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Computers weave a tangled Web

December 14, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Well, add Web design to the expanding list of things that I am grossly unqualified for.

For a second there, I thought it would be a good skill to have, so in the name of "self-improvement" and "continuing education" and "getting out of the office for three hours every Wednesday afternoon," I signed up for a class at Hagerstown Community College.

Technologically speaking, the worst thing that ever happened to me was cable television. At a young age, I took a coaxial cable (which is basically a wire with a college education) and screwed it into the back of my TV set. It worked.

This gave me a false sense of security, and the feeling that I could master pretty much any electronic innovation that chanced across my path.

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But it hasn't quite worked out that way. As technology moves forward with lightning speed, I increasingly don't know my upload from download. I got a cell phone last year and felt all important and stuff for about two weeks, walking around with it slung to my belt.

But no one ever called me on it, a fact I partially attribute to the fact that I never gave anyone the number because I didn't want to be bothered by calls - which, once I thought about it, sort of defeated the purpose of carrying one.

Also, I couldn't remember the number, a point that hit solidly home when a couple of people saw me carrying it and asked "What's your cell number" and I was forced to respond "I don't know." It was one of those Homer Simpson moments: "Hey Marge, what's the number for 911?"

I couldn't call out, because I didn't know anyone else's number either and I couldn't figure out how to store numbers in the phone. I also didn't like the fact that the battery had to be recharged once every 12 seconds. Finally, I lost it. Which, frankly, was quite a relief.

But Web design, well, you gotta know that because newspapers are online, bank accounts are online, maps are online and before long, I'm guessing, even funerals will be done by Web cam.

When I called the phone company for cell phone help, even they (well, their recorded voicemail) told me my problem could probably be handled by their Web site. How messed up is that? You call the phone company and they can't take your call and tell you to visit the Web instead. This would be like calling an airline for a reservation and they tell you to take the bus.

I'd heard through the grapevine that Web design was a snap, and even the textbook started out saying "Your friends have told you that it's easy to build a Web site, and it's true..."

That was lie No. 1. It went on to say that while building a simple site was easy enough, building a Web site that was attractive and compelling user-friendly was a lot more complicated, although it could be mastered easily enough with work and dedication to the task at hand.

I don't see how anything that involves work can be easy, but that may just be a personal quirk.

After a full semester, I can make this recommendation: If you like to get your own way, stay as far from Web design as you can. In my opinion, Web-design software has some serious control issues and superiority complexes which can only be worked out through years of counseling.

I would want the graphic on the right; but the software would want it on the left. If I wanted one box for a picture, it would immediately create six more, without asking. And if you think of something you want to add at the last minute after most of the layout has been done? Well forget it, because the software will add it all right, but everything else on the page will be bumped around and distorted to the point where the whole thing looks like one of those grotesque, funhouse mirrors.

Fortunately, I had a great teacher with the patience of Job who helped me limp through it, even though I had to spend a lot of time working on other irons I've had in the fire recently. Like what? Funny you should ask. Like, hypothetically speaking, selling books in the Food Court of Valley Mall on Wednesday, Dec. 15, from 4 to 8 p.m. - you know, that sort of thing.

Yes, I know, you're sick and tired of such self-serving promotions, and I'd be more than willing to listen to your complaints about it - just call me on my cell phone.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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