Last weekend I updated my gallery system. Most of the changes make it easier for me to upload pictures, but I also made two small externally-visible changes. First, newer galleries should load much faster because they no longer create thumbnails on the fly. Second, I have begun posting full-size images (example). To see them, click the displayed image on a gallery page.
Now that I have updated the gallery, I can finally post some pictures that I have neglected. Over the next two days, I will post accounts and pictures from some of the weekend trips I have taken, starting with trips to two open space preserves.
Rancho San Antonio
Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve is the closest OSP to the developed valley. In addition to great trails overlooking Sunnyvale and Cupertino, it has an open field for flying model planes—it even has a sign! "Caution: model plane area"—and a small educational farm. My hike started behind the model plane area and wound up the hillside via several switchbacks.
At the top of the hill I joined the "Pacific Gas and Electric trail", whose wide, sandy paths wandered around the feet of all-natural, virgin high-voltage power lines.
I then looped around into the woods and followed a dry creekbed back to the park entrance.
It was a short trip, but it certainly piqued my interest in seeing other parks.
A week after visiting Rancho San Antonio, I hiked around Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve. The park is perched at the top of the hills southwest of Los Altos, adjoining scenic Skyline Boulevard. It is covered with golden meadows with woods nestled in dips and valleys.
Borel Hill, the higest named point in the county at 2,572 feet, offered a spectacular view of the entire central peninsula. (If anyone has panorama stitching software, I would love to have the following pictures merged together. Hugin, the only software I have been able to find for Linux, crashes every time I run it.)
Unfortunately, I had to turn back earlier than expected due to leg trouble, but like Rancho San Antonio, the latter half of my hike took me through beautiful green forests.
These hikes were two of the highlights of my time here in California. The parks' beauty and proximity to Mountain View made them the perfect day trip destination. The unfortunate leg trouble prevented me from hiking any of the other two dozen parks, but I certainly plan to visit more if and when I return to Silicon Valley.
Last week I got an email from Benjamin Sutherland, an author for The Economist, asking about my Google Games experience. He found my weblog entry and wanted to interview me for a story on how businesses use Lego blocks. We spoke briefly on the phone, and I was quoted in this article. I do not know where the "weakest bridge" comment came from, but it is nonetheless cool to see my name—but no website link?—in a mainstream magazine.
This site has lain stagnant for far too long, and I realized it was time for a change. What better time than right before I change schools?
First, some backstory: I graduated from Purdue during my long silence. I now have my bachelor's degrees in computer science and math and will be moving to Champaign Illinois in nine days to begin my graduate career at the University of Illinois.
Because I graduated, my Purdue web account will expire at the end of the summer. I have kept this website for six years; I knew I wanted to keep it going through graduate school and beyond. This meant I needed to find other hosting. I ended up with Dreamhost because I have heard good things about them and they have all the functionality that I wanted for a good price. PHP 5, MySQL, Subversion, Unix shell, email, the works.
At first I was just going to move my old site over to the new hosting, but what fun would that be? One of the reasons that I think the old website stagnated was because I was handcuffed by the backend design. Some of you may remember that the site was split into two sections: the "Main" website with my artistic content and the weblog with my writing. What should I do when I wanted to write about an artistic creation? Also, the weblog picture gallery that I wrote was getting unweildy. My parents gave me a Nikon D70 as a graduation gift, and I wanted to be able to post a large number of pictures easily. The old website backend made it more difficult than it needed to be.
So I decided to rebuild the website. First, the design. I had a terrible time creating an attractive visual layout. I went through four mockups before deciding on the one you see now.
I also drastically changed the backend. Instead of using my custom-built weblog system, I decided to go with WordPress. The application is amazing. I was able to convert the mockup of my design into a custom Theme in just a few hours. Data conversion was even easier: I just wrote a quick SQL query to retrieve posts from my old database and insert them into the WordPress database. Unfortunately, I was unable to transfer the old comments because I did not want to have to mess with re-linking all of them to the posts' new database IDs. Other than that, I do not think it could have gone more smoothly.
