wi-fi at the Golden GateSorry to be absent from these pages for the better part of a week. I’ve been deep in the heart of Webville, putting the final touches on my class project for my Introductory HTML & CSS course. It’s a full website, yes, it’s about terriers, and, of course, it features Oscar and Lucy. More about that later. First I want to get down some thoughts about my first foray into real live programming.

I took this summer term course just so I could have a little understanding of the mechanics of my blog. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s worth twice the price to buy a good theme ready-made — especially if it’s from the excellent Elegant Themes. Mine cost $29 and that was for a year’s subscription to the site. Which meant I had unlimited use of any of their themes and full 24/7 access to their tech support and user forums. Folks, this is the bargain of the century. And there was nothing I was going to learn in an abbreviated Intro to HTML course that was going to equip me, in any way, to match what they do. But it’s nice to have an idea what’s going on “under the hood”.

With those modest goals, I was little prepared for how much I was going to enjoy coding. This stuff is fun! It’s like learning a foreign language, but one with no idioms, no irregular verbs and only one tense. I also found it also requires a very Zen kind of mindset to do it that is very relaxing. You pre-plan your site, then each page very logically, mapping out the hierarchy, what should link to what and how the information should logically flow. Then each line of code is written very precisely, to rules that remain comfortably the same, stopping for validation at frequent points. Somehow it all felt very restful. Of course, REAL programmers may laugh at me and say it’s all a different ballgame when there is a deadline at stake.

terrier website screen shot

Yes, my class project was a Terrier Website. Did you expect anything different?

Then there is CSS, Cascading Style Sheets, which is where the magic comes in. Your HTML or XHTML pages are like constructing the canvas, prepping it, and maybe doing preliminary line work in black and white.CSS is where you splash on the color and the texture. Basically, you link all your pages to a separate style sheet. On that sheet, you designate all the “design” elements of your pages: the fonts, the font and paragraph styles, the details of how lists and other elements will be handled. Then you load it up. And, if you’ve done it right, those styles “cascade” throughout your whole site. Every time you tweak a style, you can watch it apply through to every page.

It’s all incredibly satisfying. And makes me take a second look at the web programmers we used to affectionately call “the geeks” at the various jobs I had. We used to joke (with love, with love) about the stereotypical loner nature of web geeks. Say, that we had to keep them in a dark room and throw raw meat in to them every now and then. Now I’m wondering if they were locked in their offices or zoned out in their cubicles because they were just having too much fun.

Of course, with a nod to those hard-working programmers, I’d have to say, it might not be as fun if you were responsible for a large commercial site instead of programming a silly little six page site about your terriers. But speaking of a terrier site, here’s mine: A Terrier’s Guide to Life. It’s not fancy, but every line of it is hand-coded. Yes, you can use DreamWeaver and other code generators to automate so much of this for you. That would be the easy way. But it wouldn’t be the Code Cowboy Way.

Since the site is on a student server, I’m not sure how long they’ll let it stay up. I suppose I should migrate it to my own server host. But that’s probably not something I’m going to learn until this fall. When I take HTML & CSS II.

Yup. I’m hooked.