Mobile Friendlier

dgcdeskFor something that did not even register on my radar a month ago, the concept of mobile-friendly websites has grabbed a lot of space on this blog in the young 2016. The first post of the new year led to me realizing that mobile devices should not simply be ignored. The second post discussed a little of what I had learned and described the first steps taken to be mobile-friendly. And this, the fourth post of the new year, is a report on reaching a milestone on the road to mobile friendliness.

dgcmobileThe milestone I speak of is having a home page that passes both Google and Bing mobile friendliness tests. That’s it at the top of the article in desktop (actually laptop) view and at the left in smartphone view. It is the biggest change to the website’s front door in at least fifteen years. It retains most of the flavor and function of the previous version but is simpler and scales down a lot better. About the only things missing are the RSS feeds from Route 66 News, Roadside America, and American Road Magazine and the randomly selected road trip photo and link at the page’s upper right. Both came with a lot of overhead and I don’t recall anyone ever complimenting me on either. I personally really liked the random picture thing, however, and have kept it alive with a “Done Deeds”-“All Trips”-“Random” menu item. The Google ads also seem to be fairly high in overhead and, although I’m hanging on to them for the present, I will be keeping an eye on them and they could go missing.

The new home page and a revised FAQ page went live just ahead of this blog post. The FAQ page explains that the individual day pages for all ten of the “Decent” (personal favorite) road trips have been updated as have the individual day pages for all trips taken since the start of 2008. The cover pages for all road trips were updated in advance of the January 10 2016 on the Small Screen post. The remaining day pages will be updated in reverse chronological order and will hopefully be taken care of in the next couple of months.

tlistmobileThere are a few pages that may never be truly mobile-friendly as Google and Bing see things. Among these are both Oddment and Road Trip index pages. While changes have been made to make text on the pages readable on mobile devices, the table displays overflow smartphone screens in all directions and require zooming and/or panning to view. There are schemes, using pop-ups and such, to make tables slimmer and more mobile-friendly. I don’t really like any I’ve seen and am firmly of the belief that the conversion effort would not be justified for either of these tables. While they might not be officially mobile-friendly, and I have no quibbles with either Google’s or Bing’s criteria,  they seem quite usable on my smartphone and I don’t consider them overly unfriendly.

ccollagemobile1The Clickable Collage is another page which is not officially mobile-friendly. Containing a single photo from every completed road trip, it allows the individual photos to be clicked to access the journal for the associated trip. It was formerly available through a link below the randomly selected photo at the home page’s upper right. It is now reached through the “Done Deeds”-“All Trips”-“Collage” menu item. Although I don’t expect everyone to experience the same memory stimulation I do when viewing the collage, I have to believe that it is most impactful when seen in its entirety. Of course this is best done on a full size (whatever that is) screen where the total view is also actually usable. Making this collage fit a small screen by forcing it into one or two very tall columns just seems wrong and more irritating than impressive. It is clearly not a natural fit for smartphone screens but it can, like those index pages, be viewed and used by panning. It can also be zoomed to fit but, while this view of the full collage might have a little of the impressiveness of the big screen version, the tiny pictures are neither clear or tappable unless you have eagle eyes and pencil-point fingers.

All Oddment pages contain a table of photo thumbnails and most of these tables are too wide to fit a smartphone screen without zooming. Modifications have been made so that text on the pages is readable but the tables remain a problem with no ready solution. The most recent Oddment was published in December 2012 and no more are anticipated. Like the index and collage pages, Oddments are not totally unusable on mobile devices but they are undeniably not mobile-friendly. It is possible that some future development or insight will allow them to be made officially mobile-friendly but no such changes are currently planned.

I believe that this blog can now return to regular programming. The remaining daily journal pages will eventually be coerced into friendliness and there might be a few mobile device oriented tweaks as time goes by but I think I’m done talking about it. I just want to be friendly — and mobile.

ADDENDUM 25-Feb-2016: All planned mobile related edits have been completed. I will continue to monitor Google and Bling mobile friendliness reports and respond as appropriate to any issues they identify.

