Brian Lundin

Writer and storyteller


Brian Lundin is the Lead Writer & Story Team Producer at The Austin Stone Community Church. Brian is a storyteller, writer and geek who is passsionate about sharing stories of gospel transformation.

Why I Switched to Jekyll from WordPress

This post is the first post on the new version of this site. If you are a regular reader then I’m sure you noticed the much cleaner and more mobile-friendly design. But what you probably didn’t notice—unless you routinely scrutinize URLs—is that this is now a static site. I left WordPress.

Now, for most readers of this site this won’t matter at all. Load times will be much faster, but it wasn’t noticeably slow before. Other than that, moving from a dynamic, server-side site to a static, HTML site won’t make one bit of difference to you. But it does to me.

WordPress is not terrible. But it’s not good, either.

Since I started blogging in 2003, I’ve used almost every major platform. Blogger, WordPress, Squarespace, and then WordPress again. I’ve never been happy with any of them, really. So when I started my tech blog last year I wanted something different.

For that site I chose Jekyll. Jekyll is a static site generator, not a blog platform, per se. Using text files written in Markdown, Liquid templates, HTML, JavaScript, and CSS it generates my whole website in a few seconds. From there I host it on Amazon’s S3 for a few cents a month. Last month it cost me just under $.50 to host and serve the site.

Once I got it in place it worked perfectly. Pages loaded super fast, I could customize the site using the tools I’ve used for years as a web developer and not some janky themes or plugins. I was able to create a clean, readable, and responsive site quickly and host it cheaply. After using Jekyll for just a few months I began work converting this site to Jekyll today. This post is the first on the new site.

For me, the decision was easy. I went with Jekyll for 5 reasons:

  1. I first went with WordPress to use some fancy, SEO-optimized themes. The theme(s) were not worth the money
  2. Beyond those themes, all of the “features” of WordPress were not only unnecessary, they made it harder for me to create the kind of site I wanted. The platform is overgrown and cluttered with features that don’t add much discernible value
  3. I don’t need to post “on-the-go” from my phone
  4. I do all my writing in Markdown, and WordPress did not offer an acceptable workflow for it. Yes, even with the fancy plugins and Markdown “integration”
  5. Finally, and most decisively, I had the technical skills to code my own site

This last reason is why most people will not be able to make the same choice I did. Even with great guides out there like the one I used, implementing a custom Jekyll site is still beyond the average blogger’s reach.

But I think static sites like this one are (or should be) the future for most independent writers on the web. Depending on your business model, there are very few downsides. If you need a membership site or other server-side features this would not be a good choice, but otherwise static sites have huge advantages.

I’m not making a living off this site, so I don’t have those needs. So with Jekyll I can run this blog cheaply, easily, and it fits right into my existing writing workflow. It really is perfect for me.


Colophon

Colophon \ˈkä-lə-fən, -ˌfän\ an inscription placed at the end of a book or manuscript usually with facts relative to its production

The colophon is set for a comeback. With so many new digital publishing options, platforms and approaches, there is a natural opening and call for sites to share how they do what they do. In the spirit of the traditional colophon, I offer this summary of the tools behind this site.

Typography

Software

Hosting


'Prayer' by Tim Keller

I read Prayer by Tim Keller, and I immediately plan on reading it again. I use “read” loosely as it was an audiobook, and my next reading will be on paper. I love audiobooks, I’m not a hater. But in reading this book I realized that I cannot listen to nonfiction books that I want to retain. I remember bits and pieces from the book, to be discussed below, but honestly most of it slipped through my mind like sand through fingers. I enjoyed listening to the book, but I didn’t retain enough to meaningfully shape my understanding and practice of prayer. So, on that note it was a failed experience, but it’s not the work’s fault, just the medium’s.

I did pick up a few things from the book that make it worthwhile. First, using Scripture readings as a basis for mediation as a transition into prayer. The REAP (Read, Examine, Apply, and Pray) that The Austin Stone recommends is useful, and actually works in a similar way to what Keller describes, but in my practice I have not actually meditated on Scripture, instead I just examine and apply through intellectual means. I want to start intentionally applying a meditation step into my routine.

Second, I really appreciated the thorough survey of the topic Keller offered, and how he centered on a few influential Protestants in our tradition to draw specifics from. It was a good choice and I helped me think through the practicals of prayer.

I don’t have much else to say because of the audiobook issue. Lesson learned. I may write more the next time I read it. 😉


'Writing A Novel with Ulysses' by David Hewson

I’ve been on a string of high-minded books lately, but now I’ve dove into a few books about writing itself, and the first one was novelist David Hewson’s Writing A Novel with Ulysses III.

Yeah, it’s about as low-level as you can get, reading a book about how to write another book in a specific app. Whee!

It was really useful. I’ve recently started using Ulysses for most of my writing for this blog, Story Team, and Storyteam.org. I have the start of a novel project in Scrivener (which I like quite a bit), but the idea of having all my working in a single app and library was appealing. But from what I knew of Ulysses, I wasn’t sure I could really use it for a novel. Hence, this read.

The best review I can give of the book is this: it is short, thorough, and I’m now convinced I can write a novel quite well in it. And I am going to try.

