Class Reunion Web Site

This summer I got a broadcast email plea from a high school acquaintance asking someone to volunteer to help with a new reunion website for our high school graduation class (1969).  It has been a long time since I did any website volunteer work and this looked like it might be a good match for my talents and experience.  There was not much information in this email other than the old reunion web site was gone and to use Facebook was the last option he wanted.

Richardson High School 1969 Annual

I composed an email to my friend outlining my experience levels and some recommendations along with some links to some recent web site work I had done.  The next day I got an enthusiastic response and a meeting was set up to get together in person to discuss the various pros and cons of the various recommendations I had made. Who could turn down free web site consultation and development? Ha. Ha.

I did about 4 or 5 hours of research before I responded to my high school friend’s request (David).  My research involved the use of content management systems (CMS).  A good CMS will allow an inexperienced nonprofessional to create and maintain a great looking web site without very much knowledge except perhaps with a word processor.  Blogs are excellent examples of CMS systems.  The last thing I wanted was to saddle David with a website he could not maintain without my help (which is partly why he was unable to keep the last web site going).  I did want to assist in any way I could to make this transition easy for him and give him a beautiful web site to look at and navigate easily.  It was an obvious choice to go with a CMS, the next criteria was to select a CMS that had plenty of great features, strong security and one that did not burden the classmates with any extra charges or fees.

Joomla came to mind first.  I have created and maintained a couple of web sites on that CMS platform.  Joomla is free and open source.  All you need is server space and a URL and you can start creating your web site, once you have downloaded Joomla.  Joomla does require a learning curve (even to install it requires some research) and unless you use it regularly you can forget some of the finer points of using it.  If you want to customize the look of a template in Joomla or create your own template having a knowledge of html and CSS is essential to getting the exact look you want.  The plus side is, once you have a great template, maintaining the web site is easy.  Backups and extensions don’t’ come with the basic setup.  You must get those separately and install them one by one.  The main extension I needed was an extensive database, enough for the possibility of over 900 classmates and their profiles.


Adding a database to Joomla is possible, there are plenty of options out there.  Some knowledge of database structure and query is required to use these extensions.  This did not fit my criteria of allowing any administrator to easily maintain this web site.  The learning curve seemed a bit steep, even for me.  What I needed was a CMS specifically designed for class reunions.  Turns out there are plenty of these out there.  It is just a matter of picking the best one for the features and price.

Here is a brief list of class reunion web sites and their features and prices are on links I have supplied.  These are sorted by how Google responded to my search, “Class Reunion Web sites”:

  1. – Pricing structure monthly with a credit card fee to process tickets
    1. Standard features include database for classmates, forums, a way to add donations etc. and more.  The monthly fee seemed a bit high and fees to process tickets was also a bit on the high side at the time of my research (5%).
  2. – Free, no pop-ups, no spam.  Only a donation is suggested, $15/year per classmate.  The look of the web sites did not impress me.  They all looked pretty much the same.  We had a large class and we wanted a professional appearance that would attract attention.  Plus, adding up the suggested donation per classmate on a graduating class our size seemed pretty high fee.  Seemed to me that it might be time consuming and nagging to ask for money from your classmates.
  3.  Pricing structure is reasonable, web site header design is customizable, and template structure was easy to navigate.  They also can point to an existing URL, which the free web sites don’t offer (they create a directory structure under their own URL).  There were no fees to the classmates at all.  FAQ page offered some detailed information before you purchase anything making the decision to recommend with this particular company much more comfortable.  In addition, they allow you to backup the database to your computer as well as the automatic backup they provide on their servers, plus you can set up the site with more than one administrator.  This seemed like a perfect fit to allow both me and David to maintain the site at the same time.


