Given enough time, I can edit. Anybody can. But I do not write well. I suffer from dyslexia, so I find it challenging to spot misspelled words or missing words prose that I write. I studied math and physics as an undergraduate and always thought of myself as being good with math but not with words.
I recall feeling discouraged when I realized that economists are writers. Eventually, I reassured myself by saying that “if Neil Young can make a living as a singer, I can make a living as a writer.”
If you see opportunities to improve this site, tell me. Or once I get it working, just edit the pages and fix it yourself.
Content of this Site
I’ll use this site to communicate with people who work in DEC - Development Economics.
This site is visible to anyone with a browser on a machine that is inside the Bank firewall. As part of our commitment to transparency, I welcome them to follow along.
One of the messages that I will repeat is that everyone in the Bank should work toward producing prose that is clear and concise. This will save time and effort for a reader. Thinking about the reader is an example of what I mean when I say that we should develop our sense of empathy.
Prose that is clear and concise is our ultimate goal, the point on the horizon that we aim for. But clear, concise prose always starts as vague, confused, wordy prose. My personal mantra as a bad writer is, “I would have written less but I didn’t have the time.” As long as the technology lets it live, prose can improve.
Another message I’ll repeat is that both the system of “books in libraries” and its update “docs on drives” kill prose. Wikipedia was a sharp break from the dead-prose world of “docs on drives.” It showed how a large group of people could edit and add to a large body of prose. The Wikipedia technology, “posts in a content management system” does not scale. An emerging system, “text files in distributed source control” that I’ll illustrate with this site also lets the prose live yet has the advantage that it can scale indefinitely.
So even as we set as the ultimate goal that our prose should be concise and clear, we must not hesitate to get started with stub pages and rough drafts. Advice about composing almost always recommends getting thoughts down quickly, then restructuring, reorganizing, and revising, waiting to polish the sentences and paragraphs until the logic and structure are clear.
So these pages will start out being rough. I’ll insert stub pages at various points to indicate a gap that needs to be filled. If you want to edit a page, let me know and I’ll send you the underlying text file. Soon, I hope to have a site where you can grab any underlying files yourself, edit them, and feed them back in. This is how we can keep the prose alive.
The site uses Jekyll to process text files written in a variant of a markup language, Github-flavored markdown. Jekyll convert markdown into static web pages. Markdown is much easier to read than raw html, hence much easier for a human to work in when composing or editing.
I know. When I refer to “humans” it sounds like I do not think I’m one of them. But I used “human” here on purpose. Part of what makes the new world of text files and distributed source control so interesting is that both humans and machines can process these text files. Compared to computer code, which has the same dual readership, markdown was designed with the humans in mind.
The first few lines of the text in this file, about.md, look like this: (Be sure to scroll over to see the full paragraph.)
--- layout: page title: About permalink: /about/ --- Given enough time, I can edit, but I do not write well. I suffer from dyslexia, so I find it challenging to spot misspelled words or missing words prose that I write. I studied math and physics as an undergraduate and always thought of myself as being good with math but not with words. I recall feeling discouraged when I realized that economists are writers. Eventually, I reassured myself by saying that "if Neil Young can make a living as a singer, I can make a living as a writer." If you see opportunities to improve this site, tell me. Or once I get it working, just edit the pages and fix it yourself. ## Content of this Site I'll use this site to communicate with people who work in Development Economics. As an experiment, I'm going to try to avoid acronyms. I realized that this was worth considering when I could not figure out what the C in DEC stands for.
The material at the top of the file delimited by the lines with
"---" is meta data. The
## means heading level 2 in HTML. You get the idea.
A machine running Jekyll takes the content from a markdown file, combines it with information about the look of the site that is contained in other text files that describe a theme. The theme relies on a templating language, Liquid, to automate the creation of basic layouts like pages with headers and footers or a home page with excerpts from recent posts.
For more information, about Markdown, Jekyll, and Liquid, start here: https://jekyllrb.com
Another message I will repeat is that when we work on the web, we must always be aware of the risk of cybercrime. Cybercrime is a problem that the analytical tools of economics could help people with a tech background understand. When we take risks, we impose negative externalities on others. As a result, there is far too much risk-taking, hence far too much cybercrime.
To emphasize the risks, when I tempt you to click on a link, I will (usually) should show you where it will take you. For now, exceptions include the navigation links at the top of the page. You should be aware that HTML makes it trivial for anyone to cheat. Here is the text in this markdown file that inserts the link for Jekyll:
The text in the square brackets is what you will see. The text inside the parentheses is the URL that the browser will go to if you click on the link. There is nothing that forces these to be the same or even to be related. So I could easily cheat and send you someplace that exposes you to malware. Or, someone who edits one of these pages could do this, including someone who hacks my machine and pretends that it was me who did the edit.
So make it a game to hover over any link on this site (or any site) and see if the URL that the browser displays is the URL that you think you will go to. To keep you on your toes, I’ll insert some links where I cheat. Email me when you find one.
The Immaculate Theme
I’m starting off using a Jekyll theme called Immaculate. It is based on Tufte, a style inspired the printed handouts distributed by Edward Tufte.
This theme is responsive, which means that it should display appropriately no matter what type of device the reader is using. It complies with new standards that Google is promoting to encourage faster page loads, particularly on mobile devices. For background information see:
Google Accelerated Mobile Pages: https://www.ampproject.org/
If you are interested in learning about themes, there is an unresolved problem with the support that Immaculate offers for mobile devices; on a small screen, it does not display sidenotes. You can learn the details at the link for the theme. I’m looking for volunteers who can help improve it. The theme, like markdown and Jekyll are all open source. This means that we get to free-ride on the efforts of others.
Another message that I will repeat is that those of us in the Bank who take advantage of open source should contribute to the projects that we use.