SITE HISTORY FROM THE PREVIOUS WEBMASTER AND SITE CREATOR, BOB MORROW...
My name is Bob Morrow, and I was the stage manager for the 1988 TOPS IN BLUE stateside tour. I am the creator and former maintainer of this site. I was in the U.S. Air Force from 1986 until 1994, spending all 8 years at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana doing electro-mechanical maintenance on the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile system.
After I got out, I returned home (near Buffalo, NY) and began my life all over again. In the spring of 1995, a job opportunity came up near Madison, Wisconsin, so I took it. Part of that job was putting up a web page, something I had never done before. Heck, I had been on the World Wide Web a grand total of two months by then. It turned out that learning HTML (hypertext markup language) was quite simple and I had a working site running a few weeks later. Because I had typed up a lot of information for that web site, I was pretty adept at HTML after a month or so.
One night in September 1995, an idea arose: Why not create a TOPS IN BLUE web site? I made the decision to do it based on these observations:
As it turned out, I couldn't find any TOPS IN BLUE sites. Oh, I found a few that said something like "TOPS IN BLUE will perform at 1930 hours on 21 Sep 95 in the KC-135 hangar, building 383" but that's not at all what I was looking for.
The ingredients were already there. All I had to do was mix them together. So, on the 15th of September 1995, this, the very first TOPS IN BLUE web site, had its premiere showing.
I never asked for permission to do it. I just knew Tom Edwards (producer of TOPS IN BLUE) wouldn't object. There are some times when you just know you're right, so I pushed forward. At the 50th Reunion at Lackland AFB, Texas in July 2003, I was awarded the prestigious Golden Roger award for creating/maintaining this site. It is probably the only time someone has been given an award for doing something without Tom's approval. :-)
I don't remember who was the first prior to stop by this site, and I will never know how that person found this site. The "Priors Newsletter", printed by prior tour member T.A. Burrows was probably the reason traffic started to pick up. I sent T.A. a letter asking him to print the URL in the next issue. He did, and the good ol' TOPS IN BLUE grapevine took over. I also stopped by all the WWW search engines I knew of and deposited the web site URL there. (If you go to Google and search for "tops in blue", this site shows up close to the top of the list. I couldn't have asked for better placement because it happened by pure luck.)
A few months after this site opened, I became aware that it was missing something. Most web sites are one-way; that is, you read but do not contribute. If it is a two-way site, normally the only interaction you have is by typing in your name, address, etc. for something. I knew the users of this site would enjoy a bulletin-board feature where people could post messages and others could read them. In 1996 I eventually found a free CGI (common gateway interface) script that I could use as a bulletin board. As I said, I thought users would enjoy that feature. Boy, did I underestimate that. It succeeded beyond my wildest dreams! However, it took me over a year to realize the significance of the bulletin board - no, this site in general - in the minds of other priors.
Then I realized there was a glaring omission that needed attention right now. TOPS IN BLUE is a singing organization, so why not have a sound file of a song performed by TOPS IN BLUE? For this I needed the help of my TOPS IN BLUE family because I didn't have a suitable recording. I sent an e-mail to all the priors asking for a tape of TOPS IN BLUE singing either the Air Force Hymn or the national anthem. (For copyright and royalty reasons, I can't use commercial songs even though they were performed by TOPS IN BLUE.) Shortly thereafter, Aaron Sisemore, one of the audio board operators from the 1994 tour came up with a tape he recorded on tour. You can download the file here.
Because people really enjoy seeing what goes on or refreshing worn-out memories, I decided to add some pictures of tours from years gone by to this site. After all, what you hear at a TOPS IN BLUE performance is only half of the show - there's a visual feast, too. You could say that the pictures are like a clock that has stopped forever. I started with pictures that I had from my one tour, and bit by bit, I've been able to add to that. I can post as many pictures as I want since there aren't any copyright or royalty considerations to worry about.
In early 1997, prior Ed Knox asked if I could post a list of the mailing addresses and phone numbers of all priors, whether they're online or not. As obvious as it seems now, I never thought of that but it's usefulness was immediately apparent. After overcoming some privacy concerns, the list was posted and yet another avenue enabling priors to stay in touch, to share memories, was opened. From a personal standpoint, it presented a challenge because I had never worked with password authentication schemes before. In true TOPS IN BLUE fashion, I couldn't let that get in the way - so I learned.
In January 1998, I started sending e-mails to all priors when one of their tour mates signs up to this page. For example, if someone from the 1994 tour just signed up to the page, I e-mail all priors from the 1994 tour to let them know who just re-joined the family. It's not a lot of work for me to do that, and it helps keep us together.