There are more companies out there, I looked at several more, however if the fees were cheaper, it was reflected in the look of the web sites, which generally all looked the same.  Most had the exact same header design graphics, and no change to the links above or on the side and most of the content was crowded on the home page.  I wanted to have the ability to make this web site relatively unique and use an existing URL, plus post photos and links where I wanted them.  I also wanted to feel confident that should I be unable to help David, he could easily do any changes himself without me at all.  This would leave me free to go on vacation, or shut down my system without feeling guilty, while someone needed some help.  I also looked at each vendor to see how many customers they each had and the age of the users who posted these web sites.  I was specifically looking at web sites for classes before 1970.  I wanted to see what folks our age were posting and how they used their system.  Also, I checked to see if they posted any remarks regarding how easy this system was to use.  Classcreator has an open forum which posts many user comments, and questions.  It was good see that folks 10 years older than me using their system without a problem.  I was lucky to be in a geek family.  I have programmed in html, javascript and more.  Not everyone my age is into computers in the same way.

The last criteria was to make certain any web site created using this system would work on all current mobile devices.  I may be a computer geek, but I have also noticed many of my friends who are hooked into their mobile phones and tablets.  Some of these folks don’t use a personal computer at all any more.  I have both an iphone and a tablet at hand to check on just how easy these web sites are to use on a small screen.  Classcreator passed this test too, all of the web sites I tested that used this worked just fine on all devices I had, they were easy to navigate and see.  As an added plus, several graduating classes from our school also use this same company.

Mobile Device Availability

My meeting with David a couple of weeks later resulted in him wanting to think this recommendation over carefully.  He felt burned after his last web site developer, who hosted the web site on a private server, disappeared and the site was offline.  A great deal of time and research on David’s part had vanished and all he had left were whatever records were on his hard drive.  He felt a bit gun shy and I can’t blame him.  His backup included a large list of classmates and their contact information in Excel, plus countless photos and other memorabilia from previous reunions.  He supplied me this information on a portable drive, which I took back with me pending his decision on which system to use.

After our meeting, at David’s request, I did my best to try to contact his previous web site developer to see if there was any possible way to obtain a copy of that code to restore it.  It seemed that was the first choice to save the most time and money.  A week later, we both gave up.  No emails or phone calls placed to them were returned to either of us.

After this last effort failed, David immediately contacted the site administrator for Classcreator and began asking questions.  His questions were answered promptly and after a few days he too was satisfied that this system was our best choice.

Next:  Where do we go from here??


The Science and Art of HDR Photography


There are very few arts that have had as much influence from science on their creation and improvement as photography.  Having done photography for many years now, I feel that I understand the basics of good photography. I have studied the amazing features of my D700 Nikon DSLR camera and understand how to use them well enough to get a good photo under varying conditions. I have studied composition, lighting, exposure, color and many other topics that are important to good photography.

Even after mastering the aspects of photography, there are still many scenarios where what I see or what I want to emphasize in a scene is considerably different than what is produced by taking a single photo. This is because the relatively simple mechanism by which a camera works cannot reproduce what the human eye working directly with the brain can. For instance, when it comes to capturing and processing scenes of high contrast and widely varying areas of light and darkness, the biochemical and neurological processes which lead to sight are far superior to a simple mechanical aperture exposing some film in a camera (or a photosensor in a digital camera).

Three exposures of some trees and a sunlit cloud. None show the way the scene really looked.

 Until recently, unless you had access to sophisticated and expensive film processing equipment and the considerable time and knowledge required to use it, your only alternative was to say “you had to be there to appreciate it“.  Since the early 1800’s, when photography was invented, photographers have worked very hard to reproduce what they see in their mind’s eye and have used a myriad of techniques to do this. Because of the cost, expertise and time involved, these techniques were not practical though for anyone but the most accomplished of professional photographers. That has changed.

With the advent of the personal computer, the digital camera, and ever more sophisticated image manipulation software applications, almost anyone with some time and a little study can learn to adjust images taken on their digital cameras, including those with highly varying light and dark areas, to produce first class photos. Now you and I can recreate those scenes photographically that previously required the image plus an embellishment of verbal descriptions of how beautiful it was to get the point across. This technique is called High Dynamic Range Photography or simply HDR.

A more realistic image created from the three exposures using HDR photography techniques.

 What is HDR Photography?

