Author Topic: Best Of Interactive Clinic Week 11 - Building a Website about Building Your Layout.  (Read 9167 times)

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Ed Kapuscinski

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The next level of sophistication after just using google is to get your own web hosting (as others have mentioned, I use 1and1.com, they're just as cheap as anyone else...) and build your own static site.

This has two technological hurdles.

The first is that you need to understand enough about the way the internet works in general to not get taken advantage of by a hosting company, to register your domain, and to do the minor technical things like setup a site. This can vary from being really quick, cheap and easy, to being a real bear when you need to care about things like MX records, A records, the difference between dns hosting and dns registration, etc... Luckily, most web hosting companies strive to make this easy for you. Things only get complex when things go wrong.

The second is you need to understand html. Simple html is really pretty easy, but putting together anything more complicated than a few pages gets tedious quickly. It really is a professional discipline. I've seen really well done html, and it's beautiful, and I've seen horrible code too, and it's, well, horrible.

There are programs out there to help, like .mac and its integrated web authoring tools, Adobe's Dreamweaver (but it's not cheap) and the worst thing to happen to the internet since the blink tag, Microsoft Front Page. FP is easy, but so is meth, and I wouldn't advocate using either. Frontpage causes lots of trouble when anyone tries to visit your site other than whatever version of Internet Explorer was en vogue when they released the version you buy. This includes the google spiders, meaning your site may not be as popular as it could otherwise be. Just don't fall for it. Stay away from Frontpage.

Even using a program, manually managing a multi-page site is no fun. That's why I have a job, actually... but that's a topic for the NEXT post.

Maintaining a site by hand basically means that you create files (html files, images, video, etc...) on your computer and transfer them to your web hosting account via an ftp client (or sometimes a web interface). Even if you use an application like dreamweaver, things can still get kinda complicated.

I've seen some good examples of this type of site though. In fact, I think most model railroad sites are like this. The stellar example, and a web project I hold in the most highest regard (and not just for the subject matter, but also because of the amount of hand coded content) is the Conrail Cyclopedia, CRCYC.railfan.net. I believe that George Elwood's amazing fallen flags site (gelwood.railfan.net) is like this too.

railbuilderdave

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I'm not sure I need to say much more.  There are plenty of folk here that know web site development and I've read many great options so far.  I've not done much freelance web development in some time which I would get a host, register domain name, and all that is required so I'm kinda out of the loop.  I work on a government site and we host on our own enterprise site.  I don't even register domain name except .gov and those are not the same as .com and the others.  
I'll be looking at doing an upgrade to my site soon as the bigest problem I've found with the free hosting at t35.com is the size limit on each file.  There can't be a single file over something like 1.5 meg.  The rest of the site is not a problem as I don't have to worry about bandwidth restrictions or amount of files or pages I load, just the size of each.  This wasn't a problem till I wanted to start to share my photos I've taken of trains and other related structures.  I take digital photos at a min. of 8 mega pixel so that ends up being about a 2.5+ file.  I like this so I can really zoom in and see details.  So, I to would like to know about good hosting sites so I can share my photos and work with others.
Dave
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railbuilderdave

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Nice postings Ed, you are making this a great help for others. I may like to talk to you offline about some web issues later.  Are you going to be at the train show this weekend?  I may go on Sunday but can't Saturday because or Real Estate CE class.
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Ed Kapuscinski

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Next up we come to the beginning of the range of stuff that I do professionally.

These are sites that are home built but that use some fashion of a Content Management system to automate things like posting new content, uploading images, etc.

Lee went into good detail about his site, which is one that I did, but my Conrail1285 is also done like this. I built a system that uses a database to store the content, and some ASP pages to add it and then display it for users when they access the site.

This makes authoring content for one person easy, but also helps avoid conflicts if you have multiple authors, since the canonical version of any content lives on the web server, and you interact directly with it.

I wouldn't really recommend this approach for most people. It worked for Lee because I was feeling benevolent, and it worked for 1285 because I felt like spending time on it, but it takes a good bit of knowledge of web scripting languages to build such a thing, and occasionally things break (like when Lee's site got hacked a few weeks ago...). For the same amount of effort that you put into it, you can get much better results with some other options I'll mention in a minute. If I were starting either of the sites over, I'd do them the following way.

The only upside is that you generally have much more control over something you build yourself, since you can build it however you want. Take note, I'm talking about data structures, not design.

