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Fred Koschara

Building the Web, continuing work in progress

Jul. 29, 2014, under progress reports, Web development

I spent a lot of time getting the next iteration of Space Power Now into proper working order for the Apollo 11 anniversary on July 20 & 21. The Development Plan mentions several other sites. It wouldn’t have felt like the job was finished without live links leading to pages with some level of polish.

The worst offender was the Space Questions site that still had the hosting company’s default page from when I first registered the domain. At least now it’s got a blurb saying what it’s supposed to be about, with a “keep me posted when this site is updated” form.

The Space History Newsletter has had a banner image for a few years, but it wasn’t even shown on its home page. I had to fix that, and as I started working on the site, I wondered how difficult it would be to just move the newsletter over from the L5 Development Group page – I’ve got most of the code written, after all, so it shouldn’t be too hard, right? Oh, if life were that easy! When I wrote the SHN code in 2005, I built a template system that seemed like it was going to provide the flexibility for publishing in several formats. It works well for creating the email version and updating the page on the L5 Development Group site – but getting it to work on the SHN site is going to take figuring out the template system again, at a minimum – more work than I had time for just then. The first line item for SHN on the Space Power Now Development Plan page already was “move the space history newsletter from L5Develoment.com to its own site” – so that puts it off until there’s more funding to cover the cost of the development.

Next on the first-level links list was SpaceColonists.com – another one that’s had a banner of its own for quite some time, but still had an unstyled text page for its face. I gave it a quick touch up, but since I was running out of time, it didn’t get as much attention as it probably deserves. (Such is the life of projects that are waiting for funding to arrive…)

The L5 Development Group site is a bit of a thorn in my side: I started a complete rewrite a couple of years ago, and made a lot of progress (an incomplete development version is at the beta site) but got stuck when I couldn’t get the floating accordian menu to work right in both Firefox 3.6.28 and InternetExploiter 6. (Yes, I’ve been obsessed with backwards compatibility – but that’s another story.) Since then I’ve decided the menu needs to be rewritten using a better combination of CSS and JavaScript, but I haven’t had the time and resources to get back to it. As a result, L5Development.com is stuck in the past, with a somewhat clunky interface that’s really showing its age. Instead of being the showcase that ties everything together, it’s another project simmering on a back burner, waiting for the day when there’s enough money to bring it back to the front.

The last of the direct links from the Space Power Now Development Plan on July 20th was to the L5 National Bank site. The frames-based implementation of the site had not been touched since I first put it up in 2004, but it had the site’s banner displayed, the stub menu illustrated some of the features that are planned, and it had an appropriate disclaimer to be sure visitors understand it’s not a functioning bank yet. I wasn’t happy with leaving it like that, but I was up against my deadline, and let it stay the way it was.

I got my Remember the Moon – and Mars! post published on July 21, the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon, and told my world about it. I was hoping people would read it, and that at least a few would follow one of the links leading to Space Power Now, and that some would even push the buttons on the Invest page to help support its mission. That hasn’t happened yet, so I’m still scrambling to get the (back) rent paid by the end of the month – on Thursday.

Since the “High Holiday” (the anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing), I’ve been working on the network of sites linked to by the Space Power Now Development Plan. “Working” is a bit of a euphemism, I guess – I’ve been programming night and day, feeling like it was almost to the exclusion of everything else. I did have to take a break on Thursday for my “one day a week” day job, spent a few hours reading in a book store cafe, took a couple of days on some eBay business, and went to visit my cat over the weekend. Other than that, I’ve been tangled in the innards of the World Wide Web, building components of my development program. Oh, yeah, I did sleep a few times – but nowhere near 8 hours a night…

The first thing I had to fix was the L5 National Bank Web site: Not only are frames-based sites considered obsolete by much of the development world, but it took a long time to load. I’d recently done a frames-to-divs upgrade on another site, so I expected it would be a fairly short project. When I was done, I’d be right back to working on getting the rent paid. It wasn’t until I’d started editing the code that I realized it was “ten years after” that I’d returned to it from when I first put the site up. It could have been a real nightmare, but I’ve always tried to follow the best practices to avoid future problems. As it turns out, the conversion did go smoothly, and if I had stopped there, I would have been doing something else for the past few days.

