Fairfax: Apple Technologies Used

[955] Fairfax at Atlanta, small

The backend was supplied and sponsored by IBM (they can’t promote this due to IOC contracts – and since their systems in Atlanta melted down, its a good thing for us!) It was an AIX 4.1 box running the Netscape Commerce server. The link to TelstraNet was 2Mbits – also provided by an IBM R&D; arm in Melbourne. The server only reached 20% utilisation which I found impressive as the hit count was extremely high (10K hits/hour) The fast server, sending out HTML (not heavy CGI munging) and a fast pipe resulted in a better site than the competition!

We were getting news (such as winning medals) posted to the site within a minute of the result occuring. In one case, where the Australian Women’s Hockey Team – the Hockeyroos – won a gold medal, we posted a story and picture within 10 seconds! Whilst not as “instant” as TV, people at work could keep up to date without losing their job! The site also had large amounts of background material that TV does not have the ‘time’ to usually show. Its interesting that newspapers are restricted to the size of the paper, TV restricted to time and the web is restricted to bandwidth.

We published an average of 20 pictures and 100 stories per day on this site – many of these stories are replaced and/or reprocessed; all within a 6 hour period. All stories and pictures were stored in a FileMaker Pro 3.0 database.

It was Frontier 4.0.1, however, that did all the hard HTML ‘munging’ work. It takes the data out of the FileMaker Pro 3.0 database and does some smart find-and-replacing from templates to generate the final HTML. Using Fetch, the results were sent to the Netscape-server via FTP. Frontier uses the AppleScript technology built into System 7.0 to get these other application to “do the job”. At last count, the ‘HTML-processing engine’ was Frontier is about 1000 lines of UserTalk; the database consists of 7 related tables.

The database system was built for flexibility. For instance, once it became clear that the IBM results service was, err, not as responsive as it could have been, we created our own “Australian Results” page. This was unplanned, but the database had the flexibility to build new parts of the overall web-structure within 10 minutes. I outlined the details of this Munge-machine at the ATS in Brisbane in August.

Brainwaave built all the HTML templates and did the design work. CGIs and Java were also supplied by Brainwaave. All I had to do was take the content from the database and process it into the correct templates. There are a couple of techniques I use; all rely on some nifty Frontier code to make work.

I have also scripted the picture-import and text-import process. Pictures are automatically uniquely named, sized (for WIDTH= & HEIGHT= commands) and thumbnails generated – again, from Frontier scripts.

As to the content; it come from Fairfax (Age and Sydney Morning Herald) journalists & photographers in Atlanta. The Photos were scanned and sent from 9500’s in Atlanta via ISDN to a set of Macintoshes in Sydney. These Macintoshes ran AppleScript scripts written by Fairfax to send them to Sun servers which run a series of picture databases. We pulled the pictures out of the database and processed them using Adobe Photoshop into an Internet-ready form (JPEG format) Some of the pictures were from Reuters and much of the ‘breaking news text’ is from Australia Associated Press wires. These pictures/stories are replaced with Fairfax content where possible.

Picture previews were stored in the FileMaker database so that when pictures were assigned to stories, we actually saw the picture. Saved on mistakes!

Text came out of Fairfax’s Tandem-mainframe running the SII INL newspaper publication system. A PC took a serial feed from the SII and ftp’d the text files to a Macintosh 8100/80 running Peter Lewis’s NetPresenz. Frontier read these files, stripped unwanted characters/formatting, and added them to the FileMaker database.

The Filemaker database stores the text and pictures in a way that allowed us to ‘assign’ them to locations within the web site. Frontier took the database and ‘mixed in’ the templates and generated the final HTML.

The search server was Starnine WebSTAR running on an Power Macintosh 8500/150 with the Apple eg ACGI. I wrote a Frontier script that took the raw .html from the main IBM server and ‘replicated’ it to the Macintosh 8500 for indexing. If a user found a story that matched their search, they were re-directed to the main IBM AIX server.

The ‘listserv’ – or Newsflash! as we called it, used Starnine ListSTAR/Apple Internet Mail Server on another Power Macintosh 8500/150 and a Quadra 650. At the end of the Games, we had 1017 subscribers on the list. I pushed for the listserv as a method of ‘pushing’ information out to people who were interested -and- a way of attracting people back to the site. The ListSTAR server was easy to create and manage and I would really recommend it.

The Macintosh 8100/80 was also running the VICOM Internet gateway; all the Macintoshes in Atlanta Web central were on a 10baseT Ethernet network; and the server had a 28.8K PPP connection to Brainwaave and subsequently TelstraNet. Using this gateway, all the Macs have access to the Internet.

So, could all of this be done with Windows? Probably, but not with the integration of multiple small applictions from different sources into a cohesive system – all within 2 person-weeks.

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