I have a pile of things to write about so . . . I'm going to tinker with my blog instead. There are just a lot of little things that have been bugging me for awhile, so let's see what I can take care rather than write what I really want to write about.

Fix slow images

I don't use a lot of images on my blog, but when I do use them, I haven't bothered to optimize them. As a result, pages like the sourdough analogy took far too long to load. After making this change, the PageSpeed increased from 87 to 98 on mobile. More importantly, I no longer need to watch these images load now that they are small enough to pop in nearly instantly. You know, like on my machine.

Since my blog runs on Jekyll, I searched for jekyll image compression. That led me to an answer on Stack Overflow and a Jekyll plugin. Trouble with the plugin is that GitHub Pages doesn't run it on their service. I could do the trick I used to get tagging, but the plugin also required some configuration to resize my images. And I needed to change all my posts to use the special asset Liquid tags. This was pretty quickly getting beyond my scope.

Like the prodigal son, I came to my senses. All I need to do is run an ImageMagick command on all my images. A few more searches brought me to this article about resizing images which helped me write a resize_images.ksh script:

#!/usr/bin/env ksh

mkdir -p images

# https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2015/06/efficient-image-resizing-with-imagemagick/

smartresize() {
    mogrify -path $3 \
            -filter Triangle \
            -define filter:support=2 \
            -thumbnail $2\> \
            -unsharp 0.25x0.08+8.3+0.045 \
            -dither None -posterize 136 \
            -quality 82 \
            -define jpeg:fancy-upsampling=off \
            -define png:compression-filter=5 \
            -define png:compression-level=9 \
            -define png:compression-strategy=1 \
            -define png:exclude-chunk=all \
            -interlace none \
            -colorspace sRGB $1

for f in images_raw/*; do
    t=`echo $f | sed -e 's/images_raw/images/g'`
    if  [ ! -f $t ]; then
        cp $f $t
        smartresize $t 740 images/

This copies images from images_raw to images and transforms them so that they are no bigger then 740 pixels wide. I made a slight change to Dave Newton's script. He designed it to resize images for responsive design which might mean making the image a bit bigger. But I mostly care about making it fit into the width of my textblock, so I added the greater-than symbol to -thumbnail $2\>, which instructs ImageMagick to only size the image down.

For my blog, which an audience of hundreds, this isn't strictly necessary. My readers tend to be patient enough to wait a second or two for an image to load. Plus the text loads immediately so people can get to the words. But it's the sort of thing that really kills a site like College Confidential. Our PageSpeed on mobil is 5. Out of 100. That's "remember modems?" speed. Now our problem is not mostly images. We're working to fix the problem because it really makes using the site, especially on your phone, unpleasant.

This one is easier. When I started my blog, many sites didn't support HTTPS protocol. So I copied links that began http:// rather than https://. Since my pages are served via HTTPS, that creates a potential security problem. Also Netlify sends me an email every time I publish a new page.

Every page Jekyll builds has this problem because of a line in my _config.yml file:

author_url: http://meta.stackexchange.com/users/1438/jon-ericson

When I added that line, Stack Exchange had not yet moved to HTTPS. Since my URL is in the footer of every page and the byline of every post, I have a lot of mixed content problems. But I also have a lot of links in my posts that are HTTP. Thankfully, it's fairly safe to fix them with a regex:

$ find _posts -name \*.md -exec perl -pi.bak -e 's|http://|https://|g' {} \;

A couple of caveats: I can't use that script on this post because it doesn't actually make sure the string that is being changed is a link. Using it now would mess up this post. Second, .bak created a bunch of backup files that aren't really necessary since I've saved a copy of the previous version in Git. Cleaning them requires another find command:

$ find _posts -name \*.bak | xargs rm

Note I used xargs instead of the -exec parameter. It's been a long time since I used the command line for this sort of work and I'd forgotten how flexible xargs is. I hadn't forgotten to escape my wildcards though.

Finally, so I wouldn't have this problem in the future, I added the enforce_https test to my Rakefile.

Accessibility concerns

I happen to know my blog has one regular reader who experiences problems when websites have poor contrast text. I've known my blog has this problem too, but I hadn't gotten around to fixing it. Yes, my blog doesn't have a large readership, but that means I lose a higher percentage of my audience if they can't read my posts. (Not that that's an excuse for Stack Overflow ignoring the problem.)

One easy test is to run a page through WAVE, the WebAIM web accessibility evaluation tool. I don't have as many problems as I'd been afraid I would:

  • 2 errors
  • 20 contrast errors
  • 1 alert

Document language missing

My blog is in English because that's the language I'm comfortable writing in. That's a pretty good default if the language isn't specified. So my blog probably works fine for my readers. That said, this is one of these US-centric things that drives people in other countries mad. It's also a single line change to my default layout:

<html lang="en-US">

The Jekyll theme I chose included a menu across the top of each page. The menu includes the following link:

<a href="#" class="menu-icon">

Since I borrowed that code, someone has removed the empty link target. So I copied that change and removed the line in my Rakefile that allowed bare hashes in href attributes. That way I won't make this mistake again. Subsequent testing reminded me I needed to rebuild my tag pages for this change to go into effect everywhere.

Contrast errors

I had two basic problems illustrated in this image:

Contrast errors because of my small text and link color

First, there are problems with the level of grey my theme used. The contrast ratio is 3.77:1, which is less than the 4.5:1 recommended for small text. Thankfully the WAVE tool has a Contrast tab that lets me move a slider to find a dark enough text color.

Second, my link color was low contrast as well. The trick with links is the color must contrast with both the background and the main text. Ideally, the color when a link is followed also has sufficient contrast with surrounding text.

Redundant alternative text

This alert pointed out that the alt text for my site icon was just the site title, which isn't actually that informative. So I changed it to:

<img src="/images/donquixote.gif" alt="">

The icon itself carries no particular meaning. I suppose I could use the alt text to explain that it's Pablo Picasso's Don Quixote sketch. That would explain the title, I suppose. But is it worth time when the rest of the post is about something completely different? Is the joke itself worth it for people who can see the image?

To prevent HTMLProofer from flagging this empty alt text, I added an exception:

:alt_ignore => ['/images/donquixote.gif'],

Why bother?

So much of the world is imperfect and beyond the control of any one person. Building you own website creates a space you can own. No it won't be perfect, but it won't be constrained by the sort of things that limit other sites. With a proliferation of free and inexpensive hosting options, there's no reason not to claim a bit of territory on the internet. And if you have your own site, you might as well do what you can to perfect it.