Monday April 27, 2015

2015 State of the Website

A Fresh Vision for the Magelight Media website.

It wouldn't be a normal year if I didn't tinker with my website.


Websites are complicated with lots of levers and dials.
(Photo: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, CO)

Honestly. I started Magelight Media in January 2010 and built the first company website that same month.


That first site, let's call it "version 1" or "v1" for short, was hand-coded HTML with a few galleries that I exported straight out of Adobe Lightroom. The site didn't behave well on mobile devices. It didn't behave well overall. I started on v2 pretty much immediately.


By v3 I had picked up the Drupal website framework and gave it a test run by building a more planned and structured site. With v4 I dumped Drupal and followed the rest of the civilized world into using Wordpress, using some basic photography theme. Then in v5 a great buddy and I worked together and made a much more sophisticated Wordpress setup, custom building our own theme and everything. My buddy's forte is user interface and I really liked the look of v5.


This is now 2015 and I'm launching v6. Yes, the math works out, that's averaging one new website each year.

A Brand New Site

The new site looks a lot like the last one. (I really did like the look of it!) The big difference: no more Wordpress.


Wordpress is great, you know? 99.9% of the website needs of any person or company on the planet could be met with a Wordpress server and a MySQL database.


My problem is I'm special. I know so, my mom told me when I was a kid.


Seriously. All my longtime fans know I'm sitting in my office dreaming of being back out into the wild places, yet I'm working day-in and day-out on some custom digital asset management software. And it turns out that plugging my custom software into my wordpress site was very difficult. It had a lot of rough edges, a whole layer of translation to take the stuff in my own database and make it work with the Wordpress database, and I wasn't very happy with how little I could control the results.


For example, a map. I've always dreamed about having an interactive map on my site with little pins linking to each of the photo galleries that are about specific places.


Well check it out, with this new website, the map is real!



Okay, for the moment there's only two pins there. And the new site has only the same six galleries as the last.


That's because I've been focusing on building out the server so that it can be filled with content by my custom software project. I had to have a server to fill before I could fill that server, you know?


Another momentary shortcoming is the website store is offline again. I'm working on it, it'll be back.

Beta Testing

Now what I need from you all is: poke at this new website for me.


Try it on every browser and mobile device you have, see if anything breaks.


Then let me know what you find!


  • If you find a spelling error, you'll have my heartfelt thanks.

  • If you find a broken link, you'll have my heartfelt thanks and good karma for the next week.

  • If you find a way to make the server give a "Service Unavailable" error or worse, I'll send you free stuff. :D

  • And if you find a security hole and manage to hack the site, I'll hire you outright.


Thank you ever so much, I really need your feedback.


There may be a light at the end of this long tunnel!
(Photo: Petrified Forest National Park, AZ)

Looking Forward

So what's the roadmap for the future? Well, I have to get that store back online. It partly exists already, it's just hidden so that we can worry about testing parts of the site at a time. The website store is the most complicated part of the site, it just made sense to launch it separately from the rest of the site.


Then of course comes new galleries, new art, and new products for that store. The whole goal of this project is to get the many thousands of photos off of my own harddrive and out to you all, to enjoy. To maybe even purchase. ;)


I know better than to give you guesses on when any of this will be online. I realized near the start of this year that I haven't made as much progress as I thought I'd have by now. As much as it pains me, I've all but stopped traveling, stopped getting out and making new art. All my focus is back on this project.


Progress is happening. It's just happening slowly as I take my time to make sure each piece meshes well with the others.


Spirits willing, it won't be too much longer before you all can see fresh artwork from me with your morning coffee. :)



And as always, thanks for following.


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PS: Oh, you want the technical details on the new site?


Okay, it's custom-built Python code using the Django website libraries. I'm using Python 3.4 and Django 1.8 with a back-end Postgres 9.3 database server with Postgis extension. There's currently 12,000 lines of Python in this "website" side of my overall project and just shy of 3000 combined lines of HTML, SCSS, and Javascript -- that includes content pages like blog posts and the like.


My hosting is provided by Amazon Web Services using an EC2 server, two S3 buckets, CloudFront to serve content from one of the buckets, RDS for that Postgres database, and Route 53 for my DNS needs. Amazon Web Services is very complicated as far as hosts go, but they're incredibly flexible and understand the needs of a modern Internet. Except for some of the DNS stuff I'm doing, every resource I'm using fits within their "free tier" to let me build up my web app for a year without even being charged a thing. I highly recommend them for hosting any new project.


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An old photo, recently re-polished, and my personal totem. Spirits willing, I'll be able to get a lot more work like this posted for you all soon.
(Photo: Cougar Mountain Zoo, WA)