My Apps — Chapter 10
Garmin BaseCamp

It looks like Garmin BaseCamp first appeared in 2008. I don’t recall when I first downloaded it but I do recall that it sucked. I use Garmin hardware and Garmin software is required to communicate with it. BaseCamp was the intended replacement for their MapSource program and, while I was hardly a fan of MapSource, at least it didn’t crash or hangup too often. Early BaseCamp did both somewhat regularly and its user interface was no more intuitive to me than MapSource’s. I put off switching as long as I could but the day came when I was forced to replace a program I didn’t like at all with one I disliked even more.

We’ve come a long way, BaseCamp and I. It has added some features that I suspect were initially put there to distract me from the frequent blowups and it quit blowing up as much. For my part, I’ve become more familiar with the interface and more tolerant of its oddities. I’m fairly comfortable with the arrangement of lists and folders that once mystified me and I’ve even plotted a few short trips entirely within BaseCamp. In fact, I’m pretty much ready to concede that my preference for creating routes in DeLorme’s Street Atlas now comes mostly from familiarity and not from any real superiority. BaseCamp’s ability to geotag photos using recorded tracks is quite convenient and the display of geotagged photos is very usable although I remain irritated by thumbnails hiding map details like town and road names.

Of course, personal preferences and peeves will soon be meaningless. Garmin acquired DeLorme in 2016 and Street Atlas development has already ceased. The 2015 edition is the final one and it is no longer available from DeLorme although a downloadable version is currently still available from Amazon. Necessity is the mother of many things but I am glad that it didn’t become necessary to rely on BaseCamp much earlier. BaseCamp has grown into a capable product and the necessity of becoming more familiar with it will eventually be a good thing. Other good things could come from the acquisition if DeLorme developers move to Garmin and bring some of those things I like with them. I’m not counting on it but it could happen.

My Apps – Chapter 9 — DeLorme Street Atlas

My Apps — Chapter 9
DeLorme Street Atlas

DeLorme Street Atlas is one of my oldest tools. I started using it in 2001. I’ve talked about it in a few posts but was surprised to see that it has never been the primary focus of a post. The reason, I suppose, is the old story of taking something for granted until you lose it. The first version I used was 9.0. There were a few more numbered revisions and a misstep into a Road Warrior version before the numeric year was used in the product name and a string of annual releases began. I didn’t grab every one. I more or less fell into biennial mode and upgraded just every other year. 2016 was to be my next planned update but plans changed. In early 2016 Garmin closed a deal to acquire DeLorme and all Street Atlas development was stopped. 2015 was the final version produced. This first post with DeLorme in the title will also be the last.

I did an earlier than planned update and purchased the 2015 version so I could have the latest possible. As I’ve written before, there is considerable overlap between Street Atlas and Garmin’s BaseCamp and it would make no sense for one company to maintain both products. BaseCamp can communicate with Garmin devices while Street Atlas cannot so the choice of which to keep is obvious.

However, even though I don’t believe that Street Atlas can do anything BaseCamp can not, I do believe there are things that Street Atlas does better or more conveniently. In some cases this really is simply my belief. When I purchased the latest version I looked through some of the customer comments and noticed that most of the negative comments were aimed at the user interface, the very thing that has kept me hooked.

For the immediate future, I expect to continue using Street Atlas for.a couple of tasks while admitting that the primary reason is nothing more than the fact that “old habits die hard”. I’m basically talking about routing and things related. Garmin seems to have eliminated all of the real problems that BaseCamp once had in this area and I accept that BaseCamp’s methods are probably just as easy as Street Atlas’s. But I have years of experience with Street Atlas and I sometimes struggle to do something in BaseCamp that I can accomplish in an instant with Street Atlas. I have plotted a few short routes directly in BaseCamp and I realize I need to switch over to it completely at some point but I’m going to continue living in the past just a little longer.

I will also continue using Street Atlas to produce the locator map posted for each documented trip. The “old habits” thing is certainly at work here but the truth is I have yet to seriously attempt to produce an equivalent map with BaseCamp so I have no idea what is hard and what is easy. I may eventually find that making my little maps is easier and quicker with BaseCamp but for the near term I’ll be posting maps that look just like they always have because they’re made the same way with the same tools.

