Nick Rotella scientist engineer developer

About This Site

I’ve already fallen waaaaay behind what I was planning in terms of publishing technical posts on robotics, so instead I’m going to make a much easier post so that I actually get something out there. It feels like half the battle of having a blog is getting in the habit of posting regularly, especially on days like today when scrambling to finish a huge post doesn’t sound too appealing.

So, for a the past five years, I’ve actively been avoiding making a personal webpage because I was able to use my lab’s page and because, even though I’d taken a pretty comprehensive (if only surface-level) course in web technologies, I found the task to be daunting. When I finally decided to bite the bullet (apparently this phrase dates from an 1891 novel, never stopped to think about it before) I was faced with the choice of either using my seriously-lapsed web development skills to build something from scratch, or stick with a nice WordPress theme - or so I thought.

It turns out that Github provides free hosting for one static site or Github Page per account! This seemed like a great middle ground because there are plenty of great premade “themes” out there, but in the end this means forking a repo of HTML/CSS/Javascript code which you can customize endlessly while benfitting from version control. Plus, it integrates nicely with my Github profile - which I hope to flesh out with past and future projects - and fits in with my command line-based workflow.

Github Pages is also nice because you can draft new web pages by making local pages and using Jekyll, a Ruby-based static site generator. After setup, simply run bundle exec jekyll serve from the root of your webpage repo and navigate to http://localhost:4000/ in a browser to view the changes you’ve made locally! You can even connect to the Jekyll-generated site from a mobile device if you run bundle exec jekyll serve --host= instead, allowing you to develop mobile-friendly webpages.

Speaking of mobile-friendly, you may have noticed that this site is barely so. Instead of sticking with a respondiv etheme based on Bootstrap, I chose to start from the minimalist Lagrange theme and try ton refresh my limited web dev knowledge by manually in more dynamic features (like the morphing top menu). I liked this theme in particular because it was blog-focused and felt less cluttered than some more “modern” themes. It was also easy to integrate Disqus for commenting. Speaking of blog posts, I’m writing these in Markdown which is a nifty little markup language which makes it easy to write without worrying about actually using HTML. It also has support via MathJAX which is essential for an academic/technical site (in fact, the Stack* sites use this for embedding math).

You can do a heck of a lot on your own with HTML, CSS and Javascript, but if you really only care about easily building a mobile-first site then Bootstrap is probably (definitely) the way to go since all the tricky work is done. Maybe I’ll switch themes at some point, but with some minor tweaks I got this site to at least not completely break on mobile (at least on my Android device). And it was a fun process, too!

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