We Have Ways of Making You Talk

Ohio Lincoln Highway League West meetingWhen the Lincoln Highway Association was reborn in 1992, Ohio’s organization took the form of three chapters operating as a “league”. However, until late last year, that was on paper only. In October, a West chapter was formed to join the existing East and Central chapters and Larry Webb was elected its first president. Larry knows my cousin who lives in Van Wert and one day she mentioned my recently published book to him as something he might be interested in. He ordered his own copy and gave me a call after he’d looked it over a bit. He asked if I was making presentations related to the book and I answered, “No, but I probably should be.” He then offered up the recently formed chapter as “guinea pigs” at their next meeting on February 18. Although I put him off for a bit, I eventually agreed and found myself asking, in a conversation with myself, “Just what have you gotten us into now, Bunkie?”

During my working days, I had spoken to a few small groups but was never very comfortable with it and it was a long time ago. The book in question is By Mopar to the Golden Gate which tells of a cross country drive on the Lincoln Highway which is why a Lincoln Highway Association group was interested. It contains a lot of photos and I had taken many more on the trip so that’s where my planning headed. A few pictures would help a bunch. Not only would each one reduce my speaking requirement by a thousand words and give the audience something to look at, they could be my notes. With a little time to refresh myself on dates and such, I could rattle on about some pictures I’d taken without a teleprompter or learning a lot of new stuff.

I started browsing through my pictures and, at the same time, started looking for a way to present them. Larry had told me a projector and screen would be available that I could (hopefully) run from my laptop. I looked at a few slide show programs and ended up settling on OpenOffice Impress, a free PowerPoint-like application. It allowed me to add information (reminders) to photos as well as create non-photo slides to provide other information.

I made a pass through the photos picking out candidates. I reduced this rather large list to about 125 photos that I thought might be good for some presentation then to about 50 that I thought would be good for this presentation. I recorded myself going through things a couple of times to get a handle on the length and to determine where my memory was going to need more help than a photograph provided. I made up a couple of slides with some general statistics and other items. I decided I was as ready as I was going to get.

When I’m on the road, leaving a motel is often a slapdash sort of thing. Half the time I’m packing up the power supply while my computer is doing its shutdown on batteries. As I got ready to leave home on the day of the presentation, I took no short cuts and made sure everything shutdown in the right sequence. I drove to Van Wert and, as soon as Larry arrived, carried my computer in and turned it on. “Gotcha!”, it said. Or something along those lines that meant things are not right and I’m going to run a disk check. It ran the check, it fixed a thing or two, and it completed powering up. All was well and any risk of me becoming too relaxed during the evening was effectively eliminated.

Main Street Van Wert adAll really was well. Not only did the computer function properly, so too, within limits, did I. The audience of approximately twenty-five was just about perfect. They knew enough about the Lincoln Highway to be interested but not enough to be bored. There was even applause, which is something I’m not at all familiar with, at the end and their interest was further demonstrated through several very good questions. It remains to be seen whether I do any more presentation of this sort but I survived this one and even enjoyed it. For me, the primary purpose was to get some experience and not to sell books but I did sell some. Four copies were sold and a few more placed on consignment with the canal museum in Delphos. Add to that the fact that I arrived in Van Wert early enough to take advantage of a $1 pie sale at Balyeats (apple) and that I spent the night and chattered away the next morning with friends who came to the presentation and I count this as a darned good trip.

Meet the New Host

Arvixe web hostionSame as the old host? Only time will tell. Like pretty much every fresh relationship, committing to a new web hosting company is filled with hope and anticipation. A common hope, particularly when a move is triggered by a need to get out of a bad situation, is that the new relationship will be different. I’ve just moved DennyGibson.com to its fourth home and I’m hoping, as I have with each of the previous three, that Arvixe will be different.

While the other three were certainly different from each other in many respects, each of the experiences followed a similar pattern. They were small companies started by young and energetic entrepreneurs. There were few, if any, employees. Each company and its owner were essentially one and the same. They delivered good value and good service and developed good reputations. They got mentioned in forums and reviews where folks like me might go shopping for a web host and their business grew. They might have a few more problems than the big guys and it might take them a little longer to fix them but problems did eventually get fixed and the prices were enough below those of the big guys to justify an occasional extra hiccup.

