You're on my personal website (https://yousefamar.com) right now! Meta!
Today was the "Build a Website in an Hour" IndieWeb event (more info here). I went in not quite knowing what I wanted to do. Then, right as we began, I remembered learning about Gemini and Astrobotany from Jo. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to explore Gemini, and build a Gemini website!
Gemini is a simple protocol somewhere between HTTP and Gopher. It runs on top of TLS and is deliberately quite minimal. You normally need a Gemini client/browser in order to view
gemini:// pages, but there's an HTTP proxy here.
I spent the first chunk of the hour trying to compile Gemini clients on my weird setup. Unfortunately, this proved to be quite tricky on arm64 (I also can't use snap or flatpak because of reasons that aren't important now). I eventually managed to install a terminal client called Amfora and could browse the Geminispace!
Then, I tried to get a server running. I started in Python because I thought this was going to be hard as-is, and I didn't want to take more risks than needed, but then I found that it's actually kind of easy (you only need
ssl). Once I had a server working in Python, I thought that I actually would prefer if I could run this off of the same server that this website (yousefamar.com) uses. Most of this website is static, but there's a small Node server that helps with rebuilding, wiki pages, and testimonial submission.
So for the next chunk of time, I implemented the server in Node. You can find the code for that here. I used the
tls library to start a server and read/write text directly from/to a socket.
Everything worked fine on localhost with self-signed certificates that I generated with openssl, but for yousefamar.com I needed to piggyback off of the certificates I already have for that domain (LetsEncrypt over Caddy). I struggled with this for most of the rest of the time. I also had an issue where I forgot to end the socket after writing, causing requests to time out.
I thought I might have to throw in the towel, but I fixed it just as the call was about to end, after everyone had shown their websites. My Gemini page now lives at gemini://yousefamar.com/ and you can visit it through the HTTP proxy here!
I found some Markdown to Gemini converters, and I considered having all my public pages as a capsule in Geminispace, but I think many of them wouldn't quite work under those constraints. So instead, in the future I might simply have a
gemini/ directory in the root of my notes or similar, and have a little capsule there separate from my normal web stuff.
I'm quite pleased with this. It's not a big deal, but feels a bit like playing with the internet when it was really new (not that I'm old enough to have done that, but I imagine this is what it must have felt like).
(Skip to the end for the conclusion on how this has affected my website, or continue reading for the backstory).
For as long as I can remember, I've been almost consistently engaged in some form of education or mentorship. Going back to my grandparents, and potentially great-grandparents, my family on both sides has all been teachers, professors, and even a headmaster, so perhaps it's something in my blood. I started off teaching in university as a TA (and teaching at least one module outright where the lecturer couldn't be bothered). Later, I taught part-time in a pretty rough school (which was quite exhausting) and even later at a much fancier private school (which wasn't as exhausting, but much less fulfilling) and finally I went into tutoring and also ran a related company. I wound this business up when covid started.
Over the years I found that, naturally, the smaller the class, the more disproportional impact you can have when teaching. I also found that that personal impact goes up exponentially not when I teach directly, but zoom out and find out what it is the student actually needs (especially adult students), and help them unblock those problems for themselves. As the proverb goes,
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."
There's also a law of diminishing returns at play here. By far the biggest impact you can have when guiding someone to reach their goals (academic or otherwise) comes at the very start. This immediate impact has gotten bigger and bigger over time as I've learned more and more myself. Sometimes it's a case of simply reorienting a person, and sending them on their way, rather than holding their hand throughout their whole journey.
This is how I got into mentoring. I focused mainly on supporting budding entrepreneurs and developers from underpriviledged groups, mainly organically through real-life communities, but also through platforms like Underdog Devs, ADPList, Muslamic Makers and a handful of others. If you do this for free (which I was), you can only really do on the side, with a limited amount of time. I wasn't very interested in helping people who could actually afford paying me for my time, paradoxically enough...
I decided recently that there ought to be an optimal middle ground that maximises impact. 1:1 mentoring just doesn't scale, and large workshop series aren't effective. I wanted to test a pipeline of smaller cohorts and mix peer-based support with standard coaching. I have friends who I've worked with before who are willing to help with this, and I think I can set up a system that would be very, very cheap and economically accessible to the people I care about helping.
Anyway, I've started planning a funnel, and building a landing page. Of course, any landing page worth its salt ought to have social proof. So I took to LinkedIn. I never post to LinkedIn (in fact, this might actually have been my very first post in the ~15 years I've been on there). I found a great tool for collecting testimonials in my toolbox called Famewall, set up the form/page, and asked my LinkedIn network to leave me testimonials.
There were a handful of people that I thought would probably respond, but I was surprised that instead other people I completely hadn't expected were responding. In some cases, people that I genuinely didn't remember, and in other cases people where I didn't realise just how much of an impact I had on them. This was definitely an enlightening experience!
I immediately hit the free tier limit of Famewall and had to upgrade to a premium tier to access newer testimonials that were rolling in. It's not cheap, and I'm only using a tiny fraction of the features, but the founder is a fellow indie hacker building it as a solo project and doing a great job, and we chatted a bit, so I figured I should support him.
I cancelled my subscription a few days later when I got around to re-implementing the part that I needed on my own site. That's why this post is under the Website project; the review link (https://amar.io/review) now redirects to a bog standard form for capturing testimonials (with a nice Lottie success animation at the end, similar to Famewall) and in the back end it simply writes the data to disk, and notifies me that there's a new testimonial to review. If it's ok, I tweak the testimonial JSON and trigger an eleventy rebuild (this is a static site). In the future, I might delegate this task to Sentinel!
The testimonials then show up on this page, or any other page onto which I include
testimonials.njk (like the future mentoring landing page). For the layout, I use a library called Colcade which is a lighter alternative to Masonry recommended to me by ChatGPT when I asked for alternatives, after Masonry was giving me some grief. It works beautifully!
When people visit my website, it's not very clear to them what it is I actually do. It used to be that my website doubled as my CV, but after a while that became sort of useless as I no longer needed to apply to jobs, and I stopped maintaining it.
Recently, I began revamping the landing page of my website (yet again) and started off by cleaning up the hero section. I had a bunch of icons that represented links, and thought I was being clever and language-agnostic by using icons instead of text, but then realised that even I was forgetting what icon meant what, so I couldn't begin to hope that others would know what they meant. So I added text. And I made the WebGL avatar have an image fallback in case the browser doesn't support WebGL. Similarly, I froze the parallax effects under the same conditions as those rely on hardware acceleration.
Then, I decided to create a project grid right under the hero. I wanted to treat this as a showcase of the things I am involved in, or have been involved in, loosely in order of importance. This has been inspired by:
I began by adding the most important stuff for now, and might add some more over time. I keep pretty good notes of everything I do, so this list could become very very long, as I've worked on a lot of things over time. I realised that a few, cool, recent things are more meaningful than many, old, arbitrary things, so I'll try not to make this grid too large, and link to the full directory of projects (at least the ones that have made their way online) in the last tile.
It would have also been quite boring I think if I listed all my publications, as they're largely related. The same holds true for every weekend project, hackathon, game jam, utility script, game mod, etc. The projects I worked on during university I think are similarly just too old now. I also left out my volunteering work because it felt a bit too vain to include, and I'm not sure it would actually spur on any meaningful conversation. I also left out the things where I don't have significant enough involvement.
Please let me know your thoughts on the above and/or on how to improve this!