Street Atlas is almost certainly not the only DeLorme offering that will be vanishing. It is pretty much accepted that Garmin bought DeLorme for its InReach satellite communication technology and that all other products, including maps, gazetteers, and GPS receivers are candidates for elimination. The Yarmouth, Maine, headquarters remains although the map store has been closed. Reportedly one of the conditions founder David DeLorme put on the sale was that Eartha, the World’s Largest Rotating, Revolving Globe, remain accessible to the public and so it is. The photo at left is from my 2015 visit.

The inevitable isn’t always easy to accept and sometimes we can even hold it off for a little bit. It may even be appropriate that, for at least a short while, I’ll be following decommissioned routes to abandoned buildings and ghost signs in bypassed towns with orphaned software.

My Apps — Chapter 8 FastStone Image Viewer

My Apps — Chapter 8
FastStone Image Viewer

fsvboxIn the May 2013 My Apps installment, I mentioned that I had stopped using Easy Thumbnails, the software it described, in 2012 but I did not identify what replaced it. Now, roughly eighteen months after that post and more than two years after I started using it, I’m finally getting around to talking about my “new” thumbnail maker, FastStone Image Viewer.

First some background. I use uniform dimensions for all thumbnail and full size photos on my site. For extremely well thought out and indisputable reasons, full size photos are currently 800 x 600 pixels and thumbnails are 100 x 100 pixels. Because I’ve chosen to use square thumbnails, a little extra editing is required to extract a sensible looking square from a rectangular shaped full size photo. I use PhotoPlus to produce both the full size 800 x 600 jpeg and the square jpeg for the thumbnail. There is no fixed size for the square as it will eventually be resized to standard dimensions. The full size photo gets a watermark style copyright notice applied.

Originally, both the thumbnail re-sizing and the addition of the copyright were done inside PhotoPlus. Sometime near the start of this century, I started doing the thumbnails with Fooke Software’s Easy Thumbnails but continued doing the copyright with PhotoPlus using the software’s macro facility to apply the customized text to a set of photos in a single operation.

Then one day it broke. It didn’t just break by itself, of course. It broke when I installed a new version of PhotoPlus. The recording of macros simply did not work in the new release. I contacted support who verified the problem and logged it. They also helped me move my previously recorded copyright macro to the new software which would take care of things until the end of the year, when the date would need changing, or the bug was fixed. I started using FastStone’s product long before year’s end and don’t know if the bug ever was fixed.

fsvsc1Like Easy Thumbnails, FastStone Viewer is a whiz at batch processing. The long list of supported functions includes the ability to add text or graphic watermarks. I use text which is really easy to change when a new year rolls around. I can even change it temporarily when I occasionally use a photo someone else has taken.

FastStone Viewer also supports re-sizing and it wasn’t long before I started using it to create thumbnails. As I said previously, I had no issues whatsoever with Easy Thumbnails. But Viewer also does a fine job of re-sizing and, since I was already using it for adding copyright notices, I decided to kill two birds with one FastStone. I now use PhotoPlus to create the individual files then fire up FastStone Viewer and, with two quick passes, have a set of properly sized thumbnails and watermarked full size images.

My Apps – Chapter 7 — FeedForAll

My Apps – Chapter 7

FeedForAllI am a fan of RSS. I subscribe to a number of feeds and I publish a few. I even know what the acronym stands for. Maybe. Unfortunately, the words behind the letters have changed over the years so that discussing the acronym is more involved than discussing either the concept or its application. If you already know — or don’t care — about RSS, feel free to skip to the sentence in bold. If you want to know even more than I am about to tell, go here or here.

Originally, back in 1999, RSS was an acronym wrapped around an acronym. It stood for RDF Site Summary with RDF being an acronym for Resource Description Framework. It identified a standard format for summarizing… something. Within months, Netscape, where RSS originated, simplified the format and called it Rich Site Summary. In 2002 someone else made more changes to the format and called it Really Simple Syndication. To distinguish it from the earlier RSSs, he added a 2.0. The 2.0 doesn’t always get used but almost all references to RSS mean RSS 2.0 and Really Simple Syndication. Knowing the rest of that stuff is pretty useless except for maybe winning a bet — or getting punched — at the local bar.

Really Simple Syndication is an accurate description. Sure, the internals can seem goofy and arbitrary like most stuff designed by geeks for geeks but the concept, and most people’s relationship with it, really is Really Simple. Publishing consists of putting a properly formatted file somewhere on the internet, telling people it’s there, and changing it as the need arises. Subscribing consists of looking at the file from time to time and reading it when it changes.

