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PHSC Website Notes and Instructions

The PHSC website has lots to offer, and we want to make it as easy for you to use and contribute to as possible. So, this is the FAQ document for this site. We've organized everything into main categories and subcategories. Each item is denoted by a red triangle. Click on the triangle, or anywhere in the corresponding question to reveal the answer. Please note that if you can't find what you're looking for, the webmaster is standing by waiting to help you out. Don't gripe to your friends, send him an email!

Website Registration

Why do we ask you to register to use this site?

This new website is simultaneously a public face for the PHSC and a members-only site. We are working on many projects here that are for PHSC members only, and your username and password are necessary to keep track of who has access to the private parts of the site. There is also lots of information on the site that doesn't require registration.

Filling out the registration form

The registration process should be simple, but there are some potential pitfalls. The most common problem that you might encounter is that you can only enter alphanumeric characters into the textboxes on the registration form. This is not to aggravate you, but to protect the server that this site runs on from the bad guys. Alphanumeric means that you can use ordinary letters and numbers, but you cannot use characters like apostrophes, ampersands, etc. If this happens to you, instead of registering successfully, you will get the registration form back with the problem areas indicated in red text. Make some changes and resubmit, and hopefully all will go well. If you get frustrated with this, don't explode, but instead send an email to the webmaster! He'd really like to help you out.

If you have an apostrophe or some other non-alphanumeric character in your name or address, just leave it out when you register and send an email to the webmaster so that it can be corrected in the records. Again, all of this is necessary, not to aggravate you, but to protect the website.

I registered, but it still doesn't work!

There are two parts to the registration procedure. First you fill out the form and submit it (successfully). Second, the registration has to be recorded. If all goes well (you are already a PHSC member, spelled your name correctly, supplied your membership number, no other glitches occur) you will be given access immediately. If that doesn't happen, it will be explained to you on the screen that you see after registering, and you will have to wait for the webmaster to intervene. This doesn't usually take very long at all, but there could be a delay. If this happens to you, please be patient -- nirvana is just around the corner.

Can I register if I'm not a PHSC member?

You can, but you won't be granted access to the private parts of the site, so you won't notice much of a difference. There's a lot of really cool stuff available to PHSC members, so if you'd like to join, see the next section of the FAQ for instructions on how to apply for membership.

If you registered with the intent to apply for membership, you should be taken to an appropriate page to do so following your website registration. Alternatively, if you log out, the sidebar will contain a link to apply for membership. Follow that link, then log in to see the membership application.

PHSC Membership Stuff

Filling out the Membership Application

As for the registration, the textboxes will only accept alphanumeric characters. You may from time to time encounter errors with the form because of this. If you can't figure it out, please send an email to the webmaster, and he will help you out.

Paying Membership Dues

Membership dues can be paid from this website via Paypal. To do so, you must first register with a username and password. The reason that we require this is simple -- it's the only way that we can record who you are when you send your money in. Once you're registered, you can of course take full advantage of all of the features of this website as well.

Web-browser Issues

Is it my browser?

The PHSC website uses open-source technologies such as PHP, MySQL and Javascript and adheres strictly to established web standards. We strive to provide a Website that will work for you, independent of your choice of computer platform or browser program. Unfortunately, not all web-browsers conform to those standards. Most of the webmaster's time is spent tracking down bugs in non-conforming browsers!! We think we've done a pretty good job of this, but there is always room for improvement. If you're encountering wierd behaviour, we'd like to hear about it.

You appear to be using unrecognized version unknown running on unrecognized.

Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) is particularly bad at this. We have tested IE versions 6,7 and 8 on Windows XP pretty extensively. We do not know a way to test other versions (such as version 5, AOL versions, etc.). We also have no way to test old browsers such as Netscape. Fortunately, there are really good browsers out there, such as Safari and Firefox, that run on many computer systems, and you can download and install them for free.

Why are cookies required?

To use the PHSC website, you SHOULD enable cookies (in your browser program's Preferences). Cookies are used to make your browser remember pertinent pieces of information as you move around from page to page on this website. An example of this occurs when you do a search of any of the databases. Using a cookie, your browser remembers the last search that you did. This can be helpful if you are doing multiple related searches, or trying to refine a search. You can turn off cookies in the Preferences of your browser program, but doing so would degrade your experience on this site. There is nothing evil about cookies, nor are they a security risk.

Why is Javascript required?

To use the PHSC website, you MUST have javascript enabled (in your browser program's Preferences). Javascript is a programming language that we use to do some cool things on the website. Without it, lots of stuff will be broken. But if you have Javascript turned off, then you are probably pretty used to just about any website on the Internet being broken...

Why is the text so small/large?

One thing that a website cannot do is set the absolute size of text on your screen. This is determined by Preference settings in your browser program. If the text on this website seems to not fit very well in certain places, you might want to try changing the default font size in your browser. (This might be as simple as <ctrl>– and <ctrl>+ on Windows, or cmd– and cmd+ on a Mac).

