Main Points

Late Breaking News!

Earth Chronicle Relaunched

Now that we have the "Medieval Scroll" design prepared we can relaunch Earth Chronicle itself. Our history website. The one, the only, the original which had previously languished as an underpowered, ugly set of pages on Yahoo Geocities. All our previous discussions of the website have really referred to EC Beta; that's all that we've really built because we didn't have a decent platform for launching scalable websites. Now that we're really starting to click in the web development department, it was time to update, revise, and rewrite a heck of a lot of content and get it all talking the same consistent message about what the site is, what we have to offer, and how we'd like people to participate.

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Design Demo: "Medieval Scroll" Complete

We've completed our first design demonstration! Ever been interested in getting started in website design? Ever needed help troubleshooting design problems, especially finishing a design to get it out the door? Or have you just wanted to ride backseat to see how someone else builds a web design? Our design demo walks you step-by-step from the beginning of generating a design concept to implementing and deploying the finished product: brainstorming and planning, developing a working HTML prototype, creating and implementing colors (for a palette), textures, typography, and images. We'll take you all the way through the final review process including troubleshooting residual issues, making last minute tweaks, and tackling major revisions to meet incomplete design goals. As an added bonus, this design demo employs our first self-conscious experiments creating modular, maintainable, reusable stylesheet components in object oriented CSS (OO-CSS). It also addresses how to generate HTML prototypes in a well-designed ASP.NET master page architecture. Check out the first design demo ever! Our "Medieval Scroll" design awaits.

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EC 2.0 Complete

Not that we'll ever really be done, however, we've closed the gaping holes after launching the website in January. We've got a fully functional CSS Design section which was a glaring omission in terms of both design and front-end development. This helped to balance the site significantly from it's tilt towards development and technology. We hope to continue to do some practical design exercises and chronicle the process of developing websites from scratch. We also posted our demo Flash project, a complete Flash website. It highlights some of the problems with using Flash. However, it's an amazing technology and it was a lot of fun to put together. Don't expect to see Earth Chronicle redone in Flash anytime soon though. ;)

We've also retrofited the section on Javascript using unobtrusive (or DOM) scripting for master pages. We also included our work on XML and XSLT programming. These pages were never formally posted because of work on the master page template. For the first time these are up and ready for review. Here are the XML / XSLT programming sections. Check them out! We've also had the chance to kick the tires much more thoroughly on our new testing procedures. We've built full demonstrations of the evolution of our website design going forward. Our ongoing testing section will give you a bird's eye view of the changes to our website administration since we converted to master pages. The process is much easier with the more object oriented nature of the website files, especially the templates.

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Unveiling Master Pages

It took longer than we expected and given us some appreciation for the time it may take to get Earth Chronicle and our Atlas up. However, the ease of the new template gave us an opportunity to blitz 60+ pages. Between building them and testing them thoroughly, it's taken several weeks to get the core webpages, content review, and ASP.NET testing section up and running. We will complete all the other pages, including the historical section as well, but the .NET testing was especially important to post since it includes not just our most recent testing, but also the entire master page saga so central to this redesign.

We've also taken the opportunity to do a little fundamental restructuring, now that we've been kicking around inside the beta site for as long as we have. The current system was workable for about... this long. However, we're doing a lot of development and we desire to archive everything as essentially educational / museum pages to illustrate development techniques and serve as a history of the development of the website. This has lead to a surplus of files lying around which is making it harder to find files when we need them. We're therefore crafting a more professional site structure to handle the load we're experiencing. To "clean up" the old structure and keep it out of the way of the new files, we're separating all the current test pages into a historical folder, and that requires a little rewiring (some of it anachronistic). So that chewed up some of this time as well. But we are excited and proud to unveil our new redesign which we hope to follow shortly with news about the other sites in the Earth Chronicle family.

[chroniclemaster1, 2009/01/20]

It's becoming apparent that our most effective structural decision for improving the website to date is creating templated pages using ASP.NET master pages and user controls. This combination has replaced server side includes (SSI), with more flexible technologies. Master pages are compiled, and therefore pull down like simple HTML almost as if there was no server side programming involved at all. SSI has to be processed by the server with every HTTP request for a page, and the user has to wait ever time, so we are pleased to give you speed.

At the same time it has permitted us to forward our agenda of code separation to more extreme lengths which make Earth Chronicle substantially more maintainable. We can now substantially achieve our goal of "one line of code, one file" for all code on the website. When all code you use is in one location then any change can be made once and be complete, making for an easy to maintain website. The navbar on every page is defined in one user control file. The new recommended page links are defined in one user control file, etc. Moreover, the general template is defined in the various master pages and all content pages are spliced into them. Check out our master page development in our ASP.NET projects section.

Master pages also permit much more advanced testing procedures. Gone are the days of clicking through pages on the website and trying to determine what would be the next change we should make and how to achieve it. We've written up testing procedures that we can evaluate, streamline, and improve. Better, it's a full pipeline that defines the life cycle of a testing page from birth, through testing, into archiving, and finally implementation on the live websites. Check out our ongoing testing for a rundown on our testing procedures and demonstrations of our historical content pages.

[chroniclemaster1, 2009/04/21]

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Back From Hiatus

Wow... talk about a hiatus. One minute I'm working slowly and steadily on getting Earth Chronicle up and running, and the next I'm training to become a web developer. I became so interested in the behind the scenes beta work - no surprise there, I guess - that I took some time off to train intensively in web design and new technologies. The mantra has been modularity and flexibility; finding ways to build the site more intelligently so that not only is it more powerful, but smarter and better able to adapt to changes later on.

