June 2011 Status: Winds of Change from the Orchard

Tram Layout track test 3226

June went to a number of projects:
- More construction work on the Urban Tram layout (track placement test pictured above)
- Design work for the new Expressway deck to be constructed for the 2011 JNSForum contest.
- Playing with DC signals from Kato and Tomix

All of these are ongoing, and not really in a state to have much written about them yet, although that should change later in the month.

The other big news is that Sumida Crossing is going to be moving. Not the physical layout, but the website. With Apple declaring iWeb dead and an end to their hosting service in a year, it’s time to find a new home. I could procrastinate, but iWeb’s limitations have been an irritant for some time, and an excuse to find a tool I like a little better, while still using a template-driven WYSIWYG editor, was all I needed. I’ve been on iWeb nearly two years now, and while it’s served me well and let me focus on “just writing” the site, it’s time for a change. And like pulling a tooth, this kind of change is best done quickly, to reduce the pain, so I’m working to a faster-than-usual timeline for me.

I’ve spent considerable time on this lately, and have pretty much decided to go with an application called RapidWeaver for the Mac (the choice of hosting provider isn’t final yet; there are several who offer RW-friendly hosting, or I could go for some more generic provider). I’ve committed to this program enough to have spent the past weekend customizing one of their templates to match what I want the site to look like. CSS editing is not my idea of fun, but the couple of days I’ve invested in it will make me much happier in the long run. For those who know RW, I’m primarily using the Stacks add-on for my pages, as it gives good control over side-by-side photo placement with captions, something the core RW lacks.

I like RW because it is template-driven and largely WYSIWYG, but you can get down and muck with the HTML when you need to, and the templates are much easier to alter than iWeb’s were. I’m no fan of CSS or HTML editing, so I want tools that mostly hide that from me. I’ve been building web sites off and on since the days I edited raw HTML on a 68000 Mac Plus running Mosaic (precursor to Netscape Navigator) so I’m not worried about doing it, I just have better uses for my time. And that combination of simplicity and flexibility should help improve the site, without cutting too much into the time I spend adding content to it (or working on the layout, because after all the site is subordinate to the layout, even if some days I seem to have that reversed).

Unfortunately, one big impact of this switch is that URLs to my pages are going to change, as RW doesn’t really offer name-based paths to pages the way iWeb did. The page names seem to be invariant once created, and the blog at least offers permalinks (which can be name-based). But anyone who’s bookmarked favorite pages inside the site is going to need to update after the move.

On the plus side, site navigation is going to be seriously improved, with an auto-generated menu of sections and sub-sections on the left side banner, and a real breadcrumb trail across the top of the page (one of the things I spent a lot of CSS time on; the template I wanted to use put the breadcrumbs on the bottom of the page, which is sensible if you’ve read the whole page, but not very useful for the long pages of reference material I tend to keep around. And for some reason moving them to the top proved tricky.). I’m also getting wider pages out of the update, although that’s balanced by losing part of many of them to the side navigation bar (I can turn it off for leaf pages, and likely will for many).

Another benefit is that I should finally be able to generate a real RSS feed for the site, not just feeds for the blogs and photo albums. And, while I’m copying all the old Musings blog posts over into RWs built-in blog, I may go with another tool for future blog posts (there’s a plug-in to permit use of a local copy of WordPress; I’m not sure I need that complexity, but I may go for it as one of the hosting providers I’m looking at, bluehost, provides a “one-click” install of WP).

But first I have over a hundred pages of content to convert, and I need to do each one manually due to the idiosyncrasies of the two programs. Mostly that’s just cut-and-paste, but re-creating URLs is a bit of a pain, and the photos have to be re-done. All of which is a good excuse to clean up some of the older photos that weren’t well done, and fix broken URLs, which takes more time but should be time well spent.

I may actually make the switch before all the content is carried over, as much of it is the fairly uninteresting history of the layout construction, and I may want to spend some quality time simplifying that to a more readable summary (I’m thinking I might do a second “construction blog” for that, separate from the main Musings). And some of the sections needed updating anyway, so I might as well do that after the switch rather than before. If you’ve got something you specifically want moved sooner, put a comment below, send me email (the address is on the Who Am I? page) or PM me on JNSForum. My email address won’t change as a result of this (at least, not anytime soon) so while it make take a while for a new blog with comments to be up and running, I will still be reachable that way.

I do want to get the whole Musings archive over, and a core set of pages I think are generally useful. That includes the “Passenger Trains” pages of my prototype section, since I (and others) use that as a reference, and probably the main page of my Roster, although the detail pages will probably wait.

The move could come as soon as the end of this week, and there might be a day or so before the domain name update stabilizes once I move, although I’ll leave the old files in place for a few weeks in case anyone has old DNS pointing to it. But once the name change propagates, the old site will be inaccessible and I’ll likely remove the files.

Also, after the move I may experiment a bit with the structure of the site, once I have a real feel for how the results look (there’s a limited amount I can test from a local copy of the published site as many of the parts don’t work that way, and I’m too lazy to set up a test site). Once I think it’s stable I’ll post a Musing on the new site to that effect.

It’s not certain that today’s is the last post in the old site, but it may well be. (well, it wasn’t...)

Other website changes:
- I’ve added some photos of Tomix signals to the Electronics photo album (more on these later).
- Updates to the Reservations page (yet another subway train).