Ten Years, Man! Ten Years.

I’ve spent the last two days learning XHTML and CSS. Actually I didn’t spend ALL day both days working on this. I had a very enjoyable several hours on Saturday in a park in the mountains here in Burbank–I’m still a little red from the experience. I read a lot more in the Robert Jordan book I’ve been working on, “The Eye Of The World.” Watched a little TV last night.

It’s been interesting to get back into web design. I have been away from it for several years and things have definitely changed for the better. When I was designing the mostly monthly Right Turn Clyde in 1999, I was using Dreamweaver to put together the site in HTML4, and boy was it messy. I shudder to think of what the code looks like on those pages. Lots and lots of tables to attempt to position things correctly

There was this mysterious thing called Cascading Style Sheets but it had different versions based on your Document Object Model (DOM) and because of the non-standard nature of Internet Explorer and Netscape at the time. Even now I’m getting a little nervous just writing this. So I ignored that and stuck with trusty HTML and tables.

The cool thing I’ve discovered is that XHTML is even easier that HTML4. It reminds me of when I first started writing web pages by hand back in college in 1994. Back then I had to compile and install my own server just so I could have a website. I worked in the computer labs on the Norwestern campus so I had accounts on every computer. So a little Sun workstation in a lab was my web home for several years (http://crow.acns.nwu.edu:8080/). Don’t bother looking for it. It’s been gone for a long time.

The thing that made me so excited about the web was this program that had just come out on the Mac (my trusty Quadra 840 AV at the time), NCSA Mosaic. It was a web browser and YOU COULD PUT PICTURES IN THE PAGES! The year before I saw a web program called MacWWW but it was just pages and pages of unformatted text. You could click on something that was underlined and it would take you somewhere else. I couldn’t see that it was any better than our Gopher server. But then the pictures came and everything was different. In fact I got my first internship in Hollywood because of my web site, but that’s a story for another day.

I used to use BBEdit Lite to write my webpages. It was all by hand but there weren’t that many tags to learn. And it wasn’t all that different from using a word processor like WordStar for DOS–which I used to write all my papers in high school. Instead of putting a ^U on either side of text that I wanted to underline. I would just use the <u> and the </u>. Nothing too scary.

Now I find 10 years later that we’ve come around to those days of simple tags again. Simple tags. Focus on meaningful content. Let the CSS handle the layout of the page. The idea is to separate the content from the layout so that the content can easily be displayed on lots of different output devices. The computer screen is the obvious one, but more increasingly: web-enabled TVs, PDAs, and cell phones. Not to mention allowing visually handicapped people access to this wonderful internet with programs like screen readers. Imagine a screen reader program trying to make it through the mess of tables of HTML4? Yuck.

The wonderful thing about XHTML is that it has standardized some of the non-standard tags, and there are a whole list of tags that should no longer be used. It’s great. Simple. The thing that takes all the time now is messing around with CSS trying to get your layout right. But even that’s not too difficult one you’ve learned how it works.

I’m back to coding web pages (mostly) by hand with BBEdit. The full version has a great set of markup tools to handle all your HTML needs. It’ll handle the CSS for you too, but I’ve been using a program called CSSEdit to do that. Mostly because it has a bunch of categorized fields to fill in. It’s easier while I’m still learning CSS to say, “Ok, now I need to work on the font. Go to the font tab, fill out the appropriate fields. Now let’s change the background. Go to the background tab. Change the color.” Instead of trying to remember all the selectors, just type in the fields.

I use iBlog to make my weblog entries and deal with generating all the various archive pages and whatnot. It makes a series of static webpages and uses a bit of javascript trickery to generate a few things on the fly. It means I can have a weblog on my $3/month server that doesn’t allow server-side scripting at that price. Not the most flexible program, but it works well and it’s easy. One of these days I’ll setup PHP on one of my computers and figure out that whole thing. (That’s one of the nice things for us geeks about OS X, it’s a Unix operating system.) And then maybe I’ll move up to a $5/month or -shudder- $7/month server and MoveableType or something like that. But not today.

For now I’ll just keep messing around with my CSS. And someday soon, perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, you’ll see a new Monsters from the Id website in all its XHTML 1.0 Strict and CSS glory.