A Radixal Approach to Blogging

The blog is dead. Long live the blog! The blog went in to unintentional hiatus as I had enough of handling things manually with RMarkdown. I’ve converted it to use the new radix package, and written some notes about the process.

David Friggens

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you’re … a liar, I guess, as I haven’t posted in 22 months! When I started the blog I decided to use RMarkdown website functionality. This was great, as it allowed me to use the various cool features of RMarkdown I was familiar with from standalone documents and link all of the pages together in a coherent site. On the downside though, there was no specific blogging functionality, so I had to handle all of that manually — feed, index, “recent posts” etc. Starting out I thought it wouldn’t be a problem, but five months later I’d had enough. Manually creating a new feed entry etc was a little tedious, but the biggest issue was that every page had to be re-knitted each time there was a new post — I got caught a couple of times by packages with breaking changes, and it was annoying having to go back and debug/rewrite code in an old post in order to publish a new one.

Yihui started working on blogdown a few months after I started blogging, and when I heard about it I was quite excited. After my last post I decided I would make the effort to port the blog to blogdown before posting anything else. And somehow this turned into nearly two years of silence. Is blogdown really that complicated? No! It’s a little more work to set up, but it’s not too bad. The main procrastination holes for me were choosing and configuring a new theme, and having to rewrite old posts without the RMarkdown features I’d used that weren’t supported, such as code folding. I struggled to find time for the effort, and each time I’d only get part way, and the next time usually decide I couldn’t remember where I got to so started again from scratch. It’s not much of an excuse, but it’s what happened.

I was just steeling my resolve recently to mount a proper attack and get it done when I saw the announcement from RStudio of radix, a new RMarkdown package based on distill. (EDIT: the R package has been renamed distill.) Radix has nice defaults (I don’t have to spend time going through a theme gallery) and some attractive features like full-page figures and Tufte-like asides. After playing around a little bit I’ve decided to take the plunge — I think it will work better for me than blogdown.

The old posts are all here, as you’ll notice if you’ve been here before, but I’ve restructured some of them to account for the lack of code folding etc. I liked the idea of a discussion of the process with code available for those who are interested and hidden for those who aren’t, but it’s not essential. I think I’ll be more explicit now though in either writing an explanatory post where the visuals and discussion are the focus, with code in an appendix for those who are interested to dig further, or a technical post where discussion of the coding process is the focus. Speaking of new posts, there should hopefully be more in the coming weeks and months. I’ve got some half-draft posts of things I wanted to play with over the past year and a half, so I just need to make the time to finish them off. (EDIT: OK, so that was slightly optimistic, but at least the gap was less than a year. I’ve been reading some good books instead!)

Is there anything I don’t like about Radix? No actual dislikes, but there are a few opportunities for improvement, as with any very new software project. The key issue for me is code highlighting. With a desire to not modify upstream distill, the highlighting for R code is generic “clike”, which is not quite satisfactory. Other than that, I’m very happy with it, and encourage others to give it a go.

Thanks JJ!

Figure from https://giphy.com/gifs/running-goats-radical-WwAIvO47NQ01O
Figure from https://giphy.com/gifs/running-goats-radical-WwAIvO47NQ01O

  1. Yes, I put a footnote in an aside. I’m a monster!


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