Quantum Gypsies

How I built a web site and learned to love Cascades

These pages contain a light hearted description of the pleasure and pain of building a simple amateur web site. Hopefully it will give you some smiles at my bumbling efforts and, who knows, it might even help you a little with your own web development efforts.

I started off knowing nothing about web site building, although I did have many years experience of IT projects and desktop software development. I knew that the web was driven by hypertext markup language (HTML) and that web professionals were generally scathing about Internet Explorer, which I had been using for years without complaint, but that was about my limit.

Despite knowing nothing about web development, I decided that I would build the site from scratch, rather than using a rapid development tool such as Dreamweaver, Cold Fusion or Front page. After all, the original point of the web was to exchange information in a way that allowed the simplest tools to render it, so I wanted to use only the simplest tools to create my pages.

The other thing I knew nothing about was the use of HTML tables to style pages. I read on the World Wide Web consortium site that HTML was styled with cascading style sheets (CSS) and assumed everyone did it like that. Only once I had bought my first book on putting HTML and CSS together, did I find out about the bad old days and ways. I have never figured out why techies get so evangelical about these things but whatever you do, don't use tables to position page elements or the web inquisition will be after you.

Layout of these pages

So what is "loving cascades" in the title of these pages all about then. Well, it is simply that over the last few months of studying web languages, the one that never ceases to give me pleasure is Cascading Style Sheets. I love the way that I can paint an electronic page in the same way as I would a paper or canvas page. Having got my subject matter structured with HTML, I start by blocking out the main shapes with page level styles. I then move on to fleshing out the various parts of my page canvas with list, heading and paragraph styles and finally, I can pick out the highlights with styles for individual elements. This building up of layers of style, each one contributing something extra to the layers below, makes for very efficient markup and a great sense of satisfaction.

Of course life is not all sunshine and I am constantly frustrated by how colours appear differently on different graphics cards and monitors. If I provide an exact hexadecimal value for each colour that I use, then I expect Nvidia, ATI, Matrox and the monitor manufacturers to build hardware that uses that Hex value in a consistent way. Of course, I cannot show you the problem, as I have no idea how your graphics will render the colours on this page, but if the graduated background colour looks orange at the top, as it does on my laptop, it was not designed like that. On my desk top PC, it looks much more of a yellow ochre.

I know that Pantone, who provide standards for colour printing also have some software for matching HTML colour to their standard print colours, so I am going to have a look to see if there is anything I can do to ensure consistency of colour when the site is viewed on different kit.

I hope that those of you contemplating building your own site are encouraged by what you find on these pages. Web page creation is not technically difficult and doesn't require a large financial investment to get good results. So sharpen up a few simple tools and get chiselling.

Of course building a web site is an open ended commitment, so I will try to update these pages when I make any changes of note.

Last updated 21 December 2008