But companies dependent on single individuals are fragile. Maybe the business outgrows the owner’s organizational skills, or maybe illness or other personal issues interfere, or maybe the owner moves on or just loses interest. Whatever the reason, service can start deteriorating and the stories appearing in forums and reviews can become decidedly less positive. That happened with all three of the companies I’ve had experience with and many, probably thousands, of others.

Web hosting is a fairly easy business to get into. A server can be rented in a big data center for not a whole lot of money and with few qualifications. I don’t doubt that more than a few technical hotshots jumped into the pool with a less than thorough business plan. There are loads of horror stories much worse than anything I’ve encountered. In fact, each of my three former hosts were quite satisfactory for a fair amount of time.

I did my first road trip journal in 1999 on some space provided by my ISP. When I realized the journal was not a one time thing, I registered a domain name and signed on for some web space with a company in the Chicago area named Stargate. That was in early 2001 and they kept me happy for two years. In early 2003 I moved to Solidinternet operating out of Australia but with servers in the US. I stayed with them nearly six years. As I recall, Stargate was run by a husband and wife with a couple of (possibly part time) employees. Solidinternet was run by an individual and a few (probably part time) employees. My most recent host, eVerity, where I just passed the five year mark, is run by an individual with, as near as I can tell, no employees. I have had only a few problems with eVerity and even now have none that are website related. I have been, however, experiencing problems with email and I see the sluggish or non-existent response to those as a sign that the downward spiral has begun.

I had started shopping but was well short of a decision when persistent email problems and unanswered tickets forced my hand. In addition to the normal price & feature criteria, this time company size figured into my choice. I had identified a half dozen companies that could meet my needs at reasonable cost and I quickly narrowed that to one based largely on forum posts and reviews just as I’d done before. There were a couple of other things that helped, too. One was the quick and friendly manner in which my pre-sales questions were answered at Arvixe and another was the fact that their support forum had questions — and answers — from today rather than last year and that those answers came from multiple people.

The move went quite smoothly and it looks like the name server changes have been propagated to most of the world. Everything I’ve looked at is working but I’ve yet to try a blog post and a newsletter to see if the generated email makes it. That’s where most of my recent problems nave appeared. This is the blog post and a newsletter will soon follow.

I’ve Caught Up
(with a tiny piece of my world)

Feedly screen shotI subscribe to more than seventy blogs. Most are very quiet and some are probably dead. Only a half dozen or so actually publish much of anything on a regular basis. When I’m at home, leisurely sipping coffee, keeping up with them is simple and not a problem. When I’m traveling, it is simply not possible,

On a road trip where I’m maintaining a journal, my computer time is used for writing and editing photos not reading. I try to keep up with email and I do occasionally read a blog post but mostly they just pile up. When I got home from the recent Lincoln Highway trip, the unread pile contained nearly 800 items. I’ve been nibbling away at it and shortly before 7:00 on Thursday morning, I cleared the pile. I did it with my phone and captured the moment with the screen shot at right.

Using the phone helped and I suppose I should thank Google for that. I used to use a product called Google Reader for reading blogs. I actually used it for all RSS feeds but most of those come from blogs. A few months back, Google announced that they were dropping Reader on July 1, 2013. There was much alarm and a fair amount of anger but there were alternatives so things eventually settled down. Google giveth and Google taketh away.

I was alarmed and angry with everyone else but it didn’t last long. I tried a couple of the suggested alternatives and quickly settled on a product called Feedly. It was different and, of course, I didn’t like it being different but that didn’t last too long either. I accepted some things and Feedly, finding hordes of Google Reader refugees beating a path to their door, made some adjustments. I got all of my feeds switched over and even succeeded — eventually — in adding a few. Within a couple weeks of Google’s announcement, I was a happy Feedly user. Die, Google Reader, die. I care not a bit.

Then I made a wonderful discovery. I had Google Reader on my phone but almost never used it. There were problems. Sure, some of those problems may have been with the user but it never seemed to synchronize things quite right. An article read on the phone might show up as unread on the PC or vice versa and I swear that articles disappeared on their own now and then. That sort of thing did not happen without the phone app in the picture so I essentially quit using it.

Not surprisingly, after I’d installed Feedly on my PC, I was invited to put it on my phone and I did. I even used it a few time. Nothing bad happened. I used it some more and still nothing bad happened. Articles read on one platform showed up as read on the other and articles not read on either stayed unread on both. I was an even happier Feedly user and tried to convince myself that it was OK that Google Reader was allowed to live several more weeks.

