about this website

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i    have gotten a lot of questions about this website, and at the point when I am writing this, the website isn't even live yet. This is a fairly technical bit, so don't bother reading if you don't want to hear me maundering on about PHP. Usually, the question goes something like this:

Asker: You made your website yourself? It's lovely! What program did you use to make it?

This question always stymies me a little bit. You see, there is a true answer, and then there is the answer that the person wants to hear. The answer the person wants is almost certainly something like this:

Courtney: Oh, I used this program called MAGIC WEBSITES NOW. You can buy it for $39.99 from this website. If you want to use it, just give it a range of colors--I said blue, purple, red--and sit back, and it will build everything up for you. Just sit back and watch!

I once had a friend who was a photographer. He was a brilliant photographer. And when he was first showing me his pictures, I said, "What a great photograph! What kind of camera did you use?" It turned out he was using a vintage camera from World War II. No fancy bells and whistles. No automatic red-eye reduction. None of that stuff. But what he said to me was, "It's not the camera. It's the person who's holding it."

t here are four programs that were instrumental to the building of this website. The first is inkscape. Inkscape is an open-source scalable vector graphics program, which means you can use it to layout a mock-up of a website. It doesn't make webpages. It lets you move graphics around very easily. It lets you experiment with various color schemes and fonts to see what you like and what you despise.

Next is the GIMP, which stands for "GNU Image Manipulation Program." The GIMP is also open source software. Once I have a mock-up in place, courtesy of inkscape, I use the GIMP to slice it and dice it so that the graphics are small and web-palatable.

Of course, a webpage is not just a bunch of graphics. You need files that tell the webbrowser where and how to display those graphics, and what to do with all that text. There are layout files--CSS files--and then content files, which in my case are PHP files (but I am getting ahead of myself). If you want to build a website, you need a program that will generate CSS files and the content files. Some people use Adobe Dreamweaver. Some people use wordpress to generate their content files (and I do that on my blog). The program I use to generate my content files is another free software product called nano. Nano is a text editor. No, not a word processor; a text editor. Think "Windows Notepad," but without a graphical user interface. What this means, of course, is that I hand-code my webpages. I do this because I hate it when some program sticks in some weird crap and then I don't know what it does and I can't change it. I do this because, let's face it, if I am running free software (and I am), it means that I am, to some extent, a crotchety old coot who has to do everything my way.

The fourth program that I use is also absolutely necessary. Since I am writing everything by hand, I want to do as little writing as possible. I am absolutely reliant on PHP for this. PHP is a web preprocessor. What that means is that it allows me to tell my webserver how to write its own webpages. I love PHP.

In any event, what I am trying to say is that the engine of the program that built my website is mostly in my head. There is no magic program that will generate lovely and unique webpages on the fly, just as there is no magic program that will generate interesting and different novels. You can't program this stuff. And I'm not trying to say that I have a magic head, either. At the point when I started building this webpage, I had a decent history, both working and taking classes in graphic design, five or six years of experience at building websites, and even more experience programming computers. So the learning curve was not huge for me.

Nonetheless, this website probably took me 150 hours to implement from start to finish.

You may hate this website. You may think it's nothing special. That's fine. I know this site is far from perfect. Set aside this site. Next time you see something incredible--a website, a book, a masterful performance on the balance beam--you might think that it was easy to achieve. You might want to ask, "What did you do to make this?"

The answer almost always is that they built up their skills, piece by piece, hour by hour, and worked really, really hard for it. Unless it's baseball. Then the answer is steroids.

The content on this site is copyrighted by Courtney Milan, 2006-2009. My CSS file, such as it is, is released under the least restrictive Creative Commons License available, v. 2.5. At some point I will actually look up what that is. The only thing that you can't see for yourself on this site by viewing source is how I work some of my stupid php tricks. Really, they're not hard. If you want to know how any of them work, you should shoot me an e-mail and I'll send you the source. Any functional code I have written to drive this website I release into the public domain. And if you don't know what counts as "functional code" shoot me an e-mail and I'll clarify as to any specific piece.

The author photos are copyright Jovanka Novakovic | bauwerks.com.

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