uloh _________________________________________________________________________________  

the unbearable lightness of html


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I     The First Years

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       Introduction, acknowledgements, thanks.......or skip to  II  or  III

      "Plainly, it does not matter at what point you first break into the system of European poetry. Only keep your ears open and your mouth shut and everything will lead you to everything else in the end." (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1955, p. 53). Replace "European poetry" with "html" and you will see the point of the following.

      For what follows is an individual view of getting started writing html, a low light snapshot. No agreement is wanted, nor necessarily "understanding." If this triggers you in some way to go your own way with html, the job is done.

      Some notes on sources. The title is, of course, taken as a play on a title of and in broad thanks to Milan Kundera, a man with a vast, deeply honorable, much appreciated turn of mind and spirit. The chapter titles are from the C.S. Lewis book noted above, a volume about learning and the surprises therein, also with more than a bit a prophecy in the title. The symbols are taken from The I Ching, in the Richard Wilhelm, Cary F. Baynes (translator) edition, Bollingen Series XIX, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1950 & 1977. The dedication is to all who produced these works. Peace be on them.

       (No permission has been sought for the use of these materials here, on the grounds of brevity of quote and responsible acknowledgement. If this does not fly below the the copyright horizon, appropriate adjustments will be made or permission will be happily sought.)

      The Lewis chapters and the I Ching symbols numerically match the page's chapters. The I Ching symbols might have been chosen in the standard random and therefore more revelatory manner, yet taken in formal order they reveal quite enough for the work at hand. The page's title symbol is the last in the Wilhelm / Bayles listing and has to do with "a time when the transition from disorder to order is not yet completed." (p.248)

      A certain quiet and deep thanks must be expressed to people who gave my own html yearnings more encouragement and shelter than I can properly recount. WR said at the start, "This ain't rocket science, do it," and on subsequent visits said, "I am busy, I am no teacher," while on the way to the blackboard to demonstrate what needed to be done. RW looked well beyond the exasperation of my first communication and from the non-remunerative and life consuming heights of how to make html work gave repeated, telling, and oddly honorable (writing some notes in html) encouragement that all are welcome in the world of the web. And to NEDB, who got many late night emails and heard occasional 3 a.m. head banging on her dining room table as the long road to 1 pixel gif display was worked through, and to whom I owe thanks that I ever "went digital" at all, a lady who has never stinted on her "you can do this" enthusiasm, my deepest thanks and appreciation.

      Thanks are due as well to the folks at my job who without reservation tolerated my enthusiasm for learning to communicate in html, giving me tools, time, and resources while never breathing even a hint of an expectation of a product. Thanks also to those folks who posted useful, kindred, and enthusiastic sites that were there to give example, to the folks who took time to make sites of essential elements available for unencumbered use, and to the many contributors to html discussion lists, folks who often provided the key to the locks constantly presented to them. The limitations of this page are, however, all mine.

      Finally, this is, however awkwardly what follows is stated, a welcome to all those who would venture forward in the world of html. It ain't rocket science. You can do this. Welcome.


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II     Concentration Camp

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       The best way to learn ground zero html straight up fast is go to Laminger's School of Webology. Do not pass Go. It is a get-right-to-the-basics tutorial.

       You can come back here later to poke among the rubble.



III     Mountbracken and Campbell

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       If you have plunged on and want to do a right here, right now, let me see something immediate, then set up an empty folder to hold your initial html work. Open one of the accessory text programs, Notepad is simplest. Make a simple name for the document (your name, perhaps) and Save As it into the folder. In the Save As window, give the file an .htm extension (that is, yourname.htm) and save it as file type all files (not as a text file). Saving it as an .htm file and as a member of all files will allow the file to be read by your browser.

Starting at the top left, write:

<font size = 8>
<b>Your Name</b>


Then save.    Browsers read only saved material.

       In your browser program, open your file (in Internet Explorer = File / Open / Browse, etc.).

       Congratulations! The structure of the page you built is the structure of all web pages. the tags are the foundation that lets the browser know a house may be standing there.

       If you are already feeling writing html is awkward, know that you will never have to repeat yourself. Everything you write in html can be copied, in little and large pieces, and used as building blocks for your next work.

       Anytime you want to see how any web page was written, simply click View / Source. It's all there. (This is said in the sense that there is almost no absolute statement in html. As things move on, into Java and Perl scripts and cascading style sheets, and into whatever else is coming down the pike, less and less of what the browser reads will be visible via View / Source. For now, however, good and plenty is right there.)


