The Update that wasn’t

May 11, 1999: Today will go down in Passionate history as the Update that was not an Update. Uh, guess that needs some explaining?

On April 30th, I received a very rude surprise when I visited our site. It was running like a dog. I mean, I’ve seen molasses streaming up hill, in the middle of February, running faster. It took long, breathless seconds just to connect to, and often several minutes just to download a single page. That’s when the page would completely download, of course. As often as not it would instead terminate with a network error.

I’m going to spare you a lot of gory details about the next several days. I won’t tell you about the unnecessary work I did on the server, the investigation of my local ISP, or all of the phone calls I made or emails I sent. It took me almost a week, but I finally discovered the problem.

There are a lot of discrete parts that make the Internet work. At the very lowest level are the physical pipes (wires) that run from your machine all the way to the Passionate server. Lots of different pipes. And, as in the real world, those pipes come in many different sizes. The pipe running from my computer (and presumably yours) to the wall is the smallest. It’s a garden hose type pipe, and I can only push just so much water (er, bytes) through it at one time. That’s okay, though, because I’m the only one using it. At the other end of the spectrum is the Internet Backbone, a very small group of pipes so large that all the water in the world (er, bytes) can flow swiftly through them at one time. These are river-size pipes, and they have to be because everyone uses them at the same time! Between these two extremes are the irrigation hoses (Ethernet, ISDN’s, DSL’s, cable modems and such), the fire-hoses (or T1’s), the conduits that run under the street of a city block (the T3’s), and the still larger pipes that connect directly to the city reservoir (the OC3’s and larger). Lots and lots of pipes, all serving different purposes.

Well, on April 30th, we got a clog in one of our pipes. The Passionate server was connected to the rest of the Internet via a T1, one of those fire-hose size pipes. Not a really big pipe to start with, and I had it in the back of my head we would soon have to upgrade – but it was getting us by. Trouble was, we weren’t the only one using that particular pipe. A dedicated T1 costs between five and seven grand a month (and you thought the Internet was free?), so we were sharing it with a lot of other servers. The company that owns the pipe, called an "uplink" in Net parlance, makes their money by investing capital in the big pipes and then renting them out.

The problem is that Passions in Poetry has been just a tad too successful lately. We were supposed to be using just a piece of our T1, but we were in actuality using darn near the whole thing. Like any finite sized pipe, you can only push just so much water (er, bytes) through it at one time. And the other servers on our shared pipe to the Internet started complaining they couldn’t get anything through. So, our uplink put a valve between the Passionate server and the T1 to make sure we couldn’t hog his whole fire hose. And, my friends, it turned out to be a really small valve!

So, for most of the past two weeks, our poetry has been trickling across the Internet instead of flowing. Highly unacceptable. Well, as of today, Passions is back to a steady flow. At least for most of us. Last week, you see, I went out and bought us a new pipe.

Unfortunately, life is seldom simple. I’ll admit that I could have just disconnected our old pipe, hooked in the new, bigger pipe, and we’d have been back up and running just like the old times. But only for a while. Passions has grown incredibly fast over the past few months, and that doesn’t seem to be changing. Had I replaced our teeny pipe with the next size up, we would have just faced the same problem again in a few months.

For those who don’t like technical talk, please skip this paragraph and move ahead to the next. The main Passions site is now running on a T3, albeit as a temporary solution. On May 15th, we’ll be down for about five hours as the server gets moved to a whopping OC48 line (a really big pipe). But we still don’t get the whole pipe (I ain’t rich, ya know), so we’re also utilizing a technique called load-sharing. When you’re reading a poem you’ll be on our new T3-soon-to-be-a-OC48 line, but when you go to vote on a poem, or send a poem to a friend, or submit a poem, or do any one of many other such things, you’ll actually be moving to different web server. Watch the URL. Watch it change from to something else (right now, I’ve spent most of the past week completely rewriting the Passions web site so it can easily run on multiple servers. Right now, we’ll be using two. As we continue to grow, it should be easy (I pray!) to add more.

