Sunday, September 11, 2016

Ministry and Website Programming Update

Finding spare time away from my “other job” (the one that pays the bills) has been quite challenging over the past couple of years, but at least for the past few weeks, I'm finally seeing a small work decrease. The maritime port in South Jersey is under construction and the electrical design for the International Terminal in Virginia is getting close to completion. I'm still working on the electrical substation, transmission, distribution, telecommunication and street lighting design for a few industrial cities in the Middle East, but they've been relatively quiet for the past few months. I'm hoping the trend continues and that I can even drop back to flex or even part-time within the next few years. I can just hear many of my friends thinking, "yeah, we've heard that before", but I did turn down the offer of taking the lead for designing the electrical substation, and associated electrical and telecom distribution for the downtown renovation of a city in the western US, something that I would never have done a few years ago.

I must admit that it was not easy to turn down the renovation project (downtown area renovations appear to be a hot trend), but my current primary goal is to be able to devote more time to our ministry, so I'm renewing my efforts (again) to that end. I must also do a better job in prioritizing the little time that I do have. I've often gotten an article or series to a certain point before getting interrupted (job deadlines, questions from readers or class members, deciding to do additional research on a particular topic, ect) and temporarily switching off onto another engineering or ministry project. As you've probably guessed, many of those temporary detours become permanent, resulting in dozens and dozens of writings in various stages of completion, some from over ten years ago. Therefore, even though I'm still planning and working on new articles and series, I will attempt to place a priority on finishing existing ones.

Website Programming Update

In 2014, we converted our website from "fixed-width" to "flex" or "fluid" pages to make to make it "mobile-friendly". When the site was originally uploaded in December of 2006, I knew very little about web programming (just some basic html), so I used website graphic interface software for the first couple of years. For the 2014 conversion, I worked primarily in the code itself, eliminating much of the bloat added by the software. For this latest update, I'm basically using a text editor and writing the code from scratch. This is leading to much cleaner code (file sizes are only a fraction of the originals) which should result in faster load times for those with slower internet connections. Since we have so many readers for developing countries, our top priority is to maintain a clean look and fast loading times even when adding new features.

I'll share more details and some of the code in future posts, but for now I'd like to share a short list of the upgrades. First, we're adding a Navigation Bar at the top of each individual page for linking to all the major sections of the site. The current design only contains a few relative links. In addition, we're also adding media queries to automatically orient the navbar as horizontal or vertical depending on the size of the reader's screen for our mobile readers. Second (thanks to reader comments), we're increasing the basic font sizes by 25% or more for most elements. As my eyes have grown older, I've also come to appreciate larger text sizes in some instances.

Next, we are moving all styling of text, images, etc from the html code to external css stylesheets. This further decreases the size of the page files, but its greatest benefit is for our sight-impaired readers who utilize audio reading software. Some audio readers have trouble distinguishing the styling within the html code from the actual text itself, so this should result in a much "cleaner" audio reading. Finally, we're updating the html code to include html5 semantic elements. This will be invisible to our readers, but is a big help to the search engine web crawlers, and should result in better search results.

We are currently uploading the updated pages as they are re-coded. Readers who have been on our site the past few weeks may have noticed the difference on some of the pages. If you'd like to check them out, as with our 2014 update, we began with our On-Line Bible pages since these are the only pages that are guaranteed to accomplish their purposes (Is 55:10-11). Both the Old and New Testament books have been converted to the new html/css format, but we're still converting the linked study notes to hover/popups for the NT. We're hoping to complete the conversions of the remaining sections and pages by the end of the year. Our front page will also receive an entire face-lift, but much of this code is still in progress. As always, we welcome and appreciate your comments and suggestions.