HDR photography is a method of combining different exposures of the same scene to allow the photographer to capture a wider range of tonal detail than could be captured by a single shot. Since photography was invented in the early 1880’s, one of the classic problems that photographers have faced was creating a photo that was representative of what the eye could see in scenarios where the shot included areas of intense lighting as well as very dark areas. In such shots the resulting photo might show adequate detail in highly lit areas but the darker areas would all be very dark or black with little or no detail. Alternatively the shot might show detail in the darker areas but the lighter areas would be washed out with little detail.

 Camera vs the Human Eye

Three exposures taken of a poorly lit room which were used to create a composite image using HDR photography.

Dynamic range for a camera can be described in terms of Exposure Value differences between the brightest and darkest parts of an image. In a camera, a combination of the shutter speed and aperture setting controls the exposure.  One purpose of the aperture of a camera is to control the amount of light that is allowed to enter the camera. This limits the brightness of the image by restricting the size of the aperture to stop some of the light from entering the camera. Rather than allowing continuous control of the aperture size, cameras allow the photographer to increase or decrease the size of the camera’s aperture in discrete steps. These are called stops. As you go up the stop scale for a camera, each stop allows 1/2 the light intensity to enter the camera as the previous stop. I did a survey of several photography oriented websites and the consensus regarding the dynamic range of cameras vs the human eyeball measured in stops are as follows. Most point and shoot compact cameras have a dynamic range of 5-7 stops. Most high end SLR cameras have a dynamic range of 8-11 stops. The human eyeball static dynamic range has been estimated to be between 10 to 14 stops.  Given a minute or so to adjust, the human eye can see a total dynamic range of approximately 20 stops.  This is much higher than even the best SLR camera image.

Why do we see more dynamic range than what is shown in the photos we take? It mostly has to do with our brain’s interpretation of the image transmitted to it by the eyeball. The brain and eyes work together in real time to evaluate multiple exposures in a continuous way such that the mind’s eye sees an image that is far superior to what the camera is mechanically capable of capturing in a single moment.

Interior room imaged processed through HDR techniques has much better lighting characteristics.

HDR Photography Can be Learned by Almost Anyone

Due to the great image manipulation tools that have emerged in the last 10 years, HDR photography can now be done by anyone with a camera with basic features like aperture and shutter speed controls. There are a couple of free software applications available for doing HDR.   For the better HDR software you will need to spend from $30 – $700 in software tools depending on how good you want the resulting images to look. Most of these tools offer a 30 day free trial if you want to try this out. There are lots of websites that explain how to do HDR photography in detail so I will just briefly go over the process based on some photography that I did recently that required HDR to make them look correct. For anyone that wants to learn how to do this in very detailed steps, check out the links at the end of this post.

 The Process

  1. Take at least three photos of the same scene but with different exposure settings. One will be taken at the “ideal” exposure for the scene as determined by a light meter or automatically by your camera. One will be taken one F-Stop below the ideal exposure to create an over-exposed photo. One will be taken one F-Stop above the ideal exposure to create an under-exposed photo. Most high end cameras allow you to do this automatically using a feature called automatic exposure braketing.
  2. Move the images to your computer.
  3. Use an HDR software application to merge the photos and adjust the tone mapping using various controls to achieve the desired look.
  4. Correct various problems that are sometimes introduced in the process of merging the photos. Among these are (a) ghosting caused by things moving while you were taking the shots, (b) chromatic abberation caused by the camera lens reacting to different wavelengths of light by offsetting them in shots that were taken, (c) noise that shows up in some areas of the photo as pixels of various colors. There are automated tools that allow you to fix all of these.
  5. Save the image and post it to the desired medium.

The detail of the clouds and the beautiful colors of the foilage cannot be captured in the same image.


The examples included with this post include a landscape shot with some trees and a beautifully sunlit cloud, an interior shot, and a landscape with some menacing storm clouds. I have included three shots of different exposures for each along with the final HDR photo. For the shot with the trees and the brightly lit cloud I was able to show the beauty of the cloud with the orange highlights from the late afternoon sunlight while lighting up the trees so that they didn’t show up as a bunch of dark shadows. For the interior shot I was able to use HDR photography to enhance the lighting in the poorly lit room without having to use a bunch of expensive lighting equipment.  For the landscape with the menacing storm clouds I was able to bring out the details and textures in the clouds while still being able to show the color of the trees. It takes a little more time and work to do this but as you can see it is worth it to get a final image that represents pretty much what I saw with my eyes.