I eat out frequently and I usually have a book or magazine next to my meal. With a back log of several hundred posts, I started reading my phone instead of a printed page. It took me thirty days to catch up after a thirty-five day trip. That means I was reading, or pretending to read, about twice as many articles per day as usual. I still read many at home on my PC but I probably read just as many on the phone. If I really did read half of the articles on the phone, then the phone was entirely responsible for the doubling and Google’s dropping of Google Reader is entirely responsible for me finding an application that allowed me to reliably read RSS feeds on my phone. Thanks Google. What’s next?

My Gear – Chapter 14
Lenovo T400

Lenovo T400An HP Pavilion barely made it two years, a Toshiba Satellite didn’t quite make three, and both were limping during their final months of service. This post is being written on a Lenovo T400 that’s still going strong after three and a half years as my do-everything and go-everywhere computer. My computers aren’t really treated harshly but they certainly aren’t pampered. That includes the Lenovo and I’m convinced that its relative longevity is due entirely to superior design and build quality. It seems to truly be an example of “getting what you pay for”.

The T400 was not my most expensive laptop but it did buck the prevailing downward trend and was fairly high in the price range at the time I bought it. It’s almost impossible to compare 2009 electronics with 2006 electronics but the T400 was not worlds above the Toshiba it replaced. Its processor was faster and its hard disk was bigger but those are improvements that often occur for free (or less) in the realm of electronics. At $1297, the T400 cost over $400 more than the Toshiba. That price includes aftermarket hard disk and RAM. I ordered the computer with the smallest hard disk available and immediately replaced it (with the much appreciated help of co-workers who really knew their stuff) with a 320 GB drive. I also installed 4 GB of RAM before putting the machine into service. The processor is a 2.4 GHz Intel Core Duo. The OS is Microsoft Windows Vista Basic.

Maybe some of the performance improvements were a little ahead of the cost reduction curve and account for some of the price difference but I doubt it’s more than half. I’m thinking that maybe $250 of the T400’s price went into things like the ThinkVantage Active Protection System and the ThinkPad Roll Cage. These things aren’t visible and don’t show up in performance tests. They are not as easy to justify as a faster processor or a bigger hard disk. I do think they are justified, however, by the lack of cracks in the case, which I’ve seen in every other laptop I’ve owned, and the fact that the machine is still functioning well in its fourth year of riding in trunks, backseats, and foot-wells. If the HP to Toshiba timeline is scooted to start with the Lenovo purchase, the HP would have expired long ago and the Toshiba’s life would already be about half over.

I’m sure others have had better and worse experiences with each of these brands and things have not been perfect with the Lenovo. I’ve had about a half dozen panic attacks when it failed to find any boot device. Cycling power a time or two has, so far, always resolved this. It has hung several times but I’ve attributed that to a particular application or, in one case, a faulty SD card. I’ve had to replace the battery though that could be considered a good thing; Most of my laptops haven’t lasted long enough to wear out a battery.

The only thing that even resembles an existing issue is disk capacity and that’s not Lenovo’s fault. Pictures just keep getting bigger and maybe I’m taking more of them. I keep as many pictures as possible on the disk and the time period that covers keeps getting less and less. I recall that when I first got this machine, it held every digital picture I had ever taken — roughly ten years worth. Now it barely holds one year and it requires frequent attention to do even that. That is still a lot of pictures and is definitely not a justification to retire this baby. So I expect this to be the last computer described in My Gear for quite some time. I’m hoping the next one is a few years down the road and there’s a good chance that it will be a new Lenovo of some sort.

My Gear – Chapter 13 — Nikon D40

My Gear – Chapter 10
Toshiba Satellite A105

Toshiba Satellite My HP Pavilion was misbehaving by September of 2005 but I somehow put off buying a replacement until April of 2006. The problem was a motherboard crack that affected the power. I could minimize its surprise shut-downs by keeping it stationary so I nursed it through the winter by doing just that and using the aged but trusty Toshiba Portege from time to time. Because both the Portege and the Libretto had served me well, when I finally I went shopping it was specifically for a Toshiba. For $850 I got a Satellite A105 with an 80 GB hard drive and a 1.7 GHz Intel Celeron processor running Windows XP. I believe it might have come home with 512 MB RAM but I soon brought that up to the maximum 2 GB. This was a pretty nice machine.

