What if I Just Wrote HTML?
Maren Beam — June 6, 2020
I went down a rabbit hole the last few days. As is tradition, the rabbit hole started with ugh, I don't like my website.
This feeling kind of pervades my life. As an ops-skewing gal I both don't know how browsers work and find too much magic hard to swallow. But as a tech-employed gal I feel obligated to have an internet presence with some degree of intentionality. So, a website.
I hadn't ever written HTML until last year. Honestly I'm not sure I'd ever right-clicked inspect until the year before that — though that was certainly the result of my own hardheadedness. I got on the Browsers Are Dumb And The Internet Shouldn't Have Happened train early. I've since decided that browsers are definitely dumb but the internet is important and browsers are what we have so you gotta just do it, too bad.
As I soon came to learn, one person doesn't typically produce a pretty website without deploying a substantial amount of magic. And it is truly magical! Just npm install something and then type your website words and then probably npm something else (I have no idea what I'm talking about) and then npm just poofs fifteen more magical things and then
firefox localhost:1234 and oh my goodness where did that stunning vision of a website come from.
But I couldn't do it. I had to know. I had to muck enough in the details that I could trick myself into believing that I knew what was going on when that sweet, sweet 200 came back.
So I went straight for HTML from the start. Since I don't know how browsers work and I'd never written HTML or right-clicked inspect before it was extremely slow going. But I made a thing. And then I remade it. I think I remade it a third time before I realized that what I was calling 'learning' was actually 'iterating uselessly on my brand' and I needed to pull myself together.
So of course I remade it one more time but this time I shamelessly prioritized look and was able to let it sit for a bit.
But something was still eating at me and I couldn't figure out what.
I moved on with my life — hanging out with friends and mothering clusters with my coworkers. Then the pandemic hit and my gaze turned navel and I started fussing with more side projects. One of these side projects was a bash script that got completely out of control and turned into a microblog. It's called thoughts and there's definitely no "plan" but since you type opinions in vim and get back a website I started actually learning how HTML works.
And then it hit me: it was my blog. My blog was making my But What Is It Really alarms go off very quietly.
Now don't get me wrong, my blog was fine — a smattering of pandoc and python and bash that made it so I could just type markdown and receive an aesthetically coherent, syntax-highlighted webpage — but when I right-clicked inspect there was so much...stuff. Where was it coming from? What was it doing? How could I sleep when my brand depended on all this magic?
So I went down the rabbit hole. I wanted to be able to type markdown but get dumb HTML back. The kind of HTML that makes you say yep, that's a website.
First I found Txti. I'm still convinced it's one of the best things on the internet, but it doesn't support codeblocks and this is mostly a programming blog so that wouldn't work.
Then I remembered that rwtxt exists and it's honestly beautiful, but: still a decent amount of magic, not clear if you can self-host publicly while limiting public domain creation, and designed for the "wiki" use case. I decided to pass there, too.
Then I remembered that I had just written an AWK function which, when it's low tide and Mercury's in retrograde, turns fake-markdown into very dumb HTML. Maybe I could expand this a bit to cover the other essential markdown things I'd want for a blog, and then I'd have a really opinionated fake-markdown parser that gave me the exact HTML I want. But I'd probably need to open source it and that means I'd have to worry about portability, and I'd have to learn so much more AWK and am I really trying to sink tens of hours into learning AWK right now? Because I'm not sure that's a very Career Oriented Decision but also it's pretty important not to limit my learning based on career utility so maybe I could just—
And then it hit me. Bricks, etc. What if I just...wrote HTML?
So I did. I am right now. It's 2020, and I'm just writing HTML. And honestly, it's perfect.