Working On A Website

This blog post will only be for the nerdiest among you. You have been warned.

I’ve Just finishing working on a new website. Like most of the sites I make, this new one will be thinly visited. It’s for a special event. It will be up for a month or two, then shuttered.

The site resides on a shared server. There are hundreds of websites all running on this one extremely beefy computer in Provo, Utah. It is one of many on a server farm.

Being in Utah is fine, but distance does count. Overseas websites are nearly always slower here.

This whole shared server business is called “web hosting.” It’s pretty cheap if you share. People are always shocked by how little hosting can be. Dedicated servers are available too, but for most smaller sites the additional cost isn’t worth it.

With low price comes limited resources. That’s why I do everything I can to avoid tasks my shared server might find difficult.

Webpages in WordPress, the software this site is built on, reside in a database. It’s time consuming to ask for a webpage from the database, assemble it, then serve it to your browser.

There are tricks. Pages that aren’t changing get pulled from the database once, then written to a cache. Later, if someone else wants the page, it’s served over-and-over-and-over from the cache . Less database use. Huge.

There are other tricks, like ‘minifying’ parts of the code. Smaller is better and moves more quickly.

Survey’s say “you” won’t wait if a website is slow in responding. That never leaves my mind.

Tonight Google gave the new website a 96 out of 100 for speed.

In 2013 Spelling Counts!

Things are going well at DopplerDesign. Working at home is fun. We have a very casual dress code.

I’m in the middle of a website makeover for some folks in Bethany. I want you to see it, but not yet.

I think I’m doing a good job for them. Here’s how I know. I’m really enjoying the work.

Like coders a third my age, I work in spurts, often at night. Friday’s run started early evening and finished Saturday morning around 7:30.

If you’ve never coded you probably don’t know, spelling counts! It’s one of the few places left.

Go to Google and misspell Britney Spears name. They’ll find her.

Humans are good at that too. We’ve adapted to live in a world with imperfect information.

Not so on the Internet, where every command has a specific response expected. And, unfortunately, servers gladly execute bad commands!

The website do-over is being coded in CSS and HTML, with a tiny bit of PHP and JavaScript. That’s a CSS sample above. Click on it for a more readable, but no more understandable, view.

This code is written by hand. I type the commands into Notepad++ which is connected to a distant server. When I hit “save” it’s online, immediately affected by my keystrokes.

Nobody’s perfect.

Last night I brought on the “White Screen of Death!” One extra “Enter” turned the entire backend of the website blank.

A quick Google search found the proper corrective action. IN cases like this, Google is your friend!

I have special tools to go into the server and fix stuff like this.

Missing “;”s and “}”s are almost as bad. The website displays on the screen, but everything’s in the wrong place or is oddly formatted. It’s a mess.

The problems have been all taken care of, but surely there will be loads of snafus large and small before the site’s finished. The last step before going live is clearing the ‘punch list.’ It’s just like the one on a new home.

I really do want you to see it. Soon.

The Website’s Nearly Open

I feel like Mark Zuckerberg early on in “The Social Network.”

I have been working on the site for our new web development company. Long hours. This should be our showcase, right? It’s important to demonstrate what we’ll do. Everything is under the microscope.

I have been happily typecast for 28 years. Now, I need some cred as a developer.

Sometime later today I’ll officially open the doors. The site is running, but a few minor changes might still be made.

There is a special bit of hell web developers enter because of Microsoft. Thanks, Bill.

The web is based on standards. Car tail lights are red and electrical plugs have two parallel slots a specific distance apart because of standards. We don’t think or worry about these things. They’re always the same. The web is supposed to work the same way.

The web’s standards describe the response your browser gives when it receives a specific command. In a few critical cases Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is non-standards compliant. It does its own thing. Groovy, baby.

The code I write looks different on most versions of Internet Explorer. If I write four boxes across, IE might display three and one below the first.

Might? No, it did. Fixed.

There are inelegant hacks. They consume loads of time for little benefit. You’ve gotta do them. Each individual visitor is important no matter how they’re seeing the site. It’s a good challenge.

A moment ago Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome were all open on my computer. Gotta check. Gotta make sure.

