Monday, October 19, 2009

the html planet

People talk about html as though it were some kind of language, like Japanese or Greek. Never mind the language, it’s an alien planet from another solar system. Fortunately, sites like Blogger can translate html gobbledygook into English for techno-illiterates like me. Otherwise blogging would be something that I could only wish to do.

Delving into a foreign culture (like html) can be scary. You'd think it would make sense to do a little language study before embarking on the journey, but it actually increases the hazard. When I was in Japan, I heard about a missionary that ran aground when his superiors tried to launch him into oriental culture too soon.

"Take these pamphlets and pass them out to people on the street," they told him.

"But I don’t speak Japanese . . ."

"That’s okay, just smile and say, "Oyomi ni natte kudasai." (A very polite way to say, "Please read this.")

Sounds easy. Kind of like the help sites that I visit on the rare occasions when I do have to make excursions into the hostile land of html. They pretend to simplify things but believe me, the little bit of knowledge they offer can be dangerous.

The young missionary went about his duties, but was puzzled by the expression on people’s faces. Turns out he was saying, "Oyome ni natte kudasai," instead of "Oyomi ni natte kudasai." Only a slight deviation . . . except that it means, "Please become my bride."

(On a semi-related note, you can read my sage firefighter views on communication issues by clicking here.)

All that to say that I successfully installed an email subscription widget in my blog. Yes that’s right. I braved the inhospitable and foreign environment (interpreter and bodyguard in tow), and you can now see a link on the left side of this page near the top that says, "Subscribe to Beebewitz's Blog by Email." As you can see, I'm very proud of it (except that I'm not sure yet if it works).

When I first started in April, I had the delusional idea that getting this email widget would be a simple matter. You know, click a button and, voila, my devoted readers would instantly and painlessly have the option of getting my posts emailed to their respective inboxes. Not so. It took me nearly six months to even find the help file that explained the process. A word of warning is in order here. Don’t ever, ever believe the help file that promises you magical results by following a "few simple steps."

In theory, computer programs only do what they are told. In theory. If you're laughing or rolling your eyes right now, you've discovered the same reality that I have. They only do what they are told if you speak their language . . . because they most definitely haven't learned ours. You think you’re telling this digital monster to lie down and beg, but it starts to smoke and vibrate and utter unintelligible obscenities . . . a sure sign that something got lost in the translation. Then comes the error message that speaks in dark riddles like, "this program has encountered a fatal error and will now close." That’s your hard drive's polite computer lingo for, "You idiot! You nearly killed me!"

All you techno-geeks out there are thinking, "What’s all the hoopla about? My three year-old sister could have installed an email widget." Okay, I admit it, you guys are smart. But try crawling around blind in a burning building, or untangling a person from a mangled heap of metal that used to be a car.

What’s that you say? You’re a techno-geek firefighter? I give up. Some people are just too talented.

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