New Server and New Site Features

Phyllis and I decided two years ago that if we were going to keep running AAC we were going to do it right, and that a big part of that was keeping up with developments that provide a better experience to our readers, and particularly you members who pay the bills.

Since then we have been working away behind the scenes building a new and better site design as well as reorganizing our content.

And today we took another big step:

New Server

The short version is that moving to a new server will make the site faster and better. The long version follows for those of you who are interested in such things, but if you just want to find out about the cool new features, click here to bypass all that.

We just completed moving this site to a new cloud-based server, something that we have been planning for a couple of years. And we are very glad to have that out of the way, since moving a complex membership site with over 1000 articles, nearly 34,000 comments, and at least 5000 images is not a trivial task.

That said, it was worth the work, and not a little stress, because the advantages are many:

Speed

Membership sites, particularly big ones like ours, are hard on the server because a bunch of code must be executed before even the first part of a page is displayed—the dreaded and very boring white screen. Our old server was really struggling, but the new one gets the same job done in less than a quarter of the time.

That said, of course, whether or not you see all of this increase will depend a lot on how fast your internet connection is.

Talking of which, now that we have the new server up and running, we will have some time to further optimize our site so that it will load faster even on slow internet connections—an ever-ongoing process.

Even More Secure

Even though we don’t store any of your financial information here at AAC, we have long paid for best-in-class security software on our server. We will continue to do that, but this update also adds two additional levels of security at the server level.

We Get Help

While we have always paid experts to manage the server software that makes this site run, our new server company provides full WordPress management, something I (John) used to do, which should free more of my time for writing.

Scalable

Before, the site ran on a single computer (private server) but now it runs on load-balanced cloud servers, so if a bunch of you all decide to read our scintillating content at the same moment—often happens at month end when the digest goes out—more computer hardware automatically swings into action to make sure things don’t slow down.

Oh Canada

If you hear a whispered “Bonjour” every time you load a page, this is not a coincidence. The site is now on a bunch of super powerful cloud computers in a data centre in Montreal, a good idea since we are a Canadian company and Canada also has strong privacy legislation, that’s going to get stronger.

New Features

Navigation Block

Since we added the Topic page to the menu last year, you have been able to easily explore our content by subject and see a brief description of each article or chapter in a list.

Now, added to that, there is a navigation block at the bottom of every article that’s part of an Online Book or Series, with links to the next and previous article or chapter, as well as a condensed table of contents with the chapter you are on highlighted.

I coded it, along with a bunch of other stuff on the new site, but this one was a bit tricky so I’m kind of proud of it #geysersthatcode.

Jump Links

No question that one of the best parts of AAC is the incredible value added by you, our members, in the comments. And we know many of you read all of them right to the end…but then what?

Sure, you can use the sticky menu to move to another article on the same subject using the breadcrumbs, but what if you want to add a comment yourself or return to the navigation block?

Now that’s easy with two buttons at the bottom of every page, just above the footer.

Series

We have long had Online Books with a series of chapters on a subject. But a vexing problem was smaller groups of related articles that ended up all higgledy piggledy within a topic—not good. That’s now a solved problem with Series. In fact, you will find that most topics are now fully organized in this way. You can tell because the articles have navigation blocks.

Getting and keeping the Online Books and Series well organized and keeping them that way is an ongoing project for Phyllis and me, kind of like varnishing on a boat…but way more fun.

Not So Sticky

We added the sticky menu in last month’s site redesign, which was great since readers can make a menu or breadcrumb selection without having to scroll all the way back up to the top of page, a pain, particularly on phones. But the downside is that the menu took up screen space all the time, a pain, particularly on phones.

We fixed that by making the sticky menu just a little less…well, sticky. Now it disappears when you scroll down as you read, and then reappears if you scroll up a bit.

Still More To Do

We still have a bunch of tidying up to do, and also a couple more optimization projects, but, after two years of work, we have definitely broken the back of it, and feel that the site is now in good shape for the future.

Now back to my real job: writing about offshore voyaging.

Comments

Please let us know in the comments how the new server is working for you, as well as how you like the new features. And, as always, if you still find anything confusing or hard to navigate, we want to know that too.

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Glenn Pullen

Humorously enough, xkcd has a relevant irreverent comic I saw today, concerning Web site navigation.

‘Manage Your Preferences’

https://xkcd.com/2432/

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Hi John, I am still missing a link to the comments section at the top of the article – something that is still available at the topic overview page. Any plans to reestablish this?

Vesa Ikonen

Hi there,
the Navigation Block and the ”Navigate” & ”Leave a Comment” buttons at the bottom are great to have.
They solve the missing ’Back to top’ arrow thing.

I was also dearly missing the ”Next” & ”Previous” article buttons and the navigation list that used to be on the right hand side margin in the online books prior to the redesign. Good to see a similar feature back.

The ’not so sticky’ top menu is great on mobile devices.
Good work, thanks!

Matt Molkoski

As a fellow Canadian who currents hosts a website abroad, do you mind John if I ask who you are hosting with in Montreal?

