The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

5 Years and Counting

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I was recently adding some banner graphics to some of the pages site to help freshen up the picture pages, and I noticed that the dates for the first picture posts on the site were January 26, 2006. This meant the site had been live for over 5 years now. Though I’d managed to miss the 5th anniversary date, I still figured some words were in order. This blog may be of interest to me and me only, but it is my site so complaining to the owner about it isn’t going to help.

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The various incarnations of the site. January 2006 (top) The site as first published. January 2009 (bottom left) The new black template which does a better job of showing off the photos. March 2011 (bottom right) A graphical refresh added photo banners to the masthead, recipe source pictures and links and color coding for categories - this picture is a Beef item so the picture frames use the Beef categories mustard color for picture frames and main text elements.

I never anticipated having my own website. I had been in a bit of a run where I was learning all sorts of computer related languages. I was learning a little GDL which was the language behind the CAD software I use. I was learning Applescript, I was dabbling with the programming language of the FileMaker Pro database software. Then came this new language behind the World Wide Web aka HTML. I decided enough was too much. There would never be an end to new computer languages to learn and frankly I wanted a life. So although web sites were all the rage, I was not going to learn HTML just to have a web site. After all why did I need a web site? Actually HTML didn’t look too hard to learn, in fact the language reminded me of the language used by Compugraphics phototypesetters from the 80‘s and early 90’s. This was yet another language I’d learned. But I was drawing the line at not learning HTML. At that time no HTML knowledge meant no personal website. A couple things happened in 2003/2004. First I got my current gas grill - this was a serious gas grill and I started getting serious about grilling. Next I got my first digital camera - a Canon G5. The G5 took great pictures which in many technical aspects exceeded the quality of the pictures I got from my non-autofocus SLRs. I was getting back into photography in a big way. But grilling was taking up more of my time too and something had to give. The time problem solved itself. I found I enjoyed food photography and I was getting good pictures from my new digital camera. I was posting some of them to a web based gallery furnished by Apple as part of their .Mac service (now called Mobile Me). Much to my surprise some people I know seemed to enjoy looking at the photo galleries I posted.

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The growth of the site has surprised me. There are many new categories of food & areas of interest than I ever imagined. Two years ago I added color coding to the various Food Type categories to help make navigating the larger site easier.

In late 2005 Apple introduced their iWeb software, which was a WYSIWYG software for beginners who wanted to create a great looking website with zero knowledge of HTML required. Five years later I know no more about HTML than I did in 2005. This new software intrigued me because the website could have photo galleries which looked even better than the ones I was using on .Mac. The photo galleries in iWeb also allowed you to add captions and written commentary to the pictures. Another attraction was Apple had included some very attractive templates for creating your site. These site templates looked far better than all but the most professional sites. The templates were rich in both attractive text and graphics, so I could make a site I was proud of. At that time many web sites were primarily text with minimal graphics and formatting. I had a background in graphic arts and many web sites just looked horrible to me. iWeb was an attractive alternative to this. Now when I learn something, I like to do something real to learn from. Trying to create something real that you’ll end up using forces you to be far more serious about learning. So I decided I would create a web site dedicated to my grilling and smoking. Lately this casual grilling and smoking hobby had become a much more serious pursuit. I’d just picked up a smoker so the name of the site seemed obvious to me: Grillin’ & Smokin’. While I was creating the site I was thinking about whether I would have a blog, since iWeb allowed you to easily create blog pages. Blogs were fairly new back then and I must admit I tended to look down my nose at them. I really didn’t think to much about what essentially was a public diary. I really didn’t think I had a whole heck of a lot of things to say. I feared I might quickly run out things to write about. I went back and forth about it right up to the last minute. The blog pages were the last pages I made. I had received a lot of help from message boards like the Barbecue Bible message board. I figured I could write a little more about what I was learning as a BBQ newbie and perhaps it would help others. Writing about these topics in my own blog meant I could go into more detail than you can in a forum post.

