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.

2016 on the Small Screen

mobileoldI didn’t do it on purpose, Jim. Honest I didn’t. But, as has happened a time or two in the past, mentioning a problem in a blog post was enough to get some insight from blogger Jim Grey. In the recent 2015 in the Rear View post, I bemoaned the year’s tremendous drop in visitors to the non-blog portion of my website. In a comment on the post, Jim theorized that it was because Google had taken to “downranking sites that aren’t mobile friendly”. Although it should not have been, that was news to me. A little checking showed that not only was the connection believable, it was pretty much undeniable. Thanks Jim.

A long time ago (March 2) I received email from Google pointing out that much of my website was not mobile-friendly. Mobile-friendly sites are those that work well on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. That usability usually comes with some effort. Other than that inherent in the WordPress based blog portion, my site made no such effort at all. The image at right shows how the cover page of my most recent road trip looked on a smartphone. The display could be zoomed to read and interact with various items but it was uneven, awkward, and ugly. That Google email had pointed me to some tools for testing pages on my site and gently suggested I do something about the many transgressions. It politely cautioned me that some of my pages would be “ranked appropriately for smartphone users”. What I did was decide it was too much work and gently ignored the suggestions.

I paid for it. When I followed up on Jim’s observation with a little web searching (yes I used Google), I found a number of online articles about the search engine’s plans to penalize non-mobile-compliant sites in search ranking. Most of the articles I found were from March and April. Roll out of the new ranking algorithm began April 21. Although I had left it out of the final article, looking at 2015 statistics had shown that the drop off had begun rather sharply in April. The connection between Google’s change and my vanished traffic was, as I said, undeniable.

Google describes the change as affecting only searches from smartphones. Searches from desktops, laptops, and even tablets were treated no differently in May than in March. That means that not only were most of the visits that disappeared in 2015 tied to Google searches, they were tied to searches from phones. That’s also undeniable and almost unbelievable.

mobilenewI revisited the Google testing tools and paid a lot more attention to the suggestions. There was some good news. The vast majority of my website is very simple so that adding just one line (to set a mobile viewport) to a page allows it to pass Google’s mobile-friendly test and makes it look better. The page shown at the top of the article reappears at the left with that one line added.

One bit of bad news is that there are more than a thousand of these simple pages. The change is easy but time consuming and somewhat tedious plus doing a thousand easy things isn’t really easy. Other bad news is that that not all pages start behaving with the one line addition. Others, such at the site’s home page, must be completely redesigned to function properly on mobile devices.

After proving the concept by updating all pages of the most recent trip, I decided that tackling cover pages for the 131 completed road trips was a task big enough to be of value but not so large as to be overwhelming. Over the last few days I have “fixed” the cover pages for all completed trips. That means that the 24 day trips, where the cover page and the daily journal page are one and the same, are done. The daily journal pages for remaining trips are being nibbled away at in reverse chronological order. Journals for the ten most recent trips have been updated at the time of this posting. Included are all nine 2015 trips plus the last trip of 2014. The simple one line change has been applied to a number of other pages even though it isn’t enough to allow the page to pass Google’s mobile-friendly test. These pages, which include the home page, the road trip and oddment listing pages, and most of the 57 individual oddment pages, will not appear in Google searches executed from a smartphone but they can be accessed directly and will be more usable (e.g., larger text size) than they have been. I will endeavor to produce mobile compliant versions of these pages in the near future but am not so foolish as to promise anything by any time.

Being mobile-friendly is a good thing and I don’t question Google’s move one bit. The “weave or get off the web” sentiment may seem harsh but it really doesn’t make sense to point people to pages they are sure to have trouble using even if what they’re looking for is hidden in there somewhere. I commend Google for taking this step and for supplying tools and information to help with the necessary changes. Google has long provided numerous tools for webmasters. During this week, I’ve become familiar with more of them and more appreciative of all of them. Becoming more mobile friendly isn’t the only improvement they have helped me with this week. They can provide insight as well. In last week’s post I jokingly said that I hoped the mysterious popularity of a journal page from a Lincoln Highway trip came from “the chicken mailbox or the Ogden Footprints”. Thanks to Google’s webmaster tools I now know that the mailbox was indeed the subject of a number of Pinterest posts. Viva la chicken mailbox!

