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Verbose Venting

Part 4

More Digital Musing: Time to vent a bit more. About what, who knows. I’ll discover that as I write.

First off. The website. This site. Something must be done about it. When? When I find time, I guess. Who? By me—it’s my site, after all. Why? Because although I like the current design, I feel the “thing” (the site) needs a sort of face-lift. Not a Cher-like face-lift—something more mild is in store, I think—but something. What? A makeover, a redesign, a changing of the guard—to what extent, I am not yet certain.

What goals do I have for my site? It should contain information. It is not an encyclopedia. It is not an archive. Nor is it a repository of current and exciting research. It is not a news site. It is a “personal home page,” so to speak, and hence, it contains information about me, as well as information about things I find interesting. So far, so good. However, I do not want to merely repeat information that can be easily found elsewhere. And, I do not want end up with a list of links. Regarding the question of what should go into a personal site, someone once answered, whatever makes you tick—whatever you’re passionate about. That is, in building a personal web site, one should focus on one’s interests. Don’t make your site like everyone elses’ simply because those other sites look cool. Good sites need motivation - in a way, creating a good site is like writing (besides the fact that writing is involved in creating a site, duh).

[Random aside: what a gorgeous day, today. At least it was. Darker and more overcast now, but I can still hear the birds, even with my typing. It was hard to find anyone today who actually wanted to be in class. Okay, that’s usually the case, but today people were, as a rule, complaining. I wish I was home. I wish I didn’t have to be here. Etc.]

The information on a site should be clearly organized. Is this true? The answer may be yes—it may depend on the goal/purpose of a site. As for my site, the answer is yes. I want people to come to my site and be able to find particular pieces of information in a rather easy fashion. First off, for my site, that has always meant a navigation bar at the bottom of the page to allow people to quickly go to certain “main” pages—the title/home page, the table of contents, and the “disclaimer.” Within sections I often included a menu bar in the left-hand column to point to other pages within the section.

This obviously doesn’t apply everywhere. There is no navigation system to “Trivial Tidbits”—and it will stay that way. The goal there is simply to use hyperlinks within each document to point to other documents. There is no overarching structure there.

As for format and form, I’ve been using the left-aligned-table-thingy for the past year. First, I refuse to use frames—I’m stuck using them on the IBS site, but oh well. Of course, Lynx doesn’t care for tables, but oh well again; I think it will be difficult to incorporate both my desire for some formatting as well as the ability to make the pages look perfect on all browsers. Still, that is my goal—at least to the extent that I can achieve it ...

So, I am thinking of dropping font tags and such, and instead I plan to use CSS. My implementation would be limited to setting fonts. I have no desire to use them (CSS) in order to place bits and pieces of text here and there. I’m still not sure if this is the way to go. It will reduce the size of my pages a bit, but at the same time mean that my “intended” formatting won’t work on certain older browsers. Still, it’s not as if Netscape 2.x formats things exactly as I want them.

Some people complain so much about the limitations of HTML. It can’t do this, it can’t do that. It’s horrible at this. It’s too restrictive. I can’t be creative enough when using it. Not everyone implements it in the same way. Blah, blah, blah... I partially agree. It’s not a perfect mark-up language. No language is—for every language there will be something that tests its capabilities and demonstrates its limitations. Still, from the perspective of someone merely interested in posting information, it is a rather useful tool. I also find plain ASCII text to be pretty spiffy, and I love text-terminals. If I were a graphic designer, I’d be saying whoah! this sucks.., but I’m not one, and I have little patience for those people who are. Some are quite skilled, others, well, I have no need to speak unkindly of them in this forum. HTML wasn’t—isn’t—meant as a tool for presenting information in a highly graphic, non-text-based fashion, and any additions that made it easier to do so are/were essentially poorly planned hacks. CSS are a step in the right direction, but they are held back by the inherently limited nature of HTML. Still, HTML was meant as a way of marking up simple texts, particularly articles that are/were arranged in a certain type of format, in order to transfer them and make them readable between normally incompatible platforms. That is, universality, not creative perfection, was the goal, or at least part of the ideal. Despite its limitations, I really enjoy working with HTML. Maybe I’m just sick.

