Site Notes

Website Cut-Over This Weekend

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 07, 2009

This weekend, the Raise the Hammer website will be cut over to a new code base running on a new web server - just in time for our fifth anniversary. We're excited about this transition, as it should provide for more stability and more consistent uptime on a new platform that will allow us to add features more quickly.

The new website will look substantially the same as the current site, albeit with a few improvements in usability and new features (see below). However, under the covers it will be running on a modern stack of web technologies.

The website URL will stay the same - http://raisethehammer.org - but the underlying IP address will change. As a result, there may be some temporary disruption in access to the site while the DNS servers across the internet update with the new IP address.

To minimize disruption during the cut-over, we will disable comments and event posting on the old website before the cut-over begins. If you load a page and notice that you can leave comments, it means you're looking at the new site.

By the end of the weekend, all the DNS servers should be pointing the URL to the new IP address.

New Features

Planned Future Improvements

These are changes we just didn't get a chance to include in the first version of the new code base. The nice thing is that we should be able to implement them fairly quickly once we fix any bugs that show up in the new code.

The missing features are all on the issue tracker and will be added as soon as possible.

Technologies Used

We rebuilt the site, but not from scratch. The new code base is built on the shoulders of the following awesome technologies:

Open Source

The tools we've used to rebuild the website are all free and open source software. We would like to give back a little bit by releasing the RTH code base under an open source licence as well.

We will do this once we get the site into production, fix any bugs that come up and ensure that the site is stable and functional. (We've already open-sourced some of the code that runs the site.)

While we conduct last minute beta tests on the new code base, you're welcome to see it in action. The content is not quite current, but the functionality is all in place. Please, try it out and let us know what you think.

If you encounter any errors or notice any buggy functionality, please either email the details to us or post the problem on the issue tracker.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted December 08, 2009 at 00:47:56

i appreciate seeing the tools you're using to build it and what technology's being used - and letting people know what's going on behind the scenes whenever you make a switch.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted December 08, 2009 at 11:21:42

Great news Ryan!

The fact that we can now edit our posts alone is a huge improvement, and I'm also happy to see the move towards open source tech. But I was curious why there is a 5 minute time limit on editing. Was that to ensure that people are only editing typos and not changing content?

Also just to make things easier on the posters here, after the new site's up and running I could write up a blog post for the unfamiliar to act as a Markdown cheat sheet, and since you've set up a bug tracking DB, I could write a short post on the kinds of information that should be in a bug report. I'm a programmer too so I know first hand how frustrating it is when you get a useless report describing what could be a serious issue.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 08, 2009 at 11:32:43

UrbanRenaissance wrote:

I was curious why there is a 5 minute time limit on editing. Was that to ensure that people are only editing typos and not changing content?

That's correct.

I could write up a blog post for the unfamiliar to act as a Markdown cheat sheet

That would be a great help! Couple of points: it's python-markdown, which is not 100% compliant with John Gruber's reference implementation. One change that I like is that it disables converting_underscores_to_emphasis_inside_words, which in the basic implementation is a gotcha that leaves new users confounded.

Another change I made is that if you add an URL by itself (i.e without the markdown link syntax), it's converted into a hyperlink. AFAIK Markdown doesn't do this by default.

I could write a short post on the kinds of information that should be in a bug report.

That would also be really helpful! Thanks for offering to pitch in.

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By race_to_the_bottom (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2009 at 12:56:33

Great stuff. can't wait to see the new site in action. Alot of free volunteer projects kind of peter out without ever getting the refinement they need. Nice to see RTH is still a going concern!

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted December 08, 2009 at 15:58:00

Ryan wrote:

That would also be really helpful! Thanks for offering to pitch in.

No problem, happy to help.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 08, 2009 at 16:49:40

By the way, with respect to the markdown footnotes extension, I'll have to play with it a bit to determine whether it can lead to HTML anchor collisions. I suspect it will, given the way comments are formatted.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted December 08, 2009 at 22:10:12

Yeah I was suspecting that might be an issue, Markdown footnoting isn't all that necessary anyway. Online sources can be directly hyperlinked and footnoting other sources the old fashioned way isn't that difficult. I was just curious to see if it would work.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2009 at 13:22:52

Have you considered intense debate commenting?

