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SimCat - The Simple Catalog 

SimCat - A History


I first became interested in blogging sometime during the middle of 2002. I found that I was spending more and more of my "internet time" on blogs as opposed to what was my usual fare of Ebay, Google Groups and any number of what would otherwise be considered more commercial sites. I found myself becoming interested in certain blogs, some that are well known and tons that aren't. For whatever reason, I became fascinated with blogs, bloggers and the whole blogging phenomena. I could also see that it was becoming wildly popular.

On my birthday in late August of 2002, I found myself moping around feeling depressed about certain aspects of my life at the time and I decided that perhaps I should start keeping a blog of my own. Many bloggers seemed to be in a similar state as myself, and claimed that the blogging experience in itself was often therapeutic. So I signed myself up on Blogspot and started a blog. It took me about 10 minutes using Blogspot's Blogger program to become frustrated. While I know it's used by hundreds of thousands of people, I personally didn't find it all that intuitive. Again, that was just my personal feeling. The product itself does work fine (I'm assuming, since I haven't used it since my last entry there) and besides, it's free. I then tried out MoveableType and found that though it is a feature rich blogger and has a very nice interface, it seemed somewhat inflexible to me. Well, actually it is pretty flexible, but not in a manner I liked. I didn't like MoveableType's methodology and more importantly, I didn't like it's database system. I wanted to have full control and it just didn't offer me that. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine blogger, but I just decided I wanted to write my own and maybe even eventually out blogger it. I never even tried using Radio's blogger for the same reason.

As I said, at that time I was looking for ways out of my funk and I decided that I needed to get my mind off of it. It was about then that I decided that I needed a project to work on and that's when the idea of writing my own blogger application was born. I'm a computer programmer by trade, so it was certainly something within my capability to do. I also specialize in database programming and if you didn't already know this, blogs are database driven. I started actually writing my blogger sometime in early September of 2002.

The first thing I always do when I start writing a new application is to give it a name. I do this because once you start creating files it helps to have a common name so that there is no confusion as to which application a file belongs. I also wanted a name that I could register as a web domain in the event that I might want to someday market my blogger. But I had, over the past several years, already purchased a number of web domain names and one of them was a name I had always thought I'd give to a suitable application. The name was SimCat, which was my nickname for an application called Simple Catalog. I had purchased the domain simcat.com a couple of years prior in anticipation of one day writing an application that truly was just that, a simple catalog. SimCat the blogger was born in early September of 2002, but much of it's internal low level functionality stems from core functions that I've developed for previous applications. In software parlance, this is called re-usability.

SimCat - The Beginning

The funny thing about writing a program is that you have to test it every step of the way. In large software shops, there are people whose job it is to do this for you and typically you don't want the programmers testing the application anyway because they know how it's supposed to work, so they typically don't do things that actually make it fail. A good tester does though. In my case, since I was doing this at home and in my spare time without any outside help, I had to do the testing too. That meant I'd have to be bloggin' in order to tell how well it was working. So my blog itself (quitthat.com) really got started the same day I started writing SimCat.

The first thing I needed to do was to decide on a format for my blog. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible because I was more interested in getting the SimCat up and running than I was in building a pretty site. As I mentioned earlier, I became frustrated with Blogspot almost immediately and I knew that if I was going to have total control of SimCat's output, I'd also need to get completely off of Blogspot. Besides, I didn't want my blogger to be using someone else's template. As I said too, I own a number of web domains and one of them was quitthat.com. I decided that that was a perfect name for a blog and I didn't really have any idea what I'd use the name for otherwise. I only registered it because it was available and I liked it. So I set-up a web hosting account for quitthat.com and went to work. I started playing around with different schemes in hand coded HTML until ultimately I came to like the one you see now. This is a simple 2 column table with a single row header that spans the top. Once I had settled on this format, I wrote a function in SimCat called blogpage that emulates it. This function gets called whenever you regenerate the blog. The blogpage function is the only function in SimCat that is unique to this format, which means that if I were to significantly modify my layout, I'd have to either create a new funtion for it, or also modify blogpage. This is one function that will get a lot of attention in the future, as it is going to have to be able to handle a number of template files and it should be able to do this in a generic fashion. But since I'm currently the only blogger on the face of the planet that uses SimCat as my blogging tool, this isn't a problem at the moment. You can actually see those early test posts in the October archives (I included September with October as there weren't all that many posts in the beginning). Most of those early posts were about getting the SimCat started and what was going on as I did it. It's not very interesting reading unless you were interested in SimCat's progress. SimCat's first blog (quitthat.com) officially went online on Friday the 13th (spooky huh?) of September 2002. Over the past several months (4 as of this writing) I've been in dual mode. Writing SimCat and writing the blog and it's been a lot of fun doing both.