The buzzword today is “responsive.” Websites are supposed to gracefully reformat themselves for smaller and smaller and larger and larger screens! A typical large LCD panel is 1920×1200 pixels. A phone might be 480×320 pixels. Websites have to look good for both. It’s tricky.

I am enjoying coding.

Quiet work. Intense. Very much like writing. Creative.

I mostly write CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). It’s the language which allows every website to look different. If you glanced at a CSS stylesheet you’d recognize lots of English words, but overall it would be undecipherable.

Most of what I do concerns how sites look. I build on WordPress. It’s mature software and reasonably bulletproof. Millions of sites use it worldwide.

I still have server backups made offsite each night.

I’m in a nerdy pursuit, no?

More later.

My Geek Cred

Hackers who modify other people’s computer code (sometimes for nefarious purposes) are called “script kiddies.” Literally, they know just enough to be dangerous!

That’s me. I am a script kiddie!

Hackers who modify other people’s computer code (sometimes for nefarious purposes) are called “script kiddies.” Literally, they know just enough to be dangerous!

That’s me. I am a script kiddie!

I spent the last few days configuring this laptop as a Linux development platform. That means acting as a webserver, though only on my network at home.

Tonight Apache2, PHP, and MySQL went in. These are core components for serving web pages. All of them are free and used on millions of sites.

Installation instructions are sparse at best. You are often on your own making educated guesses and retracing steps.

I have no clue what I’m doing. It works! That’s enough.

The last step was installing WordPress, the software that runs this blog. WordPress is the reason every blog entry looks similar to all the others. It places my words and photos inside the look I created.

The image at the top of this page is a screencap showing the WordPress method of creating a page.

A new WordPress theme is my goal. It will be written here in its own little protected sandbox When finished it will move to the commercial production server I rent. It should modernize my blog’s look. Past experience says everyone will hate it at first.

All the programs I’ve mentioned were written by developers who possess great skill. It’s mind boggling to contemplate how complex these creations get. I’m just a script kiddie. My goal is to customize what’s already written. There’s no way I could start from scratch.

Doing this is challenging. It’s how I’m getting back in shape to go out in the world again.

What’s Frustrating About The Web

I’d done all my dev work on Firefox where the site was perfect. Google’s Chrome browser also showed the site as designed. Internet Explorer…. grrrrrrrrrr.

I know a few of you who read this blog do some coding and web development. Me too–though usually only as a favor to friends who will then have to suffer through my partial knowledge of what makes the web tick. A case in point today with my friend Farrell’s website&#185.

Farrell gave me my first job in TV and we’ve been friends ever since. I’m not sure how the guy who gave me my first job is younger than me, but he actually is. It seems unfair.

I worked on Farrell’s site with his input modifying a WordPress theme until it did what it was told and Farrell was happy. WordPress is blogging software, but it’s also great to build non-blog sites.

You know what? The site looks pretty damned good. We patted each other on the back and got set to let it fly in the ‘real world.’

At work I wanted to show what I’d done to a co-worker whose site I’d also helped. I opened up Internet Explorer, called the site and…. OMFG it was broken! It looked awful. It was the first time I’d used IE with the site and there was obviously a big problem.

I’d done all my dev work on Firefox where the site was perfect. Google’s Chrome browser also showed the site as designed. Internet Explorer…. grrrrrrrrrr.

Designers know IE is an awful, standards non-compliant browser. The fact that it’s on virtually EVERY computer makes that academic. You have to design for IE–period. That I hadn’t run the site through IE was a big mistake on my part–inexcusable really.

I’ve been working through the problem little-by-little examining the site with diagnostic tools now built into IE and added-on to Firefox. Tonight I found the problem. It was “–!>” placed a few characters from where it should have been. That combination of characters “–!>” tells the browser it’s come to the end of a disregarded area (like comments or, in this case, old code I didn’t want to use and was afraid to delete).

I know Farrell wanted the site last week. It was frustrating to be so close and yet so far and unable to find this teeny little problem. Now it’s good to go.

I suspect most devs have similar stories.

&#185 – It can take 24-48 hours for the website’s DNS listing to float through the Internet. If you get some sort of ‘not found’ error, try later.