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The growth of the site has caused me to add indexes of the photo pages (left) and an index of the sources for the various recipes (right)

I began my project to create a website right after New Years Day 2006. I found iWeb was very much like using a desktop publishing or word processing program. It was particularly similar to Apple’s Pages which itself was actually a cross between a word processing and desktop publishing program. In fact it was so much like Pages there was very little new for me to learn. It was essentially Pages with the addition of external hyperlinks. I had to go through the pictures of the various cooks I had done to see if there were 6 or so good pictures I could use to create a photo page. Once the site was almost ready for prime time I published it, but didn’t make the url public. Instead I shared it privately with my brother, who does graphic arts as his trade, and several friends who were into BBQ. I listened to their feedback and fixed the inevitable bad links that turned up. One friend was concerned wether the organizational format I’d chosen would be able to handle future growth. I remember at the time that I felt the format was expandable and besides how big was the site going to get? I really didn’t have a clue. I certainly never imagined how many meals I’d be soon making and I figured I’d run out of blog topics within a year or less. Well it turns out I’ve found having the site to generally be a fun thing to do. This year I hit my 300th picture post and 200th blog post. As of this writing and to my great surprise, I am up to 336 picture posts and 222 blog posts.

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In 2009 I added a section to show the pictures from the Que Calendars I do every year using iPhoto.

Now what do I mean about having the site was generally fun? It hasn’t been without a few rocky moments. The iWeb program keeps all of the files for your site in a single file called a Domain file. The Domain file is a UNIX package file which is a series of files that appear to the end user as a single file. Well 6 months after my site went live, I had a bad crash while publishing my site. The Domain file was toast and I could no longer publish from it. I did not know then that I should be backing up this Domain file regularly. As a result I got to spend a long 3 day weekend remaking the site from scratch. I did have the published website to point me in the right direction. I was actually able to copy and paste much of the text from the last published version of the site from my web browser back into iWeb. So I didn’t have to retype everything from scratch, but the text did lose it’s formatting and I did have to reformat all of the text. Needless to say: I now regularly back up the Domain file. About a year into having my site I started having problems where iWeb would be constantly crashing. This was still iWeb Version 1.0 and it seemed to have stability issues when the Domain file went over 1MB. My site was all about the picture and this certainly didn’t help with file size issues. I think part of the problem was that iWeb would take big image files and downsize them automatically for publishing. The Domain file contained both the full-sized file as well as the downsized file that would actually get published. The program suddenly started crashing during publishing or random pictures would go missing. After unsuccessfully attempting to publish the site a number of times, I decided the only solution was to reduce the Domain file size. So I republished all of the pictures for the site at the actual size iWeb would be downsizing them down to. This way I did not have both a full sized original I no longer needed plus the final sized files in the Domain file. This cut the size of the Domain file down to about 40 percent of it’s former size and publishing worked smoothly again. In version 2 of iWeb Apple introduced commenting, which has been somewhat temperamental. I’ve had a few battles with the commenting feature over the years. But the good news was iWeb version 2 and beyond seem to have removed the problem of loss of stability as the Domain file grows.

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The last 2009 addition was a movie celebrating the first three years of this site.

The other thing that was ultimately a good thing, but less than fun was the refresh I did for the site on it’s third anniversary. iWeb 3 had brought some new template files with it and I decided to use a new template to give the site a more modern look. The black color scheme of this new template was also ideal for a site with lots of photos, which was certainly the case with this site. While much of the formatting changed automatically simply by using the new template, I had done some customization above and beyond the original template. These areas retained their original customized formatting and I had to track those areas all down and format them to suit the new look of the site. I also introduced some color coding for the various areas of the site. The Beef related items had pictures with yellow frames and some yellow title text, poultry was orange, lamb brown etc. It made navigating the site easier, but was a little bit of work. I also added a page that listed and linked to all of the picture sections from one place. Around this time I added an Index Page for the picture album pages and some of the more significant blog articles that might be of assistance to others visiting the site. I also added an Index by Source where the things I’ve made were indexed by which cookbook or website they came from. This way a visitor could see which cookbooks contained the recipes they’d seen and liked on the site. Additionally they could get an idea of some of the other recipes these same cookbooks contained. A few months after that I added a full index of all of the blog articles I’ve written. Speaking of blogs, despite my initial fears I’d run out of things to write about I’ve kept it going for 5 years now, with no sign of my running out of topics. I also added a section with screen captures of the yearly calendars I make in iPhoto.

So what has having this web site meant to me? Many things large and small actually, much to my great surprise. At first it was a way to learn iWeb and a home to some of the photos I shoot of what I am cooking. But here is a list in no particular order of some of the things it has meant to me.

