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BBHQ: What Makes Us Tick

This is a brief, not-very-technical explanation of how we do what we do here on our web site. We assume that you have some knowledge about creating web pages, or you would not be here. On the other hand, if you're a real techie, we don't have a lot to tell you here; you will find that our site does not use the latest cutting edge technology. That is intentional. But BBHQ is the clearest, easiest to follow site we have seen.


Our Approach

From the beginning, our approach has been to focus on the content of our site, not razzle dazzle. We're trying to impress boomers, not computer geeks. When our hit count reaches 2,000,000, we'll think about adding more bells and whistles. We want to make our pages easy to load and easy to use. That is often in conflict with razzle dazzle.

We are real sensitive about how long it takes to load our pages. So, except where noted, we keep graphics to a minimum. If you want a site that takes three minutes to load each page, go crank up www.microsoft.com.


The Basic Web Site

Our web site runs on a Unix-based cyber-host server. That's a computer connected by phone lines to the rest of the Internet. But we don't know where it is located; and frankly my dear, we don't care. (Actually, it is somewhere near Denver, Colorade, I think. All of our production files are physically located there, even though we are in Tampa, Florida.) When you contact our site, you are really attached to someone else's server. The web host company we use is Bluehost, (www.bluehost.com). We pay $10 bucks a month for their hosting service.

Unix is the operating system used on our cyber-host computer. We started with a Unix-based host when Unix was about the only thing out there, and we have stuck with it despite the popularity of Windows and Linux. Of course, you can get to our site no matter what operating system you are using on your computer.

When you complete a form on our site and click send (or submit), sometimes it creates an e-mail message that goes to our e-mail account. Sometimes your response goes into a file on our web site. (More on that later.)

We develop and test the content of our site on a Dell PC, and then upload it to our cyber-site. We have a simple ISP (Internet Service Provider) here in Tampa which provides an on-ramp to the web. We use a software product called CuteFTP Pro to transfer our files to our server. We do most of our work late at night, and update our site nearly every day. Most pages show a revision date in the lower, left corner of the page. Since we change things so often, it is possible that something that worked one day does not work the next day. We're not perfect, but we try very hard to minimize mistakes. We don't usually use a spell-check on our pages, but we visually edit them closely to try to minimize typos.

BBHQ has been 40 years in the making. Specific, detailed plans began in early 1997, but we didn't put anything down on paper till about June 1. The initial development of our site took only about 2 weeks. We went "live" on our server on June 18, 1997, and opened to the public on July 23. The structure that you see now is similar to what we had then.


A Quick BBHQ X-Ray

The BBHQ web site consists of a series of HTML and related files. There are currently about 500 pages on our site. HTML files are merely text files with special coding in them. The special coding tells your web browser how to display the stuff. We wrote them ourselves using just a text editor (like Windows NotePad.) Initially, we used a fancy software package (like Microsoft's Front Page) to create the HTML coding, but we found such packages to be too restrictive or too bulky. Our computer "expert" (oh how he hates that term) has written applications in 12 programming languages; in a way, HTML is just another language. You can make it very simple, or very complex. We try to keep it as simple as possible, even though at times it gets a bit complex.

TAKE ME THERE:
 
    BBHQ Home Page
    Reunion Bulletin Board
    Shaker Heights HS
        Reunion Page
 
      We use HTML tables to create the "Take Me There" table of contents sections you see at the left here and on most pages at BBHQ. We could create graphics to create a fancier navigation mechanism (like other sites use), but the HTML tables are much faster and do the job just as well.

As indicated above, in some cases, when you complete one of our forms, you actually create an e-mail message for our e-mail account. When you click send (or submit), you execute a computer program, written in Perl, which analyzes the form, creates a message on the screen for you, and sends us an e-mail message. Perl is just another computer programming language. You can make it very simple, or very complex. We try to keep it as simple as possible, even though at times it gets a bit complex.

We don't know exactly how Perl became the "standard" language for web programming. Frankly, it is sloppy, cumbersome and often ugly. But we have to "go with the flow" here, so we use it. In 2003, we began using a less combersome language called PHP. That is our current preferred language. We use other techniques when we need to, and if they are fully supported on the standard browsers. (We think it is silly to use something simply because "everybody else" is using it, even though it does not work well or even though we don't need it. We use techniques that meet our needs and work effectively. What a novel idea!) We try to make all of our features compatible with Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator (FireFox), versions 6 and above.

