End of October, 1997:|
I've been at this over two years now, but it seems to me 75% of the effort has been in the past month. Prompted by Yahoo telling me they were going to list the site, I was at first concerned more about its appearance than about its content and resolved to do something to make it look at least a little better. The problem with that, though, is size: there are well over 200 documents. Actually, with supporting artwork and photo galleries there are at this point about 600 files.
Originally, I learned only enough HTML to meet very basic needs. I was unaware that if I really wanted people to read any of this, I better make it easier to get around, because I guess this is a large site, as personal web pages go.
Navigation, I found out from reading up on web site design, is one of the most important aspects. While I find playing with the appearance of the pages endlessly fascinating, my main interest, really, is in the content.
A navigation toolbar now graces all but the main-entry page of my site. Making it took many long hours of designing buttons and getting them to work. But now they do work, I glad to say. Having them work was not enough, however; I also had to get them inserted in each document, and that in turn meant many more hours of writing scripts that would structure my documents and make them suitable for maintenance by software rather than by hand.
Writers are schooled (never mind that I was never schooled to be a writer) to rely on outlines to confer order upon their thinking. It was an outlne that solved my problems with site maintenance (you can actually see it, because the site index is basically it, wrapped in suitable HTML).
Each document is simple text file with only minimal HTML in it: paragraph, list, and table tags, primarily. Together with the outline, which gives the structure of the site and includes such items as the page title, the text files provide everything needed to regenerate the full set of HTML documents any time anything changes. A series of Unix shell scripts and standard Unix tools like sed and awk update the navigation bars, various lists and various indexes automatically.
The process of creating and testing the scripts was rather like swimming in an undertow: reaching the security of shore is possible but not necessarily quick or easy. I think it was worth it; several people have mentioned that they think the result is very attractive. I hope it won't seem too immodest to say that I think so too.
There was something of a financial incentive to do this work, too. Until August of 1997, I had a nailed-up ISDN 128 Kbps connection (a pretty great luxury, as I saw it) at my house as part of my job. But when I retired, the boss was uncomfortable about continuing to use the public money for a full-time connection, when a dial-up connection would serve the changed needs of my job well enough.
Another factor was the University's nervousness about supporting personal web pages of faculty, staff and students: legal issues, hate speech, sexual harassment, pornography and commercial exploitation were themes in this set of concerns. It was problematic that tax-supported infrastructure might be used for things other than the University's primary missions. All things taken together, it seemed easiest to get a private provider for my web site. Since the costs are nontrivial, I thought it best to make it as worthwhile as I can.
I'd like to thank David W. Fenton of New York for detailed assistance with HTML markup issues. Although he's a musicologist, he does web design for a living, and he volunteered to offer constructive criticism of various sins of omission and commission in my documents, many of which I've now addressed; it sure took a lot of hours to size 200+ graphics for faster page formatting.
While I was at it I standardized the format of the tables in which all those thumbnails are presented. I haven't quite settled on certain color issues yet; I'm trying to keep it functional yet harmonious but not dull.
In any case, I'm again working on these materials. I do get a certain amount of feedback and it's ordinarily quite positive. I've met (in the e-sense) a fair number of fascinating people. If the business pages of the New York Times are a reliable indication, the internet has burgeoned beyond even the wilder guesses of a few years ago. Through it all, and despite all the hoopla, ordinary people are managing to use it in an amazing variety of ways.
As a result, I've been plowing my way through the strictly biographical materials on my site, updating and revising many small details.
Those are the people I hear from occasionally, I guess.
[To be continued, but as always I'm interested in what you may think.]