Tuesday, December 28, 2010

not so much working on the website...

as experimenting with little things that I learn, so, today, I read a little more about CSS positioning - not so much new, but a good, better-organized recap of things I had learned before via imitation. Armed with my newly sharpened element positioning skills, I've updated the Contact Menu to always position the photos in the center (only really affects the 'Crossing the Circle' pages, as Oliver's picture is horizontal, while all the rest are vertical) and added a 'Back to the Top' control to the bottom of the News Feed (ok, politely borrowed from the Quark website...). I've looked into making that one float, so as to always be there at the bottom of the page, but the simple 'position: fixed' doesn't quite do it well enough, so just a fixed 'Back to the Top' button at the bottom of the page - fancier positioning coming later... maybe!

Monday, December 27, 2010

minor updates, additions, and adventures

Update: Wow, I can't believe it's been almost 5 years since Theo, Cyrus, and I set off on the Mongol Rally for the first time in 2006! We kept a blog back then too - it's linked on the site, but, unfortunately, not all the pictures had been stored on blogger, some lived on my fotki.com account, which has since expired, so the pictures had gone poof! They've now been replaced - yeah! Seeing the LADA again was a wonderful bit of nostalgia... Reading my rant about the difficulties of importing a vehicle into the US was laughable now that I've actually done it!

Addition: The adventurists' themed Rickshaw Run page (here) now has a filter too. This filter also does not work, but it's now there, ready to be enabled!

The ambitious Adventure: This one didn't quite succeed, but if you look at the Crossing the Circle trip, you may note that the background is a little different - it used to just be all gray under the icebergs picture at the top. Now, there's still the icebergs, floating in Antarctic waters at the top, but the rest is filled with said Antarctic waters. Or at least that's what I want - what I got is a step in that direction, but looks a little too choppy still, so some more work is still required, but I'm pleased that setting up the layout for it was easy, now just need to find a photo editor that'll make the Antarctic waters merge a little more smoothly...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

updating the updates

A fairly minor change today - after the IE episode last week, I went to check all the rest of my pages using IE and promptly discovered that the Rickshaw Run page, styled to fit with the adventurists' templates was busted too.

The menu bar really wasn't rendering properly here at all, but this gave me the reason to go in and rewrite the entire page to actually fit in with the rest of the site's new template, and fix up some broken CSS in the process. Somewhere along the way, I even had the email/password text fields working correctly (default text clears when you click on it), but that got broken somehow, and I didn't really feel it was important enough to go back through and re-visit. That page is mostly just there as a sales pitch to the guys in Bristol so that they use my code to run their adventure tracking systems, so, I feel, for now, the look and feel is more important than the Log-In functionality!

Bug fixin' - stupid IE

December 20, 2010
Well, there's lots of bugs still, of course, but most fall into the 'unfinished features' category, so I was ready to just ignore them for a while. But then, my dad pointed out that the links on my menus don't work when using Internet Explorer... This seemed rather unfortunate, so I figured it probably deserved some immediate attention, so by the start of last week, I rolled out a new update, where the links code had been simplified, in such a way that it would now work with both IE and Firefox. It works on Safari too, and I really need to verify on Google Chrome...

As an aside, a lot of the current design has obviously been borrowed from the adventurists, them of the Mongol Rally, Rickshaw Run, etc. fame. It's an excellent starting point, but I definitely need to, at the very least, update my background images, before they decide to sue... I had imitated their menu layouts also, and with my dad's discovery, found that nothing happens when you click the picture links on their menus [in IE] either... Which is less than perfect, but we're all working on things! Well, my menu code is now different from theirs, so there's that!

And if you want some technical details... Apparently, in Firefox, you can put a <table> inside of a link (<a> .... </a>) and it'll work just fine, just the way it, I believe, should. In IE, most everything works correctly to - all the link styles are applied, the hover effects kick in, the cursor changes as appropriate, but then you click, and ... absolutely nothing happens, Way to be IE! Well, using tables for layout is bad anyway, so it is, actually, a change for the better.

The next step: Evolution!

The next step finally brings us to the website as it is today: http://www.safety3rdblog.com/. I spent some three weeks re-organizing the entire site into a prettier, more user-friendly layout, and on December 15, a day before my birthday, the site was re-born, with this announcement to the world. My mother enjoyed the picture I'd included...

Where do we go from here? I'm not really sure - there is a lot of work that can be put into the website. Just a few things off the top of my head:
- improve performance via limiting the number of items initially displayed in the News Feed
- further improve performance by only loading the parts of the route onto the map that are currently displayed (the map is far and away the slowest element of the site)
- re-write most of the back-end code to make it an enterprise-level product: use source control, clean up and better organize the code, properly engineer the database, improve the CSS, preferably switch to CakePHP
- Search, filter, email, other features that are now available, but are not yet implemented
- add support for Videos
- add Admin tools to the website
- find a way to actually integrate with Facebook
- add a way for others to create sites of their own

Can I monetize the whole thing somehow?

So, there's plenty to do, if I choose to pursue any of it. For now, I have a lengthy to do list and I'll see about getting around to it. And just so that you, the audience of the outside world, may keep up with my progress, I've just created this blog which I will attempt to duly update tracking the changes and updates I make to the website. We'll see how good I'll be about this, but I promise to try!

The death and the resurrection of the website

Arnie had been letting me host the site on his server, which was working just fine until he mentioned that he was planning on canceling that hosting setup. I knew I'd have to deal with this fact sooner rather than later, but chose to procrastinate instead... Then, the day of reckoning promptly arrived at the end of September, when the site disappeared. This brought up a lot consternation. I opened my own account with the 1and1 hosting service, I tried to get the site transferred, I failed... I emailed them, I called them, I got transferred to their enterprise service center... I bitched some more... I was told I'd have to wait. I took the time to go back and fix up the blog posts from Burma and China that had been relying on images hosted on my website (since I couldn't upload to blogger from those fine nations...) - I bitched about that here. Finally, on November 16th, I had waited long enough, I had mastered the domain name transferal bureaucracy, and the site was back up and running, looking just as bare as it always had. In celebration, I wrote a brief blog post and started scheming about a next step...

Ancient History

First, at the beginning of time, there was the Big Bang, and particles of matter traveled and expanded over the universe at astounding speeds... Right, history that's not quite that ancient!

I first had the idea to put together a website when doing the adventurists events - the Mongol Rally in '06 and '08 and the Rickshaw Run in 2008. They provided us with a fairly rudimentary system to send SMS messages to their website, which specified a location, and their site then mapped our route. It was cute, it was interesting, there were various bugs, I didn't really think it was all that well done (no, really, have a look for yourself here), so in the fall of last year, prior to departing for another three month trip around the world, I put together my own version. It looked a lot like this. Which is to say it was [barely] functional, while remaining utterly devoid of any sort of formatting. In fact, it was actually still evolving as I was starting to travel - I added the ability to link to a photo album while hanging out with friends in Nagoya, Japan. But it worked, hooray!

I proceeded to put together sites for the '08 Rickshaw Run and my trip to Antarctica in February of '09 as test sites and happily rested on my laurels. Thus ends the ancient history.