I've received some questions about how I created this site so I am answering them in bulk here. The creation and maintenance of this site is actually pretty straightforward. I'm not sure how interesting this information is, but here it is anyway.
This site first started on GeoCities in 1997 but I bailed when Yahoo! took over. Yahoo! messed up big time in their transition and locked me out of my own site for over a month. Their customer service was miserable. Even though they later changed their policy, at one time they claimed rights to the content of my site in violation of my copyright. I will never deal with them again. I moved to Tripod for about a year, but I left when they changed their terms of service and would no longer serve images outside their own site. I was on TrainWeb since November 1999 until Sept 19, 2002. I was mostly happy with their service. Not only are their servers fast, the server space used by this site is absolutely free with no set size limits. I got a little irritated by the banners that TrainWeb eventually put on all their free pages. The banner itself wasn't a problem, they were giving me the space for free and they needed to get something out of it. The banners were tasteful and promoted only other sites on TrainWeb itself. The irritating part was the way that the banners were implemented. The code is just shoved in front of the page code at the time of page service. This made the delivered page fail miserably on an HTML correctness check. It also totally messes up the page titles as displayed in the major search engines such as Google.
In September 2002, unrelated events sent me packing again. Apple's hosting service which had been free started costing $100 a year for 100 meg. I wasn't using the service but my daughter was. We determined that it was cheaper to buy a domain and generic hosting than to continue with Apple for her site. Our whole family then had much more disk space available than all the other hosting services combined for less than $10/mo and the space was ours to do with as we wished. My domain also costs $15/yr. Once the hosting service was up, I moved my site there too so that I could continue to expand it. My new domain at girr.org is my own and it'll stay that way. My hosting service can and has changed since then, but the domain is still there. I've left a static image of the site on TrainWeb because there are so many links that point there and I rank so high on some of Google's searches. I won't be updating the TrainWeb image as of 19 Sep 02.
Counters have been a recurring problem. I didn't have any at all for the first five months or so. The first GeoCities counters were installed on Dec 17, 1997. When I left GeoCities in October 1998 and went to in Tripod, I had to reinstall all my counters with the Tripod supported version and that forced all the counts back to zero. I did record the counts as I left GeoCities though. When I left Tripod in Oct 1999, I recorded my hits...then I lost them. All the hits that accumulated in a year at Tripod are probably lost. This happened AGAIN when I moved to TrainWeb at the end of October 1999. TrainWeb dropped their counter service in April of 2002 so my counters broke. I had a record of the hits at TrainWeb as of February 2002. I had no counters at all until I moved the site again to my own domain in September 2002. I then rebuilt all my counters YET AGAIN using the hosting service's counters. This time, I started the counters at the sum of the GeoCities and TrainWeb recorded hits plus an estimate for the period where there was no counter information.
From TrainWeb I first moved to FrontDrive. FrontDrive was eventually bought out by ANHost. ANHost was then bought out by MidPhase. At least the hosting service used the same kind of servers and software (Linux cPanel) so that I didn't have to convert my counters yet again.
If I had the energy, I'd write my own counter code and run it from my web host and never have to go through this pain again.
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I'm not an expert at hosting web sites, but I've moved hosts often enough that I've become experienced at it. The Large Scale Train Pages has had five different hosts in five years and I've used my ISP provided home page and mac.com for some other stuff.
Hosting services come in basically two flavors. Hosts like Geocities and Tripod are targeted at beginning users. They try to make it easy to get started by providing web page generators and on-line editing. Their services are usually limited to small personal sites, but they are also usually free. The more serious hosts, like commercial sites use, provide only the hosting service. You have to bring your own domain name, experience and preprepared site. All these hosts provide is lots of disk and a means to get the data there. TrainWeb is kind of a cross between the two. They provide a domain and disk space, but little else, but then again, the price is right.
It is not difficult to set up your own domain and find a hosting service to host your site. By doing so, you'll be able to keep your domain name for as long as you wish. If your host's service isn't so hot or he goes belly up, you can move to another host and nothing appears to change.