There are tons of apps, widgits, and other gizmos dealing with the subscribing end. Some are readers or aggregators through which a user subscribes to specific feeds and knows that is what they are doing. Others are embedded in applications or web pages where the user may not even know that the information they see changing now and then is coming through an RSS feed. The point is that you do not need to understand or even be aware of the underlying rules and conventions to subscribe to and read RSS feeds.

The same is true for many forms of publishing. Website content managers and blog generators often produce RSS feeds automatically. Just click a box or two and maybe set a few options and a feed will be updated automatically when the content is changed or a new blog entry or comment is posted. Not only are people reading RSS feeds without realizing, many are unknowingly publishing them as well.

But what if you want to publish an RSS feed that isn’t just a side effect of something else? You can learn all the rules of XML and RSS and edit the posted file directly or you can use something like FeedForAll.

I use FeedForAll to maintain an RSS feed for my trip journal. It was 2007 and I was seeing RSS as something really attractive as a subscriber. I had been offering email notification of journal updates for quite some time. Thinking that there were others who, like me, were more likely to subscribe to an RSS feed than a newsletter, I started looking around for ways to create and maintain a feed. I know I looked at some other tools but I no longer recall what they were or what I liked/disliked about them. I experimented for a bit with the free version of FeedForAll, decided it did exactly what I needed, and purchased the real version. That is one of the few decisions I’ve ever made that I’ve had no second thoughts about over a half-dozen years.

I thought the product was reasonably priced in 2007 and was surprised to see that the price remains the same, $39.95, in 2013. So I guess it’s even more reasonable now than then. I am not a power user. I maintain a single feed with nothing fancy in it. It’s not a podcast and contains no graphics though FeedForAll supports both. Almost all of my posted items are nothing more than some text and a URL or two. When an item is complete and the “Publish” button clicked, FeedForAll makes the connection and transfers the update. FeedForAll does as-you-type spell checking and validates all data before publishing it.

In practice, the journal’s email list and RSS feed get essentially the same daily posts. The cover page for each trip contains a link and blurb for each day and that blurb is usually quite similar to what goes into the email and RSS. A lot of copying and pasting takes place between these three. The RSS feed is the least work of all.

My Apps – Chapter 6 — Easy Thumbnails

My Apps – Chapter 6
Easy Thumbnails

Easy ThumbnailsMy first attempt at writing this post got all bound up in explaining why I do thumbnails the way I do. As I rearranged the second paragraph for the third or fourth time, I heard my own echo from long ago, “If it’s this hard to write, it’s going to be a bitch to read.” That’s usually a pretty good signal that a basic rethink is in order. When I stepped back, I quickly realized two things. One, some of my reasons are truly arbitrary and naturally hard to explain, and two, nobody cares. There aren’t many who care if I do something, fewer care how, and the number who care why has to be near zero. If someone does want to know why, just ask and I’ll be happy to explain and ‘fess up to the arbitrary bits. For now, I’m just going to talk about how I do them and how Easy Thumbnails fits in.

In the very early days I experimented (i.e., thrashed around) but settled down by my fourth trip and subsequent trip journals have used 100 pixel square thumbnails. At first, I just used my graphics editor (PhotoWise or PhotoPlus) to re-size the image after I’d cropped it to the desired area. As my workflow developed, I started doing this as a batch after all the editing was done. When the full sized photo’s editing was complete, I would save it, carve out the thumbnail, save it, then move on to the next picture. Once a page’s photos were done, I would change some settings and scrunch all the thumbnails in a single pass. Then I came upon Fooke Software’s Easy Thumbnails. Batch processing in PhotoPlus (PhotoWise was long gone by this point) had always been rather awkward whereas it was Easy Thumbnail’s strong suit. The only settings I’ve ever used are size and quality but pictures can be renamed, rotated, and some other characteristics, such as brightness, altered. All pictures in a directory are processed with “Make All” or a selected subset processed with “Make”.

I stopped using Easy Thumbnails in the middle of 2012 but it was not because of any flaws or shortcomings. It is true freeware and has been rock solid. I started using a different program because it simplified workflow but Easy Thumbnails is still on my computer and I won’t hesitate to use it if the need ever arises. I also would not hesitate to take a serious look at other Fooke products if appropriate. I own and am happy with CSE HTML Validator but if I am ever in need of a replacement, Fooke Software’s NoteTab will be the first place I look.