Right before I got to work on the L5 National Bank site, I made the mistake of clicking a link, probably when I was looking at the banners displayed on the Fred Koschara Enterprises site. The link led me to the Interplanet Dating Service site where I found it was another one with an existing banner – and a favicon – neither of which were being used on the text-only existing page. I did postpone working on it until I’d finished the L5 National Bank upgrade, but once I saw the state InterplanetDating.com was in, fixing it was an itch I found I couldn’t ignore: I’d put a list on it some time ago of the types of affiliations with the space T/E/D field one could have with a suggestion for the “not interested” category: Go use another dating service. Besides not having the banner or favicon in use, I felt that list really needed to be addressed more fully. Again, if I had stuck to that bit of work, I wouldn’t have slipped further down the rabbit hole, but no, I couldn’t leave it alone. I had put a “Your Link Here” place holder as an action item under the “not interested” entry. Shouldn’t that be a link someone with another dating site could use to request their site be added to the list? (That’s what I had in mind in the first place.) I considered putting a mailto link there, but that could lead to long conversations before enough information came across to decide whether to add a link or not. What I needed was a link to a “simple” form with fields for all of the appropriate information. OK, build the form. Now, what to do with the collected data? Just email it, and “some day” add it to a database? That sounded like another unfinished project in the making, certainly not something I need. That meant building a database table to store the entries – but I didn’t have a database set up for the site. Since I was setting up the database, why not drop in the “stock” FAQ system, that code’s mostly complete, right? – except that the publicly accessible FAQ page was way out of date, and cleaning it up turned into a bit of a project, by itself. Eventually I did get the “submit your link” database code implemented, but I still had to write the email notification part of the form handler when I crashed for five hours. After my nap, I realized that if the email notification told me there was data in the database I’d need an Admin page to do something with it (as if I needed another project to work on) – so the email processing has to forward all of the entered information as well. A number of iterations later, I’d finished testing the page, and had the email formatted so the information would be readily understandable, even if the requestor wrote a small novel in submitting their link. Nineteen hours had elapsed (including the five hour nap and “some time” dealing with email, etc.) since I started on it, but in the end the Your Link Here page was operational, and I could set the Interplanet Dating Service site (including its newly functional FAQ system) aside feeling it was “done enough for now.”

I still wasn’t done: The site blurb at the top of the L5 National Bank page says it’s (going to be) “the premier banking institution at and for the L5 Nation” – and the L5 Nation Web site was in pretty bad shape: There was a banner, but it wasn’t being used on the site, and there wasn’t a favicon for the site, which was also just a crude text implementation. The site did include some minimal text and a couple of links that I’d want to preserve in a reimplementation, but not much. I’ve got a set of prototype files that I use to bring up a new site with minimal effort – but before I used them again, I needed to add some recent changes, or I’d have to repeat fixing the copied files over and again. Once I got the prototype file set updated, though, putting a new face on L5Nation.com went pretty smoothly. I still needed to create the favicon, but there was another diversion that had to be addressed first:

The L5 Nation site is only half the picture – and it’s got a link to the other side of the coin, the L5 Colony web site. L5Colony.com was in a similar state: There was a text site with minimal text and a couple of links, a banner not being used on the site, and no favicon. By the time I started on the L5 Colony site, I was really leery about looking for other links that could lead further down the rabbit hole, so this update went pretty quickly – just a few hours later, the L5Colony.com facelift was done, except for the favicon.

Creating the favicons for the L5 Nation and L5 Colony sites was a straight-forward task. I took care of it with minimal effort, but getting Firefox to display the newly created ones was a challenge, as usual. I found a Firefox addon that claims to make it possible to delete an existing favicon association. I installed it, which required restarting Firefox – and when the browser came up, it knew about the new favicons, so I didn’t have an opportunity to test the addon I’d just installed.

While I was writing this blog entry, I had occasion to go look at the Fred Koschara Enterprises site again, and noticed one of the “extra” places a page title could be displayed had been activated recently – changing server-global files can have unexpected consequences like that. I was certain I knew what the problem was, and how to fix it. The only thing is, it turns out the FKE site is one I’d done a lot of experimenting on when I was implementing the floating accordian menu. Some of the code is pretty old, and other parts aren’t implemented quite the way the more recent work has been done. Consequently, my simple fix proved to not be, and before I was done, I’d had to touch six files, some multiple times – and it was two hours later. So much for a quick solution!

I wanted to clean up a couple of things after getting my Apollo 11 post finished. I’ve done that, and now it’s eight days of a week later – and I’m not any closer to getting the rent paid. This could be a problem. I guess I’m going to have to reach pretty deeply into my hat to find the rabbit I’m supposed to be pulling out of it. Considering how far down the rabbit hole I’ve been in the past week, it seems like there must be an answer here somewhere – all I have to do is find it…

Go visit Space Power Now – I’ve been working on the projects described in the Development Plan this past week because I believe it’s a project that is really important for the healthy future of humanity. I wouldn’t be the evangelist I am if I didn’t think so.

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