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CodeBitch

CodeBitch is the grumpy cow who does the HTML production for MacEdition.

About you

What did you do before the Web?

I was an economist. In fact, I still am, except now I also have an intranet to look after, a bigger office, and a bit more gray hair. Currently I'm away from the office trying to finish up my PhD dissertation, which I've been doing part-time for a few years, but I'll be back at the office later in the year. I'll let you know when it's time to call me Dr CodeBitch.

How did you find the web?

I'd had a long-standing interest in print design, which got me into Macs, and I wrote reviews for some Australian Mac magazines in the early 1990s. So by the mid-1990s, the web and the internet generally were becoming big, and my Mac/design interests fused even more. In 1995, I spent some time away from work to do further study. I was away from my home city and used IRC, email and UseNet to fill the gap. The web had really only just started seeping into my consciousness -- it was about the time Netscape 0.9 was current -- and I created my first personal home page in SimpleText. It became obvious to me that this was a medium that could really change things.

Why are you here?

CodeBitch came into existence as a persona through my association with the folks who went on to start MacEdition. I'd been working on a number of web sites before that, but producing the original design for MacEdition was the baptism of fire that made me angry enough to produce fortnightly columns for two years now. I became angry with the gap between what the web can be and what it has become.

As I continued, I realised that I could develop resources that would be useful to web professionals. I must have a special talent for finding browser bugs, whether I want to or not. I've also had the luxury of being able to specialise, concentrating on HTML/CSS instead of having to keep up with every acronym under the sun, like some full-time web professionals seem to have to do. Reporting on what I found, and encouraging others to support web standards, is something that my audience seems to appreciate, so I'm going to keep doing it.

Methods of production

What do you use to create your sites?

I'd love to find a graphical editor that I could trust to do basic editing without stuffing up the validity of the markup. I'd love to find a graphical editor I could distribute to my colleagues at work without confusing them utterly. Unfortunately, such a product doesn't exist at present, so I handcode and I have to teach my colleagues to handcode as well.

One of the things I love about doing web production on a Mac is that I only need to deal with one text editor. On the PCs at work, I use a combination of Dreamweaver and HomeSite for HTML production and site management, TopStyle for CSS development, EditPlus for Perl and WinEdt for LaTeX (not really the web, but I do a lot of LaTeX so it matters to me). At home on my Macs, I can use Alpha: for virtually all of these tasks. Unlike BBEdit, it has keyboard shortcuts for just about every HTML element, which speeds up the production process. Its CSS editor has been built-in for years, and it converts curly quotes and other typographic niceties to their numerical equivalents. I particularly like the feature that creates proper HTML lists from plain text with asterisks at the front of each paragraph. Even if it didn't have these advantages in HTML and CSS production, its strengths in LaTeX would make it worthwhile for me.

I'd like to see products like TopStyle on the Mac, and StyleMaster is a good start in this respect. However, I find that Alpha's CSS mode is just as effective once you know CSS reasonably well.

The other tools I use include Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Transmit for FTP and Analog for log analysis. I believe it's essential to know your audience, so log analysis is a big part of what I do for MacEdition. Being an economist, I also just can't help drawing graphs of things.

About the Web

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the web?

The web is worth having because it provides something that wasn't available before: a low barrier to entry for publishers, and a format that isn't dependent on owning particular technologies. This means that information, data, opinions and interactions all become more accessible to a greater range of people. The way it has transformed my work as an economic researcher is just one example of this. Sure, proprietary networks and the internet more generally have always made things like working papers and research data sets available. But the web made it EASY, not only for specialists and academics, but for interested citizens. Institutions become more accountable to their constituencies, and those citizens can themselves become more accountable for their opinions, by participating in discussion groups or community sites, or by running a blog.

What do you see as the greatest dangers?

That the people on the web lose sight of its special advantages. The technology behind the web is meant to allow low-cost publishing by anyone. It is meant to be neutral to your browser or the device you use to browse. And it's meant to be innovative. But when I look on the web, I see browser bugs adding to development costs, I see "best viewed with" banners, and I see developers who "code for IE" and won't change their table-laden coding habits out of pure conservatism, and the perceived conservatism of their audience.

Provided the web lives up to its promised strengths, other perceived threats, such as the concentration of content ownership and browser manufacturing into a few hands, will become less damaging. This is because low-cost independent publishing and non-PC devices will provide alternatives.

What would you say to folks who want to work the web?

Do web standards, and remember why they're important. Never lose sight of the fact that most of the people on the web -- whether producers or consumers or both -- aren't working the web. They're just using it. For most people on the web, it's a tool, not a life passion.

And you don't have to give up your day job if you don't want to.

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