Friday, 10 July 2009

DSS Blog Revived!

We're back! For upwards of six months this blog was shamefully neglected as we grappled with professional and other more urgent concerns. This neglect was especially criminal because of the excellent initial response it had elicited (I suspect this enthusiasm was reflective not so much of the quality of our output - Kalyanda's posts excluded! - as of a deeply felt need for this sort of an endeavour). Hopefully all that will change, and we will upload frequently and regularly just as we did six months ago. Already we have several interesting articles in the pipeline. But more on that later.

One cause of this hiatus was purely technical in nature. The blog desperately needed a redesign. And when I say 'needed' I mean just that. Aesthetics apart, certain key features had stopped functioning altogether, which made the blog much more difficult to read. In particular, we had used a Javascript-based template hack from Hackosphere for our expandibility feature. This is the feature that initially displays only a paragraph or two of each post, and expands to show the complete post when a link is clicked. Very useful, results in compact, organised homepages, but one day I noticed the damn posts just wouldn't expand! And just DSS's, but also of all the other blogs where I had added this tweak.

It transpires that the hack was functionally dependent on some code uploaded in the developer's website, which had got hacked in the interim. Though Hackosphere does offer a workaround, I felt getting rid of the javascript would be perferable. Fortunately, Beautiful Beta offers just that, i.e. a CSS-based expandibility tweak. But then again, removing the old script and then adding the new was too much trouble. Much simpler to start from scratch.

Secondly, the old design was dated. At 800 pixels it was wider than most Blogger default templates. But even then it did not look so good, especially at today's resolutions. Aesthetically also, the design needed loads of reworking. And lastly, there was the question of the menubar. Beautiful Beta offers an elegant method for adding a menubar just above the posts. While adding this to my food blog, I managed to modify it so that it was integrated with the masthead. Of course, adding this feature to the DSS blog made sense. So all these factors combined meant a comprehensive redesign, aesthetic as well as technical.

Starting from scratch might have been the obvious solution, but it called for considerable investments of time and effort. And yet without this redesign there was no point adding new posts, given the blog's dysfunctional features. Which is why we kept dithering over the issue. Fortunately, when I did start work, there were enough people to chip in. Arnab did the photography. Arijit Mahalanabis and Angshuman Das gave very useful suggestions.

So finally here it is - the revamped blog. Bells and whistles working once again and, I feel, better looking too in the bargain. In fact, thanks to the new CSS-based expandibility and especially the menubar, it looks and functions like a Wordpress blog more than anything else! And yet it bears its own fully customised look, feel and identity, which we cannot have with Wordpress.

Incidentally, that is why my vote in the Blogger v. Wordpress debate goes to the first. Agreed, Blogger default templates are primitive, ugly, and offer only a fraction of Wordpress's features. On the other hand, it does offer fully customisable templates. Which means you can add third-party hacks and tweaks, and thereby get almost all the features that make Wordpress so great. Moreover and most importantly, since Blogger templates are fully customisable, you can craft a unique look and feel for your blog. Wordpress permits template hacks only for paid accounts, so in the free version you are stuck with default templates. I know it's the fashion for computer-geeks to ridicule Blogger's crude features and looks in comparison to Wordpress's. But to my mind at least, it is the precise opposites that rings more true. I tend to think of Wordpress as analogous to Windows: easier to use and snazzier looking off the shelf, but offering only limited customisability. You want more tweaks, you pay for it. On the other hands, Blogger reminds me of a Linux distro. Initially much less user-friendly, but in fact more flexible, and thus much more rewarding to the experienced user.

Of course, these tech issues are beside the point. What really matters is that the redesign has restored the blog's functionality. All the tweaks work just fine. And we have also added a few new features, such as the menubar and the contents page (still being worked on), which makes navigation easier. So now that we have restored and further enhanced the blog's readability, adding new posts has become worthwhile again. And there are several new posts in the pipeline. Vivekanand, regular contributor to the DSS Orkut comm and now RMIC as well, has promised a write-up about Tanpura training. I myself plan to write rejoinders to several DSS and RMIC debates, also post here stuff originally written a long time ago for other fora. The best news: I believe Kalyanda's writing down his recollections of Ali Akbar Khan. I am not sure if it is true, or whether it will be completed soon, or whether once it's completed he will consent to us publishing it here. At this stage we can only wait and hope. For sure, this is something to look forward to!


Sushama said...


Prithviraj said...

Great job, Abhik! Very best wishes to the team and I look forward to the new posts. And I earnestly hope that Prof. Mukherjea finish writing his piece soon so that we can all read it!

Abhik Majumdar said...

@ Sushama: Thanks!

@ Prithviraj: Speaking of Prof Mukherjea, hopefully there'll be an update on that front pretty soon. Do stay tuned!

Shobha Joshi said...

Looking forward to more good stuff!!