Mankato Composite Squadron, Civil Air Patrol

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There have been a lot of questions about this website and how it was built. Read the rest of this article for information on what tools we use and why. Enjoy!

  • Inspiration
    The standard for a CAP website has long been a MS Front Page written site created by an inexperienced cadet or senior member and left neglected for months or years at a time. The national CAP website looks pretty at first glance, but it's impossible to find the information you need and is quite often out of date. How many squadrons still have GeoCities websites out there? Our old squadron website was decent and received enough attention to be far above the standard. However, when Maryland Wing released their new mdcap.org site, we were blown away. The quality work done by the volunteers in Maryland set a new standard for all other units to aspire to reach. We realized that we needed a site which looked great, was well organized, and was VERY EASY FOR NON-TECHNICAL USERS TO MAINTAIN THE CONTENT.
  • Content Management System - Joomla! (swahili for "all together")
    While mdcap.org uses a custom built Content Management System (CMS) built with ColdFusion (a propriety web programming language) we decided to seek out a community built CMS. The real motivators were cost and technical expertise - we had no budget for this project and nobody who could write a custom system. But, in the end we found that using open source software better reflects the ideals our organization aspires to - community service, volunteersim, helping out your neighbor - you know the drill. We evaluated lots of options like Plone, Drupal, and DotNetNuke. However, when we found Joomla! we found everything we had ever dreamed of in a CMS. Joomla! 1.5 is based on PHP5 and MySQL, has a massive community for support, great features included, and lots of extensions. We use GoDaddy to host the site (which doesn't cost us anything because it is piggy-backing on another account ).
    • Joomla! Templates
      Our site uses a slightly customized version of the RedEvo_Aphelion template which is in a Joomla! 1.5 templates competition. All we really did was tweak the colors a bit, add our own banner, and put the eagles instead of the balls at the menu tops. There are several other great free templates in the same competition, like JA Purity, Firepoint Unity, Siteground.
    • Google Gadgets
      We can't say enough about how useful Google's tools have been. Google's philosophy that data should not be restricted has lead to a lot of openness in their products. This means that they want you to be able to integrate something done with Google's tools with your own tools. We use some Google Gadgets like the countdown timer gadget and Google calendar gadget on our site. There's a lot of other tools which we could consume, but we're just getting started. Typically we just wrap the gadget code in a mod_custom.
  • Images
    We have NO graphic designers working on this project. In fact, my experience with image editing was limited to MS Paint. But, I found the right tool for the job - and it's free. We use Paint.Net to create and edit all of the graphics on this site. There are a lot of image effect plugins available through the forums. The software is easy to use, incredibly powerful, and a heck of a lot cheaper than Photoshop.
  • Browser Testing
    We want the website to work well and look beautiful for everyone who uses our website. The first principle which goes with this is an attempt to be compliant with standards. The site does its best to use good XHTML and CSS. We must then try to get the site to work in lots of different browsers. We even make considerations for those with disabilities in the testing process - yes, blind people can use our website just fine.
    • Firefox 2 on Windows
      As far as browsers go, Firefox is an outstanding tool. In September of 2007 Firefox was the primary web browser of about 20% of all internet users. Sites like Slashdot and Wired News report that they see about 70% of their users (who are more likely to be savvy technologists) viewed their sites with Firefox.
    • Internet Explorer 7
      While Internet Explorer 7 is the most recent version of IE, it is only 1/3 as prevelent as the previous version. Still using an older version of IE and don't want to upgrade? Since you can't install different versions of Internet Explorer side-by-side, its best to use a Virtual Machine to do the testing. The simplest free method to do this is to use MS Virtual PC and the free Windows XP image with IE7.
    • Internet Explorer 6
      My Wing website sees about a 60/40 split between IE7 and IE6, so we still do have to worry about testing with it. And, since IE6 is absolutely awful with standards compliant websites using CSS and XHTML, you really do need to test your site with it from time-to-time. You can use the same Virtual Machine method listed above, but instead use the Windows XP image with IE6.
    • Other browser engines:
      • Safari - Yep, the Mac browser has a Windows beta!
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 02 December 2008 21:11 )