So that’s the story. Well, most of it. I guess those who don’t like technical talk should probably skip this paragraph, too. Sorry. You see, life really is rarely simple, and neither is our move to a bigger pipe. The whole Internet is managed by a large group of computers called Domain Name Servers, or DNS servers (and, yea, I know there’s a redundant "servers" in there, but that’s just what they’re called). When you type in an URL or click on a link or bookmark or favorite, one of the DNS servers looks up the "name" and translates it to an IP number so it can find the web server you want. All of the several thousand DNS servers share a common database, which comes from Network Solutions, better known as InterNIC. The problem is, all of those DNS servers don’t update their database as often as they might. Some, in fact, only update about once a week. Well, when I moved the Passionate server to a new pipe we had to change the database. So, there’s going to be some people, maybe as many as 20 percent of the world, that won’t find the *new* site for as much as a week. When those poor souls go to they’ll be going to the old, slow as molasses web server. At least until their DNS server updates the database so they can find the new site.

Unfortunately, those of us in the lucky 80 percent group have to pay just a teeny-tiny price to accommodate those poor people in the 20 percent group. You see, I don’t dare add any new poetry to Passions until the old, slow server has died completely. If I did, the several thousand notices I would also have to send out, telling the poets and visitors there’s new material posted, would be lying to 20 percent of the world.

And that, my friends, is why this will officially be the Update that wasn’t an Update. There’s no new poetry to announce, and won’t be for at least a few more days. But, trust me — it’s coming!

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Updates. And changes. Again.

April 15, 1999:  As usual, this update to the web site brings a few changes to Passions. Many of those, though, are under-the-hood changes that you’ll only notice subtly (faster loading pages) or won’t notice at all for a few more weeks (static file names now, so we can update the site more often). Of course the biggest change, as always, is the huge influx of new poetry. It varies a bit (probably one of those moon things), but we’re now receiving about 40 to 50 new poems a day. There are a lot of very talented poets in this wonderful digital world.

Little Things

The more visible changes won’t effect the way you read poetry on a day-to-day basis, but will impact the way you interact with the web site. Our voting rules, for example, have changed. Now that we are posting visitor comments on the poems, taken from the voting form, it no longer makes sense to limit everyone to a single vote a day. You can now vote as often as you’d like, though we’ll still count only one vote per author per day for each visitor. That’s simply to discourage little Jenny from voting for her sister’s poem 500 times a day. You can read the new rules here Voting Rules or find them the next time you hit the voting booth.

We’re also adding a few new off-the-site features. You can now register to be notified when the web site is updated so you don’t miss any of the great new poems we’re posting. Send us your email, and within hours of a new site update we’ll send you a message. You’ll find a link on all of the Poetry Index pages, or you can use this one right here. Don’t Miss Out!

We’ve added a number of new sub-categories, and will probably continue to do so as the situation merits. One of our new categories, called More Love Poems, exists only so we can keep our poem index pages at a reasonable size. There’s well over a thousand poems on the site now, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make it both easy to find them and still list them without the need to eat dinner while the page is loading.

For the same reason, we’ve added additional "Next Poem" buttons on each poetry page – so you’ll have to go back to the big index pages far less frequently.

Big Things

The biggest news, besides so many new poems, is that we’ve posted a new "Favorite Poem" of the month. Be sure to check out February’s winner right away, because next week we’ll be posting March’s.

Just as exciting as the winning poet, however, we’ve also added a new Visitor of the Month award. After all, without our great visitors, the poets would be playing to an empty room. You can read all about it, of course, on the Favorites page.

Don’t Go Away

Our next update is going to be very, very soon. It has to be – I have so many poems yet to post my hard disk is running out of space. And, yea, in addition to several hundred more poems, you can be pretty sure I’ll have a few more surprises in store for everyone. There’ll be a number of additional Little Things. And maybe even one or two really Big Things, too.

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There’s a whole lot of new News today

March 17, 1999:   The first thing I want to do is thank everyone for the tremendous amount of patience you’ve extended me in recent weeks. We’ve had a veritable avalanche of poems submitted, and I know some of you have been waiting a very long time to see yours posted. Thank you, indeed, for waiting so nicely. But I’d also like to ask you to be patient with me just a few moments longer, though on a slightly different matter. You see, this entry is likely to get really extensive today…

The New! Passions in Poetry

There have been a lot of changes to Passions this update, almost all the result of great suggestions from our wonderfully active visitors. For many of you, of course, the biggest news is the huge influx of new poems on the site. Some of you read the post I made in our Forum a week or two ago concerning the tremendous backlog of unposted poetry. In that post, I pointed out a number of things the resident poets at Passions could do to get their poems posted more quickly. Things like doing a spell check, removing extra spacing, not capitalizing their entire title. In short, all the things I’ve been doing by hand to make the poetry we post look good.