If you like writing in Markdown and the idea of a very basic writing app (NOT word processor as you know it) appeals to you, I would highly recommend both Ulysses and Writing A Novel with Ulysses III.


'How Dante Can Save Your Life' by Rod Dreher

I was really skeptical about Rod Dreher’s new book How Dante Can Save Your Life. When he started writing about it on his blog I wasn’t interested—at all. I started skipping posts about Dante. After being deeply affected by his two previous books I was not even going to read this one.

I was wrong, and I’m glad I was.

I decided to read it when he started talking about how it intersected with his life. As relayed in his last book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Rod struggled mightily with family issues of loyalty, trust and place. When I realized that this book would continue where the previous book left off, I decided to take a chance.

It was wonderful. I honestly don’t remember why I doubted it would be. Rod used light literary criticism and memoir to spin a deeply emotional and personal tale of how God works on our hearts through art. This was right up my alley, and I was going to pass it by.

As a reader, you don’t have to know anything about Dante or his Divine Comedy to read and appreciate this book. Rod’s careful treatment and plain-spoken approach make it an approachable experience for all readers. But in doing so he does not shy away from the complexities of the work.

It was a wonderfully fun read, I ripped through it in just a few days. If this sounds even slightly interesting to you I highly recommend it.


'All the Pretty Horses' by Cormac McCarthy

He’d never touched her and her hand was small and her waist so slight and she looked at him with great forthrightness and smiled and put her face against his shoulder. They turned under the lights. A long trumpet note guided the dancers on their separate and collective paths. Moths circled the paper lights aloft and the goathawks passed down the wires and flared and arced upward into the darkness again.

This is my favorite paragraph in the whole book. It’s a beautiful paragraph that inspires and taunts me. In many ways McCarthy’s style runs so counter to my own, yet I cannot help but aspire to it. Of course, it’s a hopeless aspiration, because even if I was to achieve writing on this level, it would be my own and not his. But it’s an aspiration nonetheless.

Cormac McCarthy is an author who intimidates me. He does so more than any of the other authors I admire so much. More than Hugo, Hemingway, Lewis and Rowling, Cormac McCarthy’s work seems like a towering statue on the horizon, an unmovable stone giant lording over the barren waste before him. He is who he is, and his work stands above all.

I’ve often heard that All the Pretty Horses is his most accessible work. I think that’s true, but I’m not sure that is where I would advise someone to start. It’s either this or The Road, and depending on who the recommendation is for it’s probably a coin flip.

Our focus falls upon John Grady for this book. He’s the final heir to a long line of Texas ranchers, and he longs for a way of life that is long gone. He leaves for Mexico, looking for remnants of a world that has past, and maybe never was.

In his travels and travails we find the dying cries of the Old West. McCarthy writes in a manner that suits the land, economical in pace, beautiful in language, and honest about the ugliness of the world John Grady found. It’s a powerful story of love and honor, and one that feels all to real.

This book in particular moved me in a way that I miss. It reminded me of the joy of reading a great writer at the height of his mastery. Like the best works, it makes me want to write. It drives me to create, even if I can never reach the bar it sets.


The Evolution of Podcasting: Inquisitive, The Record & Welcome to Macintosh

Serial blew up the podcasting world last fall. For many, many people Serial was their first impression of podcasting. For many others, myself included, it was a very visible step forward in a medium that has been full of less visible, but even more important, steps forward for the last 10 years.

Serial is a very different show than the one that formed my first impression of podcasting, Adam Curry’s The Daily Source Code in 2005. The public radio polish and production quality is miles ahead of those original podcasts, and of many popular shows today. Many old guard podcast folks from the tech world scoffed at Serial as nothing new, just an evolution of one of the most popular radio shows-turned-podcasts in the world, This American Life.

They might be right, but I don’t care if that’s true. In the more traditional world of tech podcasting there a few new shows who are taking their cue from public radio-style storytelling podcasts. Because these are shows without public radio budgets and they are still doing top-notch work, they are the ones really driving the medium forward. Where Serial may have been the general public’s introduction to podcasting, shows like Inquisitive, The Record and Welcome to Macintosh are podcasting’s introduction to storytelling.

I am sure that there are other shows doing similar work, but these are shows that made their appearance in my corner of the internet, in this case the Apple fanboy section. Inquisitive rebooted the show in episode #27: Behind the App #1. The show evolved from its one-on-one interview style to a story-driven format featuring multiple guests and telling one long story over the course of many episodes. By documenting the history of the iTunes App Store and the app industry up to the current moment, Myke Hurley is creating a valuable historical record while also weaving a compelling narrative. Along with Welcome to Macintosh (currently on episode #1) and last year’s The Record from Brent Simmons and Chris Parrish will document one of the most interesting aspects of the (current) world’s most valuable company.

My hope is that more and more podcast producers, and people who aren’t making shows yet, are inspired by this growing number of shows that tell compelling stories in long form. Storytelling is a powerful medium. Narrative stories connect with people in ways that nothing else can. I hope that this is the beginning of a new renaissance in storytelling, and podcasts lead the way. The podcasting world and all of us will be better off for it.