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IV     I Broaden My Mind

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       Saving and organization...

       "Anyone who loses work because it wasn't backed up deserves what happened."

       (Jerry Pournelle, BYTE, October 1996, p. 157)

       This is a severe statement, yet the whole process of saving can make site building far easier than it otherwise might be.

       Back up your work extensively. There are times when you will get off on a possibly long, possibly dead end side road. At the point where you would reach for the map it is easier to go back to a previous version of the file than to undo everything you did on the side road.

       Regularly making new work folders can be one way of covering yourself. Give them names in a series & get creative, and simple, about designing your series. Allow for more than one work folder in a productive day. As your work builds up, copy everything into a new folder and start working in the new folder's files.

       The emphases on saving in multiple copies / series / stages and on organization feel like the lamest statements here. Only know that as you discover the possibilities with html your work will grow exponentially and there will come an inevitable time when you must go back and change a large area of what you had thought of as common elements. This can be a huge job, and even if it is not, the revelations that lead to it always come well into the work, often at a time when you'd hoped to be posting the pages, not going back to do revisions in technical areas.

       Point? Starting right at the beginning, anything you can do to organize and systematize your work will pay a large and continuing dividend.


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V     Renaissance

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       About text editors...

       "Text editor" refers to any program that will handle text, a "duh" statement. The common digital era problem arises in discussing them -- there is but one set of words to describe a variety of things.

       Html itself is text. A browser reads html tags in order to know what to display and how. When discussing html, "text editor" commonly refers to a program in which one can write the text of html more easily and with support tools.

       The basic, often browser default (when you click View / Source) choice, for html text editing is Notepad, for the simple reason that it does no formatting. Since a browser reads only what is written, not what has been formatted in the background by a Word or WordPerfect, using Notepad makes sense from the start.

       Notepad does have a limit on what it will hold. This is in the far distance as you begin and you will only hit its "no more memory" message down the road, at 3 a.m. when you are on a roll, if you have tried to build an especially large page. It can still be a good idea to begin to think of text editors built specifically for writing html. For me the two main requirements are unlimited page size and a spell checker. Ease of use, too, of course. Your wants may be different.

       One html text editor that offers unlimited page size, a spell checker, ease of use, and many other good features is Ultraedit, or the same at another address Ultraedit again. Or you can search for text editors at your favorite software source, like Tucows.

       A word about Word, WordPerfect, even Wordpad... They all are built to format ordinary text to greater or lesser degrees. Since browsers do not see their formatting, they are not widely useful in html and their use can confuse seriously, as the eye of the human wants naturally to believe that the "eye" of the browser will see the same things. Prepare for a rude awakening.

       All of these higher level programs can be useful in small ways. Ordinary text composition in a familiar setting can be easy on the mind as long as you hold to knowing you are going to have to copy / paste each paragraph line into Notepad and place it between html tags. They also can be quick and dirty spell checkers.

       However, and this is a huge however, the advanced versions of ordinary text programs offer the singing mermaids choice of "Save As Html." To go this route is to ask them to write your html for you. Forget that there are better automatic html writers than these, if you are learning to write html yourself you don't want any program to write it for you (you'll get to scripts and html formatting programs later in your html life). Avoid sailing onto these alluring rocks by sticking with Notepad as you start out.


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VI     Bloodery

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       Tags (most briefly), file names, folders, corny and tomatoes...

       Basic html tags, with few exceptions, come in pairs and bracket what you want displayed. The initial tag is to turn the action on, <p> for paragraph and </p> for end paragraph, for instance. Even in tags like font tags where the opening tag may contain characteristics like font type and size, the closing tag is pretty generally </tag name>. An obvious exception to this rule is the <br> or break tag, which causes text to wrap at that point. Its action is only at that one point and it requires no closing.

       There are in addition unbracketed tags that indicate an action at a certain point or that will display a symbol, such as & n b s p ; and they do not need a closing (I have written & n b s p ; with spaces because otherwise the blank space it indicates will appear). Write all tags exactly as they are given. This is not an area in which to be creative.

       In an earlier version of this page I had said to write file names in lower case only. I was brought kindly to heel by the author of the Compendium, who explained the matter is not so simple:

       "The old MS/PC DOS machines used to save their files in uppercase only. Later, Windows '95 would store a DOS file in upper/lower case characters and create filenames in lowercase. Most UNIX environments (including Macs) allow upper and lower case filenames. It is vitally important that the filenames match the method used to create the link. Unix systems provide the majority of web servers on the market and for them, case is significant. For example, a DOS filename "INDEX.HTM" would be seen by Windows '95/8/2000/NT as Index.htm but Unix would see it as INDEX.HTM. If you created the link index.htm, your readers would never see the page because the server would be looking for index.htm, not INDEX.HTM."