If you want to try building your own CMS, I'd take a look at something like Ruby on Rails or Django, two web frameworks that make certain things (like writing code to write to a database) pretty easy.


wcfn100

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Sorry if I missed this, but one thing that should be pointed out is that if you do pay for webhosting you will probably be able to get some free tools.  It'll depend on whether you wan't Microsoft or Unix based hosting.  These tools can do include things like image galleries and even forum software like this one.  If you can use these tools it can off-set the costs with your time.

FWIW, if you're interested in forum stuff, go with Unix based.  But I'm by no means an expert, it's just my impression so far.  I have a Microsoft based account for basiclly the same reason David stated; it's what I know.  I didn't want to learn any more programming to do database stuff.


Jason

Ed Kapuscinski

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Now into the MEAT of what I do for a living, kinda...

Web content management systems.

A content management system is an application (usually a web based one) that lets a user (or multiple users) access it to add and organize the content on a website. The custom developed stuff I've done falls in this category, but the products (or projects, more correctly) that I'll talk about are generally much richer in feature set, because they either have a company behind them, or a large number of volunteer developers, or sometimes both.

For a model railroad site, I'd strongly recommend an open source project like Joomla! (http://www.joomla.org/) or my current favorite, Drupal (http://drupal.org/).

This software is generally much more mature than anything you could build yourself, powers sites from just a handful of relatively static pages (like http://sissonstauto.com/ that a friend of mine did) to larger complex sites like The Onion (http://www.theonion.com/).

These apps generally abstract functionality into modules. For example, on the CRHS site (http://thecrhs.org) we have a number of modules that install with the application that do the core functionality, but then others that other developers have created. We use something called acidfree galleries for our photo galleries, and something called UIEForum for our forum.

Modules also do less grandiose things as well. We have one that helps integrate google analytics into the site. We have another that helps serve up friendly 404 error pages if someone tries to access a page that doesn't exist.

One of the really nice things about this approach is that if there's some functionality you need, chances are someone else already has, and already has made a module to do it. And being open source software, if you need to tweak it, you can.

These pieces of software also generally abstract out the site graphic design as well. This means you can often find something close to what you'd like and just tweak it to what you need.
http://drupal.org/project/Themes

The CRHS site used an existing theme as a starting point, but I changed, well, almost all of it, to get to what it is now.

This software also often has the ability for users to login. This means that you can allow them to see different content, or be able to post content, etc. This makes it possible to setup a site that's a real community, like the CRHS site, where users can post photos and other types of content. This means that all the upkeep of the site does not fall on a single person's shoulders.

This is how you would want to setup a site that's a community of interest kind of thing. In fact, I was really surprised when the Alphabet Route project launched that it wasn't using something like this.

Setting these things up is actually relatively simple, and they usually have large communities of other users to help you out along the way. Of course you need to get web hosting, and make sure it's the right type (generally Linux), but this means you only need person with technical knowledge, who can set it up and let people less up on the tech contribute too.

diezmon

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No one's talked about plain 'ol image hosting yet.

I've found over time that I don't need a "web site" as much as just a place to put images online.. for posting to boards, sending to family, sharing etc...

There are many options for hosting and I won't bother with that, but the only drawback I've run into thus far is limited space for images.    I tend to store a LOT of pictures online, model RR and family stuff.   So far I have picasaweb, flickr, photobucket, my own doman diezfamily.us(hosted by godaddy), and another site hosted by bluehost.com.  I've either run out of space, or the functionality of maintaining photos bites.   

Picasaweb is great, but doesn't support nested folders.  It sounds like I'm anal, but it really does suck that you can't have a folder within another folder.  You soon discover this when you try to organize things.

most hosting sites these days usually have free gallery software, but that's usually overkill(IMHO) for just hosting pics...plus, you fill up disk fast and end up(maybe) paying more.  Also, most gallery apps aren't great at uploading either.. you're usually limited to using a form, or forms, to upload about 5 at a time.. if you want to upload an entire directory, or recursively, for example.. that's a pain.

You could use the trainboard.com/railimages site.. but I just don't like that app, and it makes all images small.  So you aren't really storing the real image anyway.

