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I'm not what you'd call a professional web master. Yes, I am the web master for this site, but that's because nobody else is, and somebody has to be. I don't have good layout skills, don't know what pleases the eye and what doesn't, etc.

Probably a lot of web site owners are in the same position, but most of them probably use tools like FrontPage or blogging tools, or use one of the many other packaged web site production/maintenance tools. That's why so many of them look the same: the same tools drive them.

Not me, though. I build my pages with vi and scripts I wrote myself. There are a couple of reasons for that. One, I don't want to be locked into someone else's idea of how my website should work. Yes, some of those generators are open source, but that means I have to dig in to understand someone else's code, and I usually find it's just easier to write things myself. I also fear security problems: while I may have my own, at least they don't become public knowledge. Finally, I'm a bit of a control freak. I simply can't stand looking at the bloated mess produced by HTML generators. I like my pages lean and mean, no excess fluff, easy to re-edit. That means I have to know HTML.

Well, "know" might be too strong a word. I have to be able to use the very basics of HTML. I don't do the more fancy stuff, don't use Javascript, don't try to code for different browsers or even keep up with the web development industry at all. There are reasons for that too: many older browsers don't support anything but the basics, so I have been hesitant to use features that might not be present for all users. There's also the matter of browser differences. Many web sites just pretend there is nothing but Internet Explorer, and if their pages work with that, that's enough. I don't take that attitude, and while I can't account for everything, the more basic I keep it, the more chance of success. So while I may have been aware of some features, I generally wouldn't use them unless it wouldn't change anything for someone using an older or different browser.

I've probably been too conservative in that regard. I've recently been reading HTML & XHTML : The Definitive Guide by Chuck Musciano and Bill Kennedy, and have been catching up on some of the things I've been mostly ignoring the past few years. In testing, I find that even the weakest of the current crop of browsers supports more than I knew. I can see from my stats that there are only a very few visitors here running browsers old enough to have any possible issues, and those folks are surely quite accustomed to that by now anyway: nothing I do is going to seriously add to their misery. So, it's probably past time for me to move away from the absolute basics and be a little more daring. There are still places where caution is necessary, though: implementation of standards by browsers seems to be pretty loosely followed. I'm sure part of it is time and budget related, but sometimes it seems like "we don't see the point of that tag so we aren't going to do it".

Some of the newer stuff that is at least mostly standard is just simple convenience. For example, things like using an "id" attribute in a <P> tag is easier than using a name anchor. Using "style" within a tag is easier than modifying the global style sheet for a one time use. Nothing earth shattering. But there are also plenty of little usage things that I just never picked up on: I never noticed that it's OK to put an image in a header tag, for one. If I ever noticed that PRE can have a width attribute, I forgot it pretty quickly. When I first learned HTML, I was in a hurry to get things working, so I didn't spend a lot of time reading carefully. I'm correcting that now.

There are a lot of older pages I would like to clean up; places I used tags that really should be something else. No doubt it will be a while before I get to much of that, but I can start with my newest pages for now.

My son-in-law (the one who is a professional webmaster) says that he groans inwardly when he sees my pages. He likes the content, it's the presentation that bothers him. I doubt I'll ever manage to get things cleaned up enough to actually impress him, but maybe I can get beyond the mental anguish. Someday, when I'm too old and tired to do this anymore, I'll turn the site over to him. It will be a lot better looking then, I'm sure.



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