My Apps – Chapter 5 — Life After Frontpage Express

My Apps – Chapter 5
Life After Frontpage Express

When Frontpage Express went away it left a big empty spot in my tool box. FPE was what I initially used to create, edit, and preview webpages. It also allowed me to manage the collection of pages that made up my website and upload the site to the remote server. Microsoft stopped bundling FPE with Internet Explorer at version 6 in 2001. It didn’t immediately disappear but I realized that I best be looking for a replacement. There was, of course, the full blown Frontpage but it was complicated and pricey while my website was simple and I was cheap. Complicated and pricey seemed to describe every all-in-one web tool so I ended up dealing with the four aspects of website management separately.

File Upload

Somewhere inside every web site is an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server and that is the most basic way to upload files. All versions of MS Windows includes a command line FTP client and I’ve often used that to upload files. I’ve also used some of the fancier FTP clients with graphical interfaces and more powerful features. At some point, MS Windows Explorer became capable of creating FTP connections so that copying to or from a remote file system can be done with the same drag-and-drop cut-and-paste operations as purely local transfers. That’s the way I’ve done uploads for years.

Source Editing

CSE HTML ValidatorFor at least a couple of years, I maintained the website with the NotePad text editor packaged with MS Windows. The general structure of the website and the layout of the pages had been established with FPE. Adding a new daily page or even a new trip consisted of copying an existing page and modifying it. NotePad handled that just fine. It did not, however, provide much help. There was no spell checking and no syntax checking. Around 2004 or 2005 I started using a program that did both. That program was the free “Lite” version of CSE HTML Validator. It helped tremendously and after a couple of years I purchased the “Standard” version with more powerful error checking and support for CSS and PHP in addition to HTML. These are simply additional programming languages used in webpage authoring. I doubt that many readers of this blog are also writers of HTML but for any that are, CSE HTML Validator is a very good tool worth checking out.

Preview and Testing

WAMPServerAs long as I was just dealing with pure HTML, simply pointing a browser at a webpage file was all the preview I needed. Then one forgotten but fateful day I added some PHP or some server side includes and the limits of that method became immediately obvious. Fortunately, by the time I reached this point, many others had already passed it and establishing a local web server was fairly easy. Although my very first web hosts were MS Windows based, I had rather early on switched to Linux. This was not a philosophical or technology triggered switch. It was pure economics. The most common web hosting rig in the world is the Apache server running on the Linux operating system and that’s where the bargains are. It’s cheap because it’s common and common because it’s cheap. To round things out, most of those host providers include, among a mishmash of other tools, bells, features, and whistles, the PHP language preprocessor and the MySQL data base.

Duplicating this common Linux based server model on an MS Windows machine is called WAMP (Windows Apache MySQL PHP) and I’m sure it was pretty messy once upon a time. For me, it was as easy as installing an integrated package from those really smart and generous folks in the world of Open Source. There are several WAMPs available. I’m using the one from WampServer. I like it and have experienced no real problems with it but I’ve no experience with the others so can offer no sort of comparison.

Link Checking

Xenu's Link SleuthWhen I wrote that Frontpage Express “allowed me to manage the collection of pages that made up my website”, what I had in mind was link checking; Verifying that my little piece of the web was coherent with no loose strands leading to no where and no important somewheres with no strands leading to them. The Standard version of CSE HTML Validator, which I own, checks links in individual pages. The more expensive Professional version does this for full websites and other collections, too. The Lite version does neither. I can justify the price of CSE HTML Validator Standard but not Professional. I use the free Xenu’s Link Sleuth. This powerful program checks every internal and external link in a website and produces a full report of errors. It even throws in a complete site map.

As I’ve said before, there are lots of higher level web authoring tools out there that weren’t even dreamed of in 1999. I am not suggesting that anyone start running a website the way I am. What I am suggesting is that, if you are doing or are considering doing anything similar, these are some pretty good tools to do it with.