For those of you interested in plain 'ol image storage, check out amazon's Amazon Simple Storage Service: http://www.amazon.com/gp/browse.html?node=16427261

You can upload every picture you own, for cheap..  So I now use a combination of this and my diezfamily.us site.  I have every digital picture I've ever owned on amazon now so I can get to them from anywhere.( small subset here: http://media.diezfamily.us/images/Hobby/tni_index.html)  There are a number of syncing programs to use as well so you can stay up to date.

 

wm3798

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Coppermine, as archaic as it is, provides for nested folders, which makes it a lot easier to sort through images, or to get right to where you want to go without using the search feature (although that is very helpful)
It does have the limited upload form, but in a way, I think that's an advantage.  It forces you to pay attention to what you're uploading.  When I'm experimenting with layout shots, I keep maybe 1 out of 10 frames, so I don't want to upload everything in a hurry.

That being said, I did upload my layout construction photos via Picassa, since the album was already organized and edited.  I also like Picassa's slide show function better than Coppermine's.

"These apps generally abstract functionality into modules."

And while I have no idea what on Earth Ed just said, I will say that his benevolence was returned with several bellies full of nachos, a couple of decoders, and at least one check... ;D

Lee
Rockin' It Old School

Lee Weldon www.wmrywesternlines.net

DKS

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That being said, I did upload my layout construction photos via Picassa, since the album was already organized and edited.  I also like Picassa's slide show function better than Coppermine's.

I happen to like the Picasa uploader quite a lot. It'll upload everything you want in one shot, and let you make additions or deletions on the fly. If Picasa had nested folders, it would be the champ--almost. One other shortcoming is the limited tagging functionality. It doesn't allow you to manage tags, and better tag management may compensate for the lack of nested folders, since tagging can simulate such organizational structure, with the added benefit of being able to place a single image in multiple "folders" (such as how gmail works). I've heard, however, that the tagging functionality in Picasa may be addressed in the next upgrade.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2008, 10:41:05 AM by David K. Smith »

shark_jj

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I have listened to all of the advice and decided to tackle a Blog before I tackle a website.  I have signed up for Google and am using there tools.  I am already finding limitations, however, the process is interesting.  You can find the beginning of the Blog at http://prralleghenydivision.blogspot.com/  I still have to upload some pics etc., however, it will have to wait since I am also working on the quarterly newsletter for the Canadian Association of Railway Modellers, waiting for the repairman for the washing machine which started smoking yesterday (thank goodness I bought the extended warranty), and getting packed to head for Louisville in the morning.

asciibaron

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i put this together - it's a start - content is the important thing, i have none.

http://asciibaron.dyndns.org/nscale/

it's running on a server in my basement and uses dyndns.org to assign the domain name to the dynamic IP.

-Steve
Quote from: Chris333
How long will it be before they show us how to add DCC to a tree?

DKS

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I have listened to all of the advice and decided to tackle a Blog before I tackle a website.  I have signed up for Google and am using there tools.  I am already finding limitations, however, the process is interesting.  You can find the beginning of the Blog at http://prralleghenydivision.blogspot.com/  I still have to upload some pics etc., however, it will have to wait since I am also working on the quarterly newsletter for the Canadian Association of Railway Modellers, waiting for the repairman for the washing machine which started smoking yesterday (thank goodness I bought the extended warranty), and getting packed to head for Louisville in the morning.

Great start! Just remember: the only person who knows about any "limitations" is you; the visitor will be entirely unaware of them, and everything will look perfectly fine.

And there are some real limitations in Blogger. But I've always found that limitiations give rise to creativity.

i put this together - it's a start - content is the important thing, i have none.

http://asciibaron.dyndns.org/nscale/

it's running on a server in my basement and uses dyndns.org to assign the domain name to the dynamic IP.

-Steve

Steve, the pages are delivered darned quick. What's your hardware?
« Last Edit: June 24, 2008, 02:32:01 PM by David K. Smith »

Ed Kapuscinski

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He's actually using a casio calculator watch...


DKS

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He's actually using a casio calculator watch...



Hey, I used to have one of those. The very definition of Geek.

asciibaron

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Steve, the pages are delivered darned quick. What's your hardware?

not too far off that Casio crack... it's a 450MHz Intel with 512MB RAM running a very stable Linux flavor.  nothing fancy.

-Steve
« Last Edit: June 25, 2008, 10:38:26 AM by asciibaron »
Quote from: Chris333
How long will it be before they show us how to add DCC to a tree?