How it all began
In September, 1999 in a small 2 bedroom apartment in Superior, Wisconsin, SD40.com was born. After getting online with my first computer in January, 1999, I had wished to have a presence on the World Wide Web. A place where I could express myself through photos and the written word. In the summer of 1999, I purchased a copy of Microsoft Office with Front Page 2000 and began my quest for a personal Website.
Many people have wondered why I didn't decide on SD45.com, as I was working as an engineer for the Wisconsin Central (WC) at the time. WC was well-known in the railfan world for it's fleet of venerable SD45's. However, I have always been a fan of the Soo Line RR. The Soo never rostered the SD45's when they were new, although they did buy a few used ones back in the early 90's. Having grown up by the Soo Line in New Brighton, MN, my favorite units were the F-Units and the SD40-2. I was born in 1969, so the SD40's could be considered as the locomotive from "my time". The 1966-1971 SD40's (known as the "straight SD40's" as they came before the SD40-2's in 1972) became my favorite. My "pet engine" was the Soo 745. True to form, when I first got online with AOL, my screen name was "Run SD40".
After much learning and playing around with Front Page and learning some of the quirks of how FP formatted Web pages, I was able to craft something halfway presentable. By August of 1999, I had found a Web hosting service that supported the Front Page extensions. Shortly afterward, I had registered the domain name SD40.com. The launch of SD40.com came in September of that year.
When I look back at some of those early pages, I get a kick out of how amature-ish (is that even a word?) that the original site was. I remember getting e-mail comments from visitors to the site. Some were glad to see the new site and others offered up come constructive criticism. One person in particular offered some advice on some standard things missing from the site, such as specifying image size and alt text for images, and specification of fonts to prevent the browsers from applying their default font style. It was this e-mail that opened my eyes to the fact that there were actually HTML standards. Yes, this "newbie" was just *a little* naieve...).
My original mission was to get something out there as soon as possible, then as I gained more knowledge about HTML, I would come back and re-visit the pages later to modify and clean them up. As I began to validate my pages against the HTML validator at W3C, it became apparent that there was a lot of HTML markup that was non-standard. It seems that Front Page was putting a lot of markup in the HTML documents that was specific to Internet Explorer (Thank You, Microsoft!).
The other major browser at that time (aside from AOL's proprietary browser) was Netscape. Pages that displayed fine in IE or AOL browsers, did not always display as I wanted them to in Netscape. I was beginning to see the shortcomings of using Front Page as an HTML editor (Word was even worse when it came to non-standard HTML markup). Needless to say, the HTML code in my early pages was nowhere near as clean as it should have been.
Another early problem I had was getting the images and words to always display where and how I wanted them to be on the page. By this time, I had learned that many people were using tables to trap and position the page elements in a more precise fashion. This seemed to work well, but it introduced a lot of extra markup to the HTML document, which increased download times. Furthermore, the tables could be unwieldy beasts, not always behaving as one would like them to.....
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) have been with us for a while, but only recently have people really began to utilize the true power that CSS offers. Under the standards for XHTML-strict, the document is supposed to be free of any presentational markup. This is where CSS comes in. CSS contains the markup that tells the Web browser how to display the page elements. This can all be done without the use of tables and the associated markup that can bloat an HTML document. By placing the presentational markup in a CSS file, you can make changes to any page that references that CSS file, all by making changes to one document, greatly reducing the effort required to update a Website (see navigation bar for more information).