M. Bruce McFarland

Hi John,

Here, in this part of the US, I refer to myself as a ‘geezer’. Yes, I also code for a living (at the moment). Generally gets a chuckle at the Dunkin Donuts (Tim Hortons equivalent) when I ask for the ‘geezer discount’.

Like the improvements you’ve made, make the site much more usable.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Just wanted to give you a heads up that the “Replies to My Comments” way of subscribing is not behaving the way that I would expect. I haven’t really studied it but it seems to email me whenever there is a comment by you on the post and sometimes by others but I am not sure exactly when it includes others and when it doesn’t. It definitely is giving me a lot more emails than just strictly replies to my comments but I don’t think I have seen an instance where it misses a reply that should have been included. I have noticed this for a little while now, I believe it started before you upgraded the site.

My apologies if this is actually the intended behavior.

Eric

Eric Klem

Hi John,

My apologies if I am missing something but I don’t see an option to manage my subscriptions under my account but I can see it if I go to the specific article. If I go to Account and then Subscriptions, I only see information about my membership. This is definitely something that I am seeing on newer posts, I haven’t really paid attention to the old ones as they rarely get comments.

Taking your recent piece “When Electric Drive Works for a Cruising Sailboat” I took a quick look at the behavior I am seeing. When I look, it shows that “You’re subscribed to Replies to my comments” and I don’t believe that I have ever changed it. A bit of quick filtering shows the following:
111 total comments
71 email notifications
28 total comments that should not be eligible for email had I selected to subscribe to all comments (before I subscribed, my own comments)
10 actual replies to my comments
Flipping through the emails quickly I see quite a few that are indeed not replies to my comments. So it seems to me that I got replies to my comments as well as a bunch of other stuff but didn’t actually get all of it. I haven’t really looked at it but I think I might get a notification for ever comment of yours as I often see an email come through and realize I haven’t seen the original comment you are replying to.

I hope that I am not sending you down a rabbit hole here. I waited a while before saying anything as several times I thought it was weird that I got a notification but didn’t actually see it enough to say anything. Even if there really is a problem, it is definitely not a big deal and I hope you don’t waste too much time on it.

Eric

Ernest E Vogelsinger

John, please help – where is the link to this “manage my comments” admin window? Maybe I’m suffering from ESD (wouldn’t bet that I’m not) but I’m unable to find my way there…

Edit – just after I posted I noticed that little small guy at the beginning of the comments section. Someone at wordpress (or the plugin developer) must have pondered some nights about where to put this so no one could possibly find it 😉

Ernest E Vogelsinger

No offense meant John 🙂
And now you gave me just another target to hunt – the “cheat sheet that is linked to on each comment” – which I’m again unable to find…

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Must been blind 😉
Honestly I didn’t even realize it was there.
And as the cheat sheet includes topics that are relevant outside the actual posting action (e.g. managing ones own subscriptions) I feel it is slightly out of context where it is now.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Ah, I hadn’t seen the way to get in there previously but now can see both activity and subscriptions. Most of my subscriptions say ” subscribed to my comments” although there are some that are to “subscribed to all follow-up comments of this post”.

Maybe I don’t understand what these mean but it seems that I get something in between these two. I took a quick look and came up with an example which hopefully illustrates it in the same post about electric drives. I can’t find a notification about Iain Dell’s comment on March 28 at 1:14am but I did get a notification when you replied on March 28 at 8:25am. Neither of these were a reply to a comment that I had posted. Is this the expected behavior? There was a definite change at some point as I believe it used to behave as I would have expected up until a few months ago.

For your sake I hope this is user error on my part but I would also feel bad for wasting your time.

Eric

Eric Klem

Hi John,

I have a hypothesis which I spent a minute checking and appears to check out for the electric drive post at least but I haven’t checked any others. It appears that I get all replies to comments not just replies to my comments. I don’t get the original comment at the base level but then I get every reply someone makes specifically to an existing comment regardless of who made that comment. Does that make sense? Hopefully not a new wild goose chase. I will keep watching it and see if this pattern holds.

Tracking through the emails that I have been getting, it appears that my comment on March 23 at 3:06pm is the one that triggered the subscription and that is what I based my earlier numbers given on (I just filtered by time).

Eric

Eric Klem

Hi John,

No worries on it taking a while to report, this is definitely low on the priority list and if it never gets fixed it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

I have been casually watching and I haven’t seen an exception to my theory on it giving all replies but no base level comments. This is far from a rigorous analysis but it is one potential hypothesis.

Thanks for keeping track of this IT stuff. Of the many reasons why I could never run a website, one that would single-handedly kill it would be maintaining the site which would drive me nuts.

Eric

Geoff Hadrill

Basic question: is there a search function. The Google search at the masthead is a web search as all kinds of general info comes up or are these ads?

I joined 2 weeks ago and this reference library is superb. I read the entire anchoring book and confirmed my new anchor selection. Sarca Excel.

I look forward to gleaning much more along with starting into the comments.

Marc Dacey

Hello, Geoff. I assume you are the G. Hadrill I know from Toronto. You’ll get a great deal out of this site, I’m sure, as we have. The depth of experience here is superb.