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Updates On The Progress Of This Upgrade

Immediately below are progressive reports (most recent on top) of the status of our upgrade. The original notice of the upgrade work is shown below the status reports.

Update 07-25-2015-8:00am CDT - I think we have addressed the Android bug. I added code for this browser version that forces the correct z-order. I did confirm that the number of devices and browser that manifested the bug was very small but out fix will address the issue in any event.

Update: 07-24-2015-5:00pm CDT - We learned today that the bug we detected in the Android Browser only manifests itself with certain browser builds and used on certain mobile devices. We are taking a closer look at the scope of the issue. However, it appears that the scope of the issue may be smaller that we originally thought.

Update:07-18-2015-8:00pm CDT - The upgrade has been completed for the entire website! Thank you for your patience while we performed this work over the last eight days and nights.

During the upgrade, the site was fully operational the whole time. At no time did we have to go offline. The worst interruption our users faced was some pages appearing "wonky" due to minor formatting anomalies while we worked our way through the several thousand pages contained in our website.

For the last five months, we have been preparing for this change-over. Not only did we have a lot of new technology to install and test; to make the technology fully useful, we had to do a lot of work on our content itself to make it ready to implement. All of this work has been invisible to you, our users. However, last Friday, we began the change over. We cut over last Friday night but then had to do minor work on every page in the website to use the new features. Updating each page could not be done site-wide instantly; we had to work our way through everything in the site. Each day, you saw more and more correctly displaying pages and fewer pages with formatting anomalies. as we worked our way through the website.

Tonight, we completed our scheduled summer upgrade of our entire technical platform; both our content management system and our media system. Our platform is now distributed into over 50 data centers located all over the world. Pages and media will automatically be served from the data center closest to you for optimized performance, capacity and reliability.

All of our online videos (over 1 terabyte worth) were re-mastered and re-encoded for HLS streaming in speeds from 385 kilobits-per-second to 8,854 kilobits-per-second in 11 step (up from the 6 and 8 steps we used in the past.) This allows us to support the widest possible range of connection speeds. Our upgraded Adaptive Streaming technique will support all devices from 3G smartphones (on the slow end) to fiber-to-the-home flat panels in full-HD (on the fast end) and most devices/connection in between.

The new features and functions for our media that we showcased in our Illudium Film Society Film Festival on March 6-8th (our large-scale beta test of the new media system) has now been fully implemented as standard production across our entire website.

Also included in this upgrade was the conversion of the entire site (public pages, courses, communities and events) to "responsive design" wherein our platform will sense the device you are using (and its display capabilities) and automatically re-arrange and re-size the content to best fit each users' individual devices being used.

We have supported the use of mobile devices through two-outcome "adaptive design" for some time but that approach had some limitations. The system sensed your browser type and served one of two different designs. First, we had to actively maintain two different designs (one for desktop browsers and another for a mobile browser.) Maintaining two concurrent designs was a big headache, not to mention imposing an on-going operational cost to do the dual set of work required every time we added a new Page Style. Second, with the proliferation of mobile devices, maintaining just one mobile deign wasn't enough; with multiple capabilities of different mobile devices, we needed a few more designs for smartphones with different screen specs PLUS an entirely different set of designs for tablets.

While "adaptive design" was state of the art a few years ago when we implemented it, it wasn't sufficient to meet our needs anymore in an increasingly diverse mobile world.

Responsive design takes us to the next level so we can better serve an even wider range of devices but in a more intelligent way. Here, we design once but include programming (in JavaScript and creative CSS coding) that will respond to many different viewing ports (screens.) The coding will handle (on the fly) all re-sizing and re-arranging of the content on the page. We only have to maintain one design and the coding handles the rest of the work of transforming it to best fit each device used to view it. Other than the upfront burden of writing the code and implementing it throughout the site, we are back to maintaining only one design. However, the resulting design responds to all different size screens from the one base design. Cool! No headache (other than the original writing/implementing the code) or on-going operational cost.

Responsive design is currently the state-of-the-art approach for implementing universally-viewable web pages, independent from the devices being used by users. For devices with small screens (like smartphone and tablets), responsive design not only re-sizes content but also re-arranges it as well so that the need to zoom in and out and/or scroll left and right is completely eliminated. Users on mobile devices can fully interact with our content by scrolling up and down (even with the one hand hold a smartphone.) It makes a far better user experience when our users are employing a wide range of mobile devices with different capabilities but still retains the powerful user interface of large high-resolution display when pages are viewed on PCs.

