So, I've got the new design up. Finally... I've been meaning to do this for a while, but haven't gotten around to it. If you're checking this out via RSS, you should click on over and see what you're missing. Please use the comments and tell me what you think and any bug reports would be greatly appreciated.
I did lots of thing to the site. Here's a summary of the stuff I did, and some of the philosophy behind it:
First the backend: I ripped up the MiniBlog. It served its purpose well, but anyone who's seen that code knows that to make a substantial change to the design meant delving in to lots of embedded JSP and changing the logic fundamentally. And that's what I did, I ripped it apart and put it back together. No - I didn't reimplement the site using Struts or some other cool-ass tech. I just got it done and that meant reusing most of the code, but just putting it in different files to be a bit more manageable. This is more a reorg and refactor than a full out redesign from a tech perspective. It took me all day to rework it, but it should be a lot easier from now on to mess with the code and even port it over to some neato tech some day. But for now it works (I hope) and that was step one.
The second big technical feat is the URL rewritings. Now that I have full control over my server, I was able to set up the same environment locally and test the code at home. That helped. Now almost all the URLs that I want Google to cache look like HTML pages. It's all still dynamic, but it should help get more of my weblog cached. Unless there's some header being sent that I don't know about which Google reads as being temporary. We'll see. The old permalinks shouldn't be broken, by the way, that was the other challenge (otherwise the links wouldn't be very "perma" would they?)
I'm also playing with OSCache which should help with the response times of the site and to ease the burdon on my poor MySQL server. This is still a work in progress. I slapped it on my RSS page, but I finally gave up on trying to figure out how to get it working on the front page. The problem is that when I log in, I get New Post and Edit Post links and those get cached and sent out to everyone. So I need to figure out how to partially cache the page so that I can still log in and post, but without it affecting everyone. I'm close... I may be able to work some more tonight and get it working, I just wanted to make sure I got the majority of my changes out tonight. Any hints on this would be welcome too.
About the design and my thinkings behind it, here it is. The first thing you'll notice about the design is that the left banner is gone. This is pretty standard in weblogs, but I've noticed lately that the blog designs I really like are the simplest and cleanest blogs that let me at the content. This site may actually be a bit too busy still, but it's a lot closer to what I like. Most of the stuff that was on the left has now been broken up and linked to at the top of the page, which makes the whole page much cleaner.
The page templates are XHTML (or pretty close), but because my content in my db isn't, the site really isn't really XHTML. I tried to help myself by making the simplest and cleanest pages possible (using div's and p's and h1's, etc.) so that without a style sheet it could be read by a mobile device without problems, and then worked on the CSS to give it some edge. This is the part that could be better, but in general I didn't screw with the fonts at all this time other than the font-weight and margins. You should be able to read this site in your favorite browser and raise/lower the font sizes all you want without adverse affect. This should allow the site to be more easily read without worrying about browser incompatibilities.
Really, the main effort I made was to rework the site for reading. It should now be easier to browse, read and to discover content than it was before. I tried to think along the lines of how people are going to come to my weblog and how they're going to read it. Some people will come to the front page. So there I put the last 5 days posts, as well as an organized listing listing of that month's posts. Others will come from permalinks in their aggregators or on other people's sites. For them, I've kept the Next and Previous links before, as well as the list of the month's posts, which also come up on those odd days when I don't actually post anything.
All these links may be overkill, but many sites hide their posts away so that when I click on a permalink, I get one post devoid of context and archive links lacking in organization. What I've done is put links back to previous entries everywhere. They were there before, but now they're more obvious. Along these lines, this is the reason I've also gotten rid of the calendar, as neat as it was, because I didn't think anyone really used it. And, once I thought about it for a bit, I don't have so many posts that listing all of them is out of the question just yet. So if you click on my Archives link above you'll see everything I've posted since last year. This will have to be broken up later, but for now it's an easy fix that really works well.
My blogroll is now under the menu link called Favorites. And the Comments link now lists the last 30 comments on my sites. This was sorta hidden on the left before, but now it's up top and lists more comments. I get A LOT of comments. Lately I've been getting an average of 1 or 2 per post, sometimes a lot more! This will help me keep track of them all. The Search is now up top with the same functionality, and it sorta sucks that now searching is a 2-click maneauver, but again, I'm not sure it was used all that much, so it's no biggie. I've integrated my Notebook Photos (which is different than my personal Scrapbook) by adding the header and footer, but not much else. And a link back to the main page of my website (which isn't my blog, believe it or not).
The one thing that's not anywhere is the referrers. I don't have any way of keeping track of the referrers right now and I'm not sure what I'm going to do about that. It was damn ugly on the left and it took a lot of searching to find new links, so I was getting frustrated with it anyways. But I need to do something about it because referrers are part of the whole weblogging cycle. But the truth is, I've been relying on Tecnorati more and more and that seems to be fine for now, but we'll see. I may miss it. It's the only thing that I took away from the site.
The final thing is the pic: It stayed. I toyed with getting rid of it (not much) and changing it (the one above is two years old now at least) or something else like a banner pic or something, but once I figured out how to get it into place with CSS, I decided I liked how it looked and that it added continuum from my old site.
Hey, you CSS gurus out there. See the black thing across the top of the page? In Mozilla, it goes all the way across, but in IE I can't get it to go. Why? Why? Why? It doesn't concern me too much, since as much as I've redone the site to be easier to read, if you're reading on IE, you need to switch. ;-)
Gosh. Hours making the code and another 45 minutes to write all this. And tomorrow's Monday. Ugh!