You'll usually be dealing with two entities, the domain name registrar and the hosting service. Some hosting services also act as agents for a domain name registrar so that you can get a domain name from them too but if you leave that host, you might have to leave your domain behind too and this defeats the purpose of having your own domain.
A domain is a name for your site. All of the .com, .org, .edu etc. thingies are domains. You "rent" one from a domain registration service. I use Dotster.com but there are many of them out there. If the domain isn't currently "owned" by somebody, you can register it by the year. Dotster.com charges $15/year which is about as low as I've seen it. There used to be actual differences between the extensions on domains names but these have sort of evaporated. The original meanings were:
|Domain Extension||Original Classification|
|.com||All for profit and commercial sites|
|.net||network service providers|
|.gov||US, State and Local Government Sites|
.net and .org are generally available. Anybody can get these domains. .com is still commercial but anybody can use a .com domain for just about anything. .edu, .gov and .mil are still restricted to these services. Most registration agencies can't issue these domains.
International domains are also available and you don't have to be in the country that possesses the domain to register some of them. These are usually two letter extensions.
Once you have found a registrar and picked an available domain and paid for it, you can start looking for a host. ANHost and PowWeb are two low cost bare bones hosts. I currently used Midphase Website Hosting who actually bought out ANHost. Each host offers some combination of disk space, monthly bandwidth, email services and such so you have to compare them to determine which one that you want to use. You'll use your domain name to sign up with the host and pay them some money to set up your service. Most hosts will also provide email as well so that once you have a domain, you can set up your own email addresses and keep them for as long as you keep your domain.
Most hosts also allow multiple domains to point to one site. If several domains are just pointed to exactly the same place, all the extra ones are said to be "parked." This is a way for a domain owner to own several domains that do essentially the same thing. A "subdomain" is a construct that allows modification of the basic domain name so that the subdomains point to directories inside the main directory. Most hosts will allow unlimited subdomains. An "addon" domain is a regular registered domain name that points to a subdirectory in the main site. My daughter's domain, ayanamichan.com, points to a directory inside girr.org so calls to her domain go directly there. Most hosts allow a limited number of addon domains. An addon domain is an easy way to share one block of disk space between what appear to be completely different sites.
After your hosting service is established, you'll have to upload your site to their servers, probably using some sort of FTP client. The host will give you instructions on how to do this. After uploading, your site is sitting there but nobody can find it.
The last thing that you need to do is inform your domain registration service which DNS (Domain Name Server) to use to connect your domain with your site. Your hosting service will supply you with at least two DNS names (a primary and a backup). When you give these names to your domain registration service, they will redirect calls to your domain to the domain name servers. The hosting service owns the domain name servers. As part of setting up your account, your host will load information into the DNS that directs requests for your domain to your site. This operation usually takes a day or two until all the DNS systems update correctly.
After that is done, a user that types your domain into his location bar should be presented with your site.
Should you ever need to change your host, you have to go through this whole process again, except that you still have your domain. When you redirect your domain name registration service to point to a new set of DNS names, all accesses to your domain will go to the new host. If you had set everything up with the new host ahead of time, it magically happens and nobody will be the wiser.
In summary, these are the steps that you need to go through to set up your own web site under your own domain.
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I roll my own HTML using a Macintosh. I use plain old text editor to write my HTML. Any plain text editor will do, word processors are less desirable. Newer versions of Word are HTML savvy, but also have problems trying to save a text file with an extension of anything other than .TXT. Word also has a distorted idea of what HTML should be. If you should make the mistake of saving the file while in the HTML view in Word 97, it will completely trash your code and turn it into some Microsoft-like abortion that doesn't get close to HTML specs. Even MS Office for OS X messes with HTML in unacceptable fashions.
You'll notice that this whole site is constructed with minimal complexity and no proprietary code features, such as Flash, at all. My site design philosophy emphasizes content and then function over form. Fancy graphics load slower and don't really add to the page content. Graphic buttons don't actually work any better than text buttons and they take longer to load. Loud colors often conflict with the content. Loud or complex backgrounds actually detract from the readability of a page. Animated graphics do little to enhance the content and take time to load. I hear enough background music in elevators, it doesn't need to be placed on web sites.
I use perhaps 25 different HTML tags in the whole site. Each page looks much like the others as I create new pages by copying old ones and I change only the content.