I suspect this was about the time laptops were really hitting their stride in terms of popularity. In the world of consumer electronics, popularity often leads to economies of scale (once the leading edge gouging is over) and competition also drives prices down. Just two years before, I’d paid close to $1400 for a comparable laptop and that wasn’t particularly expensive. Nor was the $850 price of the Satellite particularly cheap. By 2006, laptops were well on their way to becoming a commodity just as desktop computers had before them.

I believe my faith in Toshiba was justified. Although the HP Pavilion was a little more than two years old when I replaced it, it was really limping for the final six months. The Satellite was still working when I retired it after nearly three years. It made me nervous though. It had taken to overheating unless given lots of open space. The teeth or bars had long since broken out of the cooling vent on the side and there were a couple of real cracks elsewhere in the plastic case. Wiggling the power cable could interrupt the flow of electricity and I feared this indicated a broken connection at the computer end. The Portege had once shown similar symptoms. That problem had clearly originated with cracks in the case and had required some bartered for expert repair.

I’m quite happy with the Satellite’s successor but I may have, in hindsight, retired the Satellite prematurely. I imagine the cooling issues could have been solved with a good cleaning and I’ve become convinced that the power problems came from a break in the cable and not a break inside the computer. The case continued to disintegrate making it likely that continued living on the road would have eventually broke something of importance but it still boots up and could possibly still perform in a pinch.

My Gear – Chapter 9 — Nikon Coolpix 3200

My Gear – Chapter 6
HP Pavilion ze4000

HP PavilionDespite this seeming to be the most expensive computer I’ve ever owned, I remember very little about it. Oh, I definitely remember owning it and its painful demise. I just don’t remember any technical details about it. I do remember that its purchase was triggered by the need to replace a desktop PC.

Prior to buying this for what is now an unbelievable $1369 dollars in February of 2004, I did all my heavy lifting on some sort of relatively bulky desktop unit. I recall a Compaq and an Acer and there were other forgotten workhorses on my desk over the years. (The first was a Radio Shack IBM XT clone but that’s a whole different story.) The small size and low power consumption required for portability come at a price and a big crude tower offered a lot more compute power than a laptop at a lot less cost. Though the old Portege remained adequate and would still see action after the HP arrived, it was straining. When the current desktop developed some major problems, I decided to invest in a machine capable of handling everything.

I know that model number in the title isn’t exactly right. ze4000 was the designation for a family of computers with many members. I think mine might have been a 41xx but I’m not even sure of that. I’m relatively certain that it had a Pentium 4-M running Windows XP but at what speed I don’t know and I have no idea on the hard disk or memory size, either. Whatever the numbers were, they were big enough to handle all of my needs. Since the purchase of the HP, no desktop computer has entered my home.

Saying that I did all of my heavy lifting at home isn’t entirely true. I did do some of my day job at home and used my own computer for some serious word processing and software development. I also did all of the route plotting and as much photo editing as possible at home. But, of course, the bulk of the photo editing had to take place in motels as I traveled. Resizing a photo is pretty processor intensive. So is rotating one. Compared to the Portege, which was OK at both jobs, the HP was lightening fast. Lugging around the relatively heavy HP seemed justified by the difference in time spent prepping pictures for upload.

But all that lugging took its toll on the HP. In the fall of 2005, it began shutting down at inopportune times. In what was a sort of last hurrah for the Portege and a definite testament to its portability, I took both computers along on a west coast fly-and-drive trip in case the HP became unusable. After determining that it was motion that killed the HP, it became a tabletop rather than laptop computer. The Portege did see some use on that trip but most of the photo work was handled by the HP on a hard surface using light keystrokes.

Back home, I babied the HP through a few more months but finally went for some professional help. Even the pros were initially stumped but a second visit turned up a crack in the motherboard. Curing it would require replacing the board at a price approaching that of a new machine. The HP ze something-or-other was done.

