Andy Hedges' Blog

The Simplest Blog That Might Work

I’m aiming for a simple, fast and minimalist blog. A blog where writing posts is all I have to think about, not themes, fancy backgrounds, AJAX, hosting services, cloud APIs and well one starts to lose the will to live.

Raspberry Pi in a takeway container on top of random network equipment
Figure 1. Raspberry Pi in a takeway container

The design goals are:

  • simple
  • cheap
  • fast

I’m quite pleased with the way it works, it’s probably not for technophobes but then nor is blogging. In order to publish a post you create a new text file with your post in it in a simple directory structure, if you have any images, video etc then you drop them in a “resources” folder. If you’d like some formatting in your post you can use markdown. After that, run a simple script and everything is taken care of: it’s published to the web. So far my limited posts look like this in the directory structure:

$ tree --charset US-ASCII posts/
posts/
|-- 20120216
|   |-- article.yaml
|   `-- resources
|       |-- First-Project-Syndrome-Figure1.png
|       `-- First-Project-Syndrome-Figure2.png
`-- 20131230
    `-- article.yaml

3 directories, 4 files

How it works

The markdown from the YAML file is converted to HTML, which is minified (optimised to remove redundant spaces etc), and then put into a folder which btsync is watching, once a change is noticed it is synced to all computers with btsync installed on, including, most importantly the web server.

A Note On DNS

As I’m hosting this on my home broadband connection, which doesn’t have a static IP address, I needed a way to update my DNS record quickly every time my IP address changed. To do this I used a free service DNSdynamic which gives you a subdomain on one of their domains (e.g. example.dnsdynamic.com), I chose andyhedges.http01.com but anything would work, you then install a client which regularly checks your IP address and updates the DNS if need be. This is great but I wanted to use my vanity domain name hedges.net, I therefore configured a CNAME with my DNS registrar to point blog.hedges.net to andyhedges.http01.com and I was in business, DNS-wise at least.

Costs

The cost of my blogging platform breaks down as below:

  • software - £0 (all open source or freeware)
  • hosting - £0 (using my home fibre connection)
  • hardware
    • Raspberry Pi - £28.99
    • Power Supply - £0 (free with phone)
    • Network Cable - ~£1
    • SD Card - ~£4
  • DNS - £0 (using my DNS registrar and Dynamic DNS provider)

There we have it, a blogging platform for thirty four quid that doesn’t require 3rd party hosting. It remains to be seen if my ISP gets cross.

Benchmarks

On the little R’berry Pi a quick benchmark with no optimisation shows it can handle 250 requests per second with a response time of 3ms (across my home gigabit network).

Todo

There are still a few more to-dos:

  • preview mode
  • comments (I think I’ll use disqus or maybe G+)
  • RSS
  • optimising Nginx (e.g. gzip or sdch, SPDY, threads and so forth)
  • smartypants-like substitution
  • Open Source it (tidy code, add licenses put it on github)
  • Set up a 301 Moved Permanently on a virtual host for the Dynamic DNS name

Full details

For those interested the full details of software, hardware and network.

The tools I’ve chosen for the client side are are:

  • Notepad (although sublime, textpad, gedit or vi would do), this is for editing the posts
  • btsync this enables me to keep the webservers and any computer I use in sync with all of the generate content, the source information and templates, more on that later

The development tools:

The software libraries:

  • SnakeYaml this is a YAML binding for Java, YAML is basically a human friendly information format, similar to XML or JSON but unlike those two easy to read and write for us humans.
  • FreeMarker is a templating language similar to JSP or Razor and provides an easy library to integrate it with your projects
  • Actuarius a markdown to HTML converter
  • htmlcompressor an HTML minification library
  • YUI Compressor a CSS minification library

The server side software:

  • Nginx a nice, light, fast HTTP server
  • btsync see above
  • ddclient The Dynamic DNS client that allows me to have my DNS record updating when my ISP changes my IP address
  • Raspbian A Debian Linux variant for the Raspberry Pi

The hardware:

  • Raspberry Pi a circuit board sized computer
  • Indian takeaway container, no this isn’t the wacky name of some kickstarter project, I used one of the plastic tubs that takeaway curry comes in to provide a case for the Raspberry Pi, it keeps dust and/or water off it
  • Mini USB charger plug and cable from my Nexus 5 (I have so many of these and so I chose a smallish one)
  • Network cable from my man draw

The network

  • Existing Fibre connection and associated routers and access points
  • Netgear Gigabit Switch
Andy Hedges

blog comments powered by Disqus