The pages are written with very few FONT attributes because I don't know which fonts are installed on any target system. I only change the relative size once in a while. Also, the user has selected a default font which he/she presumably likes so I let the browser use the default. I don't use any hard page width features (except the natural width of some of the larger graphics). I let the browser determine how to lay out tables and where line and page breaks should be. The plain gray (or white in some cases) background is easy for the browser to suppress during printing and is easy on the eyes as it doesn't contrast with the content. This makes all the pages printer friendly by default.
The site is constructed to be strictly compliant with HTML 3.2. This is a very old HTML spec, but every browser supports it so I don't have to test on every browser. The site will run fine on a standards compliant browser. If there is some "feature" of a browser that causes some problem, I will not code around it. The user can either get a better browser or go elsewhere.
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My main development hardware currently is a 20" Core Duo iMac running OS X. Over the years, parts of this site were developed on a Quadra 700, a PowerBook 1400, a PowerMac 6100, a PowerMac 7100, a dual USB iBook and a 15" Aluminum PowerBook. I still own all these computers and they all still work but the Quadra and the 6100's have been retired as they won't run OS X.
Macintosh hardware seems to have a much longer service life than PC hardware. I usually get 7 or more years out of a Macintosh model before it gets too old to bother upgrading or too slow/small to run newer software. Most of the computers that I own were purchased used or discounted at the end of their sales life so that they were already old before I started with them. PC hardware is usually toast in 3 years.
I find the Macintosh platform to be much more stable than the alternative and it doesn't do all the weird frustrating things that "that other OS" does. I'm forced to use Win2000 and XP at work and I hate them. In particular, Mac OS X is very easy to use and completely stable. In the many years that I have been using OS X, the only three times it has actually crashed was when I was under the hood with root privileges (where I shouldn't have been) mucking with device drivers for an otherwise unsupported device.
There may not be as many software titles available for the Mac, but the ones that are available are generally of higher quality and are easier to use than titles for the PC. Further, many of the really good ones are either freeware or shareware.
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My text editor of choice is BBEdit Lite. This is a virtually perfect tool for working with any kind of source document that contains no internal formatting and is entirely adequate for most users. For true power users, the full version of BBEdit is considered to be the preferred weapon of choice.
While I was still using OS 8.6 or 9.1, I used SpellTools to spell check the HTML as it doesn't trip on the tags like my old version of Word does. I also used either Netscape Navigator or iCab to interpret and display the site locally to check for format and to make sure that the links work. iCab is a Macintosh browser that also does a first level check on the format of the HTML to verify that it complies to the version of HTML identified in the DOCTYPE tag.
I usually write to HTML v3.2. A few pages may still be written to the 4.0 or 4.01 Transitional standard but I am trying to weed them out and convert them to v3.2. I found that not all browsers interpret 4.0 or 4.01 standard code properly so I really try to stick to the HTML 3.2 standard as it seems to work properly in all browsers. Internet Explorer 4 seems to have the most difficulty with some legal constructs in HTML 4.01. I don't test my code in anything but my latest browser of choice, Camino, because if the code is written to spec, it ought to work. If it doesn't, then too bad. That user ought to get a better browser.
After a page is complete, I use HTML Tidy (available for most platforms at Raggert's) to do a more formal check of the HTML. I run Tidy as a Filtertop filter so that I can batch process files by just dragging a bunch of them and dropping them on a Tidy filter. Tidy is also available as a tool within BBEdit Lite. After Tidy approves, I use Fetch, a Macintosh FTP utility, to upload the site to my host. Sometimes I run the page through the W3C validator as a final check on the correctness of the HTML, but if Tidy approves, the W3C checker usually does too.
Note that BBEdit Lite, SpellTools, Netscape Navigator, iCab, Tidy, FilterTop, Camino, Safari and Fetch in their current forms are all freeware or shareware for the Macintosh. You can build a very effective HTML development environment for $zip.zero. You can find the latest versions of these applications, or any other Macintosh application, at VersionTracker.com.
