I’ve spent the last few evening building out a mockup of a new website for my daughter’s volleyball club. It’s been a few years since I’ve had to build out a whole site and it’s really interesting to see what’s changed. The last one I built from scratch was for my church, and that was over 3 years ago. I did build out the SARC site earlier this year, but that was pretty simple – just WordPress, a few plugins and a few pages so I don’t really count that one. But the one I am working on now it’s a “real” site: social integration, video, registrations, team rosters, etc.
The thing I am spending the most time learning about is the new (new to me anyway) is responsive design. One of the goals for the site is to help recruit new players, and using my daughter as my market test has told me that if it’s not on mobile she won’t see it. So I’m learning how responsive works. I’m by no means an expert, never have been at any of this stuff, but I can google with the best of them and my cutter and paster still works too.
One aspect of responsive design is that it reconfigures itself based on the size of the screen that it viewing it. As part of that reconfiguration, it will resize images so they don’t scroll off small screens. I was having an issue last night with some video I was embedding on the main page from youtube – it was staying the same fixed size based on what it was getting passed from the iframe. A short google search later and I found a great post on how to create a new CSS class to handle just this issue and dynamically resize the video when it need to be smaller for smaller screens.
Feeling smug, I sat back in my chair and started to think a little bit. Is what I just did unique in any particular way? I had to know enough about the CMS and responsive to be able to formulate the right question, but after that it was just following directions. Then I got to thinking about my kids and their friends – was what I just did something they could do? We always hear about the younger generation being more technically adept than their fore-bearers. My smugness may have lingered a bit too long, but something tells me the answer is no.
That’s not to say that my kids and their friends aren’t smart – quite to the contrary. But unlike when I was growing up, technology has always just been there for them. I got my first computer when I was 11 or 12 – a Commodore 64 and I remember having to write my own games for it. I went on from there to get a Packard Bell 386SX (a de-tuned 386 stuck into some spare 286 mother boards that PB had) and then onto my first home built machine – a 66 MHz 486 with 16 MB of RAM and a 120 MB hard disk. There were countless machines after that. Dalliances with home theater PCs built on Linux and MythTV. Small machines built using cases from Shuttle. By creating what I wanted, I knew how it works.
The same has been true for the web. I setup my first web server on a old HP 300 my company had lying around. Getting an HP-UX system to dial up compuserve was a blast! Then trying to download Apache and get some software that would create web pages from a SQL database. There was no wordpress.com that I could drop my email address into and have instant blather. This blog lived the first few years of its live on one of the Shuttles I built and converted to a Linux Server, until I got tired of my site going offline every time my DSL dropped.
I guess it’s the same way it was for me vs. my parents (or maybe their parents) and cars. By the time I came along they were definitely “appliances”. It wasn’t until I was in college that I really understood anything beyond changing the oil and putting in gas. Why bother – they just work. Last year, for some reason I still don’t quite understand, I took the motor out of the Willy’s Jeep I had been driving around. I wanted to know how it worked and be able to rebuild it into something better. Maybe someday in 20 years or so, one of my kids or their friends will get some old parts, build a PC, setup some software as a server and run a website. Maybe not. Either way, I do think the famous Sci Fi writer, Robert Heinlein, was on to something when he said:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-Robert A. Heinlein