Feb 28, 2008

Whale Watching in Point Reyes

Point Reyes National Seashore is a national park about 1.5 hours north of the bay area peninsula. Its is a massive park, definitely my favorite that is this close. It is billed as the westermost point of continental land anywhere nearby and hence has certain wildlife that can't really be found elsewhere as readily, mainly birds.

This time of year (in general) is the Gray Whale migration. There are several places where one can see the whales from the CA shore (ie: without getting in a boat), but one of the best is probably the Point Reyes lighthouse. Cristin and I stumbled up to Point Reyes one weekend 2 years ago not knowing about the whales and got lucky: the lighthouse had already had dozens of sightings and were seeing another whale every 10-15 minutes. We probable watched whales go by for about an hour if not more. Not close enough to take photos, but definitely close enough to see them. Probably not worth the drive for itself, but Point Reyes is beautiful in it's own right.

I was up there about a month ago looking for whales, but the whales were a little late (or I was early, not sure). I snapped the above photo from the visitor center so I could remember when the peak season was. If anyone is interested in heading up there in about a month at the real peak season, let me know - I'll probably be up there some coming weekend.

Feb 10, 2008

Building a site from scratch

I've been working on a website for my sister lately instead of writing blog posts. This was the source of inspiration for my last post Why Language Wars. I thought I'd blog a little bit with an update.

My sister is an aspiring artist in Tulsa, OK having graduated from Art School last year in Kansas City, MO where she was also running her own gallery. She no longer has the gallery but recently did a new show with new work in Tulsa at the TAC Gallery. She also recently changed her name from Sarah to Grace. All of these changes mean that her website needed some significant changes as well.

When I originally put together GraceGrothaus.com, It was SarahGrothaus.com. There were some interesting constraints:

  • Grace is not an expert in HTML, although she is also far from computer illiterate.

  • I am an expert, but I don't have alot of free time on demand nor knowledge of her business.

To satisfy these constraints, I decided that everything that I could make editable by Grace I would:

There is a "news" section on the site which gives readers information about upcoming shows, what Grace is working on, etc. While nowhere does the website say "blog", I used Movable Type for this news section and then customized the templates to get away from the idea that the site is a blog. In fact, the front page only has short snippets from the 3 most recent blog posts, not at all like this blog. The front page is primarily used to showcase the style of the current artwork.

More constraints:

  • We need non-blog pages: contact page, about the artist, the front page even.

Since we were using movable type, I went ahead and just used the templating system for all of the "static" pages like the "contact" page or the "artist" page. This way Grace can edit the static pages directly - while she isn't an HTML expert, it isn't too tough for her to change colors, text, and links within an already designed page.

More constraints:

  • Needed a photo gallery that allowed for the audience to see full-size versions of the art

  • A significant chunk of her audience is still using low-speed internet connections

  • The photo gallery needed to be a customizable template, to look professional, a link to flickr or picasaweb would unfortunately not suffice.

  • Grace is not an expert in web technologies - it needed to be reasonably non-technical for her to make changes

Any artist website worth it's salt has to have a gallery of art. I originally set this up using Gallery. I hacked around with Movable Type a bit so that the Gallery templates could be controlled directly through Movable Type just like the static pages - again making everything as customizable for Grace as reasonably possible. Gallery itself has a separate login for uploading photos, but beggers can't be choosers. I played with SmugMug as a solution here for awhile, but while it was more customizable, Grace didn't find it much easier to use and it was expensive (Gallery=free).

  • Lots of websites. Over a few years, we had registered SarahGrothaus.com (Grace's old name), GrothausPearl.com (Her physical gallery's website) and GraceGrothaus.com

This constraint was nicely solved by the fact that I lease a physical server in a datacenter which I use for projects like these - I can host as many domains as I want, the limit is hardware (cpu, bandwidth) not distinct urls/domains/etc. I just set all of these domains to 301 to GraceGrothaus.com.

The only other thing needing doing was Analytics. Grace already uses gmail, so she has a Google login - it was a no brainer to drop in Google Analytics.

It is interesting how much you can do for nearly free (sweat equity) if you have a box somewhere that you can host stuff on. Go check out the site at GraceGrothaus.com and let me know what you think.