My Gear – Chapter 5 — Toshiba Portege 300CT

My Gear – Chapter 5
Toshiba Portege 300CT

Toshiba Portege 300CTHaving blown nearly 400 bucks on a camera, I returned to the used market for a laptop and picked up a Toshiba Portege 300CT for $251 in June of 2001. A 1.5 GB hard disk was standard for this model but this unit had been upgraded to 4.1 GB. It also contained the maximum 64 MB of memory. The processor was a 133 MHz Intel Pentium. It was running Linux when I got it but I installed Windows 98 almost immediately.

The 12 VDC power supply I had purchased for the Libretto worked just fine with the Portege. I had plotted my version of my great-grandparents’ trip using Microsoft Streets & Trips and planned to actually use the Portege in the car to follow the plotted route. In theory, the Garmin III Plus GPS I owned could be used to drive Streets & Trips (CORRECTION: My recollection was wrong. While Streets & Trips was used in some of the planning, it was almost certainly DeLorme’s Street Atlas that was used with the GPS in the car.) and I had the cables to make all the power and data connections but the result was a tangle of wire that was truly scary in the small cockpit of the Corvette. So, for $167, I bought a Hyperdata GPS unit specifically to connect to the computer. This was a brand new model that was powered through its USB connection thus simplifying cabling just a bit.

The 2001 Florida trip is the only one that really made use of this setup. My girl friend, Chris, navigated the entire trip with the Portege on her lap with a pillow for insulation from the heat of the computer. Chris never complained and even stayed with me for another four years before moving on so the trip didn’t really end our relationship. I’ve a strong suspicion, however, that stunts like that are part of the reason I no longer have a girl friend.

My Gear – Chapter 4 — Canon PowerShot A20

My Gear – Chapter 2
Toshiba Libretto

Toshiba Libretto CT50My first portable computer was a Toshiba Libretto 50CT. This was a truly small machine for its day with a weight of 1.87 pounds (with battery) and dimensions of 8.27″L x 4.53″W x 1.34”H. It had a 6.1″ screen, a 770 MB hard disk, 16 MB of RAM, and a 75 MHz Intel Pentium processor running Windows 95. Perhaps its most unusual feature was the built in pointing device. It’s a button to the right of the screen that you move with your thumb while your fingers fall on two buttons on the back of the screen for “clicking”. It may sound awkward but was very natural and I liked it. Toshiba called this AccuPoint and claimed it as a trade mark. A search for it today shows it as the registered name of brand of hunting scopes.

I was kind of shocked when I looked back and saw that I paid $535 for a used Libretto in June of 1999. I guess that price was at least partially justified by the inclusion of a CD drive that connected through and was actually powered by the Libretto’s PCMCIA slot. In July I shelled out another $85 for a 12 VDC cable.

I had visions of using the computer in the car but that didn’t happen much. I planned on having company for that first trip but circumstances had me driving alone much of the time. Then, when I did have a partner, there were other things to do plus I quickly learned that reading a computer screen in a sunlit convertible isn’t all that easy. The only time I recall actually producing anything while moving was when replacing a damaged tire had us on the road after dark cutting deep into editing time but making the screen usable.

Like the Agfa 780c camera, the Libretto did its job. I used it to retrieve photos from the camera, edit them, then upload them to the website along with text that was also produced on the Libretto. It also handled my email and web browsing. It did not, however, do all of those things at once. Some tasks filled that 16 MB of memory and others were just slow. Editing photos was both. As I switched between tasks, RAM became fragmented so that there might not be enough available to load some program. Somewhere I obtained a memory defragmenter program and I recall using it often to let me start the next task on the Libretto.

I used the Libretto for just a few trips then sold it, via eBay, for $317. By then I had acquired another PCMCIA CD but it required AC power. I offered the purchaser his choice and he went for the newer and faster AC unit. The CD would be very useful with my next computer and I still have it. I also have a Libretto 50CT. My friend John, who was the driver during that one mobile edit session, gave it to me when he bought several retiring units for about $25 each. It is running Windows 98 but is otherwise just like the one I had in 1999. I fired it up to check some things as I wrote this and the audible clicking of its hard disk as it booted sure brought back memories and my thumb felt right at home on the AccuPoint.

My Gear – Chapter 1 — Agfa ePhoto 780c