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Reflections of a ModemJunkie

New Years Revelations

by Leonard Grossman


It is hard to believe that this is the beginning of the fifth year in which I have periodically been committing my random ramblings to cyberspace. I suppose when I began I thought I was just joking when I first called myself the "ModemJunkie." Maybe, I thought, if I used the term myself, I could deflect the accusations of others that I had become hooked by the online world.

And that was long before I discovered the Internet. Back then, I was limited to the Syslink BBS, and GEnie and Compuserve. Every year began with resolutions to cut back but every year my involvement grew greater. I certainly didn't anticipate the exponential increase in online time I would spend once I discovered the Web.

So this year I didn't wait until New Years Eve to make a resolution. A few weeks ahead of time I simply promised myself to try not to log on between the time I go to bed and the time I get up in the morning. I thought that would be easy. And I really could use a full night's sleep.

I was making progress. Some nights I made it all the way through. Others, I got up at 2 or 3 o' clock, but I only checked e- mail. Occasionally there were relapses, but I was doing better. But then something happened.


Lately Web pages seem to be getting more complex and take longer and longer to download, even with faster and faster modems. Sometimes I get so fed up, I angrily click on the stop icon and go on to something else.

However, a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine received an award from theWeb Design Group (WDG) for excellence in Web page design. She has another excellent, and amusing page, "The Care and feeding of Web Pages. A link there will take you to her award winning home page.

WDG represents a revolution in Web thinking. It is grounded in the idea that bigger is not necessarily better. It is grounded in the radical concept that information presented on the Web should be easily accessed by the largest possible audience.

This is a concept closely related to principles that regular readers know I have long held dear. It militates against planned obsolescence. For years I held out against Windows and hung on to my a 286 machine. Only when I wanted full internet access, did I bite the bullet and move up to a 386 and a graphical interface.

Good design does not have to be boring. And good design does mean that any specific tool must be excluded. It does mean that coding must be accurate, and it does mean that pages should be validated to the strictest standard capable of displaying the information to be presented. Utilizing these principles means that countless viewers will still have access to pages and won't get rude warnings announcing that the page requires one specific browser or plug in or another. In other words, by adhering to good design I could foster the same principles I had been defending, long before I became a Web author.

So I decided to try myself. This meant meticulous editing of my web pages. It meant submitting them to on line "validation" which checked the formal coding of my pages for technical accuracy. (There are many collections of validation tools. One of the best is maintained by Harold Driscoll of the Chicago Computer Society) My time on line was going up -- not down. I submitted two of my pages for the award.

An then, during the last few days of the year, I received notice that my home page, Notes from a ModemJunkie, had received the WDG Award. I even discovered the added bonus that my page is quite comprehensible using Lynx, a text based browser which does not require high powered machines or color monitors, making my ramblings available to countless individuals who can't afford to keep up with the Gatses.

Now I can slow down, I thought. But I also received a critique of the other site, The Gropper Windows: Genesis in Glass. In addition to some technical errors which were easily corrected, the page had nearly 80 k of graphics. It took nearly a minute to fully load. It seemed faster on my own machine because all of the images were already cached. But the first time viewer must share the same frustration I feel on reaching some of the more complex, graphic intensive, sites.

Even though the page is dedicated to celebration of graphic images, couldn't I do something to bring my page within acceptable limits.

So I looked carefully at the page. I rethought the concept. I quickly realized that there was a whole section of the page which could be separated and presented on its own. A click on the index item will take the viewer directly to this section. The page will appear to the viewer almost exactly as it did before. Only now the home page loads in slightly more than 24 seconds instead of just under a minute. I don't know whether that page will receive am award or not, but by the application of good design principles I have made it more accessible and inviting to the casual viewer. Further information about the WDG award can be reached by clicking on the is available on the WDG page

Last month I discussed Opera, the new browser from Norway. The downloadable file is less than one meg. The other day the long awaited Netscape Communicator 4.0b made its debut. The complete package downloaded at just under 10 megs. That's TEN megabytes. That's nuts. (Note: You won't find a link to Netscape here.)

There is a revolution going on. We can't hold back the tide. But as one portion of the Web devolves into just another corporate media extravaganza, dedicated Netizens are uniting to foster good design and accessibility. As AOL slows and the bandwidth fills with noise, there will be those who continue to raise their voices for reason. WDG and others recognizing basic principles should be recognized and applauded.


In all of this, I reconize my own overindulgence. Now that the major renovation of my pages is complete, I will not promise to log on in the middle of the night. But I will try to use my time more carefully. If I can slim down my pages, I can slim down my surfing as well. Wish me luck. The odds are good. I did shed more than 20 lbs last year. But that's another story.

Copyright 1996 Leonard Grossman

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1/6/97 10:44:32 PM