ACS-STAF Archives

March 1996


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
David Houston <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 14 Mar 1996 09:57:56 -0500 (EST)
TEXT/PLAIN (79 lines)
An interesting solution, and one that I think should be carefully 
explored further.

In light of the (hopefully!) ongoing discussions about cgi-bin etc. on 
mole/moose, and the possibility of a solution to that issue, there may 
well be a very strong relationship to this as well.

I can think of - and "see" - some problems.  A few are minor, some are 

Serious problem: no backup for the server end. Should it go down for any 
reason, we're toast.

not-as-serious-but-still-pretty-serious problem:  Nirvana:common:staff.  
This volume fills VERY fast.  Most, if not all of us, can recall a time 
in the very recent past when it filled right up.  I'll freely admit my 
ignorance of the software mechanics behind the index/search engine, but 
I'd bet that temporary files play a role somewhere.  It is likely, very 
likely, that we will either hit the wall and the faq-serve will break, 
or, far worse, we'll hit the wall and the entire server will break!  This 
would have potentially dire consequences for those in the lab, something 
that I don't care to repeat!

semi-serious problem:  Yes, all staff have write access to the above 
named volume/directory.  This can be bad.  Deletions can occur.  This is 
not a good thing.

minor (but very visibly annoying) problem:  The formatting of the faqs 
pulled from the Helpline repository is pretty well hosed.  Not a big deal, 
but, let's face it, when you are a beginner trying to read a technical 
document, run on's like:

   Macintosh to a UVM host computer. Start MacKermit --------------- 1.  
   Start the Macintosh. Make sure you have a copy of MacKermit on your 
   startup disk or your hard drive. 2. Start

i.e. everything runs on into one huge mushy block of text.  Not a lot of 
beginners will even make it through the first sentence.

minor problem: overwhelming indexes.  This is something that I suspect is
endemic to the www/httpd software.  An index consisting of 45 references
to Eudora, all but 7 of which are identical, doesn't offer much.  In this
case, I'd submit that indexing is almost useless.  Far better might be a
simple listing of titles.  As I said, this is a function of the way such
software works, but given the need to have a manual index update, I'd vote
not to have it at all, but instead something that simply created a listing
of titles.  A beginner seeing the aforementioned 45 entries would be 
likely be lost. 

minor problem: manual process of "fetching" all the faqs.  I presume that
there is no "server crawler" that is quietly sneaking about gathering
things that look like FAQ's.  The need for another manual process poses
challenges: Who does this?  When?  Should authors of new FAQ's alert the
"server master" that a new one is born?  Should these authors have to
manually submit them in addition to another copy? 

Which leads to one of the major cruxes of the problem under consideration
- single sourcing for masters. 

Clearly, the process of creating a rich repository of HTML'able documents 
is a crude and frustrating process.  While text files are nice -- and 
certainly afford the opportunity to avoid some of the pitfalls -- text 
loses the rich aspects of the environment.  As the software for web 
_delivery_ improves, graphics will become far more commonplace than they 
are now.  It makes no sense to exclude this aspect. But that means HTML, 
and that often means a difficult process, made more difficult if multiple 
sources are required.  I have no answer for this one: it's just a pain 
that needs to be thoroughly considered before we jump on any solution as 
the be-all end-all.

I do think this approach merits a close and well tested evaluation.  I
also think that the problems noted need to be addressed as completely as
possible.  I would hope that in conjunction with the exploration of the
cgi-bin solution here, that we could arrive at a reasonable 20.5th century