Those Mac users that have moved to OS X will find that their tools will need updating. Fetch 4, GraphicConverter, BBEditLite 6.1 are available in Carbon or Cocoa to run on OS X. Spelltools has not received an update, but if BBEditLite ever goes to Cocoa, it will work with the OS X built in spell check utility. There is a Carbon spell checker, Excalibur that does a good job under OS X. It will also batch check files if they exist in the same folder. It is not naturally HTML aware so that you have to teach it the tags first or load its HTML library. There is a Tidy plug in for BBEdit Lite so that BBEditLite 6.1 will also do HTML checks. OmniWeb (shareware) is a good browser for OS X for those of you that don't want to use Internet Explorer or iCab. GraphicConverter will do everything that you need for graphics conversions. I use MacDraw Pro to draw line art, but it is ancient, and even its successor, ClarisDraw, is obsolete. AppleWorks on OS X has a drawing utility but unfortunately it has serious bugs in the drawing package making it nearly useless. There are other good drawing programs out there too, but only one will import MacDraw Pro files. This is EasyDraw which I have started to use since I got the Core Duo iMac which will not run the old MacDrawPro. PrintToPDF is no longer necessary in OS X as PDF files can be created by the OS X print dialog.
Links are continual maintenance problem. Even if you just link to yourself, you have to test them. Links to external sites tend to change with time as sites come, go or move to new locations. An automated link checker, such as Link Checker (Macintosh only but there are others for other platforms) is a valuable tool to automatically test all the links in your site. You have to fix (or delete) them yourself, but at least once in a while, you can make them all good.
The following table summarizes the tools that a Macintosh user should download (easiest through VersionTracker.com).
|Tool Name||Version||Function||Available For||Type||Cost||Notes|
|Mac OS X||Mac OS 9
|BBEdit Lite||6.1||Text Editing||Carbon||yes||Freeware||$0||Heavy duty version available|
|SpellTools||Spell checker||no||yes||Freeware||$0||Works in any Classic application but continued support is uncertain|
|OmniWeb||4.1||Web Browser||Cocoa||no||Shareware||$29.95||Very pretty interface, but some stability and rendering problems. Can be used for free as Nagware|
|iCab||3.0.2 beta||Web Browser||Carbon||yes||Beta||$29||Checks HTML validity and creates an error report. Can be used as Freeware. Pro version will require a license when released.|
|Camino||1.0b2||Web Browser||Partly Cocoa,
|no||Freeware||$0||Another free Mac browser, my current favorite|
|Safari||2.02||Web Browser||Cocoa||yes||Freeware||$0||Supplied and supported by Apple as part of Mac OS X|
|NetScape Navigator||6||Web Browser||Carbon||yes||Freeware||$0|
|Mozilla||Alpha 1.1||Web Browser||Carbon||yes||Freeware||$0|
|Tidy||1.0b10||HTML correctness checking||plugin for BBEdit, no standalone version||Standalone, BBEdit plugin or FilterTop filter||Freeware||$0||Checks and corrects HTML. Works well on code that is close to standards, can get completely confused by really bad code. Versions available for many platforms.|
|Filtertop||1.1||Tool for creating automatic file processing scripts||no (but works in Classic)||yes||Freeware||$0||Very powerful tool for doing batch processing of many kinds of files. Pick from a set of predefined tools and string them together into a complete script. Tidy is one such predefined tool.|
|Balthisar Tidy||0.1||HTML correctness checking||Standalone||n/a||Freeware||$0||Checks and corrects HTML. Works well on code that is close to standards, can get completely confused by really bad code.|
|Fetch||4.0.2||FTP Utility||Cocoa||yes||Shareware||$25||General purpose FTP tool for uploading web pages to a server. Drag and drop operation on single or multiple files.|
15 days of full functionality, then becomes crippled
|$25||General purpose FTP tool for uploading web pages to a server. Drag and drop operation on single or multiple files. Shows hidden files.|
|GraphicConverter||5.7.3||General purpose graphic editor and file converter.||Carbon||yes||Shareware||$30||Will read and write virtually every graphics file format ever invented. Fairly powerful graphic editing but it's not PhotoShop. Can be used as Nagware.|
|Excalibur||4.0||Spell Checker||Carbon||yes||Freeware||$0||Designed to check Latex documents, but works fine on HTML if the HTML plugin is installed.|
|Link Checker||1.0.6||Link checker||Cocoa||no||Shareware||$20||Can be used as Crippleware for free in the demo mode (only reports on every other bad link)|
|VersionTracker.com||n/a||Software Update Website||yes||yes||Freeware||$0||lists latest updates of most Commercial, Freeware and Shareware products. Fully functional at no cost, but additional features available for a subscription.|
|Commercial||Available for purchase only, no trial version.|
|Freeware||Fully functional version offered for use at no charge|
|Shareware||Offered as a trial version for free, registration charge requested usually on the honor system. Subsets are Nagware and Crippleware|
|Nagware||Fully functional shareware that continually nags the user to pay up|
|Crippleware||Partially functional Shareware. "Demo" mode give some functionality but some critical functions are disabled until a license is purchased.|
Since the introduction of Lion and Mountain Lion, many of the tools in the table above broke. Specifically, all the Carbon and PPC only versions are toast. These are the tools I use in Mountain Lion. This is a much smaller set.