My Apps – Chapter 4 — Serif PhotoPlus

My Apps – Chapter 4
Serif PhotoPlus

Serif PhotoPlus X5 packageI found Serif PhotoPlus when I was looking for free stuff in the summer of 2001. At that time, their practice was to make down level versions of some of their products available for free in hopes that you would eventually upgrade. That is precisely what happened to me. I believe that at the time I first started using PhotoPlus, Version 5.0 was the current product and version 4.0 was free. It looks like I may have continued using Agfa PhotoWise through early 2001, switched to the free PhotoPlus sometime in late spring, then parted with $22.90 for the current version after the big Florida trip in September.

To be completely accurate, I have to explain that one feature of the regular PhotoPlus was not exactly given away in those days. Compuserve’s patent on the GIF file format was still valid and royalties needed to be paid. If you wanted to read or write GIFs, you had to send Serif a dollar which they presumably passed on to Compuserve. That patent has since expired. Serif still offers free versions of their software except they are now reduced function Starter Editions rather than older versions of the full product.

Serif PhotoPlus X5 screen shotI’ve updated to most if not all PhotoPlus releases since 2001. It reached Version 12 before adding an ‘X’ and starting the numeric sequence over again. As the picture of the cover shows, it has now reached X5. As with many software products, some releases have been major advances and others have merely added a few bells and a couple of whistles. At this stage, I can’t think of any feature I’d like to see but I’m not really a power user. I’ll occasionally remove an overhead cable or deal with some red eye but mostly I’m just rotating, cropping, and re-sizing. I will play with brightness and contrast to improve a photo but even there I’ll likely use one of PhotoPlus’ automated adjustments. There are lots of features I rarely use and more that I never use.

I do admit to sometimes feeling like a Beta Max owner in a VHS world with just about everyone I know who edits photos using some version of Adode PhotoShop. That Beta Max comparison is a little weak in that the JPG, GIF, and PNG files I produce with PhotoPlus are the same format as everybody else’s and can be “played” anywhere. Plus, at some forgotten point, PhotoPlus added compatibility with PhotoShop PSD files. I have virtually no experience with full PhotoShop and only a little experience with a copy of PhotoShop Elements that came bundled with a scanner a few years ago. At that time I saw nothing in PhotoShop Elements that made me want to switch and there were a few features in PhotoPlus that I didn’t see in Elements. Familiarity with the PhotoPlus user interface is, of course, a huge reason for staying with the Serif product.

The reason I initially chose PhotoPlus, the big price difference between it and any similarly capable program, has lessened. Deals and discounts are always offered to existing users when a new release appears but the most recent update was still $49.95. That is a fraction of the $699 list price of the current Adobe PhotoShop Creative Suite but it’s not far off of the $60.99 price of PhotoShop Elements at Amazon.

I’m happy with PhotoPlus and I’m quite familiar with it. It does everything I need and a lot more. That talk about PhotoShop is mostly for others. I figured that, as a PhotoPlus user in a PhotoShop world, it was something I needed to include.

My Apps – Chapter 3 — Garmin MapSource


My Apps – Chapter 3
Garmin MapSource

MapSourceI started using Garmin’s MapSource when I got that first GPS back in 1999. That Garmin GPS III did not support routing in any meaningful sense so I don’t know if contemporary versions of MapSource did or not. For me and the GPS III, MapSource served only to load the unit with maps and points-of-interest covering my immediate needs. The limited capacity of the GPS III meant I had to do this every day or so. Occasionally less, Occasionally more. With the acquisition of the Garmin Quest in 2006, I started using MapSource to download routes.

I also used it — briefly — to create routes. As I admitted in My Apps Chapter 2, exactly when and why DeLorme’s Street Atlas became my router of choice is lost to history. It seems I first used it sometime in 2001 but I can’t say whether or not it was an instant hit.  Whatever the history, by 2006 I was a pretty solid fan of Street Atlas’ user interface. But I needed to use MapSource to get data to and from the Quest and, since it apparently contained some very capable route management features, I tried dumping DeLorme and switching completely to Garmin. It didn’t work.

I’ve gone through enough software updates in my life to understand that there is always some resistance to change and that learning something new requires some effort. I tried telling myself that I disliked the MapSource interface only because it was different. This was certainly true to a certain extent. Some things only seemed more difficult with MapSource because I was unfamiliar with it. But some things, such as moving a route’s endpoints, I believe really were more difficult. And there were a few things that simply couldn’t be done with MapSource. An example of this is the simultaneous display of multiple routes which I’d grown used to with Street Atlas and which just wasn’t possible with MapSource. So I went back to plotting routes with Street Atlas then exporting them to a GPX file which was easily imported to MapSource for transfer to the Quest. The exporting and importing was very simple and quick. It was also hazardous.

