Maringret’s Website Maintenance Afloat [legacy 2001 version]

Note: as this is a legacy page, we are no longer checking the links periodically. The information and links (if they still work) are here for interest only.

Facing seemingly endless conundrums when we first bought Maringret, we read numerous books and found out that there are as many weak books on sailing as there are good ones. We slowly collected information but wondered why it was so time consuming. We didn’t want to see others unnecessarily follow the same path so we decided to try and get our collected information “out”. We weren’t “experts” and so the printed media didn’t seem appropriate as a) we didn’t know enough, and b) no publisher was interested in our meager attempts at self education. We needed something that was cost effective and suited to incremental improvement so we could update portions of our “published” information as appropriate. This lead to this website in its first incarnation, it is presently in its third generation.

We had been using Macintosh computers since the mid 80s, had owned numerous models (including lap tops) so there was no cost associated there to taking one onto the boat. Really the choice of platforms is not an issue, the tools are pretty well equivalent and for ourselves, the primary point is to get our sailing information out.

Over the years we have had Maringret, our boat skills have matured and so have our web skills and consequently the ambitions for our website. This discussion will deal with the current version and how we maintain it as our old tool sets are no longer relevant.

Website Host

A computer that is running 24 hours a day is needed to “host” your website pags. This means that when someone on the other side of the world acceses your website page through the internet, when you are asleep and business hours are finished at  your location, the computer will supply (or serve) the page to the remote person. This service is usually a paid for service although there are some host sites that do so for free in return for the aility to display advertising when provding your webpage to the remote user. By choosing an advertising supported web host we have avoided any cost with the storage and operation of our website. We already put in long hours maintaining the website which is for the benefit of others, is we were also having to pay to do so it is doubtful that the website would look anything like it does. The downsides to this are:

  • not getting your own spiffy website name (such as “www.yachtmaringret.com”)
  • having to accept the provider’s website address
  • the advertising banners or “windoids” that appear on the right hand side of the window
  • surviving “bandwidth” limitations when too many view the website and it is shut down for an hour at a time by the provider
  • the provider can change the rules on us at any point, we would have no recourse – you get what you pay for…

A case in point is that in October 2009 our provider GeoCities (part of Yahoo) decided to stop hosting free websites. They never told us, we heard from other website authors.

Sychronization

The Maringret website exists in two versions, one on our laptop (called the “client” in computer parlance) and also on the host computer (known as the “server” computer as it serves web pages to who ever requests them). Keeping these pages synchronized so that each is identical is a major chore. Computer programs exist to perform this work but are oriented around having a permanent telephone connection available where the charge per minute is significantly lower than trying to use the pay phone down at the marina and paying by the minute. So to a large extent we maintain the synchronization manually. We update the individual pages on either our laptop or the host machine, but it is ourselves who must eventually ensure that any changes are made equally to both versions.

Basic Tools Used

We first used a website authoring program called PageMill by Adobe. They stopped selling it prior to the end of the last century (apparently because it was not able to handle the year 2000). What can we say, the price was right. It gradually developed more and more problems and we stopped using it. We now use KompoZer (somehow related to NVU) which is a free piece of software for multiple platforms. It has various long term bugs but is free.

The main benefit for us in having an HTML editing tool is that it is very easy to quickly “bash” text and pictures into shape. Tools exist where you type in the formatting code (which is known as HTML) and these are functionally equivalent but nowhere as easy to use. After all, our main desire is to get our messages out, not to excel at the arcane art of programming.

Using an authoring program also removes any need to learn the HTML syntax (which is both unforgiving and often cryptic), for a non-computer-literate person this would be a necessity.

Steps Involved in Generating web pages

We get our pictures from our digital camera, our text could be entered in any word processor although we use KompoZer itself as it is good as any other tool. We then bring the pictures into the KompoZer program and place them on the pages, sizing them. We use PhotoShop Elements to work with the pictures we have to crop, rotate, alter contrast and brightness and reduce their storage requirements. The manual is over 1,000 pages and I’m sure we know less than 1% of what the tool can do.

Once we have the pages created on our laptop, we verify that their appearance and functionality is what we want. Any problems are remedied while everything is local and on the boat.

Once we are ready to move the new pages, corrected pages or improved pages to the website host server so they can be made available to computers through out the internet, this is known as “uploading”, we have to locate a computer that is connected to the internet. We could of course perform the upload using our GSM phone but the charges involved would be prohibited due the amount of time involved. What we need is a computer connected to the internet which we can transfer data to. Of course this almost always means a computer whose diskette drive has not been disabled (a lot of libraries and even some cyber cafes actually disable the diskette drives on their computers). We load our new files onto a diskette, put that diskette into the internet connected computer and then use the host site software to copy the files to their computer.

We then test the files a second time as there is always some small area that worked on our laptop but for whatever reasons does not on the other computer.

In certain conditions we edit our website files using PCs in libraries or cyber cafes and then must follow the above process in reverse to copy the updated web pages to the laptop. We most usually do this when we are generating pages which involve links to other websites as we can not create and test these on our laptop aboard Maringret as it is not connected to the internet.

Advanced Tools

In the most recent updating of the Maringret website we decided to modernize the website. This has involved introducing JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets (admittedly more as a novelty) and generating some Dynamic HTML (DHTML). We found the following books which helped us with our work:

Between Harbours

We usually attempt to update the website once or twice a year. As we have a complete copy of the website on the laptop, remembering that the links will not work as the laptop is not connected to the internet, we can continue to prepare pages in between those times. PageMill (or any equivalent program) is quite complete for generating new pages or updating old ones. Then when we get into a port long enough to search out cheap internet access, we usually have a backlog of files to upload to the site. As usual we carry our diskettes in to town and upload the files.

Capital Costs

  • an HTML editor such as KompoZer is really invaluable. There are various ones out there including some really good shareware versions. We don’t have any other specific website software.

Operating Costs

  • Upload (and download) costs we try to minimize. If libraries allow diskettes to be used in their machines then we try and use that method for moving files back and forth between our laptop and the website host server. This is usually (but not always) free in libraries. The next alternative is to use a commercial internet cafe although even some of these are now preventing use of the diskette drives. The third option would be to use our GSM mobile phone but that would be very expensive (in terms of connect time) indeed. Data communication costs can really add up when files are moving back and forth and like costs associated with the provision of the website, if appreciable costs were encountered in moving the files then the website would suffer accordingly.
  • There are no other specific costs to our website. Photo developing costs are something we are doing for ourselves anyway so we really can’t say that they are a website cost. The laptop serves numerous uses, generating and updating website pages is only one.

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