Sorry it didn’t work out, Movable Type

I have changed my blogging software from Movable Type to WordPress, and it took a little while to get over feeling guilty about it.  I never really gave Movable Type a real chance, as I didn’t learn to use it beyond just writing posts and having them presented in the default appearance.  If it’s possible to feel a sense of betrayal for abandoning something that is not only inanimate but ephemeral, I felt it.  For a few hours.

The blog had been added, as had many features of the site, quickly and improperly.  I kept meaning to go back and alter the appearance to fit the rest of the site, and to integrate my own header so the menus were present.  As so often happens, it didn’t happen.  Finally this weekend after constructive criticism from my sister, I put in a bit of time to get the blog looking like every other page.

Movable Type is excellent software and makes great blogs.  A couple of things about its design, though, meant I hand’t learnt how to fully customize it.  It uses a proprietary system of markup tags to enable formatting and page layout, and I didn’t really want to learn another markup language.  Also, pages are implemented as static files, so changing the layout resulted in a lengthy republishing step, even for my small blog.  Mostly, though, it was a feeling that I was dealing with an application rather than a language.  I’d have to ask MT to do something for me, and then guess where the files were that had been changed, and what had been done to them.  I suppose the point is that you’re expected to deal only with the application, and allow it to perform the site publication.  But I wanted to change things, take out their header and include my own, and to have snippets of the blog on other pages, and so on.  I’m sure there’s a way to do this in MT, but it wasn’t something I could learn quickly.

WordPress LogoSo I had a look at WordPress, and liked several things I saw.  For starters, it’s written in PHP, so to learn to change things I’d have to improve my minimal PHP knowledge, which would be a good thing.  It seemed easy to customize and there was not the same feeling of separation from the source files that I’d had with MT.  The programmer in me isn’t happy unless I can see the source, and preferably, work on it directly.  Anyway it took only a couple of hours from starting reading about WordPress, until I had it running, with my previous content imported, and the header file modified to include my own header and menus.  This will also shame me into upgrading the 90′s-era server side includes (.shtml) files) currently serving as the front and back pages, which include a variety of Perl CGI  programs through a rather fragile system of hacks I put together.  I’ll re-do all the static pages in PHP, and put the CGI functionality directly into the page rather than off in a separate process.  Hopefully this will speed things up.

So overall a positive experience, I felt definite pangs particularly when I asked MT to export its own content so another program could take over, but I’m glad it’s pushed me to PHP and the many advantages that offers.

Better Menus, Better Searching

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I searched for my site in Google recently, and discovered two things.  Firstly, I am the most popular “I Do Im” search result in all of Googledom.  I’m not sure this is much of an achievement since my competition is  ”I do imdb”, a phrase not in common usage.  Still, it is a small victory.
The second discovery had its ups and downs.
At some point since I last vanity-searched my website, Google has deemed me worthy of sitelinks.  Either my ranking has risen, or they’ve lowered their standards, but either way, now I have them.  Great.  But man, those are some awful sitelinks.  They’re supposed to take you to useful parts of the site, but mine are just a jumble of digits.  Where did they come from?
I suspect the answer is, poor site design.  I’ve been using images for the menu bar since day one, and I suspect that the Google search engine places particular importance on the menu bar and the pages it leads to.  My menus were graphical, and I didn’t have well-formatted alt text to describe where each link went (Programs, Search and so on), so the Google bot just took links at random.  Possibly they’re links to program codes, but whatever they are, what they are not is useful.
This discovery has led to a long-overdue redesign of my menus.  When I originally put the site up (which was the middle of the Blair era, or the end of the Clinton era, whichever you prefer), graphical menus were the way to go, or so I believed.  Originally the rollover effect was Javascript-based and really the only improvement I made was to change the rollover to CSS-based, and once I updated the images.
Well time moves on and Blair/Clinton era menus aren’t in vogue (if indeed they ever were).  People tend to find content through search engines, which can often drop them somewhere deep within a site.  So it’s important that the search engine knows a bit about the layout of the site so it can choose the best page, and more recently, show good sitelinks.  Mine didn’t qualify: time to redesign.

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I decided upon a design using entirely CSS, rather than Javascript.  Further, I liked the idea of not using any images – most menu designs use images at least for the background.  And to be forward-looking, I used CSS3 features that are not implemented in all browsers yet, so different people see different menus.  As far as I can tell and test, though, the menus are always visible and navigable even in the worst case (that would be IE 6.  It’s hard to believe that today’s IE, which is awesome, is related to its predecessor).  Both Chrome and Safari support colour gradients, and also the rounded edges, as in the top image.  Firefox on the Mac does the rounded corners but not the gradient (middle), and IE and Firefox on the PC do neither (bottom).  Kind of a dull menu, but it functions. I’ll look more into the CSS for those, as Firefox and IE on the PC are used by 62% of my visitors.
I like the flexibility of text-based menus; I can change them with no effort.  And the lack of images gives me the ability to change colours easily so beware of forthcoming experimentation.  One foible / unexpected feature is that my menu bar, being now a text list, will now wrap around if the browser is not wide enough for it.  I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing.  It’s certainly unusual – most menu bars just go off the right hand side of the browser.  On the other hand, it means all the options are available.  I’ll disable this ‘feature’ if it doesn’t grow on me.
For now, though, the text-based menus are at least up, and hopefully the googlebot will make sense of them and I’ll get some useful sitelinks.  And as people upgrade their browsers, more of the advanced CSS3 features will become available, like a nice fade-in effect.  While not all the features work now, if my past record of not updating the menus in eight years is any indication, at least I’ve built in a measure of future-proofing.
(The authors wish to thank, as the expression goes, Stu Nicholls for his amazing CSSplay site with dozens of menu sites, also the Style Master Blog for the image-free CSS menu.  I combined elements of both.)

I Do Imaging World Headquarters

doris1.JPGI’m always meaning to improve my testing for reviews.  I’d like to test every feature of every program, through with 250 of them that is a little unrealistic, as my assistants are not all one might wish for in terms of productivity.  At the least, though, I like to download each program, install it, and run a simple test case.  That gives me an idea of the general quality of the program, and a quick look into its abilities.

The situation gets more complex when it comes to networking.  Lots of new programs come with PACS client capabilities, which is great, so I try to test that too.  So I need to leave a PACS server or two running, and as I try to test three different platforms, the number of permutations grows quite high.  Another growing trend is cross-platform development, also a very good thing, but it means to be thorough I need to test three versions of the same program, and test each against PACS servers running on different platforms.

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I used to like big complex networks of computers with keyboards and screens and wires going all over the place.  These days, I strive for simplicity.  With that in mind I treated myself last year to a 27″ iMac, running Parallels.  I set up two virtual machines running Windows 7 and Fedora Linux, and I have them running full screen in separate Spaces within the Mac (Osirix of course gets its own Space). Each virtual machine gets 2 GB of memory of the 8 in the Mac, and 2 CPU cores of the 8.  I have Time Machine set up to not back up the virtual machine files, and on the Linux and Windows VMs I save all my files on a “network” disk on the Mac.  Of course, they all use the same disk, so it’s no slower than saving “locally”.  They all access the same directory of imaging test data, which saves a ton of duplication.  And because all the files are saved on the Mac file system, Time Machine backs them all up.  It all works really well, though I don’t usually have more than one of the VMs running at once, and I might upgrade the memory so I can give 4 GB to the guest OS’s.
Once all the networks are up (the VMs communicate locally on a private network), I can do PACs operations between them all.  The only trouble I get is when I need to restart the Mac, there’s a lot to set back up again, but then there would be anyway if I had 3 computers to get going.