SimCat Current Technical Information

As of today (January 10, 2003) SimCat is fully operational and I've have been really happy with it's speed and efficiency. SimCat is a web based blogger, much like Blogspot's Blogger. Which means that you can maintain your blog from anywhere in the world if you have access to the internet. You don't even need a computer to do it, you can use any device that has internet browsing capabilities, such as the HandSpring Treo 270 or 300 to access SimCat's interface. The interface itself is written entirely to HTML 3.2 specifications so that it can be used by as many different browsers as possible. SimCat operates on a webserver and while it can work with a variety of web servers, it is currently running on an old Pentium II machine running Windows NT 4.0 and Internet Information Server (IIS). SimCat's database (backend) was written entirely using Microsoft Visual Foxpro 6.0. Foxpro is a powerful relational database development platform and SimCat makes good use of it's strength and speed. There are a number of data files that keep track of everything. On the sidebar of the blog you'll notice the Blog Roll, Music, Books and Movies. Each of these are maintained in seperate files and SimCat provides the ability to maintain each one seperately. It houses the blog entries themselves in their own seperate file as well. Archives are stored in yet another file. It also makes use of a configuration file that keeps track of things like the web server's name/address that houses your blog, your user id and password (if you want) so that it can automatically send files (FTP) to your web site . By keeping all of these components seperate from one another, it will be much easier for SimCat to adapt to different blog layouts. It also insures that if one file gets damaged, the entire blog doesn't go up in smoke. As of now, the following is a list of the current working features of SimCat, those still under development or not yet working correctly are under future features.

SimCat Current Features

- Uses a web based interface that works with Mozilla, Internet Explorer, Netscape and essentially any other device with web browsing capabilities. Your blog can be maintained and published from anywhere in the world with web access, even wirelessly.

- Ability to add/edit/delete blog entries, using a form based editing component with WYSIWYG functionality. (You don't need to know HTML)

- Ability to retire old blog entries to an archive file for permanent storage outside of the existing blog page.

- Group Blogging capability which allows multiple collaborators to post to a common blog.

- Automatic FTP site publishing capability. SimCat can publish directly to your blog at your hosting site.

- Link Sucker a feature to strip links off of pages and place them into a database. I actually only wrote this so that I wouldn't have to manually input blogs in the blog roll. It turned out to be very handy though.

- Automatic generation of RSS 1.0 syndication files. Useful for news aggregators and various applications that collect headline information.

- NOTEorious - a feature that I've found to be very useful while surfing other blogs. It's essentially a notetaker. When you come across information that you want to bookmark to come back to later NOTEorious let's you get the URL and also add some additional information that will eventually be key word searchable. Very handy.

Future Features
- Spell checker, it definately needs that.

- Ability to categorize blogs and have unlimited categories and be able to maintain them.

- Ability to have and maintain an unlimited number of sidebar features. It currently only has 5 - Blog Roll, Archives, Music, Books and Movies

- Ability to accept emailed blog entries (though I think if you can email, you should also have access to a browser)

- Spiffier interface. It works fine now, but boy is that interface b-o-r-i-n-g.

- Comment capability. I like Haloscan (quitthat's current comment system) but I'd like SimCat to handle it in the future.

- Ability to write all the rest of the things I want by itself (yeah like that'll happen)

I'm sure there's many I'm leaving off for the future features, but the beautiful thing about rolling your own blogger (or any software) is that you aren't at the mercy of some third party software company and you can do whatever the hell you want with it. I'll add them as they come.

 










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