It’s the start of a new year, and time to announce our first Member of the Month for 2013.
This month, the award goes to ronpat, who has been making an amazing contribution to the forums (particularly CSS) for a good while now. Ron’s enthusiasm for learning and experimenting with CSS is quite infectious, so if you enjoy that aspect of web design, I’m sure you’ll enjoy engaging with him on that subject, if you haven’t already.
We are really grateful for Ron’s contributions to the forums, and recently asked him a few questions so we could get to know him a little better ...
Hey, Ron! Congratulations on being awarded the MoTM badge for January. Were you surprised?
Stunned, in fact! The recognition is incredibly flattering and I'm honored to be part of such outstanding company. Truthfully, though, I feel like the award is a case of mistaken identity. I'm a minor league player who has stumbled into a major league party and feel that any time now someone will figure that out and call security.
What brought you to SitePoint?
I came to SitePoint about six months ago with a question about a CSS behavior in IE9, which you promptly answered, and I stuck around because of the wealth of knowledge being shared. I've been learning CSS for the past 2-1/2 years, and this learning has accelerated dramatically since I joined these forums.
Why did you start to respond to members' questions?
I suppose it was when I began to realize that "I really could have answered that question". I've been in teaching and support roles much of my life, and enjoy helping people develop themselves. Trying my hand with some of the questions in the CSS forum is a golden opportunity for me to grow as I explore CSS concepts/behaviors that I might never encounter otherwise. The SitePoint forums are a tremendous learning environment for those in need of help as well as for the members who have the time to help. I have lots of time these days, too.
My knowledge is quite limited so I post cautiously. I feel OK about addressing some basic issues of page structure but have a lot to learn about applying more advanced CSS properly, especially CSS3 in HTML5 ... and I know nothing about accessibility, YET, but I will get there. I have been given some good resources.
Your profile says that you were a sysadmin. Is there anything you would like to tell us about that?
I've done a few different things over the years. UNIX/Solaris system administration was probably the acme of my professional computer achievements. It involved the usual large scale hardware and software installation and configuration stuff and networking, of course. It's always fun to be a computer geek, but I enjoyed the "desktop support" part of the role at least as much as the UNIX admin part. The variety was a good fit.
You said that you have done a few different things over the years. Would you like to tell us about some of them?
Ahhh, my "has beens". How far back should we go? My first "job" was a 6 year hitch in the USAF where I learned and worked in the field of electronics. Vacuum tubes and analog circuits were the mainstay. While in the AF I had the good fortune to visit Turkey, Germany, Denmark, Spain, England and Wales. Experiences I'll never forget!
After that service adventure, I went to work for a large telecom company for 29-3/4 years, during which time I was introduced to the UNIX operating system. I managed to wiggle myself into several computer related side-jobs within the company, increased my knowledge of UNIX and wrote my first database using Informix SQL. Eventually I was accepted for a sysadmin position.
<aside>(That telecom company, which was once the largest in the country, no longer exists.)
During those telecom years I longed to do something less technological, so I went to school and became a paramedic and later a registered nurse. Worked part time in a local hospital emergency room. In my spare time, I taught First Aid and CPR for the Red Cross and CPR for the Heart Association as an instructor/trainer.
I've enjoyed several interests/hobbies including karate, scuba diving, photography, amateur radio, woodworking and computers. Always a do-it-yourselfer, I used to build electronic kits, home-brew gadgets, and perform some fairly involved home maintenance for friends and self. Spent a short period doing some home construction with Habitat For Humanity. I have to include computers as a hobby because of the serious amount of non-work-related time I spend with them. I've never bought a PC in a box. Always built them from components. Don't own a laptop or a mobile anything.
Many people around here love to reminisce about their early computers and the 'olden days' of computing. Where did computing start for you?
Do slide rules count?
O, they sure do! My dad was an ace with a slide rule (a civil engineer), and as a kid I used to marvel at the complex calculations he could make in an instant with one of those. I used to play with it and try to do my homework with it ... but eventually gave in to calculators.
Thank goodness for calculators! Slide rules were fun, but my fingers kept losing count of decimal places.
Anyhow, regarding desktop computers, are you a Mac or a PC user?
My favorite computers of all time were the early Macintoshes. My love affair with them began with the Mac Plus (it was my first home computer). They might have been considered "toy" computers, but they were, and still remain, the most easily used and productive computers in the world. I became the president of the local Mac Users Group and eventually the SysOp of their bulletin board (which ran on a PC at that time). I volunteered for the SysOp task so I could learn to use a PC and DOS. It was also "convenient" for the BBS to reside at my house during a few years when dial-up access and 2400 Baud connections were the norm.