Four years after I started the site, I finally became disgusted with the service my original internet service provider was giving me. For the longest time I had been wanting to move the site, and I got a list of web hosting places from a prior in the web business. Moving to the present server not only let me change the site and delete or rename some files, it allowed me to do something I had wanted for years - get my own "domain", or web address related to TIB. My old ISP charged $50 per month just for a domain name, on top of the normal monthly bill. At that price I wasn't willing to play. But the current provider doesn't charge extra for a special domain, and they provide a lot of services that were simply not available on the original provider's system, such as support for streaming audio. Which is easier to remember? www.msn.fullfeed.com/~bob/ or www.tibpriors.org?
TOPS IN BLUE started their official site in June, 2000. Since 1995, when people wanted to know about TIB and went to the internet, they came here. Few knew that this never was an official site. That's understandable and it was intentional. I never told anyone, and I wanted this site to appear as if it was done by someone who actually worked at the TIB office. (In fact, I'm 1,500 miles north of it.) Since the opening of the official site, the focus of this site changed a bit, by necessity. I now just provide links to the official site for such things as show dates, the cast list, and application forms. However, the official site doesn't cover too much of TOPS IN BLUE of the past. This site is now focused primarily on just that - TIB of the past, a lot like college alumni pages. I'll let Air Force Services's webmasters handle the present-day TOPS IN BLUE stuff. But it surely was an enjoyable 4Ĺ years acting as the home of TOPS IN BLUE online, and will continue to be even in it's new form.
In September 2001 I added a Java-based live chat feature. This gives us the ability to 'talk' live, and in so doing it helps keep us together. It doesn't cost me any extra and best of all, it doesn't require any intervention on my part. Maybe someday we'll set up a regular online chat session, open to all.
Later that year I finally realized that this site was a source of some of the spam that priors have been getting. I send out only a few e-mails per year to everyone on my list, but some were getting a lot of spam. Spammers use computer programs called "spambots" that search the web for e-mail addresses, and since an HTML page (what you're viewing now) is just text, it's easy to harvest e-mail addresses that way - just have the "spambot" look for @ signs. The fix cost a few hundred dollars - I bought a copy of Adobe Acrobat so that I could change HTML pages into Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) files. I picked Adobe PDF because it is a common format so most users would already have the required Acrobat reader program (if not, it's free) and PDF files stop spambots dead in their digital tracks - I hope - because a PDF file is basically a picture.
I then decided to make all of T. A.'s newsletters from January 2002 forward in Adobe PDF format; but not for spam reasons. I wanted people to see the newsletter exactly the way T. A. prints it, and this way is a lot faster and easier for me. Prior to this, I would get the newsletter text in e-mail from T. A. and I would then cut and paste it into my HTML editor. It was a very time-consuming process with the potential for errors everywhere. And also I didn't spend that much money on a program to use it on only two pages of this site...A simple question posed to me in 2002 by Golden Roger recipient Gary Smith and Derek Sinclair (priors both) led to the development of a Roger that is a mouse pointer. Such a seemingly simple thing took a few weeks to produce since not many people bother with designing their own mouse pointers, but eventually I found a free program that would do the job.
For years I had been using a free CGI script called "formmail.cgi" where priors would fill out this form to get added to the list and that script would mail it to me. I needed that ability so that I could use a form which asks the proper questions that T. A. and I need. Whenever T. A. sends me a newsletter, I scan it in Adobe Acrobat and post it online. I then e-mail everyone telling them it's up. Sometime in 2002 I got an e-mail back from one priors' ISP, saying that they weren't taking e-mail from me because my site had that "formmail.cgi" script. Turns out that script is a spambot watering hole, so I switched to "cgiemail" and hopefully I won't have to worry about spambots anymore. (hah!)
Well, in January 2004 I got a notice from my ISP that they were deleting all copies of the "cgiemail" program on their servers, and that I could use a fixed version of 'formmail.cgi' to do the same function. Great! I had just thrown out my site backup CDs from a few years ago that had a form which used the 'formmail.cgi' script and I could have re-used it....if I could have found that file. Looking around my hard drive however, revealed a very old version of that file that for some reason had not been deleted over the years. It just needed some updating and it came online in a day or two. Moral of the story? Even old backups aren't worthless.
TIB's 50th anniversary reunion celebration in July 2003 wouldn't have been as well-known among priors without this site. I posted itineraries and other information related to the reunion. In January 2003, the Air Force Entertainment office asked if I would post a form online so that all the priors could provide them with updated information in preparation for the reunion. Ask & ye shall receive.
In the fall of 2004, an airman who wanted to try out for TOPS IN BLUE did ask if I would make one change to the site. She was a vocalist looking to find priors who were vocalists on tour and she wanted to e-mail just the vocalists, not everyone. At the time the list of priors did not mention what people did on their tour(s). Initially I was a little unwilling to do it because I couldn't figure out how to make it work without messing up the look of those two pages, but ultimately I did find a way that was ok with me and should fulfill her request as well. It will take time to be completed because as priors are added to the list or they update their information, I add their tour specialty to the page.
