September 14th, 2004


Help me to forget today's pain

The problem I have with Dreamweaver is that every time I hear the bastard word I get an unshakeable earworm of Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver", accompanied by the image of Mike Myers lusting after the admittedly eminently lustable-after Tia Carrere in Wayne's World.

This, however, is not a problem that the man running the Netskills course could be expected to fix, so we concentrated on other stuff like how to wrangle the software into producing accessible, maintainable web-pages.

I'd never used Dreamweaver before but found myself in the surprising position of knowing more HTML than anybody else in the class. That is, I'd coded HTML by hand ("Brave people!" said the course tutor, only half joking) and had used CSS. Fear my scary web skills. Mind you, everybody who'd been on a Netskills course before said that there was never time to get through all the "hands-on" exercises, and even the course tutor said that nobody was expected to finish, but I got through all the homework with time to spare to read LJ and check email. And correct all the mistakes in the worksheets. Suddenly I remember why everybody hated me at school.

The impression that I get is that Dreamweaver would be a fantastic piece of software for the amateur web-designer, in much the same way that all-singing all-dancing power-tools are the secret vice (ahem) of the home DIY enthusiast. Unfortunately, at somewhere in the region of $400, the amateur web-designer almost certainly can't afford it. Which is a shame, because this particular amateur web-designer would be delighted to get her geeky mitts on a copy just to play around with. I think it's possible to create sane, well-formed web-pages with it; it takes time and care, but it allows you to use nifty short-cuts for the donkey-work. There's no inherent virtue in carving HTML out of a rock with your bare hands; why not use funky pointy-clicky interfaces if they let you get the tedious bits done quickly? I don't need to prove to anybody, even myself, that I know how to create an image link or a simple table.

Like any tool, though, it's possible to use it for the forces of evil. You can, more or less, create web-pages in an entirely WYSIWYG environment (if you never click the scary 'show code' button); which means that you can perpetrate crawling tentacled Lovecraftian horrors in your HTML without even realising you're doing it. You can be seduced by Dreamweaver's amazing templating/content-managing systems, because they are actually pretty well implemented, but only later realise that they also effectively lock you into using nothing but DW to maintain your files for ever.

Still, on the whole, the course was useful. We need to know how to use DW because our content-providers want to use it, and it helps if we know where they're coming from and know why we'd prefer them not to use it -- and know how to get them to at least set some limits on the horrors they perpetrate. The bits about accessibility issues were interesting, and DW does actually do fairly well on the creating-accessible-webpages front -- validating, checking, advising, and prompting for things like alt-tags, captions, summaries, etc. (It's just a shame it not only doesn't validate for XHTML 1.0 Strict, but lies and says it does.) The course was also a handy opportunity to consolidate previously-learned HTML knowledge, which is always a good thing. In fact, the thing that I found most interesting about DW was the opportunity it presented for learning HTML -- you can drag and drop clever bits of design, and then look at the code to see how it's done.

All in all, probably a more productive use of the day than I would have otherwise achieved. And free food, though a hint to the next people to organise a similar event: Maxwell House brown powder is NOT COFFEE.

The course was also, of course, a chance to watch STUPID PEOPLE. Who needs soap operas and reality TV when the whole world is a shimmering kaleidoscope of witlessness? Collapse )
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