Our 81-year-old amateur Webmaster and IT boffin tells the twisted tale of how he put Buzzword Books on the web from a standing start.
When I was 45 and doing up a beach house I became increasingly annoyed to see ten-year-old grommets surfing all day while I slaved. They had to get there on their bikes and busses from far away but I lived right on the beach for God's sake! So why the hell couldn't I do it, too? So, I bought a second-hand board and taught myself to surf.
Twenty-five-years later, I felt the same about the IT revolution. How dare eighteen-year-old nerds have all the expertise and fun.
I was 70, long retired, and knew nothing about computers except the rudiments of Word for Windows. But I was a Gemini and communication was my thing. Dammit, why couldn't I learn to build a website, too?
So I enrolled at a U3A session for wrinklies where another antiquated retiree with a data base background (we'll call him Fred) ran a basic ten week course on building bog-simple websites.
Fred announced to the ten bewildered geriatrics who fronted the first session that he'd tried all the free website editing programs and settled on Page Breeze—a rudimentary HTML program that even prunes over 70 could eventually understand. We didn't have a clue what he was talking about or what a website editor was. As for HTML...! Speak English!
Week after week, we grappled with complexities. Most packed it in—made apologies or just never came back. By week six we were down to five confused souls. By week ten we were three. But I stuck it out to the end.
Fred showed us how to upload our rudimentary sites on Google for nix. The catch? We were saddled with indecipherable, unfindable URLs. I then asked him about commercial servers.
After much web-trolling, I settled on GoDaddy, a US based outfit. This introduced a new level of complexity. Getting a half decent URL. Learning their programs. Making a site map and much more.
But I ended up with a multiple page site on the web with a reasonable landing page and all possible hyperlinks plus a contact page and even a PayPal facility for purchases. Of course, it looked tame because I didn't have the skills to refine it.
Then I realised that to make it more professional meant learning CSS. Fred's course was too basic to cover CSS but I increased my knowledge of it slowly with reference to tech sites such as the ever useful Stack Overflow.
About this time, friends were asking if I could make them sites for their projects. I developed a site for one and taught her to manage it, hauling her into the 21st century. She is now an accomplished webmistress. I constructed a second for another which she is still using today.
About this time, I bought the book that, finally, simply and definitively, explained things exactly as they are—that indomitable website-building bible, John Duckett's HTML & CSS (Wiley & Sons). It transformed my knowledge of the craft and is still there to consult each time I forget a particular code or get confused.
I continued using Page Breeze until Win 7 came out. It didn't work well with it and I realized I had to upgrade. I wanted a split screen that showed design and coding with the ability to work on both together, like Dreamweaver—which I tried but found complex and clunky. About then, I stumbled on Imagination Web—an obsolescent Microsoft program you can now download free. It was remarkable. It took a while to learn but had everything I could possibly want in a form even I could understand.
Meanwhile, iPads and smartphones had become the popular access to the web. And Google announced that they would downgrade all websites that didn't automatically adapt to the new screen sizes. By then, my clunky CSS was too rudimentary to cope.
So I needed to dump my old methods entirely and develop adaptable sites. After much trolling of the web I settled on two free adaptable formats that I could adjust to suit my needs. These were supplied, of course, with boilerplate CSS that I barely had to tweak.
Format one is now used for buzzwordbooks.com. Format two, far more elaborate, accommodates bookbooster.com. I've also used it to revamp Clint Smith's old clunky site, clintbooks.com.
In the process, there were many traps for this doddering newbie. For instance, if you don't remove the width and height codes of pics, they will elongate in mobile displays.
Now, eleven years after that first cold plunge at U3A, I can manage two half-decent sites and I'm still a little bemused to find that I can do it at all!
Mind you, the learning curve has been vertical. But it keeps me off the streets.