How can I improve the look of the text on the site?

In many cases in the members-only parts of the site, we provide rather wide tables of data. It is a challenge to make these appear in a readable form in the limited space available. If you don't like the look of the results, there are several things that you can try, and a combination of the following should help.

Font Size: As explained in the last question, we do not have absolute control over the size of the fonts that appear on your screen (nor would you want us to!). The overall font size displayed in a browser is controlled by a preference setting (the Preferences are found in different places in different browser programs, but shouldn't be too hard to find). We recommend that you use a fairly small font size (maybe 14px or 16px max) and then use the zoom feature.

Zoom: Some browsers (Safari, Firefox, ...) have a zoom feature that will scale up everything on the page (not just the text). So if you use a rather small font, the text will not be crowded, but the website will be readable if you zoom it to fit your screen.

Website width setting: We recognize that some of you have small computer screens, while some of you have wide screens. If you have a wide screen and want to take advantage of it, we have provided a way to widen the webpages on this site. When logged in, follow the 'Website Preferences' link on the sidebar. At the top of this page, select the '1000px' radio button and click the 'Save browser width' button. The website will automatically widen, and your browser will remember this setting in a cookie.

In displaying tables, the sidebar is usually removed to maximize the area available for the table. The sidebar can always be recovered (if for example you want to refine or change your search) by clicking on the arrow icon at the top right of any page.

Website Features

General navigation

There are seven buttons at the top of any page that will take you to the major areas of this website. In many instances, clicking on one of those buttons will cause more specific links to appear on the submenu (the area just below the buttons).

At any time, clicking on the green area at the top of the page will return you to the main homepage.

What is up with that Sidebar?

The large vertical area at the right side of the webpage is called the sidebar. You will use the sidebar a lot! Its content will change depending on context. In some cases, it will disappear entirely (for example, to make more room for search results). You can toggle the sidebar in and out at any time by clicking on the arrow icon that appears near the top right of any page.

Selecting a Database

At present there are databases for postmarks, post offices, rates, etc. To begin, make a selection by clicking a button in the webpage header. This will cause a horizontal list of links to appear along the submenu area just below the buttons. Selecting one will give the main page for that type of content, and the sidebar will change to include a search form or other relevant content.

Locating and searching the Journal

The 'Journal' button on the website header takes you to an area dedicated to the Journal. When you first arrive there, you will see information about the current issue. You will notice that on the sidebar, there are textboxes in which you can do a search of the Journal index (more information such as search syntax can be obtained by clicking the 'Literature Search' link in the sub-menu of the Library area (just below the header). Note that the full text of back issues is available only to members that are registered with the website and logged in.

Working with the research archive

The 'Research' button on the website header takes you to an area dealing with publications of all types. When you first arrive there, you will see a list of different displays, topics and categories. Take some time to explore each of these areas -- there is a great deal of information here.

Setting your website preferences

Rather than reduce the data that we record in the database, we give you the ability to turn off and on various columns of output when you do a search so that you can tailor the output to your liking. You can make permanent preference selections (remembered by your browser with cookies) by making selections on the Preferences page. (There is also a link to this near the bottom of the sidebar when you are on a search page.) Also, while you are doing a search, you will see that there are preference checkboxes on the sidebar. These are for temporary changes so that you can quickly refine the output of your existing search. Any changes you make to the checkboxes on the sidebar apply only to the current search, and are not remembered by the system (via cookies).

Tips for Searching Databases

Here we use the Broken Circles database as an example. (Other databases are set up in a similar way.) When you arrive at the Broken Circles page, you will see a sidebar containing a search form. You will use this form to access the information that you are interested in. Since the database is huge, you must enter something in the search form (you won't be allowed to see the whole database all at once (nor would you want to). Note that at the top of the sidebar, there is a link to an Introduction to Broken Circles, which explains all of the terms used on the website. In the search form, there is a menu that you can use to specify a particular province or territory. This is optional. In some cases, if you select a province (e.g., Ontario) a second menu will appear that you can use to specify a particular county. There is a text box that can be used to specify text that appears on a postmark (this is particularly useful if you are trying to identify a partial strike, for example) or a town name. Finally, you can (optionally) specify a particular type of postmark by selecting an item from a menu below 'Select Type'.

The system will try to find all items that are related in some way to your search terms and display them in a table. Note that when the table is displayed the sidebar will disappear. If you want to refine your search, you can bring the sidebar back into view by clicking the arrow icon near the top right of the webpage. You can then modify the search terms as you wish and resubmit the search request. Note that you can also change the preference settings on the sidebar and resubmit the search to modify the look of the table.

On a search table there are two icons that appear at the left of each row. Clicking the pencil icon will take you to a page with detailed information about that particular item. The second icon if available (non-availability is indicated by the icon being grayed out), can be clicked to obtain a quick picture of the item.