No sense reinventing the wheel.. it is a great system, does the nesting for you, and allows people to tweet their own comments etc, meaning instant free advertising for RTH:

http://www.intensedebate.com/

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2009 at 14:12:02

I appreciate the sentiment, seancb, but there are reasons why I wouldn't use a service like intensedebate:

  1. It means outsourcing RTH content to a third party and its servers. I no longer control the data, and if the service shuts down, the comments are all lost.

  2. JS dependency: "This website uses IntenseDebate comments, but they are not currently loaded because either your browser doesn't support JavaScript, or they didn't load fast enough."

  3. Any service delivered across the internet is subject to slowdowns and timeouts (including RTH itself). Incorporating a second web service introduces a second opportunity for slowdowns.

Bottom line: I'm a lot more comfortable re-using existing technologies that I can host myself.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted December 09, 2009 at 16:23:16

Another thing I just thought of...

We'll have to amend the Code of Conduct to include things like overuse of formatting options. We want to ensure we're increasing readability. (I'm imagining entire posts written with the Header 1 format or layers upon layers of nested quotes.)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2009 at 16:42:43

You raise a good point, UrbanRenaissance. Perhaps I should restrict the syntax to a subset of what Markdown provides: say, emphasis, strong emphasis, ordered and unordered lists, block quotations, preformatted text and hyperlinks. For now it's probably safe to wait and see whether this becomes a problem. :)

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted December 09, 2009 at 16:47:48

I would hope that common sense will prevail when people are posting, but as a driving instructor once told me, "Common sense ain't so common."

Personally I think adding to the CoC is enough for now and as you said, functionality can be removed when and if it becomes an issue.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2009 at 16:53:15

Good point. :)

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 10, 2009 at 10:34:42

I used to feel the same way. But I realized that the economies of scale of these centralized services mean that they can do a much better job of staying on top of intrusion security, data backup, feature upgrades, etc than I ever could in my entire lifetime. Not to mentio the spam fighting power is unmatchable on a small scale system. I also realized that the time I save could be better spent on other projects and problems that haven't already been solved.

And in the "new internet", these central socially connected services are what users crave, and because of this, their use encourages greater participation and penetration to a wider audience.

Is it laziness on my part? Not sure, but I know that I am now much more wary of falling into the not-invented-here trap: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_Invented_Here)

I also used to be much more wary of client-side browser requirements, and while I still detest needless bloat (esp flash/java), I'm slowly coming to accept that most users have all the basic plugin requirements, and have in fact come to expect websites to make (good, efficient, not bloat-y) use of them.

If I were to expend development energy it would be focussed on mobile browsing. I'd leverage existing tools for the full-browser version and spend more time hand-building a very lightweight small-screen friendly version of RTH that allows mobile users to easily read and comment on stories.

But this is all just me :-)

The comment system here works great, and I'm sure it will only get better - it's all just food for thought!

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted December 10, 2009 at 10:53:56

Hey Ryan,

You may want to check out the comments I've posted on the beta test site entry "Test Blog" I've discovered a few issues with creating hyperlinked text.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 10, 2009 at 11:20:54

Thanks for testing, UrbanRenaissance! I think I know what the problem is - my code to add hyperlinks to stand-alone URLs is overloading markdown-formatted URLs. I'll fix this tonight.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 10, 2009 at 23:30:22

Okay, UrbanRenaissance, I think I fixed the bug you identified. All the samples you posted in the comments work now, and the code also converts plain URLs (i.e. without any markdown syntax) into hyperlinks - both inline and standalone block URLs.

Thanks again for pointing out the bug!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 11, 2009 at 00:54:44

Hi seancb, it's not that I'm NIH (though I certainly used to be). After all, I'm reusing existing libraries and modules right up and down the stack. I just don't like outsourcing the site's content and functionality to a third party hosted on a server I don't control. If that party changes its terms of service or goes under, we're SOL.

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