We like this approach because all of the responsiveness is derived from intelligent coding embedded in the web pages themselves that everything is fully automatic and "appliance simple." Users simply use the device they wish and the pages automatically conform to the device. The user has to do nothing to derive its benefits.

Coupled with our enhanced Adaptive Streaming and new embedded media player (both are also now responsive too), we can now fully support all types of devices and connection speeds to display our content at its best: on smartphone, tablets or desktops when using Windows, Mac, i-OS or Android.

We finish the upgrade with only one currently-known technical issue still awaiting resolution, that of the "disappearing menu icon" when pages are viewed using the Android Browser (not Google's Chrome, but the other browser - sometimes the default browser - included on some Android mobile devices.) See the other updates below that discuss the bug.

In our design, an industry-standard icon, indicating "menus," composed of three fat horizontal bars should appear in the upper-right corner of every page. The icon is about 38-pixels square and, for obvious reasons once you see it, it called the "hamburger icon." When tapped, and accordion-type primary navigation menu pushes down from the top-left corner of the page. Tapped again, the icon puts away the menu.

The root cause of the issue is a known defect in the Android Browser that has been documented by Google but is currently uncorrected by them. The bug in the browser manifests itself by causing the normal "hamburger icon" (indicating a menu function will appear when tapped) to not be displayed in the upper right corner of our web pages. We have reason to believe the bug is related to a "z-order" defect and the icon is actually being painted but (in error) behind the dark gray background image. The menu functions still work when one taps the corner of the page (the accordion drops down and can be fully navigated) but the icon itself isn't displayed.

Our developers are assessing the scope of the problem and looking at implementing some sort of work-around that might bypass the bug in this browser. We will add a fix or work-around if the defect in the browser isn't repaired soon in an upcoming update from Google.

Note that Apple's Safari browser (on iOS devices) and Google's Chrome browser (on Android devices) do not suffer this bug and our pages will display correctly on these browsers.

If you are an Android Browser user, until Google repairs the defect or our developers remedy this issue, your options are: (1) temporarily switch to Google Chrome (tap the "Apps" icon on you mobile device and look around for the Chrome icon; Chrome is also included on all Android devices); (2) continue to use the Android Browser but simply tap the blank upper-right corner of our pages to display the primary navigation menu.

The Android Browser bug doesn't impact the menu functions, only the displaying of its icon. According to industry statistics, the Android Browser represents about 13% market share in the mobile-device market. We are sorry to inconvenience these users and will have a fix put in place as soon as possible.

With this upgrade complete, we're ready for the future for at least the next couple of years out. The first benefit we will realize will be in the v9.1 upgrade of our content management system. This will occur later this summer and will bring many new features and functions to the platform. With the work done in the foundational upgrade finished tonight, the switch to v9.1 will be seamless, transparent and almost instant.

Update: 07-15-2015-8:00pm CDT - Our editors are continuing to tweak our content and check individual pages for anomalies. Also, last night and today, we made several taxonomy changes to better organize the site. We are working on public pages first, followed by community pages and then all of our courses, readying them for our Fall Term.

We are finding and correcting fewer and fewer formatting anomalies as we go; only two in the last 24 hours.

Generally, we will continue our editorial work for the rest of the week and then resume our normal editorial update cycle (adding new content several time per week.) During the remainder of this week, we will finish all of our content tweaks related to our upgrade and its clean-up and then resume adding new content on our typical schedule.

Since almost all of the remaining work is editorial in nature (and therefore somewhat routine), this will be the last of our status updates for this upgrade evolution. This evolution has gone very well and we hope you like its new features and functions.

Update: 07-14-2015-6:00pm CDT - We completed the first of our quality-assurance (QA) processes today wherein we individually checked the coding for all 600 of our Page Styles and our CSS. We found and corrected only two minor errors in the total of 600 Page Styles (for a 99.96% accuracy rate for the first wave of work - not bad, considering how quickly we did this work.)

The only known issue is still the cross-browser issue with the Android Browser (see below.) Google Chrome on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) and Safari on iOS devices (smartphones and tablets) are displaying our pages optimally. Our designers and programmers will revisit the Android Browser issue in the coming weeks. We may address the issue in the CMS v9.1 upgrade that we will apply shortly (see original notice below.)