We implemented some long held dreams, and gave the site a total face lift in sepia tone. It's fully revised and ready to go. That Javascript clock I'd been begging for... here it is. I built it. There's not only fully deployed CSS, but unobtrusive Javascript and server side includes as well. The site has fully fledged DHTML giving us a huge boost to the power of the site, and it's interactivity. Moreover, we did it right. We pulled it off as accessibly and elegantly as you could hope for.

Still there are a lot of new and exciting changes not just to the completely revamped look, but behind the scenes as well. And there's a lot of potential for new developments. As we speak, you can almost hear the clicking of keyboard keys as the contact form comes closer and closer to fruition. I really like how modular this code design is and it will give the site a great deal more flexibility as we move ahead. Now I only have to apply it to the entire site. *sigh* that should be fun. At this point most of THAT code is at least a year old and was written when I was first teaching myself HTML. Once it's done though, the site will be better and more flexible than I would have ever dreamed when I first started writing the code I'm now replacing.

Still the new designs were not the only part of the story. We now have shared web hosting which made all the extra functionality possible to implement. We've had the ability to do server side includes at any time... they're ridiculously easy. But Geocities doesn't support them. Web space was donated by an anonymous benefactor, and here we are. QED. So check it out! I present to you... Earth Chronicle Beta!

[chroniclemaster1, 2007/06/27]

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ASP.NET 2.0 Development

This is the biggest change in the website from a technical standpoint, and it's obvious from the moment you pull up the homepage... Default.aspx :) There are some significant advantages to this. All of them now possible because we have fully supported web hosting. We have to be pretty independent... but then we are. ;)

We are no longer facing the trade off between spam and permitting accessibility. That's gone. Using ASP.NET 2.0, I'm in the final stages of putting together a contact form which processes itself and outputs the data as an email to whatever email address I want. I can alter the address and it will never be seen except on the server side. So it might have a prayer of surviving the spammers. Not likely, I admit, but I can dream. ;) That's the first change that you will likely see with the new technology. Keep abreast of all the latest ASP.NET 2.0 developments.

[chroniclemaster1, 2007/06/27]

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DHTML Development

How many things does a redesign change? Everything. Large chunks of the appearance are handled completely with CSS from an external style sheet. This allows the XHTML code to be lite, linear, and to maximize the structure for those who need accessibility above all other concerns. It also means I can update significant portions of the appearance site wide by making changes to one CSS file.

Ditto for the Javascript. There is no Javascript code in any of the webpages except for the reference to our master script file, which contains all our Javascript. All the scripting has been diligently used for enhancement so that anyone without Javascript will hardly notice. They just won't get the full functionality of the site (e.g. no clock and no menus, but the navbar buttons will still work fine). Having the Javascript contained in one file also means that I can affect changes to behavior site wide from one file, just like the CSS. Check out our Javascript developing if you're interested.

And using server side includes, I've extended the principle to include the XHTML code itself. Key portions of the webpage, like the navbars are not part of the page itself. They are blocks of XHTML code that are saved in separate files and the server side include pulls them in right before the page is sent to a visitor. So updates to the navbar and/or other key items on the page can be made site wide by modifying only one file.

Moreover we've combined them into an interactive DHTML website. And we've incorporated the enhancements progressively so that it adds the maximum functionality possible for each user no matter what their configuration. Browsers without Javascript AND CSS support will still work just fine, including Google. The worst case scenario is actually if the CSS hides the navbar menus and there's no Javascript to reactivate them. Even in this case our visitors still have a fully functional navbar with links to all the most important pages on the nav buttons.

The word on everyone's lips right now is AJAX. So do we have it? Are we on the outside looking in? Are we losers? So far we have no good reason to incorporate AJAX so to date we have not. The problem with AJAX is it splits downloads up. Now if you actually have a reason to spread out what someone is downloading then great. Large web applications with modular designs can derive huge benefits from it. But we're mainly serving small webpages, so AJAX makes most of our stuff take longer.

It's also not as well supported as standard Javascript (now THAT'S saying something). There are additional accessibility considerations too. The interactive elements which AJAX specialize in are horrible for users with disabilities, and don't forget that the world's most important user, Google, is blind. There are many applications where people are using AJAX even though it's not ready for prime time. That's being kind, most uses of AJAX are poor and detract more from a website and it's functionality than they give back. Now if we have a chance to rebuild the image galleries, there ARE some applications where AJAX would make a lot of sense. So stay tuned, we may be incorporating AJAX on an intermediate scale time frame.

[chroniclemaster1, 2007/06/27]

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Introducing ASP.NET 2.0

We implemented some long held dreams, and gave the site a total face lift in sepia tone. And we can actually implement them because we have real web hosting. Earth Chronicle Beta is fully revised and ready to go. That Javascript clock I'd been begging for... here it is. I built it. There's not only fully deployed CSS, but unobtrusive Javascript controlling the clock and our brand new menus system and server side includes as well. The primary parts of the CSS appearance, Javascript behavior, and frequently used XTHML code blocks are each contained in a file, one file. That means site wide updates can be affected quickly, reliably, and with maximum flexibility.

We've also redesigned the site to use ASP.NET 2.0 server side objects and scripting. Note the .aspx on this page instead of the "normal" .html extension. The biggest change you'll see soon is that I'm in the final stages of putting together a contact form. Using ASP.NET 2.0, the form will process itself and output the data as an email to whatever email address I want. I can change the address at will and it will never be seen except on the server side. So it might have a prayer of surviving the spammers, and if not... it's easy to switch addresses. This is the first version of the website to take accessibility into account. While we've made a good start, this site will be the beginning, not the end of that process. We're also adding dynamically generated site navigation tools, and we hope to extend these to dynamically generated site indexes, etc. Obviously they'll have to be cached, but a site index can be revised nightly and still remain highly valid; it's one of the perfect projects to use server caching. So check out our newest News!

[chroniclemaster1, 2007/06/23]

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