The map data used by the two products was not identical. A plotted point that was right in the center of a DeLorme road might miss the Garmin version of that road by several feet. That wasn’t a big deal most of the time but sometimes it was a real disaster. The clearest example is a point in the west bound lane of a divided highway for DeLorme that shows up in the east bound lane for Garmin. When Garmin GPS receivers announce the next action, they usually provide a hint of the following one as well. Taking a route directly from DeLorme to Garmin once caused the Quest to tell me “In 500 feet make a U-turn then make a U-turn.” Around cloverleaves and other complex interchanges, a route could really get mangled.

The “solution” was to  tweak the route in MapSource to match Garmin’s maps before transferring it to the GPS unit. Yes, it’s a pain but it’s a small pain and one I’ve decided I’m willing to endure in order to use Street Atlas for route creation. I know that not everyone would agree.

Regarding the maps themselves, I’ve discovered plenty of errors in both DeLorme and Garmin. Same with Google Maps which are starting to find their way into my life. I am not an authority and have no opinion on which has the most or worst errors. The bottom line is that I’ll be dealing with Garmin Maps and their support software as long as I’m dealing with Garmin GPS hardware and I’ll be doing that until something better for solo road-tripping comes along.

My Apps – Chapter 2 — First Routing Programs

My Apps – Chapter 2
First Routing Programs

Trip Planner - Streets & Trips - Street AtlasI really don’t remember it but there is hard proof that I used Microsoft Expedia Trip Planner 98 to plot a drive to Florida even before my first documented trip on Route 66 in 1999. In January of that year, my girl friend, Chris, and I drove to Daytona for the Rolex 24 Hour Race then to Pass Christian, Mississippi, to visit my daughter. The photos used in that first practice page I mentioned in the first My Apps installment were taken on that trip. If you had asked me a few days ago whether I had ever used Trip Planner for anything “real”, I’d have said no but there are a couple of maps and pages of turn-by-turn instructions for that trip which are clearly the product of Trip Planner 98.

My memory is just as bad regarding the other two pictured products. In a My Gear entry I described using Streets & Trips software to plot a trip then following the route with a laptop and a GPS receiver toward the end of 2001. That’s what I remembered but it’s wrong. There is no doubt that I owned Microsoft Streets & Trips 2001 and there isn’t much doubt that I used it during the summer of 2001 when I was plotting that trip but, when the rubber met the road and the GPS met the ‘puter, it was DeLorme Street Atlas 9.0 that was in play. Proof of that comes from the printed and posted maps and turn-by-turn directions with “Street Atlas USA® 9.0” in the upper right corner. I vaguely recall that something sometime caused me to switch to DeLorme but I thought that “sometime” was after the autumn 2001 trip. My best guess on the “something” is that it had to do with waypoint limits but my memory is clearly not to be trusted and moving to DeLorme may have eased limits but it certainly did not eliminate them.

I obviously don’t remember much about these programs. My memory of why I switched from Microsoft to DeLorme is vague and my memory of when was wrong. But, whatever the details of the battle, DeLorme Street Atlas emerged as my favorite routing tool pretty early and it remains my favorite. Of course, familiarity plays as big a role as anything in identifying favorites and that’s certainly a factor here. I have looked at some Garmin routing software and will talk of that in future My Apps posts but I don’t remember looking at Streets & Trips since 2002. Apparently I haven’t looked at it since 2001.

My Apps – Chapter 1 — PhotoWise & FP Express


My Apps – Chapter 1
PhotoWise & FP Express

PhotoWise and FrontPage ExpressIn Chapter 1 of the My Gear series of articles, I mentioned the PhotoWise software that came with an Agfa camera. I didn’t offer much of a description and subsequent My Gear posts have rarely even mentioned software. But I’ve got it. I need it. It’s often more important than the hardware.

So I’m starting up a My Apps series. I’ve a feeling that it won’t be as well behaved, with nice edges, as My Gear and, as if to prove that, I’m starting off with an article on two different pieces of software. One reason for the lack of neat edges is that software isn’t always acquired intentionally but because it was bundled with something else. Another reason is that there is a high probability of overlap between the old and the new. You get something better or at least newer and it takes awhile to master it. You need to keep functioning until that happens and you do that with the old and familiar. Unlike hardware, I don’t always have good dates for when I acquired something and I rarely have a date for when I really started using it. The two are almost never the same.