Well, after I made that post in the Forum I had something of an epiphany. All that tedious stuff I had been doing to every poem was, uh, tedious stuff. Which is another way of saying "computer stuff." If you’ve already read the article posted below, How Athena Learned to Program, you know that almost this entire web site is generated by a computer program. Well, gee, I thought to myself, since Athena is already writing the web pages, why can’t she just edit the poems for me while she’s at it?

It turns out Athena was willing to help where she could. She’s real good at taking out extra spaces and line breaks, and she does a fair job of capitalization. Probably the biggest help is that Athena now reads the poems directly from the web server into the database, without the long and (need I say it?) tedious cut and paste I’ve used for the past several months. Unfortunately, though I frequently forget it, Athena is still just a computer. Her native language isn’t English, and there’s still a lot of things she can’t fix for me. But she’s been a tremendous help and is largely responsible for this huge update.

That solved our biggest problem and almost got me caught up on the backlog. But, as so often happens in life, solving one problem created a few more.

A Whole New! Look

One of the first problems I noticed when the new poems were added was that it was hard to tell which were new and which have been here a while. In the past, it was easy. All a visitor had to do was look at the dates. But many of the poems in this latest update go as far back as January. In some cases, they were skipped over because I didn’t want a single poet dominating a page with too many poems, in other cases because they required a lot of editing. Now, though, as those older submissions were merged into our lists, they became lost.

The solution was pretty simple, actually. All of the poems from this update now have a New! button next to their dates. That should make it fairly easy to tell which ones you haven’t read yet, right?

Oops, another problem. We just plain got too many poems! It’s a wonderful problem, but still a problem. Our largest page is the Love Poems one, and it was already taking a good 2.5 minutes to load after our last update. With so many new poems added, that load time almost doubled! Our regular visitors don’t mind waiting, but our new visitors don’t always know the treat they have in store for them. They get impatient. They leave.

The solution, again, was fairly simple and has actually been in the planning stages for almost a month. Each of our major categories now has subcategories at the top of the poems list. So, instead of one great big huge list, we will now have several smaller ones. Of course, it has the added benefit that it should now be easier to find a poem on a specific topic. It’s not a perfect solution, though. The Love Poems page still takes far too long to load. But it’s a start, and over the next few weeks I’ll be moving poems around a bit to lighten the load. Anyone who has suggestions for new subcategories, by all means, drop me a note.

A New! Feature

There’s one more major change to the web site, but it’s one you might accidentally overlook. About six weeks ago, I added a "Comments" field to the Voting form. And we’ve been getting some really great (and sometimes hilarious) comments on the poems.

Well, those comments have now been integrated into the database and Athena is now adding them to the poetry pages. Beneath the Response Panel is a new section for any comments that have come in on a particular poem. Obviously, not all the poems have votes, and not all the visitors who have voted wrote comments. But those that are there are pretty entertaining, and many should bring a pleasant smile to a hard working poet’s face.

In Closing (can’t really use the New! icon here; oops, I just did)

While we’re still talking about the Voting (we are, aren’t we?), I want to mention that our next update will include the results of February’s tally. I almost included it in this update (I know who won, I know who won…), but I figured you people could only handle just so much excitement. 🙂

In a similar vein, I’d also like to mention that our Forums are becoming far more active (thank you, Sunshine!) and you should feel free to post your public comments about a poem there. Our resident poets work very hard, and it’s always nice to get a little positive feedback. You might also like to check out the poems being posted in the Critic’s Corner (our second Forum – use the drop down box to get there.)

Our next issue of Digital Passions should be going out to everyone a few days after the next update, and there’s going to be some really killer surprises revealed. Along with some killer poems I’ve been saving just for the newsletter. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. (If you’ve had a poem posted at Passions, you’re already subscribed!)

I hope everyone enjoys the new poems, the new look, and the new features. But don’t get too complacent and start feeling like you know your way around the web site. Because in the words of the great Gypsy Rose Lee, "You ain’t seen nothing, yet!"

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