whazzing around

a thing on the internet

Redesigning Whazzing.com

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For the last month I’ve been working to create this new development-focused blog and project repository for my work. I was previously self-hosting a Wordpress blog, but I’ve developed a desire to own my destiny when it comes to the display of my work. There were a ton of little features I wanted to develop but didn’t really want to delve (back) into the PHP world or hack at the Wordpress template framework.

I’d recently read the excellent Responsive Web Design and it made me very excited to design a site that effortlessly works on phones, tablets, monitors, and TVs. Another project I have in mind is primarily aimed at mobile form factors, so I thought a semi-major experiment was in order to ensure I was thinking in the right direction when it came to media queries and mobile design.


I built whazzing.com with ruby 1.9.2, rails 3.1, mysql, and various gems. My first commit was August 19th, 2011 and I deployed version 1.0 to production on September 20th, 2011.

As I started coding this site, Rails 3.1 was entering it’s final release candidate testing phase so I decided to start fresh on it. The asset pipeline is just a terrific addition to the framework, and combining it with the style organization I’ve been developing off of Dale Sande’s incredible Axle framework provided for a very smooth visual design experience. I added a little bit to Dale’s CSS organization to support the media queries I wanted to support.

|-- stylesheets
    |-- admin.css.scss
    |-- application.css.scss
    |-- design.css.scss
    |-- devices
    |    |-- phones.css.scss
    |    |-- tablets.css.scss
    |    |-- high-resolution.css.scss
    |-- imports
    |    |-- colors.css.scss
    |    |-- form.css.scss
    |    |-- mixins.css.scss
    |    |-- navigation.css.scss
    |    |-- text.css.scss
    |-- reset.css.scss
    |-- typography.css.scss

One of the interesting takeways from the excellent testing panel at Madison Ruby was that people are divided about the usefulness of cucumber. I had always stumbled in wrangling cucumber to be really useful for the applications I was writing and so I decided to eschew its usage this time. I focused instead on getting good coverage via my RSpec controller and model tests. I found that leaving cucumber aside really streamlined the process and didn’t leave me eternally feeling like I was losing focus on the functionality I wanted due to the the myriad tests that were demanded by all the tools I was using.

Madison Ruby was a fantastic source of information on how to write better ruby code and rails applications. In particular, Jeff Casimir’s talk on using view-models and decorators as opposed to helpers in rails was food for thought. Halfway through implementation on this site I switched over to using draper for my presentation logic and I love it.

Another tool I wanted to test out for this project was git-flow. At Scott Chacon’s eye-opening Git workshop I increased my git knowledge 10 times, easily. Going through the underlying structures of git taught me a lot about what’s really going on during commits, push, and branching, and I wanted to try to formalize the release process of this project a bit more using git-flow’s branching model. The result: I loved the structure of the branches, even if this was a one-man project, and will definitely use it on more projects in the future.

Finally, I’ve been more and more intrigued by Markdown since Github and many other sites support it these days. Instead of pouring time into creating a WYSIWYG editor or trying to drop one in, I instead grabbed the Redcarpet gem and simply use markdown to create the posts and project descriptions. I also use albino and pygments for code highlighting.

Methodology & Features

The problem I had to overcome this time (and every time I jumpstart a project) is that too often I get bogged down on tangents. I’ll get fixated on one unimportant feature or line of code, I’ll get frustrated that I can’t get it the way I want, and eventually I won’t even want to open the text editor due to feelings of dread. This time I was determined to mercilessly cut features until I had something simple I could get coded and deployed, and then iterate from there. A few times I almost got bogged down, but forced myself to leave features on the table for future releases so that I could get my high priority functionality into production.

I settled on four main features for the first release:

  • Responsive design so that the site would look great on regular monitors, phones, and tablets.
  • A micro-resume viewable here that I could link to from my new business cards and elsewhere
  • Taggable blog posts without comments (for now)
  • A project guide so that I can link to all my projects in one place, with links to docs and code where appropriate

My major feature list for the next release includes:

  • Comments on blog posts (spam-protected and everything!)
  • RSS feeds of blog posts
  • Release tracking of projects
  • Rating and ranking of blog posts

I’ll also, of course, be correcting anything that shakes out while using it.

What’s Next

I’m looking forward to extending this project, while using it as a platform to document the other things I’m working on. I would really like to use redis for some analytics/tracking ideas I have, and I’m interested in how to tie in akismet spam-blocking for comments.

The images along the left side don’t scan well on mobile devices, so I’m going to look into replacing them in the next release as well. I like the structure of the site, but the specific details could be tightened a little.

I’d like to get a styleguide up and running so that my CSS can be standardized a little. I tried as much as possible to be OO in my CSS but failed in a few places that I’d like to clean up.


Many, many thanks to Joe Nelson, from whom I shamelessly stole the idea for the micro-resume. Thanks so much for the idea- it jump-started what became the new site, blog, etc.

Also, thanks to Kevin Burke. I read his blog post on designing your personal site and was inspired to go beyond the usual “reverse chronological order of posts” home page. Instead I tried to create a homepage that advertises all the things I’m working on, blog posts being only one of the pieces.

Thanks to Dale Sande, who helped me step up my CSS game with his excellent Axle framework and thoughts on OOCSS (object-oriented CSS). If you ever get a chance to attend his OOCSS talk definitely do it; as a primarily backend dude I found it immensely helpful for structuring my CSS and semantic markup.