       Moral of story? Be consistent, simple, and precise with file names. Observe case sensitivity throughout, with a special focus on your links. Be prepared that a site that works wonderfully locally may cause a hiccup or two when you go to post it, and if it does it will very likely be due to file name questions.

       In the spirit of the above, and with the smoke from incense and meat offerings rising above the chanting attendants, I would add my "half-rule" about zero's. As you start, zero's are best left out of file names for pages or graphics, at least as initial characters. You can have a site that works wonderfully in every browser and then will not transmit through an ftp program or will sit unevenly in a server. Eventually you will test and discover whether your ftp program and server software tolerates zero's -- mine eventually did -- yet at the beginning it is easier not to rely on them than to have to go back and change a swamp of file names.

       As you get started you can think of the structure of your file names along with the structure of your site. It is handy to have your index or base site file at the top of the file list in the site's top folder, so begin its name with an "a" or a number other than zero (a_index.htm or 1_index.htm). It may not be obvious as you get started how many pages your site will grow to, yet spend some time with pencil and paper doing a "what if" list of potential file names. If you keep the names in this base list shorter than eight characters, then as you find pages breed (life's three truths: pages breed, "stuff" accumulates, and bears do whatever they do in the forest) you can put them in order with a simple extension. If your base environmental page is "envro.htm" and you find you want additional pages on this topic, then you can name later pages "envro1.htm" and "envro1a.htm" etc. and they will still show up in the file list together.

       How you want to organize graphics files is an extension of the logic above. My first site had a lot of graphics and a lot of pages. I simply gave all the graphics files names beginning with "z," which wasn't perhaps the best solution, yet it put all the graphics in a one folder site at the end of the file list in a clump, where they were easier to find and use. As you get on with graphics you will find they breed even more than pages. The use of thumbnails, for instance, results in three graphics files for each image. While even a huge site would work with all pages and graphics in one unordered folder (how things are linked is what matters), in terms of keeping the work so that you can use it easily things like a folder per page (it is only marginally more complicated to link to a page in another folder on the same site than to a page in the same folder) and your own version of the "z" solution may make your html life much easier.

       Brevity in file names is also a major plus. Although we may live in a world where 256 character names are possible locally, ftp programs and server software may not like long names (some local networking software also imposes a defacto limit on file names, having the ability to handle names up to about 25 characters, which is a long way short of 256). To be sure your site will travel and work across all platforms (including your local network) keep all file names while you get started to the 8 character format (as I have worked forward and gained experience with the programs I use, I have come to use names up to about 15 to 18 characters). How to do so will be a puzzle, though one well worth working out.

       Finally, always use a trusted tag source, the Compendium, one of the books in X, or anyplace that offers a plain, wide, general selection of basic tags (you don't need to know a zillion tags as you start out). The dead give away of trouble is finding someone who's site looks fine, who talks like an expert, who says they "hate" the use of one tag in place of another. Tags are not matters of "like" or of "more complicated is more better." The only question is do they work. Folks who "hate" certain tags are very likely folks whose emotions have carried them to build that nice web site you may be looking at, yet not folks who have done the scut work of checking the ramifications of their emotions in a variety of browsers.

       A note on growing tomatoes. When folks found that I worked as a gardener they would often ask, "What is the best way to grow tomatoes?" I came to see that those who asked the question were usually already growing tomatoes and regularly receiving abundant crops, so I would ask, "Well, how do you grow them and how are you doing?" You can imagine the tales: hay on the ground with vines on top; creative and wonderful staking systems; endless and ingenious forms of cultivation and feeding, all with magnificent results. My reply always was, "If what you are doing works, that is the right way."


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VII     Light and Shade

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      Papa always said "goldurn" when talking about talking on the web...

      From the moment of getting started with html it is useful to have a place where you can bring questions about html and where you can observe the flow of others' questions and their answers. The nifty answer this need is an html discussion group.

      One location for "beginner" lists is egroups where there is a very wide choice of groups and a simple and welcome list membership sign up and management interface -- egroups is becoming part of Yahoo as this is written.

      A second choice is to do a simple search for html, html resources, or html discussion. The amount of stuff that is available is a bit beyond belief.