With HDR techniques we can capture both the cloud texture and the beautiful foilage colors.

Still a Way to Go But We’re Getting there Fast!

Even with the amazing technology of HDR photography, it is still not quite as good as the eye can see. The physical mediums that we currently use to view photographs like film, high resolution monitors, etc. do not have the dynamic range of human sight. To resolve this issue, HDR techniques currently reduce the range of contrast for the photo while allowing more detail to be seen in the brighter and darker areas than in a traditional photograph. This results in some darkening up the brighter areas and lightening of the darker areas. This means that a really good HDR photograph is tuned to the medium that it will be displayed on. As time goes by though, improvements will be made both in image manipulation capability and in the output media to increase the dynamic range of what can be displayed.

We are already seeing cameras come out with an HDR mode that allows the photographer the option of doing HDR photography in real time with no post processing. The i-Phone 4 was one of the first devices to offer this option on its camera and it works reasonably well considering all you have to do is point and shoot. Now all the major digital camera manufacturers have at least one camera model that offers this feature. Still, if you want to be able to produce amazing HDR photographs on the order that some of the best HDR photographers produce, you will need to invest in a good digital SLR camera as well as some of the software mentioned below and spend some time learning the techniques involved. To me it is certainly worth the investment in both time and money.

Links of Interest and Further Information

Photography Basics – Photography Basics Article  – Offers a good discussion of the basics of good photography.

LifeHacker Article – How a Digital Camera Works

Photography Basics – A very good photography basics article.

Digital Photography School – A good site with tutorials. Also allows you to submit photos and get the critiqued and to write articles.

The Luminous Landscape – One of the web’s most comprehensive sites devoted to the art of landscape, nature and documentary photography using digital as well as traditional image processing techniques.

The following are four good posts from the same website.

Digital Photography Basics: The Camera

Digital Photography Tips for Beginners

20 Must-Reads for Amateur Photographer

Top 8 Photography Websites

Great Image Software Tools for Producing HDR Photography.

Top 10 HDR Applications for 2011

Essays on What the Eye Sees vs What the Camera Captures

HDR Photography Tutorials – One of the better HDR tutorials on the Internet.

19 Good Tutorials for Doing HDR Photography


Thoughts on the Life of Steve Jobs – 1955-2011

Steve Jobs - The iconic visionary and co-founder of Apple passed away on Oct. 5, 2011.

Like so many billions of people around the world, I learned of the death of Steve Jobs due to complications from pancreatic cancer on Wednesday.  Apple Inc. posted a photo of him on the main page of their site and posted the following statement.

 “Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.”

I think many people knew this may happen after the gaunt looking Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple Inc. on Aug. 24 when he was at the very top of his extremely successful career. Knowing his death seemed eminent, did not make this sad news any easier to digest. So much will be written and said about him in the coming days because of his wide ranging influence on so many people’s lives that it will dominate the media. Probably more was written about him in just the 24 hours after his death than has been written up until this point. Early news reports on the morning of Oct. 6 stated that Twitter has had a record breaking spike of  10,000 tweets per second related to gratitude for Steve Jobs’ life and his accomplishments. A later report showed instead that it was the 4th highest at 6049 Tweets per second, still a huge number.  Much of this communication is being written on devices like the iPhone and iPad which Mr. Jobs was instrumental in creating and bringing to all of us. These devices have dominated the world of communication technology since 2007. They have huge appeal across the board, with an ease of use factor that is unprecedented in such devices and they have amazing features.  These devices have allowed people with little or no technical background to easily network and communicate very effectively with their family, friends, colleagues, and the rest of the world through the mediums of written text, voice, music, graphics, videos, and thousands of apps.

