Computer Geekery

5/8/01 -- Last October after the RMMGA Texas 1 Gathering, I started working on ways to show lots of pictures on the web, without having lots of different web pages to maintain.

My first solution was to use Javascript, with a database of picture file names and captions built into a navigation frame. For example, see the TX1 Pictures.

There were two problems with this approach. First, not all users have Javascript enabled (for some good reasons). Second, the database format was clunky, built into the html of the page like this:
picFileNames[1] = "PA290020Web.JPG";
picCaptions[1] = "TX-1 Memorial Stepping Stone presented to us by Liz Gant.";

picFileNames[2] = "PA130003Web.JPG";
picCaptions[2] = "A gang of notorious miscreants gathers at an unsuspecting Hill Country resort.";

My second solution was to use a CGI script written in perl on the web server. This script is driven from a text file, in the same directory with the images, giving the file names and captions for the individual pictures.

This was better. The database was simpler, just a series of three-line entries giving the title for the link, the filename, and the caption:
Lee Collinson
Friday night -- Lee Collinson with his Sobell
Guy Snape
Friday night -- Guy Snape with Charles Park's Chelsvig
John Collyer
Friday night -- John Collyer with very sparkly 12-string

The CGI script also provides the option of using auxiliary files to describe the navigation and content frames.

For most practical purposes, that's probably the best solution. But twenty years of software design has its price, and I kept wondering what I might find if I used a real database. So I rewrote everything to keep pictures, captions, web-page formats, and everything else in an SQL database. It's a bit more complicated that way, but more versatile. For example, you can enter "TX" in the search window below, and get the TX-1 pictures. Or you can enter "RMMGA" and get links to both the sets of pictures I have from RMMGA Gatherings. Or you can enter nothing at all, and get a list of all the pictures shows (3) installed in the database:


The only problem with this approach is that there's no obvious way to provide working "forward" and "back" buttons in the navigation frame without redrawing that frame with every picture. Try entering "robot" in the search window and you'll see what I mean. And doing this would greatly diminish the (questionable) desirability of using frames in the first place.

Maybe it's time for another redesign!

If anybody is interested in using any of these systems for showing their own pictures on the web, or is interested in playing with the (hacker-level!) code, please contact me!

7/10/01 -- In the course of the "other redesign" mentioned above, I found that I needed to be able to look at all the images in a set, in order to write up the captions, etc. for entry into the database. I've been heading in the direction of database administration via the web. So it seemed that putting a set of thumbnails on the web, with links to their original pictures, was the right way to do this.

"ThumbNails" is the software package I developed as a result.

ThumbNails is an automated system for creating and maintaining web sites containing large numbers of photographic images. It will go through a group of directories filled with pictures, make thumbnail images of each picture, make HTML pages for each directory showing clickable thumbnails for each picture, and make an overall index.html document for the HTML pages it creates.

But that's not all! The system also includes a daemon which can run in the background, periodically checking the images directory and updating the site as needed. This makes the web site almost completely maintenance-free -- all the administrator needs to do is add or remove images, or directories full of images, as required. All changes will be automatically reflected onto the web site a few minutes later.

And there's more! Did you ever click on a thumbnail, only to be greeted by a picture in the upper left-hand corner of your browser on a glaring white background? ThumbNails includes an optional CGI script and output template, so that the images can be shown in a background of your choice.

ThumbNails should run on any standard UNIX or Linux system. It requires perl 5 and ImageMagick(TM), both of which are freely available. In order to put ThumbNails output on the web, of course, the machine must be running a web server and you must have appropriate access to its web hierarchy. And in order to use the CGI script, you need access to the CGI directory.

Check out the README. The latest ThumbNails software is available HERE.

8/17/01 -- I've just released ThumbNails version 2.0.1. This version adds the possibility of using a MySQL database to hold picture titles, captions, and other information. The picture information can be edited over the web. But ThumbNails now has its own web page. Look HERE for more details.

2/6/02 -- I've just released ThumbNails version 2.0.2. This version fixes a minor bug and adds two features. The bug required the user to quit and restart his web browser after an unsuccessful attempt to log in to the ThumbNails database, before the correct password would be accepted. ThumbNails now specifies the image sizes in the thumbnails pages, to keep the browser from reformatting and redrawing the page as it loads. ThumbNails can now sort its main index page in reverse order. Look HERE for more details.

2/20/05 -- I've spent the last two months or so finishing up a "modernized" version of my Macintosh game Cap'n Magneto. I started working on this new version in 1995, did a little more that you might have seen at the Hack Show at MacHack in 2000, and only now found the time to complete it. It's still in "classic" Mac code. I'll release a Carbonized version soon. Still Shareware, still $20. Get it from Cap'n Magneto's Web Site.

2/7/06 -- Mailto Transmogrifier -- This is just a little Mac OS X program to obfuscate "mailto:" links. You type in the email address and what you want the link to say, then press "Transmogrify". It translate everything into HTML entities representing the ASCII codes of the letters. It copies the result to the clipboard for easy pasting into whatever HTML editor you're working with. If you look at the HTML source of this page, you can see the results in the email link at the bottom. Mac OS X disk image, about 56k. Get it right here.

All content copyright 2000, 2001 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.
Please contact Al Evans if you have any problems, comments, or suggestions.