I moved the rest of my non-database website content into the gallery and music sections. I completely rebuilt the gallery to integrate it into a WordPress template and support more user interaction. Now one can browse images without having to reload the page. It also supports subgalleries which allow me to display images by simply uploading a folder with XML metadata. It is pretty nice.
So here it is: the lastest version of BrettDaniel.com. What do you think? Please let me know if you have any questions or find any problems.
I dunno if you've ever heard of a googlewhack. It's a pair of dictionary words that, when entered into the google search engine, produce one unique result instead of, say, 2 billion. Anyway, I had found one, with the glorious phrase "extrasolar shenanigan", and just as I'd started showing this off to my fellow sad people with too much time to kill in front of computers, your weblog has appeared. If you have used the word "extrasolar" or "shenanigan" in the past few days, congratulations; you just stole my googlewhack.
No hard feelings. Just thought I'd let you know.
Ironically, I am nowhere near the top in a search for my own name.
How do I feel about this different audience? I am especially pleased that people are finding my graph maker useful. That is why I released it to the public domain; I was hoping people would find it, and I wanted them to feel free to use it. It would have made no sense to post such a simple script and say, "This is mine! Hands off!" I like thinking that perhaps I made the internet a tiny bit more useful for someone. I feel the same way about the Facebook and Illustrator posts. I hope to write more how-to and informative posts in the future.
I started adding bits and pieces to this website after Thanksgiving, but I had to postpone a new build until I finished the Two Weeks O' Projects. Somehow I found the time between finals and studying to finish and post it today. Here are all the new features:
Entry titles – I only titled a handful of the old posts. I may go through the more over Christmas break.
Private posts – I needed some way to save posts while I was working on them.
Search – This site was long overdue for a search box.
Reference links – This is cool. At the bottom of a permalink page, you can find a list of other weblog entries that reference that post.
Picture reference links – Pictures have reference links, too.
I have gotten word that the new design breaks for some Internet Explorer users. I'm ashamed to say I didn't even test outside of Firefox before posting. Bad form, I know. Experience failed me this time. Usually if a design works in a Gecko browser, it will work in IE. Rest assured a fix is on the way. Thanks for the feedback, everyone.
I traced the problem back to a negative margin on the dates underneath the post titles. IE just couldn't handle it.
Prompted by the fourth bullet in the previous post, I finally rebuilt the inner workings of this weblog. About time! I kept the design intact but completely overhauled the backend code to accomodate the database-driven architecture I should have had from the beginning. This opened up the possibility for loads of new functionality. For one thing, it makes it far easier for me to post and edit entries. No more flat files! I just open up my password-protected form, type in my entry, and click "Post". Browsing the archives is now a whole lot easier. I added "Older" and "Newer" links at the bottom of the page, and each entry has absolutely beautiful permalinks. Just click the timestamp at the end of this post to see what I mean. Similarly, pictures have nice URLs and are easier to browse, too. Each picture displays above the thumbnails of other pictures in its directory. Finally, and best of all: commenting! You can now contribute your insights and opinions like on all the cool kids' websites.
The most difficult problem with this migration was getting the entries out of the old monthly flat files and into the database. I think right around late 2002 was when the archives became unwieldy. Fortunately, I used relatively clean markup (thank you, style sheets!), so I was able to write a quick extract-and-insert program that regex'd out all the entries and loaded them into the database. I had to modify a few of the odd cases by hand, but overall, the process went quickly.
The second most difficult problem was getting the nice URLs to work consistently across the site. I used Mod_Rewrite, Apache's URL manipulation module, to give the illusion of a directory structure in both the archive and picture links. In reality, everything after "archives/" or "gallery/?path=pictures/oldweblog/" is mapped to a query string that the code uses to create the pages. For example, this link is exactly the same as this link only more elegant. Again, I used regular expressions to search and replace the links in the text of archived entries.
The moral of the previous two paragraphs is this: if you see something garbled, missing, or broken, it was probably an unruly regex match. Please leave a comment under the offending entry, and I will go fix the problem.
I suppose it's obvious now that I was redesigning the main site during the stretch between Christmas and New Years. I had wanted to replace the old blue and yellow site for a long, long time but never managed to create a design that clicked. Everything finally came together when I decided to base the main header and color scheme on one of my favorite panoramas.