Eight bloggy years

Between this retrospective and the last one, I’ve published exactly four posts on this blog. Suffice it to say, my attention over the past year has been devoted to other projects. I don’t think that’s a bad thing – my attitude towards blogging has long been to eschew any kind of self-imposed schedule or arbitrary rule, and beyond that, to avoid posting anything prematurely. If a post has to languish in drafts for years before I find the right way to phrase its final sentence, so be it!

The more of these retrospectives I do, the trickier it is to come up with something new to say. So let’s take another look at some old things I’ve had to say.

Top five posts (2014–2022)

According to my analytics, these are the five most popular posts of the last eight years (in descending order):

GPU passthrough (2016)

At one time, this was probably the most comprehensive and user-friendly guide to GPU passthrough online. I imagine it’s out of date now, but I’m still using the same setup as I was when I wrote it, and it’s kept working through a few OS upgrades. I’m not sure what would happen if you tried to set this up on more modern hardware, because I haven’t upgraded anything in my desktop PC since I wrote this. When I eventually do upgrade, I’ll probably publish a new version, especially if I end up switching to an Nvidia card.

RSS: nothing better (2017)

This one got to the top of Hacker News once, but still has an order of magnitude fewer views than the GPU passthrough article. I think it still holds up. I wrote it in a single sitting after being prompted to sign up for one too many email newsletters. Sadly, RSS has not supplanted email newsletters in the meantime, but the situation hasn’t worsened by too much. I’m able to subscribe to Substack newsletters with Fraidycat, so we can’t give up hope just yet.

Encrypting a second hard drive on Ubuntu (post-install) (2015)

I published this one because there was nothing else online that told you how to do it, and it’s been very useful for setting up new laptops over the years. The technology hasn’t changed, so I don’t think it’s in need of an update.

Creating a personal wiki with Vimwiki and Gollum (2017)

I had to submit a PR to Gollum to get this working the way I wanted it to. Since writing this tutorial, I’ve also used Roam and Obsidian for maintaining personal wikis. Roam is the most fully featured, but it’s browser-based and online, which can be a bit of pain (and $15/month is quite pricey). Obsidian has some neat features, but it’s an Electron app, which feels wasteful. Ultimately, this Vimwiki/Gollum solution is still quite competitive. But the most important thing with a personal wiki, I think, is to pick one solution and use it for everything rather than have all your notes scattered across half a dozen apps. Don’t make my mistake, kids.

Writing a LaTeX macro that takes a variable number of arguments (2016)

This was something I discovered while writing a fairly complex LuaLaTeX template, and it ended up being a pattern I reused a lot. I like the post a lot as a tutorial, and others have told me they do as well. It’s light, breezy, and finds space for a little bit of humour while still getting to the point quickly. Most importantly, it explains exactly what all of the code you have to write is doing and why it’s part of the solution. There’s nothing that bothers me more than a tutorial with magical code you just have to include without understanding why.

So it’s very sad that there’s a shortcoming in the macro implementation. Technically speaking, it consumes the entire line rather than just the arguments enclosed in {}s. Someone emailed me about this once with a solution, but it involved enclosing all the arguments in an outer {} which I wasn’t a fan of because it looks like you’re just passing in one argument. Ultimately I decided I was happy to live with the macro’s shortcoming for this reason and to avoid complicating the tutorial.

The lesson from this trip through the archives is clear. To maximise engagement, I must write a post about implementing RSS updates for an encrypted personal wiki written in LaTeX and compiled to GPU-accelerated WebGL pages. Time to get to work.

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