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ZedneWeb 2013

By Dave Menendez
Thursday, June 6, 2013, at 2:19 PM
Filed under: ZedneWeb

Summary: After ten years, it’s time for a new content manager here at ZedneWeb. And after 12½ years, it’s time for a new look. You’ll probably never experience the former, and you can already see the latter, but here’s a blog post about it anyway.

I guess those CMS problems I was having a few days ago lit a fire under me, because I've spent most of the last week furiously re-writing ZedneWeb’s content manager and redesigning the look of the site.1 The latter is still a work in progress, since I don’t have easy access to Windows machines for testing, but I’m pretty pleased with the former.


Back in the dark ages of 1996, when I started ZedneWeb, every page was hand-coded. Eventually, I wrote a Perl script to manage the blog portion. I‘m not sure when, but the first reference to it is in August, 2000. In any case, it lasted until June, 2003, when I replaced it with a Python script, which I kept using largely unchanged for almost ten years.

It is really bizarre to look at the old code. It seems so amateurish; I can only hope the professional work I was doing at the time was better.

Once the new code was able to recreate the old site, I started adding features. One that I’ve wanted for a long time is post topics. Each post can optionally be associated with one or more topics (you can see them above in the line beginning “Filed under:” and in the navigation section on the bottom), and for each topic there is an index listing all of its posts.

Another cool feature is the full-content syndication feed. I’d only ever provided plain-text descriptions because I’d been using RSS, which is ambiguous about whether its content and description fields contain plain text or encoded HTML. The new feeds use the Atom format, which clears that up. So go ahead and change the URL in your feed reader, hypothetical ZedneWeb reader who uses one. You won’t be sorry.2

The last feature I’ve wanted for a long time is external posts, which appear in the index but aren’t part of the blog itself. This allows my fiction to appear in the yearly and monthly indices while still being hosted in the Library. Closely related are link posts, which are part of the blog, but which are intended to link to external pages. I haven’t created any of those yet, and I’m kind of out of the habit of linking to things, but the capacity will be there when I need it.

There’s also some stuff that may hopefully be more useful in the future, like cover images. Essentially, I added some code that puts an optional image above the title. ZedneWeb doesn’t have a strong history of posting images, but I did go back and reformat this photo of Pip taking a shower.

Oh, and just for fun I put rotating taglines on the post and index pages. These are selected pseudo-randomly from a list of ten or so, although individual posts can specify their own.

Addendum: I forgot to mention the new URI structure. The old CMS used a three-level hierarchy for posts, including the year, month, and day in the post URI. The idea was that you could look at a ZedneWeb URI and tell the day it was posted and get a hint as to its subject, as in 2013/05/27/cms.

As reasonable as that is, ZedneWeb doesn’t really see the kind of activity that justifies that much hierarchy. Very few days have more than one post. So the new CMS uses two levels, year and month, for new posts, while preserving the three levels for the older posts. It’s slightly more complicated that way, but it means all of my older posts are still at the same address.

New design

Again, I don’t have good records, but I believe the previous look for ZedneWeb was adopted in November, 2000. As you can imagine, the state of the art has advanced considerably since then. Sadly, I haven’t kept up with web coding, but things seem to work well enough now that I can use modern CSS tools without worrying too much about cross-browser compatibility.3

The primary design change is that page body is now about 75 characters across (i.e., 75ex) and centered using margin: auto. This will hopefully make the site more readable, by preventing the page text from getting too wide—even on gigantic monitors. The advantage of declaring the width relative to the font size is that the page will get wider if you use a bigger font. (The disadvantage is that I don't really know how to size images. Ideally, I’d like oversized images to still be centered, but I don’t know if that’s possible with CSS alone.)

I’ve also changed the font (Hoefler Text if you have it, Georgia or your default serif otherwise) and un-framed the pages. The result is clean, and (I think) looks pretty nice.

Link colors are back to the defaults. I may adjust that.

The rest of ZedneWeb

Right now, only the blog portion of the site has the new design. Sadly, the rest of the site is pretty old and dusty these days. The Library and links to other sites were last updated in 2003, and my bio was apparently last updated in late 2001.

I’m not sure when I’ll get around to updating these. I guess my bio should be my top priority, since anyone searching for me on the web probably doesn’t want 11½ year old information. I’d also like to get the Library looking nice, although maybe that can wait until I’m actually writing fiction again.4

Then there’s stuff like the Sfstory information page that never really gelled in the first place. That may be sticking around in its current form for quite a while.

I guess the blog is the most important part of ZedneWeb these days (to the extent that any part of ZedneWeb can be considered important). It’s certainly the largest, so I guess it’s good that I was able to polish it up.

  1. For the new millennium, I guess. Since, technically, I adopted the old look in the previous one.

  2. Not a guarantee.

  3. If you’re using Internet Explorer, feel free to send me screenshots. I’m not too worried about supporting IE 6.0 or earlier, but I’d like to know if these pages are at least readable.

  4. It could happen! Who says it couldn’t?