      A third choice is to listen in on the experts as they ask questions at Advanced HTML. Daunting as the list approaches may sound, the administration of the list is friendly, the format and guidelines well spelled out. It has an accessible and well organized archive. If you've exhausted all other resources, it is a place where even a beginner can ask a question.

      A bunch of caveats might be added for those who have not subscribed to a discussion group before...

--Lists are "owned" by their managers. This gives them dictatorial powers in this tiny forum. The "owner" has all rights, the subscriber (aka member) none, other than to leave. To be on a list where the possible conflicts are obvious and ongoing can be beyond tedious.

--The best lists have a few really bright folks who are the bedrock of the discussion, a group that may or may not include the "owner." As long as the rivalries to be the "brightest" frog in this small pond are not too obvious and ongoing, exposure to these folks can be very helpful.

--The best lists have an easily accessible, well organized, and searchable archive. Many questions, especially the ones one has at the beginning, have been extensively discussed already and a good list's archive may be far more useful at the beginning than the ongoing discussion.

--A good list has a simple and clear list policy statement. What are the local rules? Again tedious, but better to get a clear understanding at the beginning than to become invested in the group and then find you are inevitably clashing with policy.

--Lists generally work via email. Check out the expected volume of the list before becoming too committed to it. There may come a point where 50 mostly irrelevant emails a day are beyond the beyond. egroups offers a digest form on lists that allows many list messages to be condensed into one and it offers an option to turn off the list mail entirely without terminating list membership. Advanced HTML has a unique structure for a list and email to members is never more than one a day.

--Membership on a list does not require participation in the discussion. It is often useful simply to review what is going on.


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VIII     Release

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       About language...

       In some quarters of the web language is taking a large smack. To emphasize something in a discussion group is perceived as yelling. Whole sentences that build, one after another, to consolidated consideration of a topic are considered what? -- one doesn't know. Suspicious? Irrelevant? Too tedious by far? Let us content ourselves with sideways grin symbols and assurances that when we do emphasize something we are not yelling (how did crabby domestic discourse become the universalized standard?).

       Yet, he says yet, the web and html offer a level of communication really unparalleled until now. For the price of a web site, as in from free on up, one can publish, and for the price of an internet connection anyone in the world can read what is published. Universal distribution, immediately, to anyone with any kind of a computer, along with the possibility of reply and linkage to like kind. Who'd a thunk it?

       Ignoring for a minute what else can be done, displayed, supported on the web, it is a bit too soon to imagine that the arrival of this new tool destroys the need for the wonder, precision, service, and grace of language.


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IX     The Great Knock

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       A little html bibliography...

       Not to put too fine a point on it, yet a book, or two or three, at your side is going to be a wonderful comfort as you get started. There is nothing like a handy color chart and some clear answers to questions, to say nothing of a point of view and an index.

       Castro, Elizabeth. HTML for the World Wide Web, 2nd ed. Peachpit Press, Berkeley, 1997. Peachpit Press's html books are very clear with plenty of good visual examples of what is being discussed. This volume has a nice fold out color chart. As you progress in html they have a sensible series for the next stages, like Java, cascading style sheets, and various supposedly next level html's.

       Martin, Teresa A., and Glenn Davis. The Project Cool Guide to HTML. John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1997. This is a wonderful book at the beginning. It answers many questions others do not. The folks at Project Cool have a very interesting and highly developed take on html, especially on its potential simplicity. Their site has a wonderful color picker, tutorials, and a whole history of nicely designed sites which they feature daily.

       McFedries, Paul. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Creating an HTML Web Page. Que (Macmillan), Indianapolis, 1996. This book is not cute and is a good basic guide to html. It is also the book most likely, in the next to latest edition, to be found in remainder bins -- why pay $25 for something you can get for $8 or $10?

       Note: Please expect that more recent editions of all of the above will have come out. The updates to computer guide book series come along much faster than updates to software or hardware. The first place I look for html guide books is in the clearance bin, as they can be much cheaper there and are hardly a tenth of a step behind the "times."

       Note: Skip books that suggest you are "dumb," unless you can stand to be talked down to from a platform a daschund could jump up on from a standing start.


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X     Fortune's Smile

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       An ongoing panoramic of html...

       It would be easy here to wax "eloquent" about html's "higher considerations," but I am instead going to do the first thing anyone does with html, build a list of links. They constitute a fairly complete circle of "everything will lead you to everything else in the end" in the world of html, some voices of practicality, some of function, a few of highly developed and sometimes rat breathed opinion, a few beyond obvious, and some repeats from other places on this page. By listening in over time you will get the drift.