[As for ICQ, I still end up getting some wackos on it. And some just don’t take a hint. They often end up on my ignore list. Like that 17-yr. old psycho—a stalker in the making. Didn’t even know me, but was quite scary. Quite. Occasionally more interesting fools ... I mean people ... Such as a Canadian student from Romania, or the other Canadian student from Alberta who’s in to drawing and mountain climbing. Eclectic is fine. Further aside: why so many Canadians on ICQ? Maybe it’s just my time zone—only an hour off from Ontario, for example—but it’s curious in a way. Oh, by the way, if you have ever mesaged me on ICQ (and plan to do so again)—please be nice and at least have something to say. I’m tired of yeah and ok and no being the extent of my conversation partners’ active vocabulary. Hehe, LOL and Hey :) are okay, but hardly satisfying. Polysyllabic words are a plus. Complete phrases earn you brownie points. With whole sentences I might become overcome with joy and, and ... I don’t know. Enough complaining. For now.]

Regarding the limitations of HTML, though, there is one limitation to my situation that I wish I could remedy. A lot of my documents use the same template—I just supply the content for the second column, and voila!, I have a page. Link it from another page, and we’re all set. Pretty easy. Trivially so, in a way. Still there are times at which I think it would be nice to simply store my documents as simple text (with a sort of mark-up—perhaps HTML, perhaps a customized mark-up language) files that are inserted into a template on the fly by the server. Other people do this. It’s not somehing new, but it isn’t used by most personal pages. If I ran my own server, I could do it—I’d probably have to learn a little more Perl than I already know, but that’s not a great hurdle. Running off public servers such as SIT, however, limits my capability to do so. So, I’ll just stick with regular ol’ HTML for now.

[The question not asked, however, is: what sorts of viewers do I have? What type of people visit my pages? The quick answer is: not important—no one comes here anyway, so don’t worry about it. Still, perhaps I should wonder what my “target” audience is. Educated computer folks? Freaks I meet on ICQ (yes, I mean you)? Friends and relatives? Up to this point, I have received an if not “wide” variety of visitors, at least a “set of visitors” made up of people looking for different things. There are the ex-exchangees, both young and old(er). There was the guy “Browsing for ‘Tony Hendra.’” A few people I already know/knew. There’s the guy who found my old geology paper, or the one who liked the Idaho pages. And so on. I have to design for both a “least common demominator” browser and audience.]

Regarding computers, I would almost like to have a laptop. It would be nice to have a little portable to take with me and use, say, while sitting at a pub or lying on the grass, etc. However, laptop keyboards are still too tiny for my liking. A shame. I’ve got big hands. So sue me. On the other hand, not having one forces me to leave my computer at home, and hence distance myself from the world of computing, which is not, in and of itself, such a bad thing.

—May 3, 1999

One paper down: 3 to go. Of those, two are written and only need revised. One from scratch. Add to that one final exam, split between a take-home section in my possession and an in-class part to be taken on May 12, at 7:45 a.m. That is the work I have left to do this semester.

Actually, there is *other* work to do as well. I have some updates to do for Marc Silberman. I’m sure Sabine Groß would be happy if I finished up a few other updates, and I do have tickets to purchase.

As for leaving this country—only temporarily, I assure you—the dates are not yet set in stone. I expect, since the program runs from July 3–30, I will want to leave around the 23rd or so; if I fly into Frankfurt, that gives me a leisurely week to get to Zagreb; the actual trip can be accomplished by way of a night train from Frankfurt to Vienna, and then a train to Zabreb from Vienna. Or, I could go to Milan, from Milan to Venice, From Venice to Ljubljana, and finally to Zagreb. Actually, that second route would probably be smoother than it currently looks, but anyway, that’s not an issue at the moment.

So, let’s assume “June 23rd” as a departure date. Then, that gives me a little over a month in which to do, erm, what? Mike will be here around the 10th I think, so I have to schedule in a day or two of computer games. Reading? Well, there are a few non-German / non-Lit. Theory things I would like to fit in, particularly the rest of my Peter S. Beagle collection. Then, I have a shit-load of German-related things to read.

From the work side, I think Hermand has a job for me. Plus, it looks as if I’ve been hired by the Russian Dept. to redo their site. In addition, I will have a few other things to do in the German Dept., not least of which is my continued work on our stock of old Macs (two of which, I expect, are to become mine ... <evil laugh>)

Also, on the personal side, I have my own site to consider ... and much consideration that shall be, too. Oh, and not to forget, there is more Linux work to do. Also, I think summer would be a good time to not only read, but write. And draw some. I always say that, though, and there is no guarantee that this summer will be any different in that regard than other recent summers, in which I accomplished a great deal less than expected.

Regarding the trip to Europe: what needs to be done? Tickets are one thing (plane and train). I have a backpack, my passport is valid, and my camera is functioning. I’ll need film, though. I should plan out an itinerary at some point, and perhaps even reserve hostel beds ahead of time. It couldn’t hurt.

—May 6, 1999

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