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Not that long ago, but far away

I'd never really thought about it. About where messages go when you send them on the web. About where messages come from before they get to you. About where they might be, in time and space.

I'd never even thought of the simple things—like when you write an e-mail, or post a web page, or read a web page, that it's running down the phone lines, down your street, into your house. And before that, those tiny bits and pieces—invisible, are zooming around the globe, sometimes into space on satellites. You can't see them. You can't feel them. You can't hear them or smell them. It's like they're in another dimension that just shows itself to us through our computers. All these things are happening now, that 100 years ago, people would not have believed. It would have been science fiction. Or occult.

So I didn't think anything was odd when I received the following e-mail:

"Hello, Daniel. You probably don't remember me, but I was at the hospital when your father was born. I recently got into the internet and while I can't get around much in the real world, I realized I could go anywhere in cyberspace! I found you and wanted to make contact!, Love, Gertrude."

Wow. It was like being transported back in time. I thought about the new connections that are being made around the world, and though time—like synapses in the brain. As if our world is getting more and more connected, and maybe with more connections we can create a new world while at the same time staying connected to the old one.

I forwarded the e-mail to my father, but he didn't answer. He was on vacation somewhere. It was either a cruise to East Timor, or he'd gone to China for takeout. I lose track of his real globetrotting, as opposed to my virtual globetrotting. So, the web really is bringing people together. I wasn't surprised that she was able to send me e-mail, because we "young folk" tend to think that older people can't use computers, but they actually can pick them up as fast as kids can.

Despite getting over 100 e-mails a day, I wrote back to Gertrude right then, as if time had stopped for me. I said how amazed and delighted I was to hear from her, and how exciting it was to talk to someone who had seen the entire century. And how I wished I could meet her in person. She wrote back:

"In the past, if you couldn't meet in person, you couldn't meet. So we wouldn't be meeting now. But that's changed, and we are meeting, and while I don't think we can meet in person just yet, I am pleased to be able to talk to you again after all this time.

"I was alive before there were automobiles, electric lights, refrigerators, even the telephone. Now people grow up and think these things are natural, like trees, they can't imagine a world without them. But other than time going so much faster than it used to, I think people still feel the same now as they did back then."

I wrote her that I was born before remote controls, VCR's, microwave ovens, cell phones and personal computers, but that's not quite the same. Her e-mail made me think about everything we take for granted. I asked her to send her picture, if she could.

"That's not possible, for so many reasons, not the least of which being that what I look like is not what I feel like. I feel like time stopped when I was much younger."

We had many e-mail discussions. She told me about her childhood growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio. About how she was married in 1922 to a wholesale candy maker in Charleston West Virginia. About how she moved back to Cincinnati and had a real estate business with her husband. She wrote about my father as a child. And about meeting me when I was a baby. (Sometimes I forget I was ever a baby, even though I sometimes still act like one.)

I felt like I knew her and that we had made a special connection. I wanted to meet her. "You already have!" she wrote back.

My father came back from wherever it was he had gone and I e-mailed him asking if he'd received my mail about her. He said he'd never received any forwarded messages from me. I decided I'd better call—that way I'd know he was getting the message.

I told him about all this. I told him about Gertrude and when she was born and married and where she lived. He was silent. I could feel this odd chill—even over the phone.

You couldn't have gotten that through an email. "Gertrude was my mother," he said. "What you told me is her life story, something I never told you, because you never asked. She died when you were a baby.

After we hung up, I searched my e-mail. There it was. I looked at the return address. I looked up the domain. There was no such domain. There had never been such a domain. I went to print out the e-mail to send it to my dad, but my computer said the hard disk had a bad sector. My backup e-mail file was a week old—before she wrote. I never received e-mail from Gertrude again.

Here's to interesting e-mail. Happy (day after) Halloween.

Daniel Will-Harris

 

Reading To Write

I used to hear people say stuff like, "No one reads on the internet," and after wanting to smack them with a floppy disk, I'd think, "That's absurd—the internet is mostly stuff you have to read. And it's true.

Chris Meeks, our Write Away columnist, explains how if you want to learn how to make your writing better, you have to read more. Not just web sites (though eFuse.com and the FuseLetter are, of course, a great place to start!), but also books, magazines, and things that are fun to read. Reading good writing helps you become a better writer.

Personality Conflicts (And How To Avoid Them)

No matter how much technology we have, we all still have to work with other people. Depending on how you look at it, that's either good or bad or both. And sometimes, as annoying as technology can be, it can still be easier than working with other people!

In his latest "Leadership Lessons," Peter Vedro explains how "human systems architecture" can help us communicate more effectively by understanding the personality type of the people we are working with (including ourselves).

