Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Let's see ... where were we?

Well, it seems I'm starting to get some of my smarts back. There's still the occasional bad day, but things are nowhere near where they were just a couple of months ago. The biggest problem now is an annoying tremulousness, but it's nothing I can't learn to live with.

Anyhow, I'm at the point where I can start to take on the occasional bit of work. Unfortunately, that work probably won't have a whole lot to do with Notes or Domino for a while — my health isn't yet good enough to take on the challenges of all-day, every day slogging, so I kinda have to stick to the world of lower expectations for a while yet. These days, I'm busy building online stores with PHP and mySQL. In a way, I'm glad for the opportunity to work on a different platform. It gives me the chance to see for myself that Domino developers, as a class, are not the only ones ignoring web standards for the sake of convenience.

This new adventure started when I was asked to set up a small site using the osCommerce open-source online store package. I thought it was going to be the proverbial piece of cake — FTP the package up, run the database installer to create the mySQL tables, configure some images and colours — right up until the point where I examined the underlying HTML. Don't get me wrong. The overall quality of the osCommerce package is pretty good, at least as far as the PHP and database code goes. But, my God(!) the HTML makes me shiver.

One of the things I was asked to do for the first site was to see about driving traffic to the site. That ain't gonna happen with code like this unless the site's owner is willing to pay HUGE for something like AdWords. There is nothing in the HTML to make the page discoverable. Tables control the layout, font settings are used to create headlines and such, bare-naked images are used to convey information to sharp-eyed users. Sound familiar? At least Domino developers have Designer WYSIWYG and Notes client coexistence as excuses. There's nothing like that here — the guys (and, perhaps, gals) who built osCommerce are developing exclusively for the web (and, being Open Source wonks, are probably using emacs or vi to do it all). Dammit, everybody ought to know better by now.

HTML is a text markup language, not a display description language. If your work tells the browser what the page looks like but never quite gets around to telling it what it means, then, as a developer or designer, you haven't really done your job. Yahoo! can't tell what the text you rendered into your logo image says, and it doesn't give extra importance to the alternate text no matter how big the picture of the words is. Google doesn't care much which words are rendered as 18 point bold text. Both do pay a lot of attention to the words inside your <h1> tags. Do I really have to bring up the visually impaired user again?

So that leaves me creating a "derivative work" under the GPL, re-writing significant parts of an open-source project for fun and profit. At least I hope there'll be some profit in it. Between cleaning up the HTML, making all of the data discoverable, adding RSS feeds for new products and specials, and eliminating scads of conditional code used to support PHP3 (think R4.5 in the Domino world), there's more than enough work here for me to do for now. And, need one say, more than customer number one can be expected to bear the cost of alone, so I've gotten another couple of pigeons lined up as well. "Template" pricing seems to be the order of the day in this world, so I've got to sell the work more than a couple of times to make it pay for itself. Luckily, the end result — clean, semantically-valid HTML and a versatile set of basic CSS layouts — mean that future sales will be a little bit more profitable. And, while the GPL (and, let's face it, the very nature of PHP) requires that I give them the source code, these aren't folks who are likely to modify or redistribute my work. I mean, these are people who are hiring a semi-disabled, self-taught, mostly-Domino-dedicated and kinda worn-out looking fellow like myself to create their killer online commerce sites. What are the chances that they're hiring out work they could have done for themselves?

18 comments:

Ben Langhinrichs said...

Good to see you up and about again. As I tell my wife in my egotistical moments, "I know I'm a lousy programmer, but given where the bar is, that isn't half bad". Similarly, you may feel you are just limping along, but in the valley of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Keep up the good work.

Vitor Pereira said...

Welcome back!
It's nice to hear from you.

Karen Demerly said...

Good to see you, Stan.

Did you post that bio on Monster to land the job? "Semi-disabled, self-taught, mostly-Domino-dedicated and kinda worn-out looking fellow available to create your killer online commerce sites." I think it works!

Thanks for sharing, and continued success with the work.

Ed said...

HTML bad enough to make a Domino developer shiver... that has got to be some BAD HTML.
Great to see you back in action.

-Ed

Chris Blatnick said...

Stan...It's great to see that you are back in the game, be it Domino or not! Your skills as a developer are legendary in our community and I'm sure you'll do an amazing job with this new work as well. Best of luck to you!

Benoit Dubuc said...

Good to hear from you, Stan. And also good to hear that you can make a (somewhat) living working again.

I hope you will keep on getting better and be back in full shape pretty soon.

Take care, dude.

Ben

Joe Litton said...

Good to see you posting ...and even better to see you're back working and making the code universe better. I always learn from your posts - be it personal or tech. Gosh, this will expose one of the gaping chasms in my 'knowledge', but I hadn't realized that the alt tags are pretty much ignored and the h1/2/etc tags get far more weight from the search engines. Makes sense.

Cheers!

Ashish Sidapara said...

Glad you are back mate! Good to learn about your new project, and your explanation says a lot of what i am going through now. Having worked on nd for 6+ years, moving to a totally web based project, requires some hard thinking. As for the ui, i don't need to worry much, as Jack (extjs.com) has done some great stuff, you might want to check it out. Take care.

Mika said...

Wow, I'm so happy to hear some news about you again, and that you are getting better!

NotesGeekGroupie said...

Welcome Back,Welcome Back, Welcome Baaaack. Your dreams are your ticket out...

Glad to see you again.

I'm keeping you in my prayers..

Jess said...

GREAT to see you posting again, Stan!! And keeping your mind sharp, though it sounds like you are getting a run for your money.
Thanks for keeping us up to date. :-)

gregg said...

Seeing you responding at LDD (or Notes.net) brought a smile to my face. Nice to see you up and around.

Scott said...

Welcome back, Stan.

Like everyone else who has already posted, I'm really glad to hear you've made so much progress.

Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update, Stan. I also saw a recent posting on the LDD forum from you, so I knew you were up and around. All the best with your new venture; I'm so in awe of your capabilities, that you can just pick up something like that and run with it. Look after yourself.

Helen.

Esther said...

Glad to see you back, Stan! I know exactly what you're going through. Unlike you, the cause of my issues wasn't cholesterol, but supraventricular tachycardia. End result is the same, though - restricted oxygen to the brain, memory issues, panic, confusion, etc. After following your story for the last several years, I count myself extremely lucky that it only took 4 months to diagnose my problem and start treatment. I can't even imagine how you held on all this time.

~sniff~ you're an inspiration. Really and truly.

Esther

Ed said...

Great to hear from you again, Stan. Of course, I've been in Toronto twice in the last 45 days.... I'm sure it's still going to happen some day...

STAG said...

Still reading....though at three posts per year, even the most dedicated lurker starts to wonder!

Killer commercial web sites. That would be nice.

Stan Rogers said...

A big part of the problem, Bill, is internet connectivity. Not gettin' nearly as much as I'd like these days. Now that I'm getting back to work, I should be able to afford a little bit better service than stealing time on someone's open WAP.

Blogger's a nice enough place, but there are so many requests and redirects that it's VERY difficult to connect to on shakey wi-fi.