|BBEdit||10.1.2||Text Editor||Commercial||Mac App Store||$50||Heavy duty version includes Tidy, spell check and anything else you might need|
|Safari||6.0.1||browser||Freeware||Apple||$0||Included with every Mac, update via the Mac App Store|
|Fetch||5.7.3||FTP||Commercial||Mac App Store||$30||Highly reliable FTP utility|
|GraphicConverter||8.1||General purpose graphic editor and file converter||Commercial||Mac App Store||$39||Will read and write virtually every graphics file format ever invented. Fairly powerful graphic editing but it's not PhotoShop.|
|Pixelmator||2.1.2||Graphic creation/painting/drawing||Commercial||Mac App Store||$30||Almost Photoshop in terms of editing capability|
|EazyDraw||4.4||Vector Graphics||Commercial||Mac App Store||$30||More powerful version 5 is $95 but version 4 works well enough. A lighter weight version, EazyDraw 3.8.4, is $15.|
Note that most of these tools come from the Mac App Store, all update via the Mac App Store. I have found that the Mac App Store is an effective and generally inexpensive way to buy software. You essentially get a site license to each piece of software. The standard Mac App Store license allows use on every computer that you own or control. There are no license keys to worry about and updates are free and painless.
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HTML is pretty easy to learn and write from scratch so it is not really necessary to use a page layout tool to do a simple site like this one. This site may be big, but it is still constructed in a very simple manner.
If you've ever used a "text formatter" such as runoff or nroff (from pre-WYSIWYG days), then HTML will come pretty easy. An official reference document defining HTML 3.2 can be found at The W3C HTML 3.2 Reference Specification. There is also a similar document for HTML 4.01.
My main HTML reference is "The HTML SourceBook, Third Edition" by Ian S. Graham. It describes more than you need to know about HTML and site design. There are perhaps 200 other books available at any major bookseller that are equivalent.
I've tried several low end page layout tools and I've found them more trouble than they are worth. Netscape Communicator has an integrated low end tool that I've found to be especially useless. The HTML tools in Word 97 (for the PC) are not only poor, but actually destructive. Word 97 can take clean code and turn it into garbage automatically. Although I haven't tried them much, newer versions of Word seem to act the same or worse than Word 97.
After you get a little experience with HTML, you'll know how it will look when rendered by a browser so the semi-WYSIWYG layout tools really aren't much help. Besides, some of them insert so much garbage into the file that it is nearly impossible to edit it by hand later. I'd like to see a tool that displays the HTML source in one window and the interpreted HTML in another such that you can edit in either window and the other is automatically updated. If you want to do a really fancy site with a side bar menu and lots of graphics, you might want to invest in a high end page layout tool. I cannot recommend one (because I have little experience with the expensive high end tools) but you might want to stay completely away from FrontPage.