A Fast Way To Learn Netobjects Fusion

If you believed computer advertisements, then you'd think all you need is a great computer (and software) and the work is done for you. Well, we know that even the easiest computer stuff doesn't work until you learn it, and that learning can be confusing. Now Rick Tew, master of the Tewtorials, gives you a new view on Fusion to make all of NetObjects Fusion's power as easy to learn as possible.

This lesson guides you through the five stages you need to follow when creating your first web site. It walks you through the basic elements and tools for each view, so that you can learn how to structure, design, publish and manage your site in 5 easy steps.

What has the web done for you? (come on, tell me!)

Answer yet another of my nosy but possibly somewhat entertaining questionnaires and you're entered to win a set of WebSpice SiteStyles, not to mention millions of web graphics. It'll only take a minute and it'll help me out—and possibly get you millions of graphics and things. Really. Thanks! –DwH

 

Titles Are Vital

Have you looked at your page titles lately? If you haven't, you should. Page titles are vital for two reasons:

    1) They're one of the major elements search engines use to position your site. These can be more important than Meta Tags—because if you put a word in the title, search engines assume it's a very important part of the page.

    2) When people bookmark your site, the page title is what becomes the bookmark. So the more descriptive you are, the easier it will be for people to find your site in their bookmark lists.

Don't use "welcome" to start, or you're sorted with the W's.

Don't use "home page," that says nothing. "Who's home page? What's it about?"

Do include keywords. When people have a lot of bookmarks they can search through them and find you, even if they can't remember your domain name.

Do make your title clear and long, if you want. Make sure it includes the key words that are important to your site.

Read more about how to create the most effective page titles and metatags.

Web Safe Fonts—Making What You See Be What They Get

Fonts seem simple enough these days. You choose them. You see them on your screen. You publish your site to the web and you just kind of figure other people will see them, too. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

Unless someone visiting your site has the same fonts you specify on your site, they won't see them. Instead, they'll see Times or Arial, or sometimes something really weird and unreadable, depending on what their system feels like.

Many new computers come with a lot of fonts—and if you specified something like Tempus Sans ITC then people with new computers and the same software you have with those fonts would see it—but a lot of people still wouldn't, so you can't rely on them.

The only truly "web safe" fonts are Times New Roman and Arial (for Windows) and Times and Helvetica (for the Mac). If you do specify other fonts, you need to do so with commas, so that if the browser can't find the font you want, it will go to the next font down the list.

WEB SAFE FONT LIST: Here it is:

  • Times New Roman, Times
  • Georgia, Times New Roman, Times
  • Verdana, Tahoma, Arial, Helvetica
  • Trebuchet MS, Verdana, Arial ,Helvetica
  • Arial, Helvetica
  • Courier New, Courier
  • Comic Sans MS, Trebuchet MS, Verdana, Helvetica
  • Impact, Arial Black, Arial, Helvetica
  • Arial Black, Arial, Helvetica

If you're using NetObjects Fusion, it will automatically add the commas and additional fonts. You can customize what fonts it will add by editing the file called "fontmap.txt" located in the NetObjects System directory.

That's about it. Georgia, Verdana, Trebuchet, Arial Black, Comic Sans and Impact are all freely downloadable at www.microsoft.com/truetype for both Windows and the Mac. But make sure to spec them as you see above, to make sure that they're readable, with or without the fonts installed.

You can also use http://www.truedoc.com and their system to embed fonts on the page, so anyone with IE4, NS4 or newer can see them, whether they have them on their computer or now.

To read more about fonts on the web, see our eFuse article, WebFonts 101.

Smaller Html In Nof

Personally, I rarely come across pages where the HTML itself takes too long to download. But some people are persnickety about this stuff, so if you use NetObjects Fusion and you want to make your HTML up to 25% smaller, here's how:

  • Go to publish view
  • Click on setup
  • Click on the HTML output tab
  • Click on the advanced button
  • Check the Maximum compression check box.
  • Click OK OK

On one 14K page I tried this, and it brought the size down to 11K. That saves about a second and a half, which isn't much, but it is something. On a 25K page, it reduced it to 20K, which is about two seconds faster.

The resulting pages look identical, they just load a little faster. That said, the resulting HTML code is pretty much unreadable—which is fine with me—I want people reading my pages, not my HTML, but it's something to keep in mind.

WEB MIRACLE—FEED THE HUNGRY WITH JUST A CLICK

Here's a great idea. All you have to do is visit this site and click on the "Donate Free Food" button. When you do, a sponsoring corporation will make a donation to feed a starving person for one day. You can do this once a day, and it costs nothing to you personally.

This is a form of public relations for the sponsoring company. It gets their name in front of you and associates it with a good cause. It does not cost you anything to make this donation. So bookmark it, email all your friends about it, and visit it once a day!

One final word

    Boo.


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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.