Moonlit Rail ™

About the "Moonlit Rail" ™ Site

The air at 3:00am near the gently-lapping shore of the Wachusett Reservoir was peaceful, contemplative. Latent heat off the tracks of the nearby W&N gently shimmered the reflected moonlight on this warm, summer night, some years ago.

It occurred to me that night that I should attempt to capture this ethereal moment, somehow — and share it. Surely I, Kristofer T. Karas — owner and author of this web site — am not the only person who would enjoy this. I was filled with renewed determination to release my prior web site from its shackles and breath life into it again. Gazing at the moonlight once more as it reflected off the rails, the name for this collection became almost obvious — Moonlit Rail ™!

To read more about the moonlit rail theme and the site imagery, visit the Moonlit Rail railroad pages.

Site History

Although the Moonlit Rail ™ title and accompanying Internet domain name are new, this site actually got its start without much fanfare in 1993 as an experiment in Internet servers in general, and HTTP and HTML specifically. This followed on the heels of the preceding experiment, an attempt to ascertain whether it was possible to take the computing terminal sitting on my desk at work and convert it from MS-DOS to a platform running something more useful, such as Genera, ITS or UNIX. This "desktop computing terminal" closely resembled the original Apple Macintosh computer of 1984 in appearance, except internally it was an Intel 80386 CPU based clone of the original IBM PC.

The spartan hardware features of my work-assigned desktop PC rendered more ambitious platform emulations moot. However, a clever chap named Linus Torvalds was generating quite a lot of interest at the time in his clone of the UNIX "kernel" for the IBM PC platform; his open-source development model attracted the interest of another group of developers who were following the leadership of yet another clever chap named Richard Stallman. This marriage of Torvalds's "Linux" kernel and Stallman's "GNU" OS was not only a useful and viable reality, but it had enough forward momentum to nearly guarantee its future success. Well then, upwards and onwards!

It just so happens that my desktop terminal at work had a public IP address. And its hostname (my initials, KTK) existed on work's Domain Name Server. All that remained was to choose a version of GNU/Linux to install, along with suitable software for serving web content. Oh, yes, I almost forgot — there's that little detail of actually creating content for the server to serve. (I dare say, whoever created this inconvenient "little detail" was a dreadful boor.)

In the fall of 1993, I successfully replaced MS-DOS on my work PC with the newly-released initial version of Slackware — to date the oldest GNU/Linux distribution in continuous existence. Today — many years later — Slackware is still in abundant use both at my place of employ and on my home network, albeit in modified form. You can read more about the tools and enhancements I have written for this OS on MR's local Slackware page.

With the new GNU/Linux operating system in place and working well, I set about that next experiment: to serve content to the Internet. The de-facto server software of the time — written as an open-source project at CERN — was simply referred to by the name of its UNIX executable, "httpd". Since then, several other "flavors" of web server have served the content of this site, each being smarter at generating dynamic web content than their predecessors: apache (an early version replacing CERN's httpd), WN, Roxen, AOL Server and even CL-HTTP. Eventually, newer versions of the "apache" server would integrate with more sophisticated applications and scripting languages, most notably "PHP", making it an excellent choice for an intelligent content generation mechanism. Using PHP in concert with the popular MySQL structured query language server would become a very popular and well supported development environment.

Early Content

As alluded to above, this initial web site debuting in 1993 had no particular title beyond its Internet Domain Name. At the head of the front page was a graphic created using The GIMP proudly exclaiming "Kris's Web Server". Philosophical elements of the site design were as technological as they were ideological. In particular, the site stubbornly refused to serve JavaScript, or any HTML elements beyond those from the original 1.0 specification, as those I viewed as counter to the "any browser" philosophy to which I then ascribed. If a piece of HTML was not supported in a non-graphical web browser such as Lynx, I declared it to be inherently evil and would refuse to put any such nonsense on my web server. This would change.

As the years progressed, the photographic gallery that had originally made up the bulk of the site content was expanded to include annotated selections from my travels abroad. My photographs from Britain in particular — arranged both chronologically and by subject to make them easy to search for on the Internet — attracted an unexpected amount of interest from within Britain itself; evidently, a dearth of web-accessible resources elsewhere led school groups, travel agencies, magazines and more to ask for photographic reproduction rights. I was generally happy to oblige.

Careful thought had to be given to site content, not just in the obvious interests of creating a quality web-accessible resource, but to avoid the eye ("ire"?) of a corporate management increasingly determined to eradicate that which it did not deem immediately useful for its own purposes; remember, this web server was at the time hosted in a corporate environment. Maintaining an independently-managed server in such an environment was an increasingly wearisome uphill battle.

Eventually, the tricks necessary to keep the server accessible on the Internet became so egregious that I just gave up. After more than a decade of active service, this site was mothballed.

Content Today

Today, the site contents bear only cursory resemblance to what was hosted many years ago, although historical content is still largely available for those with such an interest. Technically, the quasi-militant any browser philosophy was replaced by modern idioms of web technology that allow content to be presented in a simple arrangement — suitable for text-based browsers, screen readers and other assistive browsing devices — yet re-arranged on screen in a visually-pleasant fashion for those employing graphical web browsers of recent vintage.

Have a look at the site map for a more comprehensive guide to the contemporary content offered here.

Site Credits

Most of the content on this site was created by me, "Kristofer Karas", for which I reserve copyright. Other content (whether copyrighted by its author or not) has been explicitly noted as appropriate.

The HTML, CSS, JavaScript and other "programming elements" that present the web site's content were also authored by me, but not without hints, ideas and inspiration from a seemingly endless variety of sources too numerous to mention with any hope of completeness. That said, a few sources of inspiration deserve mention for helping to make web programming a more civilized endeavor:

For convincing me once and for all that structural page elements belong in CSS and not in some jumble of <TABLE/> components.
Ryan Fait
For ideas on making basic page layout function well without resorting to the sort of "tricks" that cripple content for assistive browsing devices.
For being near the top of most search lists when looking for information on why something that "should" work does not.