Friday, November 17, 2006

Reverse Atrophy

I shuffled out of bed at around eight-forty-five this morning, switched on the computer, and began my scheduled task for the day. This might sound odd for a man who's been out of work for the last three months, but that's how I usually spend my time nowadays -- executing one freelance project after another. While the level of income for these usually doesn't bring as much satisfaction as a regular job, the work at least keeps me from going mad with boredom.

This morning's task wasn't originally supposed to take place, to be honest. You see, it all started when my mother's bakeshop came out with their Christmas offerings for this year. After their designers approve and finalize the packaging for each of these products, we take photos of them and place the results inside an album for showcasing to clients.

Recent years have made this marketing method impractical, though. The problem with showcasing your product lines via photo album, you see, is that you still have to get it to the client somehow. This means that you'll either have to bring it over to the client's place, or have the client come over to your place, or set up any sort of potentially inconvenient arrangement. We first remedied this by simply printing out, photocopying and then distributing the photos -- but this year, we finally decided that such an option was a tad too expensive for us.

The final straw came about when one of my uncles asked for a copy of this year's Christmas offerings. This presented a problem: The products were housed in a 13mb Microsoft Word file, which was too large to be uploaded all in one go, much less enclosed as an e-mail attachment. File compression apps (such as WinZip and WinRAR) couldn't slice it into increments smaller than 3mb each, and would make for an additional problem in case my uncle wanted to send the file to anybody else. And the idea of snail mail was out of the question -- this is the Christmas season, after all, and what would happen if we had to change anything at short notice?

In the end, this left us only one viable solution: We had to make a web site.

Despite my five-year stint as project manager of a web development company, I actually don't have that much experience in web design and programming. This is primarily because I'm one of the old-school amateurs: I learned the basics of HTML programming in college, just before the millenium rolled around. While I did put such knowledge to good use, I didn't move on to the more advanced aspects like so many of my classmates did.

Under normal circumstances, I would have thought that I'd lost these skills over six years of atrophy. My tenure in web development, however, provided me with significant practice in updating sites, patching code, and tightening loose ends. Maintaining a blog also provides a lot of opportunities for programming as well. What this means, in case you're wondering, is that I'm still perfectly capable of putting together a (very amateurish) web site all by myself. It's funny how things work out sometimes.

That also means that I was sitting at the computer early this morning, working things out. I was an old boy playing with new technologies, I think -- an old boy who felt much more comfortable writing HTML code in Notepad when he could just as easily have been working the rounds of Macromedia Dreamweaver in some cushy office somewhere.

It took me about an hour to cobble together the first page from scratch, which told me one thing: Amateurish programming skills and obsessive-compulsive perfectionism shouldn't go hand-in-hand with each other. Everything did get easier once I had established the first few lines of code, and although I still encountered the occasional misstep once in a while, I was doing my final tests on the site about three-and-a-half hours later.

For anyone who's curious, the final product is over here. Seeing that the search engines were likely to bring a lot of unintended visitors to the site, I laid everything out in order to allow for a varied audience. The site itself also doesn't offer as much information as I normally like to see, but I suppose that I can remedy that later on... if the bakeshop cares to provide the information. (I'll tell you that the pastries are good, though. Honest.)

Seeing that the web site is already up, I'll probably end up maintaining the thing for the next month or so, and then archiving it for possible re-use next year. Maintenance, of course, is a remarkably tiresome task... but it feels a little better when you're taking care of something that's your own creation. At best, there's nothing better than working the rust out of your joints and setting out to make the most of what you have.

I just hope that my uncle's satisfied with all this. We're not prepared for, say, e-commerce at the moment. :)


Dominique said...

Want me to host it? I can even give you a halfway decent domain name (one ending in Drop me a note. And, by the way, check out I use pmwiki to maintain that, so it's pretty easy.

Sean said...

Dominique: No, I think that everything's best as it is right now. We didn't plan for a sophisticated Internet setup, and besides that, most of the people who know about the address have already viewed the site. I'll guarantee that we'll plan for a better setup next year, though.

For now, however, I'm more interested in people actually placing orders for the stuff. I'd recommend the Chocolate-Banana Bread -- it's an excellent product, and a family favorite besides. :)