These two applications were in my hands when I set off on the first documented trip on Route 66. Both were there because of bundling. As already stated, PhotoWise came with the camera I bought in July of 1999. FrontPage Express was a stripped down version of Microsoft’s FrontPage website builder that once came bundled with Internet Explorer. The practice seems to have stopped after IE 5 and the product vanished. Neither was “best of breed” but both were quite capable and rather easy to use. With my 1999 budget it would have taken some really shiny bells and some finely tuned whistles to compete with free.

FrontPage ExpressLike its big brother, FrontPage Express was a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor that allowed you to lay out a web page and position various elements on it without knowing HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). It differed from full blown FrontPage in the type and number of elements supported and some other capabilities which, for the most part, were beyond me anyway. As with most editors of this sort, it also allowed access to the HTML behind the page.

A popular method of learning what was behind a webpage you liked was simply looking. Virtually every web browser supports display of a page’s source code and I did plenty of that. My programming background allowed me to deal with the HTML to some degree but I’ve never approached the proficiency I once had with ancient languages like C and C++. Advances in tools and techniques have made calling up a single page of source code a lot less useful than it once was but I got some serious mileage from it a bit over a decade back. Most of the work and all of the playing occurred at home. On the road, what I had to do each day was flesh out a page that, in form and function, was pretty much like the one for the day before. I’ve improved on this over the years but, even in the beginning, I was really doing a form of “fill in the blanks” as I traveled.

Would I do it that way again? Probably not. Actually, if I was setting out on that first trip today, I might not do it at all. Today there is readily available blog software that has made doing daily trip reports fairly easy so maybe it wouldn’t even look like fun to me. On the other hand, if my first trip started today and doing a daily trip report did appeal to me, I’d almost certainly take advantage of the software-that-has-made-doing-daily-trip-reports-fairly-easy. I’m using it for this blog. But that software did not exist when I hit the road in August of 1999. It’s more or less accepted that the word “blog” first appeared on a website in April or May of 1999. I hadn’t yet heard the word when my first “practice” pages went on line in July of that year. Movable Type was first released in September 2001. Cafelog, the predecessor of WordPress, also appeared sometime in 2001. WordPress itself was launched in 2003.

PhotoWise screenshotPhotoWise seemed to be exactly the program I needed to prepare pictures for the web. I could crop, resize, and rotate and there were adjustments for many image attributes including color and hue and saturation. About the only things I ever played with were contrast and brightness. Apparently I decided to post 512×384 pixel pictures for that first trip. That was half the resolution of the Agfa camera which meant I could trim away a fair amount of garbage if necessary. Pictures could be saved in four different quality levels. I used Medium (which was probably better than the pictures deserved) rather than High for smaller files. Once the full size picture was ready, I did some more cropping and shrinking to make thumbnails.

Using thumbnails and keeping file sizes down had been preached to me by a real web designer who took the time to look at my early pre-trip efforts and make suggestions. The reason, of course, was to minimize page download time. At least that was my reason when I first started out. After a few nights on the road, it became quite obvious that page upload time was pretty danged important, too. I’m still concerned with file sizes and download speeds but sometimes think I’m the only one who is. That’s unfortunate. Broadband merely conceals bad practices; It doesn’t convert them.

I don’t really know when I stopped using these two programs. I do know that I continued to keep PhotoWise in place even after I switched to something else for the picture editing. PhotoWise had an “album” feature, seen in the screenshot above, that provided thumbnail views of all pictures in a directory. The new program eventually added a similar feature then Microsoft Windows finally provided it directly. Until that happened, PhotoWise was my photo browser.

Those “practice” pages I mentioned are still there but hidden. I first tried a page with scanned images taken earlier in the year with a film camera. Next was a page with images from the digital camera as a test run for the whole process. To reach them, head to the 1999 Route 66 trip, select day ‘0’, then click “prev”. That brings up day -33 with the digital pictures. Click “prev” again to reach the scanned pictures of Day -202.

The textured beige background that appears on the majority of pages in the trip report section of this site, was one of the built-in choices for FrontPage Express. Initially, when this was a one trip site, it was on every page. I liked it and have kept it for the trip cover pages and for most daily pages. I believe the only exceptions are for Christmas Day.