Unfortunately, after Apple went bankrupt, I lost the "faith". When Apple came back to life I never upgraded to their new models. I had spent money and time learning how to use Microsoft's abomination of a GUI interface called Windows and simply couldn't afford to start all over with the new Macs. Besides, Windows PCs had become very popular in the workplace.
I could talk at great length about the joys of using a Macintosh computer "back in the day". Having never used anything Apple since they reorganzied, though, makes my reminiscence very outdated, pointless. Without being able to compare the old software to OSX and new software, it's just "rambling". Not worth the ink.
What are your thoughts on the more recent Microsoft operating systems?
I'm not especially comfortable with the direction of Windows' development. The Macintosh was liberating. Early Windows versions were empowering. WinXP is a good, solid, productive OS, and offers a "classic" interface that I find comfortable to use. It's a good platform for developers. Win7 sounded exciting and I was eager to put the new file linking feature to work. Unfortunately, Win7 introduced several internal restrictions in the name of security and reduced the "classic" interface to little more than a skin. Even though Win7 has won broad acceptance among devs and techies, I've never taken the time to learn the ins-and-outs of the technical changes. Just stayed with comfortable XP. I use Win7 primarily for testing web pages using IE9. Win8 targets the mass consumer market by putting a smartphone-like interface on their desktop so I don't see Win8 in my future except perhaps as an appliance like Win7. Win 8 seems less like an "upgrade" and more like a "downgrade" to me so far.
When did you take an interest in writing web pages?
Writing web pages began when one of my post-telecom employers allowed me to create a series of web pages that presented our client information to the sysadmins. That was in 2000. The OS was Solaris. I don't remember which web server or browser we were using. The HTML was version 4.0 Frameset (thus, my affection for the "target" attribute), and the construction of the page was entirely table based. All text, no graphics. Everything I wrote was "fluid" because that's how tables naturally behave. Easy. I wrote a shell script that enabled the admins to easily add new client information to the page. My big start.
Soon after the web hosting job went away, I had little incentive to write HTML. Picked it up again about 2-1/2 years ago when an old friend volunteered to be the "webmaster" of his model airplane club. The site had been written with old table code and had become quite "distressed" over time. It only took a couple of days to realize that my friend's prior HTML experience was older and weaker than mine. He didn't know that I had some distant HTML background. I quietly took it upon myself to rewrite the home page and sent him the file a few days later. I intended it to be a helpful “how to” example, but he ended up posting it exactly as-it-was. Thus began our partnership :). The re-written page was entirely table based at first, of course, just much better structured. Within a very few weeks I began to include more and more CSS. Today, the site is a mix of tableware and CSS. I write whatever he thinks he can maintain/update. It's a simple site and certainly nothing to brag about in this forum, but a success nonetheless for the club. The members seem to be happy and my friend is their highly regarded webmaster who in turn is really happy that someone else is doing the coding so he has time to build and fly his planes. I get to be the wizard behind the curtain, so to speak. That's not so bad.
On a more somber note, I understand that you have lost your hearing. Do you mind saying a bit about that?
Over the course of my adult life, I lost my hearing. I was almost 40 by the time I realized what was happening. Hearing aids became useless about 6 to 7 years ago. I live alone and did not prepare for the isolation. “Getting by” is sometimes a bit challenging when I bump into processes of business and society that assume that people can hear. Most video educational courses do not have closed captions and are not designed for consumption by the hearing impaired. Bummer. Being part of the community of SitePoint and able to interact with and contribute to people through SitePoint is a blessing.
I've been making some videos lately, so thanks for the reminder about adding closed captions.
If you could change anything about the SitePoint forums, what would it be?
I would improve the search engine for the message base so it allows more specific searches. I believe that the message base contains a gold mine of information that is "lost in the forest" because searches return too many superfluous responses.
Yes, fair point. To be honest, I never use site searches any more. I just use Google, which seems to work better.
If there was one bit of advice you could give someone who wanted to become a better web designer (or developer), what would it be?
Don't neglect the basics. Forgiveness for stray HTML tags and other coding errors is entirely browser dependent and should not be expected across the growing range of UAs. Clean HTML will allow CSS to work its magic as intended across more browsers than will careless code.
Well, Ron, it’s been great to get to know you a little better. Thanks for participating in this interview, and for your great contributions in the forums.
OK everyone, it's over to you. Please offer Ron your hearty congratulations!