In August 2005, after 10 years of running the TIB Priors site, I decided it was time for me to sign off. Chris Burch (TIB 98) is running the show now.
Unlike TAís newsletter, the bulletin board was a 24/7 operation requiring constant attention, partly to make sure it was working but mostly to make sure that no inappropriate messages had been posted. Rarely did that happen but I felt that TOPS IN BLUE was too important to let things slide. A copy of each bulletin board message was e-mailed to me, and after seven years of checking my e-mail at least once and usually three or four times a day, 7 days a week, I am simply tired of checking my e-mail. I also felt I had to do that in the event some non-priors asked me a question. Some did, and each one was answered, even if it was simply ďcall 210-652-6566Ē. These were standards imposed by me.
I would be remiss if I didnít mention Tom Edwards and the freedom of judgment I was allowed. While itís true I never asked for Tomís permission to do the site, once he was aware, he never told me what should be on it. Iím sure at times Tom wanted me to do something other than what I did, but in the end, I was the one who ran the site. Thanks Chief.
The primary reason Iím giving up the site is desire. I no longer want to do it. I couldnít let it wither on the vine, nor could I simply shut it down. Ten years have passed since I started the site back in September 1995. I wanted to shut it down as early as the year 2000 but I couldnít because I knew how valuable the site was to everyone, so I felt I had to continue until at least the 50th reunion. That has now passed, so it is time for me to move on. This generator is about to run out of fuel.
Also, the lease on the tibpriors.org domain name was going to expire soon. I could have renewed it for about $30 a year but I chose not to. Cost wasnít the reason; after spending nearly $4,000 on this site over the past ten years, another $30 wouldnít matter. Iím just tired of doing it, thatís all.
So, how much work was it? Hereís how much is online:
2 common gateway interface files
2 Excel files
3 text files
4 RealAudio files
11 Adobe Acrobat files
94 HTML files (such as the one youíre viewing)
for a total of 468 files, taking up about 43 megabytes of disk space.
As I look back on the past 10 years, I realize Iíve left an indelible mark on the program in a way that has changed many lives. For that Iím grateful that God gave me the insight to do something good for TIB back in September 1995.
I suppose the obvious question is "Why did I start this web site?" There are two answers. One, I wanted to find as many "lost" priors as possible. There are about 1,700 prior TOPS IN BLUE team members but T.A.'s newsletter database has only about 550 names in it as of spring 2005. After being in a program as intense as TOPS IN BLUE, many priors have an almost insatiable desire to remain in touch. This site is one more way to do that.
Also, although it had been a few years since I was last involved directly with the TOPS IN BLUE program, I still found myself wanting to be more than an audience member, wanting to contribute in a more direct way. Geographically, I was hampered by the lack of a nearby base. That left one alternative that was both unexplored and available to me: the internet. Carpe diem! ('Carpe internet' just didn't sound right.)
I must stress though that without the help of priors - friends - from other tours, certain portions of this site would have never seen the light of day. I receive no financial help from anyone for what I do here, and that's just fine with me. (That said, contributions are always appreciated.) This site is done entirely on my free time and under my internet account. While I maintain the site, it's not about me. It's a site about TOPS IN BLUE priors that happens to be run by me. I do it because I want to, and because it serves many purposes for TIB and the priors. It is one way I can give something back to the program that gave so much to me.
Occasionally I check the access log for this site. I'm amazed at the variety of countries checking in. I expected to see a fair amount of military domains (e.g. ".af.mil") and I also expected to see a lot of domains from countries where the Air Force has bases, like Japan, Germany, and Korea. But what's been real surprising is the number of visits from places where we don't have bases. The access log has recorded visitors from Thailand, Sweden, Romania, Poland, Israel, even Russia. (Maybe the Russians want to start "Tops In Red".) In 2000, I received an e-mail from an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force band, who said he was just about ordered to see a TIB show by some of his troops who had just seen one. I suppose the only explanation is that TOPS IN BLUE has truly universal appeal.
So what is my favorite page among all of this? It is easily this page, where you can read the stories of how people made it to TOPS IN BLUE and what it has done for them. I don't remember what made me start it but I'm glad I did. I wish I could get more people to write their story.
Francine Norrod, who toured with me in 1988, said when she first found this site: "Isn't it amazing what happens when you have nothing to do one night and go searching for TOPS IN BLUE online - and actually find something?"
I am glad that I didn't that one night in September, 1995.
Bob Morrow, TOPS IN BLUE 1988
Updated Sunday, August 14, 2005 for the last time.