Tag: website

A revamped home page

Following on the “back to basics” theme, I spent a few hours this morning retooling my website, simplifying it and cleaning it up. It is still a work-in-progress, and while it is not as bare-bones as my reading list, I have tried to keep it simple.

I was excited to be able to add the new bibliography section. It’s nice to be able to list a publication for which I have been paid!

Expect some more changes and a little more content over the next week or so, but not a whole lot. I really am trying to keep this stuff simple and stable so that I don’t have to spend much time maintaining it.

Back to basics!

Back in January 1996, I had a simple goal of reading 1 book per week, or 52 books a year. It’s funny how simple things evolve. Not long after I set my goal, I decided I needed a way to capture the list of books that I read. I started, naturally enough, using an Excel file, which worked fine, but it had it’s limits. For one thing, at least back in 1996, it was not easy to post my Excel file on the web and I wanted to share my progress. So I switched to HTML. Of course, that led to ever more creative ways for managing the list. My HTML evolved into delimited list files, processed by a set of perl scripts. There was still quite a bit of manual work involved, but this worked well for a while. Years later, it seemed that the thing to do was to convert all of the perl scripts to PHP and store the lists in a relational database–which I did on my local machine. I then wrote scripts to upload changes to my website each night. This worked pretty well, too. Finally, I evolved an elaborate SQL database and a collection of massive PHP scripts all of which was hosted at my ISP.

But there was always a problem: I never had the time to fully develop the interfaces to these applications to make them easy to update and maintain. So while I had the scripts and the pretty HTML lists, I still was essentially typing SQL commands to update the database.

Over the last several months, I haven’t been updating my reading list the way I used to and it occurred to me that if after 11 years, I could not come up with an easy system for maintaining the list, I would never come up with it. These days, I have neither the time nor the inclination to do it, so today, I gave up and went back to basics on a number of levels.

First, I went back to a slightly more elaborate (and better designed) version of my original excel spreadsheet from back in 1996. It’s more elaborate only in that I know a lot more about Excel now than I did then and am able to do some things more elegantly. But it is incredibly easy to maintain. It takes me less than a minute to add a book to my list!

Second, I have fought a constant battle of page design, trying to keep up with various trends in look and feel, RSS, AJAX and all of the rest of the stuff that makes the web look so good these day. It’s a losing battle for me. I do this stuff constantly at work and I simply don’t want to do it at home anymore. So I decided to eschew all ornamentation and go back to basic, circa 1996 HTML. No style sheets. No fancy formatting. But it’s clear, easy to read, and presents the information without an effort on my part.

I’ve consolidated my new reading list into one single page, rather than a page for each year.

To make up for this retro look and feel, I’ve added some new things. First, I’ve reinstated my favorite books page, which went away several years back. This is a page that lists my all-time favorite books, books which I have given 5 out of 5 stars. Second, I update the FAQ for the list. Last, but not least, I developed a consolidated statistics page and packed it with all kinds of new information that I’ve never posted before. For people who are interested in that kind of stuff, it’s pretty cool.

These pages are easy to update from my master spreadsheet and so I don’t anticipate them getting stale again. I also don’t anticipate any fancy interface updates. It’s plain vanilla, but it works. And best of all, I feel as though a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Wrap up

I spent about 6-7 hours today working on interfaces for my book collection/reading list databases. It’s possible that by tomorrow I will have enough in place to make some of this more public so that people who are curious can take a look.

I’m quitting for the night on this, and I’m just going to relax for the rest of the evening.

The driver side door on my car has a problem. When I opened it the other morning, I heard a pop. The cable that attaches from the car to the door to help the door open slowly and keep it in place snapped. I vaguely recall this happened to me once before many years ago (or maybe it was Tawnya’s car?). It’s not a problem, I just have to be careful when I open the door that it doesn’t fly open. But at some point, I should get it fixed.

I got my T-Mobile bill today and sure enough, I completely forgot to pay it last month; the new bill was exactly twice as much as usual. Oops.

A few minutes ago, I received email from Norm (of vickyandnorm fame). He emailed me from his flight from London to New York asking if it was unusual that the outside temperature at 38,000 feet was -75 C. For some reason, I found that amusing.

In the course of the last 3 hours that I have been writing code, I have listened to 46 songs in iTunes “party shuffle” mode. That’s an average of just under 4 minutes per song. I don’t know what made me think of checking that, but I think it means it’s time to go.

Free day tomorrow!

Book database updates

I got home from work at about 6 PM and I have been working on updates to the book/reading database ever since (virtually without stopping). My goal for the weekend was to (finally) get the web-based interfaces for updating the database put together and I made pretty good progress tonight. I got the interfaces for titles and publications well underway and working for the most part. There are several additional components to each of the interfaces that need to be added. And I need an web interface to the reading list that allows me to update, but I plan on getting those done tomorrow.

And then on Sunday, some searching capabilities…

Improvements to online databases coming soon!

At home, I maintain my book collection, reading list, and story submissions databases within MySQL on my iMac. I have scripts that take this data and either build static pages, or create flat files that can be used by perl or PHP scripts to present the data on my website. Currently, my reading list is of the former category, static pages updated nightly. My book collection and story submission log are of the latter category, where flat files of the data are uploaded nightly and the data is presented via perl scripts on the website.

As of this morning, I have signed up for the MySQL database service offered by my ISP, Panix. With this service, I can maintain all of this data in MySQL databases hosted by my ISP and access these databases via Perl, PHP, Python, and C. What all of this means is that in the coming weeks, there should be some dramatic improvements to the capabilities you will see in these three databases, better searching, richer information, some pretty cool stuff.

Developing the public-facing code is not the problem (after all, I make a living doing application development, most of which involves databases). Finding the time to develop the public-facing code is another issue. But keep your eyes peeled for these changes. I’ll be sure to announce them as they are completed.

Book collection database online

Yesterday, I worked at getting my story submission log online. Today, I began the process of getting my book collection database online. I’ve stated with a few simple, common queries and over the next few weeks, I will add in some additional features, including the ability to search the database. For now, you can see things like most frequent authors and signed books by going to:


In the coming weeks and month, I am will be working on changes to my web site. I’m not worrying about look and feel for the moment, just trying to improve the content. The submission and book collection databases are the first steps in that direction. You can also look forward to improvements to my reading list as well as some useful scripts to help track my workouts.

Mine will be a web site in the true geek sense of the words.

Story Submission Log

I’ve been meaning to do this for years, and I finally got around to it this afternoon. For the last 14 years, my haphazard system for keeping track of my story submissions has been a set of index cards. Yes, that’s right! I make my living as a software developer and I still use index cards in place of a database. The system is far from perfect, but it has worked for me, for the most part, except between 1998-2000 when I was hardly writing at all.

Today, I have not only captured this information in a simple database, but it is available for viewing online at:


Clicking that link will show you my active submissions: those stories that I have sent out and that I have not yet heard back on. There are a few links at the top of the page that will allow you to view all submissions in the database. Also, you can view submissions by story are market by clicking on the link for the corresponding story or market. It’s a very simple system but I hope to make some improvements in the not-too-distant future.

The system currently contains my submissions back through 2000. When I have a little more time, I will get the rest of the submission into the database. My list goes back to 1993 so there is still a lot more to get in. I will also be adding some submission stats when I have more time. But I’ve done enough for this evening.