We use JavaScript on most of our pages. When you execute a Perl or PHP program, Perl/PHP will not allow you (or actually, us) to stay on the same page that is currently displayed; we must create a new page. JavaScript allows you to do some processing right on the current page. JavaScript actually executes on your computer using your browser software, not on the web host computer. So it can be more efficient for certain functions. We use JavaScript to validate the e-mail address you enter before and when you click one of our submit buttons. If you have entered an invalid e-mail address, we'd like to catch it while you are still sitting on the current page. JavaScript allows us to do that.

The Sixties Quiz, the Seventies Quiz, the Movie Quiz, and Who Said That? are all driven by JavaScript.

We use primarily PHP to access a mysql database that contains data for our site. PHP is coding that we place in our web page files that is executed when you load the web page (see SSI, below). PHP can access mysql, a database access method that allows us to retrieve data from our files quickly. Using PHP and mysql, we can create an HTML page that contains content customized for a specific visitor or circumstance.

Sometimes we use a combination of software to meet our needs. The BBHQ Insta-Quote feature uses JavaScript to open a small window and display the quotes, and PHP and mysql to randomly select quotations from a large sql file on our web site. The BBHQ Insta-Trivia feature works similarly.

When you complete a form, a Perl/PHP program also adds a record to an activity log file which we maintain on our site. This is sort of like the flight data recorder on an airplane. It gives us a historical record of who did what when... sort of. We also use server-side-includes (SSI's) to track and display other things. SSI's allow us to create the HTML file at the time the page is accessed and perform other processing in addition to displaying the page. This offers us a way to add a record to our log file every time you access our home page (or any other page we wish to track). Although we don't know who you are at that point, we can see when and how often certain pages are accessed. The SSI's may call Perl programs, which do the tracking. One of the Perl programs maintains a file which records (stores in a file) the number of times our home page has accessed (a "hit" count). Using the SSI enables us to put the count on the home page itself, or as we do here: You are visitor number 1,660 to this page. By looking at our log file, we can tell exactly when our home page was accessed. There is one entry in this file for every time our home page was loaded.

We use an SSI to make the navigation buttons a part of most pages. The navigation buttons are actually located in a single file on our site. The SSI in the HTML document uses that file to put the buttons on the page. When we want to change the content of the buttons, we have to change only one file to make the changes universal.

The BBHQ library consists of two basic files. One file contains a list of books in the library, and a link to another file. The other file contains the descriptions of and commentary on books in the library. There are several computer programs that make the library come alive. They all use these two basic files as the basis for what is displayed on your browser. When you use the OTB (Order The Book) service, we provide a link to Amazon.com, the online bookstore, which actually processes your order. The "Music Buy the Book" section of BBHQ works the same way.

The Trivia Library employs the same concept; but it's a little more complicated. We use frames to divide the screen into 2 sections: one for the list of questions, and one for your answer. When you click the answer button, you activate a Perl program which compares the actual answer to the one you entered, and displays a message on the top portion of the screen. We do keep track of which questions are answered correctly, so we can make some determination of how hard the questions are. The "Name That Tune" quiz in the Music Room works the same way.

The Peanut Gallery consists of a text file that contains the entries to the Peanut Gallery. When you add an entry, we do some editing of it (to make certain it is not too long and that you have included a valid e-mail address). The we put your entry into the file so that you can see it immediately. Entries in the Music Room bulletin boards work the same way. However, the Reunion Bulletin Board, the BBHQ Oldies Radio Stations list, and When I was a Kid section are a little more complicated. We do not post entries "on the fly." We send an e-mail containing the data to our e-mail account; then we add the entry to the bulletin board later.

Several people have tried to "stuff the ballot box" at the BBHQ Online Top 100. Without using a password or some other constraining, unique identification, it is hard to prevent that. So we use what is called a "cookie," to record when you vote. The cookie is a file which is stored on your computer. When you vote, we look at this cookie to tell us when you last voted.

There's a lot more we could to, but there are only 24 hours in a day. And as we said in the beginning, we are more interested in content than glitz.


