Tinkering Under the Hood

This past summer, while Kitt Peak National Observatory was shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic, I took some online courses in web design. Web design is something I’ve learned largely on the job without any formal education, so even though I had been designing and editing web sites for several years, I decided to start with some fairly basic classes to improve my formal understanding of the process. One of the subjects covered was “hypertext transfer protocol.” This is basically the protocol computers use to speak to each other over the web. You’re probably most familiar with this from the “http” in front of web addresses in the address bar at the top of your browser. You’ve probably noticed that some of these addresses start with “https” instead of “http.” The “s” stands for “secure” and when it’s in the address, you should also see a lock icon in the bar.

Without getting into too many technical details, the way you secure the communication between your browser and the computer where a website lives is that the website’s computer has to have a piece of code called a secure socket layer certificate or a transfer layer security certificate. Without the certificate, the data transferred between the computers is just the code typed by the programmer, which can be viewed by a lurking third party. When the certificate is enabled, that communication stream is encrypted and can’t just be read by the third party. This is especially important when you’re using a form to send personal information across the web, and particularly when you’re sending something like a credit card number. When I started working on websites, secure certificates weren’t used and I haven’t tended to worry about them. On the Hadrosaur Productions websites, when I offered something for sale, I used a shopping cart from Paypal, which had all the necessary security in place. However, because of my recent classes, I learned that I could make a more secure web browsing experience for my customers.

Hadrosaur.com after modifications

This past week, the hosting for hadrosaur.com and talesofthetalisman.com both came up for renewal, which prompted me to check on the state of the security certificates offered by our web host. I discovered the hosting service does, indeed provide them. So, I’ve been tinkering with links throughout the sites I manage, including this blog, my personal website, and those two websites to make sure links were summoned using the https protocol. As you can see in the image above, hadrosaur.com now displays the lock icon in the address bar.

We have some exciting products coming to hadrosaur.com later this year, including the new edition of my novel Children of the Old Stars, a new edition of Hybrid by Greg Ballan, and the comic Guinevere and the Stranger adapted from my Scarlet Order Vampire series. Although Tales of the Talisman Magazine remains on hiatus, many back issues are still available at talesofthetalisman.com and they all have great stories. The changes to the sites are mostly invisible to the casual browser, and while shopping there has always been secure through the Paypal shopping cart structure, my goal has been to add another layer of security and trust to your shopping experience through our sites.

Saying Goodbye to a Website

I have to confess, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the idea that an author is “a brand.” Part of this is discomfort with the fact that many Americans seem obsessed with celebrities for no other reason than they’re celebrities. I’ve always believed recognition is something that must be earned because of one’s skills and accomplishments. What’s more, given my background in the sciences, judging good writing feels very subjective. Another aspect of my discomfort with author branding is the fact that I write in several different speculative subgenres including horror, science fiction, and steampunk. While I know and respect many authors who change pseudonym with each genre they write, I’ve never felt comfortable doing that. I feel like I’m hiding behind the name of someone I’m not.

I mention all this to explain why I created a website especially for my novel The Solar Sea when it was released nearly ten years ago. I wrote the novel during NaNoWriMo in 2004 and I succeeded in part because the novel captures much of my passion about exploring the solar system and the possible use of solar sailing as a technology. I wrote this as a novel that could be enjoyed by people of all ages and I thought a website that provided some additional background would be fun and would also satisfy my publisher’s desire for me to find new and innovative ways to market the novel.

As it turns out, the web and the way people look for information about novels has evolved since 2008. Few people seem to seek out websites about specific books. Instead, they go to online book retailers, review sites, and yes, author websites and blogs. I have both of those latter items, but I maintained the TheSolarSea.com because, quite simply, the website was promoted in the print and ebook editions of the novel itself and it seemed like bad form to advertise a website that no longer existed.

Earlier this year, Lachesis Publishing returned the publishing rights to The Solar Sea to me. In 2018, I plan to release a new edition of the novel from Hadrosaur Productions. I’ve decided to take this opportunity to retire the website. This is a little sad because the website includes a page about solar sailing, a reader’s guide, and some cool supplemental illustrations by cover artist Laura Givens. Here’s her illustration of the Aristarchus Bridge:

I do plan to move much of this information over to my page about the book: http://www.davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html. In fact, I’ve already copied over my page with information about solar sails. I’ll copy the reader’s guide once the new edition nears completion.

In the meantime, this is a great opportunity to grab the original edition of the novel for only half price. If you’re with me at TusCon this weekend, I have my last copies in the dealer’s room. Otherwise, you can grab a copy at: http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#solarsea. Just a note, I only have three copies left as of this writing.