Sometimes, the Beginning is the best place to Continue

I’ve been taking an online course on CSS that starts from the basics.

My original ‘course’ in CSS was on the job training as we converted a site from tables to CSS divs somewhere in the summer of 2000.

A lot has changed in the world of web programming since the dot-com boom when I was doing it professionally (well, as professionally as any of us were, I suppose), and while I still make web things, from WordPress plugins and themes to even dabbling in React.js and Svelte, it’s not my profession anymore. This means that while I’m dipping my toes back in everyone in a while—scraping through Google searches to find the answers to my questions—I’m not active enough in the space to catch up by working.

That was how I learned these things, programming Perl, then PHP, adding JavaScript to have mouse-overs. Tables for layout, and I’m going to admit here, in public, that there are days I wish we went back to tables for layout. I learned CSS ‘real-time’ as we updated the site from tables, hard coded styles and background images to a more fluid CSS layout over the summer.

The thing is this: sometimes the best way to learn is to start from the beginning. Sure, I know everything in the first couple lessons, but it wasn’t long before something new came out. A new term, a new phrase, a new best practice.

I know CSS. But I learned it then and patch-worked myself through updates and improvements throughout these years. I knew CSS, and even though I still use it often, the foundation is based on the lessons learned, right and wrong, all those years ago. At some point… at this point, the best way to continue learning is to start over.

Because it is not just specs and code that has changed over the years, but vocabulary, best practices, formatting and naming conventions (not that we had naming conventions in 1999).

This makes a basic course a refresher and a new foundation to build on from here. Don’t be afraid or prideful to take a step back and go over the basics once again.

Geocities is dead, Long Live Geocities

My first web page was a Geocities page. Freshman year of college, 1996. I still remember the address: I even went and dug it out of the personal archives. You can find it here.

The front page was created with their creator software along with our guestbook. Incidentally, do people still have guestbooks? Do these kids today even know what they are? Then I went out and purchased a brand new hot off the press HTML 3.2 book. That is where the rest of the pages came from, frames and all.

Don’t kick the baby.

Why I made it or what to do with it, I really had no idea. I liked anime, but that wasn’t what my site was about. It wasn’t about anything, really. Just a collection of pages, HTML experiments and sometimes hosted files. It was a hodgepodge of randomness that never got altered. Why change it to something else when I could simply add on more?

But more important than purpose. More important than continuity or even coherence. This sight, Nowhere as I called it, was me. This was me on the internet. No longer was the world wide web something that I merely observed. It was now something I participated in.

That was a sense of empowerment. Sure I got practically no visitors, what was there to see? I still showed it off.

I went on. I made a tripod page for poetry. That one I used their template at first, but it was too cumbersome to update. So I remade the whole page using Netscape Composer (TABLES BEWARE!). On that one I jumped into some more Javascript. I had a menu I wanted on all of the pages, but didn’t want to write it over and over. If I added a page, I would need to update all of the other pages. So instead I made a Javascript function that printed out the menu. SImple and sweet, it later got me a job.

You’ll notice a blog-like page where I comment on updates to the site.

Next I tried XOOM (Xoom? xoom? hm) There I put ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ which was a site based mostly on AeroSpace Java programs. I made Java applets to find properties behind a shock wave and to get the atmospheric conditions at a certain altitude, etc. While it was neat playing with Java, I found myself with something more pressing than writing aerospace applets: aerospace homework.

All the while the Geocities site sat there, mostly ignored. So one day in 1999 (ish) I decided it was time for a revamp. The Vault was a neat name, so went for Vault 1909 as a site title. Worked with the page URL and even gave me a theme to design to. Made this page. So now it is much cleaner.

By this point I owned my first URL, (as well as my name) and had been programming in Perl for quiet some time for a company started with two of my friends. While the free sites never really let us use CGI, getting my own server opened up an new world for me. I had been working as a web programmer since 1998 for various clients, but never really had my own production box to show off. (I had apache configured on my computer for building and testing). So the CGI I had been writing had always had a point. “I need a box that updates here.” “I need a place to get client email addresses.” Etc. Now I was free to do whatever I wanted.

So onwards I went. Perl, PHP, more Javascript, even some ASP (eek!). But in the end, it really all started with a small picture of Calvin at the top of a black website.

Godspeed Geocities.