Multimedia Stuff

We try to keep our graphics and other stuff to a minimum in order to help access time. As they say, one picture may be worth a thousand words... but the words download faster. Or, stated another way, show me a picture of the Gettysburg Address. Our graphic files are either JPG or GIF files, depending on the usage. We scan our own photos using a cheap Mustek scanner; we get other images from public domain sources. We use PaintShop Pro to edit them. We "drew" our own navigation buttons: BBHQ Home Page and put them on most pages using an SSI. We did the wording here all by ourselves; and the spelling, too.

We developed a few animated (moving) graphic images ourselves using a software package called GIF Animator. It's fairly basic, but it doesn't do any art work for you. Thus, we don't have much art work on our site. The software package creates a GIF file which contains the animation.

The sound files on our site are stored as MP3 files. You have to have a sound card and speakers on your computer to be able to hear these sounds. A 20-30 second music "clip" is usually about 100 kb. You have to download it to your PC to play it. That's why we make you click a "hot spot" to play most of the sound clips on our site. You can choose whether or not you wish to download it.

We purchased a computer program (from Riada International) which allows us to generate Java-based content. Java is yet another computer programming language. The computer program allows us to use features available with Java without having to write programs in Java. We use this program to generate the moving text you see on our Home Page, our Sixties Page and our Seventies Page.


The "Student Assistant": Grading Your Exams

When you complete one of the official baby boomer qualifying exams, we use a Perl program to store the results in a file on our site. It also checks to make sure you entered a valid a-mail address, counts the number of blank entries and displays that for you on your browser.

Once a day we download the file to our local PC. We use another Perl program on our computer to break the file up into a separate file for each exam. The Perl program grades your exam and formats an e-mail response for you - the "report card." The response also includes some wording at the end of the report card. It also does a "rough grading" of each answer. For instance, if the answer to a question is "The Four Seasons," our Perl program will look for "Four," "4," or "Seasons" in your answer - in upper or lower-case letters. If it finds what it is looking for, it considers the answer to be correct. But if you answer the question with "the for seasens," our rough grader will mark it wrong. When the program is done, we manually review the answer to each question and smooth out the "rough" grading. (This is when we see how many spelling classes you skipped in school.) We also add whatever other verbiage we feel is appropriate. We spend about a minute on each exam. Next, we use a FoxPro program to count the number of correct answers, add the score to the e-mail, and group all the e-mails into a single file. (FoxPro is our programming language of choice.) Finally, we upload this file to our server and use a Perl program to break the file apart and send you your report card. We send mail this way because AOL's mail processing is so slow and cumbersome. We send about 75 e-mail messages each day back to BBHQ visitors.

We do the same kind of thing with your sign-in form and other forms you send to us. Each form requires human interaction. We almost never send you a completely automated response. All of them have my touch (hmc), or that of Madam Red Dot (hmc/mrd). As long as you are not obnoxious or profane, we'll respond to every e-mail we receive from you. To learn more about who we are, click here.


Promoting Our Site

We sent e-mail invitations to about a hundred people who had accessed the BB qualifying exams on AOL. That generated a lot of word-of-mouth publicity. That still is our best marketing tool. We used Submit-it (www.submit-it.com) to post our address to several search engines. Frankly, I am not sure if that did any good. We posted our site at several places on Yahoo. That generated our best response until Google clobbered Yahoo. Many other search engines have found us via their spider programs, which find and explore our site, and create listings in their databases. For instance, we get a lot of referrals from AskJeeves.com. We have no idea how they found out about us.

We use meta-tags on several pages on our site. These notes within the HTML document itself provide web spiders with information they can use to index our site on their search engines. Web spiders are programs which go out to a site, search its contents, and report results back to... somebody... whoever initiated the spider program. I guess it is primarily search engines that use spider programs. We have no idea how successful this has been for us, but we are listed on every major search engine.

We have other plans to promote our site. But our best bet is still for you to tell your friends about BBHQ, and for you to tell us what else you would like to see at BBHQ.


For More Information

If you would like more information about our site, just ask us. (You can use the "contact us" link below.) Or, if you would like some terrific information on web site development, check out BigNoseBird (www.bignosebird.com). It is a great site for web developers.

Or, click here to see what BBHQ Services can do to help you promote your function or product.






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