  • An outlet for my food photography. I can indulge my photography hobby by taking pictures of what I am cooking. I don’t need to go off somewhere scenic to take pictures, I can have fun right in my Kitchen and back yard. I can spend more time cooking because Food Photography has become an integral part of my grilling hobby.
  • Having the website can be convenient for when I am out shopping and a picture is worth 1,000 words. If I want to show someone what I am trying to do I will be able to pull up the site in any web browser or smart phone and show someone what I am talking about. It has also helped me if I have to switch gears and make something different from I’d originally planned on. For example: Perhaps the store has a great sale on something. I can pull up the pictures and look at the other ingredients I might need if I switch gears and buy the food on sale.
  • It is fun sharing the pictures. I enjoy looking at other people’s pictures of what they’ve cooked and I’ve found there are a lot of folks like me. I get to share what I’ve done and folks tell me they get ideas of what they want to make by looking at the pictures on my site.
  • This site actually helped me to diversify what I make. Let me explain: I only post pictures of something I’ve made once. There is no point posting more pictures of the same recipe. The only exception to this is if I get some better pictures of a particular item I will replaced the old pictures with the new and improved version. I rarely take pictures of something I’ve made before, unless the pictures didn’t turn out well the first time around. As a result I started looking for new things to make. This would give me a reason to shoot some pictures to indulge my food photography hobby and have some new content for my web site. As I started trying new things, I quickly found there was a whole big world of food out there to try. As a result I now have this unwritten rule to keep trying new things. The only time I make a repeat is by special request for someone’s birthday or a holiday. This may not have ever happened if I didn’t have this web site as an outlet for new food pictures.
  • My blog has actually helped me get better at what I do. When writing a blog entry I have to organize my thoughts, rather than just blurt things out in stream of consciousness fashion. Organizing my thoughts to write about a topic has caused me to analyze what I am talking about and gives me a better understanding of what I have learned and what I am doing. Sometimes while writing a post mortem blog of a cook, something occurs to me that I didn’t realize at the time I was doing it.
  • Writing a blog has help shaped the directions I am going in. At the end of my first year (and every year since), I wrote a blog looking back at the previous year’s grilling and smoking output. In analyzing the prior year I would use it to help me look ahead and set the direction I wanted to go in the next year. What new things did I want to learn. The following year I would revisit this blog to see if I met my goals. Making myself stop and think like this helps me see the big picture far better than if I was just going day to day cooking and not looking back.
  • The blog also serves as a virtual memory repository for me. As mentioned I try not to do the same thing, but keep moving on. So if I do repeat something or make something similar, but different to an item I’ve written about in a blog, many months or years may have passed. So the blog serves as a reminder of what I’ve learned. I can read my blog and hopefully benefit from what I’ve already learned, but may have forgotten. This way here I am not making the same mistake twice, there are plenty of new mistakes to make.
  • Some folks have told me they enjoy reading my blog because it is written from a different perspective than many others. I am no longer a beginner, but I am not a pro by any stretch of the imagination. I just write about where I am at in my own particular learning curve. I learned a lot from the forum posts, blogs and websites of others and I look at this as my small way of paying some of this back.
  • For me, the blog is like a time capsule where I can track my progress. This can be fun for me to look back and see where I was and perhaps get a clue to where I might be going next.
  • Shooting photos for this site has improved my picture taking skills. I cringe a bit when I look at some of the early photos: Bad lighting, boring compositions and many other sins. The idea that I will be making some of my photos public has forced me to up my game. I do get compliments of my pictures, but I still have much to learn. Having the site gives me more incentive to improve than if I was just shooting the pictures and they were residing only on my hard drive.
  • The site gives me a small amount of legitimacy in some folks eyes. Being able to bring up my site on my cell phone virtually anywhere can be a big plus. For example: I find I that if I show, say a butcher, some pictures from my site, he or she seems to take me a little more seriously. I will make a point of showing them what I did with a special piece of meat they sold me the last time I was in. I’ve actually had them call their co-workers out to look at the pictures. Suddenly I find they are offering up some more helpful shopping or prep tips. This is because by looking at my site, they can see I take this seriously and I am more than a weekend warrior. Often they will steer me away from a piece of meat I am looking at in the case and will cut me up something fresh out back.

So it has been an unexpected pleasure having this site. When I first started the site, it was a way to learn iWeb and I wasn’t sure how long I would maintain it. The site has grown far beyond my wildest dreams. The site has helped me grow far beyond where I ever expected to be too. So happy fifth anniversary to Grillin’ & Smokin’. It should be real interesting to see what the future brings for both me and the site.


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