Our editorial work for Phase 2 has begun. In Phase 2, in addition to writing and tweaking our content, our editors will also look at every page in the site.  (not just the Page Styles as we have already done in Phase 1.) As such, the editorial process in Phase 2 will be our final QA check of the site. Our editors will correct any programming errors overlooked by our engineers in Phase 1 (both our engineers and editors are crossed-trained in both disciplines.) 

Update: 07-13-2015-9:15pm CDT - We have completed our Phase 1 updates for all of the course pages which complete the Phase 1 work on all pages in the website. Our engineers and technical staff are now passing the site to our editors to be begin our Phase 2 tasking which will be editorial additions, changes and tweaks. Phase 2 will begin tomorrow and should be completed by Friday.

We have also performed initial testing on all pages as part of the first wave of quality assurance (QA.) Final in-depth QA will begin tomorrow.

After our first-stage testing, the only known issue awaiting resolution impacts only mobile users on one particular smartphone browser.

The issue is a cross-browser problem unique to the Android Browser that is the default browser on some smartphones (Samsung Galaxy 's popular "S" series, for example.) When using this particular browser on a smartphone, the mobile menu button in the top right corner of mobile pages doesn't appear. The icon should show up as the standard "hamburger" icon in the upper-right corner of the page just to the right of the TransformingTheChurch text logo at the top of the page but is NOT on this one browser. The menu functions are still there and working correctly if you tap the area but the icon itself doesn't show. 

This minor issue impacts only the Android Browser and does NOT impact the Chrome browser on Android devices or Safari on iOS devices.

The Android Browser has a 13% market share among mobile users and this bug will impact those users until we find and correct the issue. Until then, you can still use the functions of the primary menu by tapping the blank area (where the hamburger icon should be) just to the right of the TransformingTheChurch text logo (tap once to display the primary accordion menu and tap again to put it away - when the accordion menu appears, tap any of the six items to expand the items to its sub-menus). Alternatively, you can use the Google Chrome browser (also included on all Android devices). As stated above, this issue does NOT impact Chrome on Android or iOS devices like the i-Phone or i-Pad.

Update: 07-12-2015-9:15pm CDT - We made good progress in our upgrade efforts this weekend. Thanks to the diligent efforts of staff, no visitor's or student's work was disrupted during our upgrade and we accomplished the taskings with minimal inconvenience of our users.

We have completed all of the planned Phase 1 upgrades discussed below by 9:00PM CDT Sunday night for:

  • All public web pages
  • All community pages
  • All active course pages

All of the page types listed above and been quickly tested and work as planned. However, we will be performing full quality assurance (QA) review of all pages in the coming week. We will correct any errors as we find them. There should not be many errors but, considering the amount and scope of work performed in such a short time, it is possible that there many be a few.

The only work remaining in our planned "Phase 1" is currently inactive courses and new courses for our Fall - 2015 term. These pages will be worked starting tomorrow. Students do not yet have access to these pages so we have a little more time to perfect the changes.

Update: 07-11-2015-6:00am CDT - We complete the most-disruptive work overnight. This was the "heavy-lifting" part of this upgrade. While we still have much of our work left to do, almost everything else to be done will on be visible only as minor formatting anomalies resulting from upgraded vs. non-upgraded Page Styles. From here on out, even for pages with anomalies, all pages will still be functional and useful, albeit with a slightly "wonky" appearance. We are working our way through all of the structural changes needed in our Page Styles to correct all anomalies. As the weekend progresses, fewer and fewer pages will display anomalies.

Update: 07-10-2015-8:00pm CDT - Our upgrade work has begun. It is our intention to make the most visible changes tonight since it is historically the period of least activity on website. It is our intention to work throughout the night and finish this part of the work before sunup.

Please Pardon Our "Digital Dust"

Few things in this world remain the same for very long. This is doubly true in the technology world.

To keep our website and media platform at the leading edge of technology, it has always been our policy and standard practice to perform three to four minor upgrades per year to our core technical systems and a major upgrade every 12 to 14 months. Far beyond just doing our normal maintenance patches and bug fixes (which are routinely done daily and weekly), these upgrades include new hardware additions, operating systems improvements and application software upgrades for our servers and network components. These upgrades can also include HTML, CSS and JavaScript coding changes within our Page Styles and Themes of web pages.

We have faithfully adhered to the concepts of both evolutionary change as well as revolutionary change in these upgrades for as long as this site has been in existence and are well into our ninth major generation of technology.