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Many of the smaller pictures were taken with a Casio QV-10A digital camera and were downloaded to an older Macintosh with a serial cable. Some of the pictures were 35 mm prints scanned on a Artec color scanner with PhotoShop LE and saved as JPEG with maximum compression. Most of the better photos were taken with a Nikon CoolPix 900 and saved as VGA sized (640 x 480) or megapixel (1280 x 960) images and then cropped or scaled as necessary. This camera uses a Compact Flash card for storage. The photos were either downloaded to a desktop machine over a serial cable or the CF card was plugged into a laptop and the pictures were directly copied from the CF card. The Macintosh has no trouble with PC formatted CF cards.
Since 2004, I have been using a Sony DCR TRV33 camcorder to shoot the stills. The camera is only 1 megapixel, but I still have to reduce the images to 40% to make them a reasonable size. I do this in GraphicConverter while naming each picture.
The Casio photos are 72 dpi, 24 bit color, heavily compressed and stored in JPEG format. I used the software that came with the Casio to download a picture from the camera and save it in PICT format. I then used GraphicConverter to convert the image to JPEG format. The Casio shots are about 20 Kbyte each on the Web server and the scanned pictures about 30 Kbyte. Some of the Nikon photos have been cropped to a smaller size and compressed to 15K to 26K each. Some of them are still 640 x 480 stored at "normal" compression. The low resolution and heavy compression is the reason that the smaller images load faster than most. It is also the reason that some of them aren't extremely sharp. Another reason for lack of sharpness is the crummy lens on the Casio which actually blurs the images more than the low digital resolution does. The Casio images also have higher contrast than the Nikon images which tends to cause highlights and shadows on the Casio pictures to saturate. The Nikon photos are stored in JPEG format in the camera so it is only necessary to scale and crop the images as appropriate using GraphicConverter.
A few of the photos have been annotated right on the photo. This is done with Adobe Photo Deluxe.
All the line drawings were done on MacDraw Pro and saved in PICT format. EasyDraw is a suitable substitute for MacDrawPro where the old "Classic" environment doesn't work (with the newer Intel bases Macintosh computers). GIFConverter was then used to convert the PICT format to GIF. GIFConverter can do PICT to GIF translations with drag-and-drop so it makes the conversion very easy. GraphicConverter will do this conversion as well. In this case, the graphic is copied to the Clipboard and then GraphicConverter is instructed to open a new graphic using the Clipboard contents.
I've found through experiment that the GIF format works better for line drawings and the JPEG format works better for the photos. If I save the line drawings as JPEG, the lines tend to get fuzzy and the background isn't pure white. Photos saved as GIF lose their 24 bit color and look worse on monitors capable of supporting thousands or millions of colors.
The Military Railways and Electric Railways book images were created by scanning each page of the book in GIF format. The GIFs were then cropped and rotation corrected in GraphicConverter. Each cleaned GIF was then imported into a Word file to string them together and add a copyright notice. The Word file was then "printed" to a PDF file with a Chooser extension called PrintToPDF. PrintToPDF on the Mac did this job properly, Adobe Distiller (run on a PC) did not.
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As of July 2010, this whole site currently consumes about 3.5 GB total for its 4557 or so files and folders. 68.31 Meg of that are PDF files for the Military Railways book, another 79.72 Meg are PDF files for the Electric Railways book and there are 7.54 Meg worth of videos.
I keep an image of the site on my Macintosh in one folder so that I can test the whole site by using a browser in a local mode. To display a file, I just drag and drop it on a browser window or icon. The folders are listed by date so that revised files float to the top. When I get around to uploading changes or additions, it is only necessary to upload the files at the top of the list by dragging a group of them and dropping the group onto Fetch and up they go.
I do maintain the dates and update notices of most of my pages to help direct the reader to the newer stuff. I have invented some rules to determine when and where an update notice is posted. These rules are described in the table below.
|Notice Location||Notice Changed If:|
|Home Page Links||
|Main Sub Page Links (i.e. Tips Index)||
|Subject Page (i.e. Tips Page)||
|Page Update Date (i.e. at the very bottom of each page)||
Updated for ANY change including changes not significant enough to draw attention such as:
For example, I don't consider the addition of this table to be significant enough to post an update notice on my home page. This would draw readers here for something that is probably not worth reading if this page has been read before.
© 1997-2012 George Schreyer
Created Oct 12, 1997
Last Updated October 19, 2012