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History of Chicago.Railfan.Net

Ramblings by your host Harold A. Driscoll


This Web site utilizes a custom-developed photo display engine to present hundreds of railroad-related photographs in a convenient-to-view manner. When I decided to present selections from my collection, I looked around a bit to see what other folks were doing. Quite frankly, I didn't particularly like what I found.

First, I constructed a couple of Web sites using static Web pages, using a Perl script to actually build the pages (generate the necessary HTML codes). They were put up on a free hosting service (Angelfire), working within the limitations of that system. I liked the results, and yet I didn't like them. Email comments I received from site visitors echoed many of my own sentiments. You can visit the sites if you wish, although I've incorporated all of their photos into this site. They are Chicago & North Western Memories 1998 and Circus Train in Chicago 1998.

Next, I built a prototype Web site for a small subset of my photos, those related to Chicago's Metra Rail commuter system. That site was also hosted by a free service, this time Virtual Avenue. They provide a larger quota of Web space, and more important to me they include CGI (Common Gateway Interface). CGI provides the ability to run a program on the Web server when a request is made, and customize the response to the request. In this case I've written a Perl script that does the deed. That site continues to run (and has some photos not included in this site) at my Chicago Metra Photographs site. (The photo display engine used there gets updated, but may lag behind that of this Chicago.Railfan.Net site.)

Perhaps an explaination is in order. With 1,000 photographs, for example, one wants to be able to present each of them on their own page, in full size, with commentary and credits, along with links to related photos (such as previous and next), as well as the standard links found on each page. One also wants to provide index pages in a number of ways, such as by railroad, car number, type of car, location, date photographed, and even what's new listings.

For our example 1,000 photos, there could be hundreds of different possible index pages (e.g. by railroad, car number, type, location), as well as a thousand pages for each images size (may of my photos are in both 600 and 1200 pixel widths). That is a lot of possible pages (literally thousands), many of which (while possible) may never actually be requested (although some might be requested numerous times). It makes sense to generate the actual Web pages when they are requested, rather than devoting many megabytes of disk storage to all the possible permuttions of pages that just might possibly be used someday (maybe).

After some work, the Chicago Metra Photographs site was a successful proof of concept. But next I needed an effective and affordable Web hosting service. Virtual Avenue was seriously limited in storage space. Its response and performance can vary from good to extremely sluggish. It does provide convenient update via standard FTP (File Transfer Protocol), however site updates can be quite slow, and I've found my site to be unavailable for update for hours at a time. After looking at various services, Railfan.Net became my choice, and I purchased the Chicago.Railfan.Net virtual server service from them for a modest cost.

Starting with a fresh set of photographs, I then wrote up descriptions, using the photo display engine from my Metra site, and began Chicago.Railfan.Net. As I added photographs I also added features to the photo display engine. Some of my enahncements were quite successful, others were a learning experience, quickly removed, as is typical of any software development project. The description file format has changed a few times along the way, with quick-and-dirty throw-away Perl scripts aiding the conversion process. At a convenient point the photographs from the Chicago & North Western Memories 1998 site were incorporated, and later those of the Circus Train in Chicago 1998 site.

I've two goals, both to display the photographs at Chicago.Railfan.Net, as well as to develop a general and easy-to-use photo display engine tool. To test and exploit its flexibility, I've constructed two other Web sites that utilize the same photo display engine, a site displaying a number of Cows on Parade and a private site of photographs taken at the Illinois Railway Museum. These exercies have proven to be particularly helpful to the process.

This photo display engine, and the Chicago.Railfan.Net site, remain a work in progress, with a number of enhancements either in the works or on my wish list. Hopefully it has sufficient cabability to provide you with an enjoyable and rewarding visit.

Here is a summary of recent enhancements to the Photo Display Engine.

Limit the display of thumbnail images   in a list to 10 per page, with a list of page numbers (at the top and bottom of each page), giving the ability to page through the full list. This applies to lists of photos at a particular location, of a particular subject, taken on a particular date, or new to the Web site on the same date. Completed 5 November 1999

Text roster lists   present the railroads and car owners and for each a list of all the cars (and locomotives) with their reporting mark, and links to the associated photographs. Completed 22 November 1999

Random walk through the collection   to allows browsing as one might by opening a book to a page more or less at random. Completed 25 November 1999

About Chicago.Railfan.Net
History of Chicago.Railfan.Net
Harold A. Driscoll's railroad Web sites
Photo display engine wish list
Digital cameras used
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Chicago Rail Photographs collection updated 3 October 2022 at 22:09. Photographs and text copyright © 1998-2000 Harold A. Driscoll, All Rights Reserved. Email address is provided exclusively for personal contact, but emphatically not for use for SPAM net.abuse.