February 11, 2019

Why start yet another blog? After all, it’s not like we don’t already have several of them - and many of them sadly in need of an update.

And besides, it’s 2019 - isn’t the blog supposed to be dead anyway? Aren’t all the cool kids are posting on medium or twitter or facebook or instagram/snapchat story-ing?

The answer to all of these is, in fact, “yes”.

Reduce & Simplify

The past few years of our life have been dominated by several themes:

  • A drive to reduce friction
  • A push to simplify all things
  • A decision to separate our focuses

As we get older and our lives get busier, we find that we’re not able to devote as much time to start writing, let alone finish it. Many years ago when our original site was hosted on Movable Type (remember that?) it was a tremendous chore to start writing, format, publish - to say nothing of installing or tweaking anything on the site itself. As a result, not only was there incredible complexity to maintaining and running the site, there was also an attendant incredible friction to writing that only became apparent as we got older - of course, for the time, it was so miraculous to be able to simply be able to publish anything to the world with the push of a button. 1

After a while the cost/benefit analysis drove us to finally pay down the technical cost involved and switch everything over to Wordpress - which was a little bit easier in many of those respects (the fact that it ran on a standard LAMP stack with which we were deeply familiar helped), and certainly our output went up by a certain amount. But there still was an incredible fussiness involved with any kind of site tweaking, site maintenance and of course the incredible overhead of keeping pace with the countless security issues and patches. It was fun to a certain extent, being able to countlessly try out and modify themes and build out all the exact features we ever wanted… but in the end, this in and of itself became a running cost2. And eventually this friction and complexity became of greater detriment than benefit.

And so once again this cost/benefit analysis started to swing us towards a different perspective - one that began to question what we we really wanted to do, and what we really needed to do that. And what we really wanted was an easy channel for our creative output - something that would let us do something with the things we were driven, by our inherent nature, and also as a means of coping with the stress in our life - to create - so that in turn we could keep making it. And what we needed to do that, it turns out, was not nearly as much as one might suspect. Fancy PHP templates? Not really. Complex messy, potentially-insecure database installs? Nope. Heck, even direct coding HTML or needing to be online to post? No to all of those things too. Dynamic sites out, static site generators - in. Hello Jekyll.

The late afternoon fog rolling in over the San Francisco Bay

And so we moved over to Jekyll and in one fell swoop reduced significant chunks of the complexity and friction involved in creative output for the web. And for a while that was great. But an interesting thing happened along the way - while the technical complexity involved subsided significantly, as did the friction to writing (being able to write in markdown offline and simply push and compile via a couple of terminal commands is incredible), the latter did not subside perhaps as much as we might have expected.

One of the first things we noticed is that when we decided to do a 365 photo project, we didn’t choose to do it on our own site, we chose to do it on Tumblr (back before it became terrible). Why? The answer was, it was simply easier and faster to do it on Tumblr - the way we’d chosen to structure our main site set expectations for the type of content that each post would require - an key example being a hero image, and a title that breaks nicely into two lines with some certain expectation in terms of the general wording - and without these things key pages like the index or the post pages would either break or at best, look ugly. And that introduced a friction that prevented us from just dashing something out and throwing it out there.

And that’s what we began to understand we were missing - while our main site is still a wonderful place for photography or slightly more composed photo essays (and in fact we see that most of our “posts” in the last three years are almost entirely comprised of “photos” as opposed to “writing”) - we needed something else to reduce the friction of writing - to reduce the friction of “there’s something in my head and I just want to get it out without caring about adding in a bunch of arbitrary images and such so that the site looks good.”

And thus was born TheMountainBorn - an incredibly old school single-column site with a dead-simple “naively show me the last 5 entries” type of index page and not much ease. And it is magical. Write a lot. Write a little. Add photos. Don’t add photos. Doesn’t matter. We can just write and not care how it looks. Reduction of friction.


Beyond just the reduction in friction though, there is also an issue of focus.

  1. So things should be viewed not only through the lens of the present, but also of the time in which they exist 

  2. Fun fact - when we first started learning the basics of web development we actually built a widget that would query the database multiple times, dump the entire contents into memory and calculate the length of all the various posts dynamically and show them in this fancy widget on the site. It did this. Every. Time. A. Page. Was. Loaded. No caching, no query optimization, nothing. (And frightening little security). As traffic continued to increase to the site, crashes began to increase (as one might expect) and I spent a good week trying to debug the fact that I was basically murdering my own DB. Cost > Benefit. (Or maybe just a little knowledge is a dangerous things.) 

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