OzProblems site major upgrade

2 Mar. 2020 | by Peter Wong

As OzProblems.com approaches its 10th anniversary, it’s been apparent that the site sorely needs an upgrade to its design and usability. Fortunately, a new version of Google Sites – the website creator tool used to build this site – has been released with significant advances, and I have used it to give the site an overhaul. Regular visitors will have quickly noticed the slicker navigation menu and the search-the-site button, for instance. Another improvement is that the site’s appearance adjusts much better to different screen sizes – this is important as web access via smaller, mobile devices becomes more prevalent. I have also taken the opportunity to reorganise some of the site’s contents, especially the Walkabout blogs – which over the years have effectively grown into a small book – to make them more easily accessible. And the chess diagrams have all been replaced with a new type that’s font-based and more readable. Below I’ll elaborate on the main changes and review the tools that made them possible.

Like most blogs, the Walkabout entries really should be published one to a page, so I have separated the ten posts written each year that were previously packed together. With close to a hundred entries, it would be hard for readers to search the section for particular pieces of interest without some sort of guide. Therefore on the Walkabout main page you will now find a topic index that groups the blogs based on their main subjects. For example, if you’re interested in endgame tablebases, open the Software group for a list of linked blogs on that topic.

Besides the addition of nearly one hundred Walkabout pages, the site upgrade involves manually reformatting all existing pages and resetting hundreds of diagrams. Of course this is very time-consuming, so much so that I haven’t actually completed the process. One large section hasn’t been migrated yet – the Weekly Problems, with the exception of its main page and the current 2020-A page. The missing problems will be added gradually over the next few weeks. Speaking of the weekly problems, they are now presented with the solutions hidden next to the diagrams, a nice option that wasn’t available in the old Google Sites.

The new diagrams are created with a freeware named DiagTransfer. Though the program seems dated and has a few bugs, it runs on Windows 10 and produces high quality images very capably. It lets you set up a position using FEN; hence a quick method I used (especially for heavy positions) is to locate the problem on an online database, copy its FEN and paste it in DiagTransfer – all of which only takes seconds. The application comes with a number of chess fonts (a pity it’s not compatible with one of the most popular, Linares), only one of which can be used for rotated fairy pieces. I chose a different one, however, called Chess Alpha, which has an appealing and unornate design. Since this site contains only a few diagrams with fairy pieces, it wasn’t an issue to use a graphics program to manually rotate the pieces just for them.

A photo of the chess figurines on a T-shirt that my sister gave me as a present many years ago. I had always assumed that the pieces depicted were an original design. Only now, after selecting a font for this site and setting up all the diagrams, did I realise that the T-shirt maker simply borrowed the Chess Alpha font – the same one that I had picked!

Because of the many enhancements in the new Google Sites, I would recommend it as a free website builder that requires little technical know-how. Mind you, the tool is a work in progress and with regular updates it still lacks many basic features and functions. There are severe limitations on customising the look of a site, e.g. once a theme colour is selected, you can’t further change the colour of any text, and you have almost no control of the amount of spacing between items on a page. On the plus side, the site branding is very subtle – you’d have to click a button to see that this is a Google Site, unlike the case with other free site creators that typically have obtrusive advertising and require a paid upgrade to remove it. Another advantage here is that if you own a domain name (like OzProblems.com), you can use it for a Google Site without any additional cost.

Anyhow, I hope readers will enjoy the more modern look and better interface of the new site. Feedback is welcome (use the Contact Form on the About page) and I would appreciate reports of any errors you discovered, whether in the text, diagrams, or links.