       Project Cool

       The Compendium of HTML Elements     More about the Compendium at XI

       Advanced HTML

       Microsoft    Let's not forget the obvious.


       Scout Report     This is the subscription address for the Scout Report, a weekly email list of interesting, newsworthy, & web related links. One's standards of interesting and newsworthy may vary from theirs, yet there is lots to see and plenty enough in the web section alone.

       Network Solutions     The mother of domain registrars and the leader in standards for same. As the nature of their administrative structure changes, so does their site, yet it remains a base for solid insights and resources.

       W3C     World Wide Web Consortium

       Contenu     See "nublog"

       Any Browser Campaign


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XI     Check

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       The Compendium of HTML Elements ...

       The Compendium is the home of all html tags and operators. It has 15,000 pages in the current version and is at the top professional level.

       Well before you exhaust your collection of "tags for beginners" the Compendium is the place to start to look when you want to know what tags will cause anything to display, and on what browsers that display is supported. It is an extremely useful and welcoming site, as well as being definitive.

       If the Compendium seems at first glance too big to grasp -- you walk into the glittering and glorious main hall of a renowned national or university library and wonder, "Where are the books?" -- the folks who are writing it want the newcomer to html to feel welcome and they more than went out of their way to be encouraging and helpful when I made heated inquiries as I started out. I owe them a deep lake of thanks for helping me see html was possible and that I was as welcome as the next soul.

       The Compendium is not the front end of a Scrooge pool full of ducats and they would welcome your purchase of a copy of the site. It will allow you to use this important resouce off-line and comes with a subscription to their new editions as well as irregular email about their activities, headaches, and solutions.


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XII     Guns and Good Company

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       Graphics on the web has had much software and many books written about it. No attempt is going to be made here to run on on the subject. Two points only.

       As you start out simply know the seemingly most common mistake made with graphics is not linking to the exact file name of the graphic (i.e., matsui99.jpg) in its exact folder location. Anything short of precision in this matter will cause the browser to not see the graphic. This suggests naming your graphics simply and putting them in good order. Note: some "automatic" html writing programs will by default adjust your graphic files' names to a version not yours, which means your graphics will not display -- but that is why you are writing html yourself.

       Simple site tools like horizontal rules and button graphics can be found at mediabuilder and re-vision. If you do use someone's graphics, even when freely given, it is only polite to give them credit in your work. It is a decided no-no to link to graphics on another's site's page. There is no reason to anyway, as there is a ton of free or public domain material available for you to use. To the degree you are fascinated by the graphics side of html you will also discover that producing and using your own graphics will give a great deal of pleasure.


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XIII     The New Look

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       Color is really rewarding. It takes zero download time, a fact that alone recommends a close examination of the possibilities.

       What follows is the briefest list of resources. Color has a lot in common with reading poetry, keep at it and you will find yourself coming up on the left side of where you were not long ago.

       Did someone mention Project Cool again?


       Check out the color resources at the Compendium

       Lynda Weinman

       The Poster Superstore



       Microsoft and in case their page has changed Microsoft

       The Light, Browser Safe Palette

       The Light, Netscape Color Links


       Yahoo -- do a search for html+color


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XIV     Checkmate

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       Ftp and server side concerns...

       You have built your site, tested it across your browser collection (Netscape versions will live happily together on the same machine, IE versions will not). You have your domain or site hosting arrangements in place. You have a file transfer program (ftp) (Ipswitch FTP Pro or see Tucows) installed and are able to get around in it. And when you go to upload your work your site doesn't function. Welcome to html.

       The situation is that you are suddenly trying to work in three sets of software at once, your site, your ftp program, and the host server's. Anything that does not agree with the digestion of any of them may halt or impair the posting of the site. This is the reason for the cautions about file names. You may discover there are other details you have to satisfy as well.

       The only thing that can be said is that at a time of high expectations a state of no expectations is best. If it all goes off like clockwork, fine, yet if it doesn't it is a matter of sifting experimentally back through the pile to guess at what the ftp program will not happily transmit or the server will not happily hold. As with child raising, the situation comes with no instructions. Know that if your site works locally it will work on the web, even if you find it needs possibly major adjustments (e.g., tag form or file name issues). The basic mechanics of it are the same at all levels.


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XV     The Beginning


On you be peace. Bye-bye. Have fun.


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