Google made people (including me) aware of the skyrocketing use of mobile devices and some of the related issues. Those who were paying attention knew the change was coming. Non-compliant websites aren’t blocked or totally ignored they are simply ranked lower in search results for certain devices. As I proved by ignoring those emails, Google can’t make me change. All they can do is make me wish I had.

If the Phone Don’t Ring

avf1Nobody sees the trouble I’ve known. Maybe not nobody, exactly, but not many. There are two primary RSS feeds published by this site. One is for this blog. The other is for the trip journal. Among the many ways of subscribing to these feeds is a service called Feedly. It is well done and popular. It is the RSS reader I use. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have seen the trouble myself.

People subscribe to feeds through Feedly and Feedly periodically fetches current copies and makes them available in a convenient and personalized manner. Feedly users can read and manage dozens or hundreds of uniformly presented feeds without dealing directly with the individual providers. It’s a fairly common producer to broker to consumer arrangement.

Back in March, I noticed that some of my posts were failing to show up in Feedly even after several days. A fairly convoluted email exchange between me, Feedly, and Arvixe, my hosting provider, followed. It was eventually discovered that Arvixe was blocking Feedly and the block was removed. Because of the asynchronous nature of Feedly’s polling and of RSS in general, things were not instantly fixed but caches, buffers, clouds, and other nebulous cyber-things eventually worked through their stockpile of bad-stuff and started working properly again.

Unless you were paying close attention to dates and time stamps, you might not have realized there was any sort of problem at all. The screen capture at the top of the article is from an attempt to subscribe to a blocked feed through the Feedly Google Chrome plugin. Existing subscribers would have seen nothing; No new posts and no error messages. For those unfamiliar with RSS, think of the problem as somewhat similar to a friend trying to call you with a broken phone or service. Your phone doesn’t ring but you don’t know that it should so see no problem. Even the friend may not see a problem if the failure shuttles them to a voice mail system. You only become aware of the issue when the friend confronts you in a bar about never returning their calls.

The problem resurfaced during the first half of June and this time, after about a week of that convoluted email three-way, I learned of a fourth player in the game. Arvixe uses a security product called BitNinja. Something about Feedly’s access tripped BitNinja’s defenses and a block was activated. Unknowing Arvixe technicians repeatedly removed the block only to have it reappear a few hours later. Once in awhile, the short-lived removal and Feedly’s polling lined up so that posts would slip through. They might appear in a clump and they would have the current rather than publication date but they could be seen by subscribers.

When I first learned of BitNinja’s role, I urged Arvixe to configure their installation to have the security service treat Feedly as a good guy. They, for valid reasons, declined. I also pressed them for a description of what specific aspect of Feedly’s access raised BitNinja’s hackles. Near the beginning of the episode, Feedly had suggested they might be able to alter their behavior if specifics were available. Not being privy to BitNinja’s inner workings, Arvixe could not supply those specifics. Although it was Arvixe who first mentioned it, I suspect all of us thought of it about the same time. Feedly needed to deal with BitNinja directly. The problem might not be limited to my website or even to all Arvixe hosted websites. The risk of Feedly being blocked could exist everywhere BitNinja was being used.

Feedly did contact BitNinja directly and, while I don’t know the details of the exchange, I do know that it resulted in BitNinja removing “a too strict log analyzing rule” about a day later. That was just over a week ago and since then my feeds seem to be flowing through Feedly as they should.

Maybe we should have dug a little deeper in March and it would have been nice if we had not thrashed about for a week in June. There were times when I thought Arvixe could have been more cooperative and Feedly more responsive. I don’t think anyone involved is a candidate for Trouble Shooter of the Year but neither do I think anyone screwed up horribly. I can’t be certain that the same problem won’t pop up again in a couple of months though I’m positive that some problem will pop up someday. This episode has increased my confidence that, when it does, these vendors — Feedly, Arvixe, & BitNinja — will get it sorted eventually. It would be nice is the next problem is as invisible to readers as this one was but I’m not going to count on it.

Incidentally, this post’s title comes from a Wheels song that, in case you don’t remember it, is here.

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.

My Apps – Chapter 7
FeedForAll

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 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 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.