Steve Jobs made a huge contribution to our culture through the combination of Science, Technology, and Art which has affected society in such a huge way that I felt strongly I should at least dedicate today’s post to him.  He was to the personal computing device as Alexander Graham Bell was to the telephone.  His influence to society was akin to that of Thomas Alva Edison as they both were instrumental in bringing huge music, motion picture, and mass communication technology advances to the masses.  

This morning on the news, during an interview with Steve Wozniak, who was co-founder of Apple with Steve Jobs, Mr. Wozniak mentioned the process that Steve used to develop products. It sounded very much like a combination of the Scientific Method and Artistic Methods we have talked about in a recent post. Mr. Wozniak used terms like “visionary” and “disciplined” to describe Mr. Jobs. He stated that it was not the fact that he actually crafted all of the innovations himself.  His talent was in coming up with a crystal clear vision of what he felt was needed, surrounding himself with very capable, dedicated and disciplined people, and inspiring them to bring the vision to life knowing that anything less than perfection as defined by Steve would be rejected.   He also said that Mr. Jobs viewed the world differently than most people.  In a interview with Brian Williams that was done in 2006, it is clear that Steve Jobs was very much into enjoying the process of innovation rather than focusing too much on the goal or worrying about the past.

The Apple Macintosh, introduced in 1984, has been the flagship product of Apple for many years.

In my career as a software developer and computer technology consultant for businesses, starting in the early 1980’s we focused our efforts on the IBM PC and Microsoft Windows. In those days MS DOS was a very open system with regard and development tools for this platform were cheap. Businesses naturally migrated toward this platform because it was compatible with more peripherals than the Apple system and the platform was very programmable. Apple, despite having very good features was more closed with regard to system documentation and programmability.  Microsoft, IBM and the clones (Compaq for instance) targeted business and engineering customers whereas Apple targeted very specific customer bases like education, publishing, photography, and art.

Even though we were Microsoft developers at the time, we were always intrigued with the innovations that Apple continually produced under the leadership of Steve Jobs. How could we not? Take the wonderful ad that Apple showed during the 1984 Super Bowl. Directed by Ridly Scott, it portrays the control of the computer industry and ultimately the control of information technology as a struggle between Big Brother (IBM) and an inspired revolutionary representative of the people (Apple). It illustrates the epitome of the in-your-face cool promotion savvy that Steve Jobs was so good at.

The iPod and iPhone changed the game for music devices and for smart phones.

Later on, the work he did with the NeXT computer, which was an amazing computer although it was not commercially successful, eventually influenced Apple’s products in a very positive way.  This raised the bar significantly with regard to the ever expanding capability and usability of computing devices. Also very influental, was the work done at Pixar under his leadership. He recognized the potential of this very innovative yet struggling animated graphics company which would come to create the burgeoning industry of feature length animated movies and change the world of entertainment.

In my opinion though, his greatest contribution was always pushing the leading edge of amazing technological innovations combining technology and art to produce the very best user experience. His user interfaces were always the best because they were the most intuitive of any device on the planet. No user manual or help was needed. The artistic flair of these devices brought us all to the table and the extreme ease of use opened up the door to amazing tools of expression for billions around the world.

So here’s to Steve Jobs. Thank you for having the courage to truly live your dream even under the toughest circumstances and inspiring the rest of us to live ours. Our thoughts and condolences go out to the family of Steve Jobs along with his friends and colleages. He will be greatly missed.

Related Links:

Steve Jobs’ Patents – NY Times

Time Line of Apple Innovation – Shows how Apple’s innovation thrived under the influence of Steve Jobs and was absent during the ten years he was absent. – NY Times

Eight ways the iMac changed the computer world. – Mac World

How the iPod changed everything. – The Globe and Mail

Ten ways the iPhone changed smart phones forever. – Business Insider

Paper by Ted Friedman called “Apple’s 1984: The Introduction of the Macintosh in the Cultural History of Personal Computers“.  This is a very interesting account of how the historic Super Bowl ad came about and its impact. – Duke University

     Copyright © 2011-2012 by Danny and Sandra Ringo.  All rights reserved.  Articles may not be reproduced without permission.