Tuesday 12 February 2002

Bootstrapping or mountaineering

Whatever. I know that other Radio users have been beavering away at the scripting/Web Services end of the spectrum while I focused my energies on the CSS issue. I feel confident we’ll catch up with each other soon. Garth and I are trying to schedule a meeting in the next few days—his excellent site makeover will be on top of the agenda. Though I’ll be sure to tell him that nothing is impossible with CSS.

For me, personally, it’s been an amazing couple of days. I received Meryl Yourish’s email on Sunday morning and replied that afternoon. I mentioned before that I’d already received feedback that the text on my site was difficult to read. But Meryl was the catalyst—her well-argued case for changing the design led to everything that followed. Mark Bernstein offered an opposing view. Then Dave added his voice. “I second Meryl’s emotion,” he wrote me, a sentence that neatly captured the feelings of frustration experienced by those who like what I write but found it difficult to read. Others chimed in too. Every opinion I received helped me move towards the new design.

In total contravention of the scientific method, I set about trying to change two things at once: making the site legible and switching to CSS for both formatting and positioning. I couldn’t get the CSS positioning to work so, pragmatist that I am, I settled for legibility while falling back on tables for layout. This morning, hours after the revamped look came online, Mark Pilgrim showed me a CSS-based replica of the new design, together with the HTML and CSS documents that implemented it.

I tried but couldn’t get it to work. Steven Vore, Sylvain Carle, and Joe Gregorio emailed me suggestions. I managed to succeed. If I can do it, just about anyone can. Radio is a CMS, a Content Management System. You input the content, you tweak the templates, and it gives you the output. It was my imagination, my skills, my experience that were the limiting factors, not Radio UserLand.

The best thing about a community like this is the friendly, generous people who are willing to augment one’s imagination, skills, and experience. By late afternoon I’d achieved what I was after: a Radio site that was CSS-compliant. I didn’t do it myself. I got a lot of help.

This experience reminded me of Braque’s description of how he and Picasso invented Cubism, “rather like mountaineers roped together” is the phrase that John Berger quotes in his book on Picasso. I love this image: Braque and Picasso taking turns to scale the heights of what might be possible in painting—one climbing above and beyond the other, then straining on the rope connecting them to assist his companion to catch up and move on ahead.

Dave calls this process bootstrapping. Braque and Picasso might not have been familiar with the term but that’s what they were doing too. As we all are, as we help each other scale the heights.

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