Updating an in-production website has been described as analogous to changing out the engines on a jet airliner while it is in flight. It is work that is both difficult to do while keeping the airliner flying and almost impossible to do without the work being noticed by the passengers on the plane while the work is in progress.

Typically, almost all of our changes have been performed entirely in the background without disruption or even being visible until completed. In the vast majority of cases, our users and public visitors merely saw new features and function upon their next viewing of our pages.

Very occasionally, the changes and upgrades became more visible while we did the work.

This is very large website with over 600 unique Page Styles and over 4,000 individual web pages (each Page Style might control the formatting of one page or several hundred web pages.) Whenever the nature of our upgrades requires us to make structural changes within our pages, the work-in-transition effects become more visible to our users as we work our way through the site.

Most of the time we do this work very well and you never notice that we're working on the site. Every so often, the type of work we have to do inherently makes our work-in-transition efforts more visible while the work is being performed.

The upgrade we will be performing this week will be of the type that is slightly more visible than our usual upgrades.

This update will be performed in two phases:

  • Phase 1 - coding changes to all of our Theme files (CSS files) and structural changes to all of our Pages Styles. Also, we will be changing all embedded media players to the most-current version and performing their reconfiguration to use our new media encoding from our new HLS platform (more below.) Phase 1 is almost entirely technical in nature and will be performed first before we move on to Phase 2.
  • Phase 2 - editorial changes to tweak our content so that it better fits our new design, changes to most secondary navigation sidebars and the addition of some new pages. When Phase 1 has been completed, we will begin our editorial changes to begin Phase 2.

Starting Friday evening, July 10, 2015, and ending Sunday night, July 12, 2015, we will be doing Phase 1 of our upgrade which includes several upgrades in the same set of taskings which may cause some minor disruptions when you view our pages. The website will remain up and running the entire time and all functions will continue to work. However, you may see some page-formatting anomalies while we work.

As part of this upgrade, we will be touching almost every page in the site, modifying both the HTML and CSS code of every page. These changes may be visible to you as we work our way through the site.

We will try to do most of the most-visible work on Phase 1 beginning late Friday evening which, historically, is our slowest period of the week with the fewest students and visitors online. However, various anomalies may be visible throughout the weekend.

The most visible anomalies will be within our primary and secondary navigation page regions and menus. Also, less-visible formatting anomalies may also occur anytime throughout the weekend.

If you experience an anomaly, simply wait a moment or two and refresh the page you are viewing. You will see our progress as we make the changes.

We are very sorry for any inconvenience this work may cause. Unfortunately, there is no other way to accomplish the changes we need to make short of taking the site offline while we do the work, which we feel is unacceptable.

The work this weekend will prepare the website for our Version 9.1 upgrade to our Content Management System (CMS) that will be performed later this summer (we are on version 9.0 now). The work this weekend lays the foundation for the seamless upgrade to v9.1 and will ensure that the switch to v9.1 will go smoothly and without incident.

This weekend, we will be making changes to our navigation page regions, cascading style sheets and our responsive design for mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). The public pages of our website already use responsive design (they automatically respond to the best formatting for desktops browsers, tablets or smartphones). However, our initial "mobile-friendly" conversion was a "make-do" effort awaiting the enhanced coding that is part of this upgrade in order to do responsive design better. When completed, this work will make the entire site responsive for all public pages, courses, communities and events. As a result, the entire site will be "mobile friendly" and use state-of-the-art responsive design.

Also, all of our video content for all of our courses has been re-mastered, re-encoded and migrated to our new cloud-based media platform. This requires over six weeks to complete (just about a terabyte of finished video product) in preparation for this upgrade. The work this weekend will include updating all of our embedded media players to the latest version and switch the players' configurations to using the newly refreshed media files. When finished, all video will play using HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) for all devices (desktop and mobile, including Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices). Using our Adaptive Streaming technology, all video will now automatically adapt to your connection speed from 386-kbps to 8,854-kbps in 11 steps. In the past, we have used six or eight steps in our Adaptive Streaming. The upgrade will allow us to support more fully low-speed 3G-based smartphone connections as well as fiber-to-the-home connections for full 1080p high-definition flat-panel monitors. The 11 different speed encoding include support for one slower connection speed (typically for mobile users) as well as two additional speeds on the high end.

The foundational work performed this week and the Version 9.1 upgrade that we will perform later this summer will prepare the website for our new Fall Term and our new catalog of courses.