A Fresh New Look

Welcome to the new, freshly redesigned robpeck.com!

It’s amazing how you can become used to a design. It becomes like a warm coat. You love the predictability, you spent a lot of time getting the fonts right, getting the layour right, and everything is just perfect. That was the case with this site, that was pretty much exactly how it was way back when I migrated the site from Wordpress to Jekyll in 2013.

To put that into perspective, my daughter was not even a year old yet. Barack Obama was just one year into his second term, the iPhone 5S had just dropped a month earlier, the first 4K TVs were shown off at CES. A long time has passed.

And then the years pass. New devices and browsers appear. New technologies become available, and cruft builds up. In this case, a simple task of “I need to add a box to the site so that people will quit trying to use the comments for tech support and go to Github instead” became a full scale burn it down and start again redesign.

So, aside from the new design, what else has changed?

Comments Are Dead

This is probably the most obvious change: I killed comments.

The truth is that this is something I have been on the fence about for many years. There was a time where everyone felt the need to be social, and every site had to have comments. You had to get those engagements! And pretty quickly things started to unravel. Comment spam became a thing, and became such a big deal that whole businesses sprang up just to handle comment spam.

But the bigger thing is, well, it turns out when you put everyone online, they bring the real world with them. Trolling, bullying, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, abuse, and general mean behavior became such a rampant problem that “don’t read the comments” has become an Internet meme on par with “don’t feel the trolls.” And even sites with comments have joined in mocking how terrible they are.

I have been low-key nursing this idea for awhile now that the Internet would be better off if a lot of sites killed off comments. Do you really need to comment on a news article about the local high school’s bake sale? Or about whatever craziness is going on in DC? What are you adding to the world with that comment? When comments become a breeding ground for the worst aspects of human behavior, why should we continue to enable it? Why should we host it and give it a voice?

Because that is what we do when we host comments. Tech people tend to have this noble, and very naive, idea that “we’re fostering discourse” or “protecting free speech” (which isn’t relevant at all). But think about it: when was the last time that you changed your opinion because of a comment you read on a blog or news article? More than likely it just make you mad or made you sad.

And that is the crux. In very many cases, comments add nothing of value to the Internet and are in fact actively harmful to many people and marginalized groups. We are handing other people a megaphone and allowing them to go to town and say whatever they like under our brand, and the best we can do is try to moderate it after the fact.

But I think the thing that finally pushed me over the edge was people using the comments to ask for tech support. Literally what triggered the redesign was that I wanted to put a box in pleading with people not to do this and to use better channels for that (such as filing a ticket on Github). Comments are a uniquely terrible medium for that because they are impossible to keep up with. And when one person, reading my post about changing the infotainment screens in my truck, asked about how to do it in an entirely unrelated vehicle, I realized what a negative drain comments had become. I had to take time, even if it was just a minute, to type out an “I have no idea” reply.

Commenting should still exist on social media sites (Facebook, Reddit, etc.) But most sites would be a lot better off if they just dropped comments entirely and reallocated those resources to more productive uses, and I think their users would be better off for it as well.

And if this is the position that I want to take, I should be the change that I want to see in the world. Thus, the removal of commenting. I just want to write and share what I learn. I don’t want to deal with moderating comments or trying to provide tech support over Disqus. And I am not willing to cede control of my site, or any part thereof, over to random Internet people to use as a megaphone for whatever they feel like speading.

If you really want to comment on something I wrote, you are welcome to share it on social media with whatever commentary you like, contact me via the contact link, or hit me up on social media.

So What Else Changed

Most other changes are not visible to you, and are mainly on the backend of the site:

  • Jekyll went from 2.6.3 to 4.0! I had steadfastly held off on using a newer version of Jekyll because I had a bunch of custom-written Ruby Jekyll plugins that I didn’t feel like rewriting. Well, I took the time to rewrite them (and bring in some other newer plugins to replace many of them.)

  • Bootstrap went from 3 to 4. The new design is entirely built on Bootstrap 4.3.1. Moreover, whereas my previous design was desktop first with mobile support added on later, for this design I started in a phone-sized frame and worked my way out.

  • Extensive use of modern technologies. Flexbox and CSS Grid are used throughout the site (and simplify things so much.) SVG is used to add some nice effects. HTML5 semantic elements are present. It’s a modern design that I will probably think is horribly dated and old in 2025.

  • Standardized Build Tools. The mish mash of tools that I used to build the site (Rakefiles, PHP scripts, bash scripts, etc) has now been standardized on grunt. All site dependencies are loaded via npm (no more bower) and there is a build chain that builds and eventually deploys the site. Jekyll is pretty much just for generating the HTML, everything else is handled by the build chain.

  • Documentation. Yes, I even wrote myself documentation. I consider it an investment in my future self. :)

So enjoy the new design. I hope you like it as much as I enjoyed creating it, and I look forward to 2025 when I write another post about how my ancient design was terrible, didn’t work on retina implants and wasn’t compatible with Jekyll 17.

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