Haroopad > Dropbox >

I am still very new to blogging, and I don’t even know if this blog will survive in the long run. But I do know that it will only have a chance, if I can keep the work of creating posts manageable. Thinking about the material and writing the posts; that’s where I want to focus my effort. I absolutely will not concern myself with administering servers, patching and updating content management software, wrangling a blog’s administrative backend, or learning how to adjust themes by hacking PHP or writing CSS. Lastly, since I am not making any money off this, I didn’t want to spend much on it, either.

Fortunately, I don’t have to do any of that. I have put together a tool chain that eliminates or automates all aspects of blogging that are not directly related to writing new posts. And, actually, some of the writing, as well.

tl;dr Here’s the video:

The computer I type this on is my home desktop PC (yes, I still have one of those), and it runs Windows 10. If you work on a Mac, or Linux, or a Chromebook your choice of tools would obviously be different.

So, let’s dive in:

Step 1: Using a Text Expansion Tool
to Create the Initial Structure of a Post

A lot of the posts I anticipate writing for this blog will be stock and options trades. And the information I intend to log in those posts will more or less follow the same prescribed format: At the top of the post needs to be a line with the date and time of the post, and a second line with contextual tags. Neither of those two will be displayed in the actual post, but both are needed for blog administration purposes. Then there’s the action itself: Buying or selling a certain number of shares/contracts of a particular ticker symbol at a given price. From that will result a certain total amount. If it’s a closing transaction, there should be some accounting of gain or loss. For opening transactions there should be a price target, and a maximum acceptable loss. And most importantly there needs to be some rationale describing the why, or why now of the transaction. So, it’s obvious that there’s a lot of repetition in the layout. There’s also a lot of potential for typos to creep in, which might keep the post from being properly processed and laid out by the blogging software. So I wanted to automate as much of this as possible. My choice for the job is Breevy, a Windows-based text expansion tool. It’s not free — after a 30 day evaluation period it costs $34.95 for the full license. But it goes beyond what some of the free text expansion tools provide, by including an integrated web and program launcher. Other tools like PhraseExpander do this as well (and much more), but are also much pricier. Breevy occupies the happy middle of satisfying my needs without adding too many bells and whistles that clutter the interface and don’t really help me get the job done. Here’s a screenshot: Breevy screenshot

Step 2: Using a Markdown Editor
to Write the Post

The web page you read right now, is, as you pobably know, an HTML document rendered by a web browser. The current revision of the HTML specification is 1,169 pages long. I have never read it, and I am not about to start. For some, web design might still be a hobby, but not for me. Apparently, most bloggers feel that way, because most current blogging software packages do not expect their input in HTML, the Hypertext Markup Language; instead they accept Markdown. Markdown is basically just text, without fonts or styles or layout, but interspersed with little layout clues. The resulting Markdown files can be converted by almost any blogging software into actual HTML. So, while this page as you read it now is HTML, it was written in Markdown. The benefit of using Markdown is that

  1. Instead of internalizing 1,169 pages of complex technical documentation, a blogger gets by with about one double-sided cheatsheet containing all the layout options offered by Markdown.
  2. This fantstically tiny subset of HTML functionality is actually sufficient to accomplish all that a blogger typically needs.

There’s a number of capable Markdown editors available for every platform. Many are free and the rest all seem cheap, so the choice really comes down to taste. I chose Haroopad, which is free and available for Windows, Mac and Linux. I tried a couple of others before, but this one really stuck for me for a couple of reasons:

  1. It plays nice with Breevy (see above). Some of the other tools I tried before seemed to intercept certain keystrokes which interferes with the way Breevy (see above) operates.
  2. It features a split screen layout, displaying the Markdown source on the right, and the finished HTML on the right. This helps a beginning Markdown author like myself quickly spot mistakes.
  3. If I cannot think of a particular Markdown shorthand, one click in the bottom left corner slides in a handy cheatsheet.

Haroopad screenshot

There are a couple of downsides to this choice:

  1. Haroopad has extensive documentation, but some of it is was originally written in the creator’s native Korean and still awaits an English translation. However the software is very intuitive and there are many English language demo videos available on the product’s web site.
  2. The software is free, but nagware”: There’s a Donate” link in the bottom bar, occasionally popping up during editing, which is a litte distracting. I’d be happy to pay for the software, but it’s not clear to me that this would actually end the donation requests.

But those minor niggles aside, the software is very capable and I love the cross-platform availability.

Step 3: Using a Blogging Tool
to Publish the Post

This last part is really short: has no real interface. There’s a page where you initially register and set up your blog, but once you’ve done that and settled on one of their themes (you can modify any theme to suit your needs, if you are so inclined) you don’t ever have to enter that page again. The cleverness of Blot comes from its use of your Dropbox account as the repository of the Markdown texts and media files (photos, videos, and audio) that collectively constitute your blog posts. During setup, you grant Blot access to a particular folder of your Dropbox account, and from then on Blot just monitors that folder. Whenever you save a new Markdown file to it, Blot will pick it up within seconds, and recompile your sources into the static web site that your readers see. The new Markdown gets converted to HTML, the archive page expands, the site search analyzes the new post, and a few seconds later, your new post is on the web. That’s it. If I want to make a change to a post, I simply edit the Markdown source and save it again. If I want to delete a post, I just remove the Markdown file from the Dropbox folder that Blot accesses. It really is that simple.

Blot costs $20/year. There are other choices that are free, but unfortunately, free doesn’t cover ongoing expenses for servers and bandwidth. Consequently, a number of competitors to Blot have shut down. To avoid this dilemma you can either self-host your blog, or use a blogging platform that is backed by a deep-pocketed corporation, such as Blogger or Tumblr.

My choice was heavily influenced by my desire to find the simplest workflow. You may have other intentions: Medium or Tumblr may offer an easy way to popularize your blog. Wordpress provides access to lots of tools. If you are interested in fine-grained control over your blog’s appearance and functionality you will need to look beyond Blot. I don’t need a database backend, e-commerce capbility, the ability to register multiple authors, user registration, password protected posts, or any of the other tools offered by content management systems. Maybe you do. But let me offer this parting thought: Use the simplest tools that meet your requirements, while still offering the ability to switch later, as your needs expand. Getting familiar with complex systems is a significant investment of time and energy, and by the time you really need a particlar feature, your set of potential choices may have expanded.

June 11, 2016 at 3:15pm · random thought · tools

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