Don’t Ever Do This At Home…

Here, I’m just wondering about my own exuberance for certain things or, if this could ever be a warning.

What’s actually being referred to here is the development and the building of this website. Yes, while it is a more or less home grown and home baked effort, it shouldn’t be. There’s too much here for it to be a “home baked” effort. Hence, the warning, “Don’t ever do this at home”.

Put it this way, I’ve been building and putting together websites since Netscape 1.01 and using little else but a text editor. While this is no recommendation, it all comes from something else. In my day, as a young turk, the car was a big deal. We didn’t have cell phones or the Internet or social media. A car could get you from A to B. On a weekend, you could pile into a car and head off to the mountains or, to the coast – real places. Today, it seems that a cell phone, Instagram or Tik-Tok suffice – the real and the virtual.

Aside from my dig, the thing with a car, at the time, is that I could basically repair it myself and I did. Nothing like having to grind in and reseat a set of valves. But, on a regular basis, I did my own servicing – things like changing the oil, putting in and setting new spark plugs or changing the break pads. With little else other than a feeler gauge, a screw driver and a ring spanner, I used to adjust the tappets. With a twist here and there, used to adjust the timing and with a slight tweak to the left or right, used to adjust the mixture on the carburettor. This was all done in a day’s work. Move forward to today and now, this is almost a completely different story. Today you need a science degree and a whole bank of computer gear to do much the same thing I was doing back then.

Much the same can now be said of web design and putting together a website. While I can still get by using a text editor, the landscape has changed and is changing rapidly. In all of this, I thought I knew a lot. What I’ve come to realise now is, actually how little I know. In putting this effort together – meaning this website, it was more or less, putting one foot forward and then having to take several steps back. For me to put that foot forward, the steps I had to take back was going to the Internet and using Google, amongst other tools, to check up on and get the latest specs on whatever it was that I was doing.

And, for the most part, doing a Google didn’t really help. More often than not, some of the reference I was looking for went back to 2011 and sometimes earlier. You see, like so much in life, it all depends on, “not so much in what you ask but how you ask”. Dear readers, these are lessons from the road. Yes, it’s not what you ask, it is how you ask it. Man, and this can drive one dilly.

So, we got around that. Where to next?

Basically, this website was built around a static HTML theme. Kind of akin to Freddie Flintstone using a chisel and slate to do his writing. Once marked up, an HTML website can do little else. What you see is what you get – more or less. That’s why they call it a “static” website, as opposed to a “dynamic” website.

We move on. I liked the look and feel of this particular theme and, I wanted to go with it but, I needed more. I wanted to upgrade the HTML website to a CMS [yup, a Content Management System]. A bit like going from servicing a basic 70’s era 4 cylinder petrol engine to today’s multi-valve, all electronic, fuel injection engines. For this, you now need more than a feeler gauge, ring spanner and screw driver.

WordPress, as a CMS, is fairly easy to work with. With this CMS, you can make things as easy or as complex as you like. As a platform, it is stable and quite solid. Where it starts getting “complex” is when you start getting “clever” and wanting to do, let’s just say, “extraordinary” things – like out of the ordinary.

While this website is not quite “out of the ordinary”, it has required some work that has taken me “beyond the ordinary” and, in some instances, way out beyond the ordinary.

Like a modern car, the manufactures together with all their machinations, have gone out of their way to make your drive extraordinary without you getting involved in all the inner workings of how they have made all this possible – aircon, GPS, the power, the comfort and whatever. A modern website is no different. Or, it should be that way. The whole thing should be seamless, smooth, flowing and “intuitive”. The user doesn’t need to know what is going on in the background and, so it should be.

This is where the “interesting” part comes in – for me that is. Getting to grips with all this stuff has taken from being a something of a hack to something of being and expert and, the worst part about all this stuff is, that I am now no more an expert than the hack I was before. I’ve learnt a lot, a lot more than I ever wanted learn and yet, there is so much in this that is already redundant. I mean, this is an effort that has taken almost 6 months to put together. And, while I don’t want to belabour the fact, this was working 12 or more hours a day. Like I said above, all this effort was taking one step forward and many steps back. I would come to a something of a “cross roads” somewhere – the one step forward. To proceed or to get some clarification on something necessitated another half day or more research and reading – the couple of steps back. And then, once done, we could move forward once more.

In many ways, this has been the story of my life. There has never been one institution or instance that has been able to give me what ever I have needed or required. I have had to go out there and do these things piecemeal – whether it has been putting together websites or doing what I do most, photography. This doesn’t mean to say that such institutions or instances don’t exist. They do but, not necessarily within the realms of my own existence and what it is that looking for or hoping to do, this at any particular time or, in particular place.

Put another way, these sorts of efforts can be placed in one of several categories – A, B or C. In the “A” category we have huge multinational corporations who need an effective web presence with all the bells and whistles. No problem, just put together a department and employ the best minds and talents they can afford. The effort is run by committee and the effort evolves, this as a result of many minds and much skill, talents and budgets to match. The “B” option is not quite as intense but usually comes about through collaborations of one kind or other. And, while the budgets might not be there, the enthusiasm and skills are. With the “C” option, along comes Joe and his hop along hobby horse and this is what we have.

In this effort, we kind of have to “match” the big boys and this based on rather limited resources. This is not to bemoan the fact of what has been achieved here. Far from it. The thing that has got my goat though, is that I would have rather spent 2 weeks or so on this effort not the 6 or so months that it actually took, all in all. And, it’s not a done deed yet. Back to my “warning” about not ever doing this kind of thing at home. The references here being to home grown or home baked efforts. If one enjoys home cooking, you usually do this for your own entertainment and enjoyment. If one is looking for something more upscale or commercial, you don’t usually look for it at home.

Going back to the car analogy. Today, you’re not going to have much luck servicing your own car, unless you have the wherewithal. Same with these sorts of efforts. This effort started off with the purchase of an off-the-shelf solution. While it “looked” OK, the purveyor’s coding was so kack-handed that I gave up. I then found the source of that purveyor’s effort and decided to go with that and do my own coding. Hence, this effort.

There’s still quite a bit of work to be done here. Things like the scaling of the vertical images are all wrong. As far as I am concerned, the site is still excruciatingly slow. That needs to be fixed. And, as always with these efforts, nothing remains static. There are always changes and updates. On the one hand, this creates some excitement and a few challenges along the way. On the other hand, it can be exhausting and a distraction. While it is not time wasted I would far rather be out on the road and doing what I think I do best. But, as I recently said to someone, you cannot tell your story if you don’t have a platform from which to tell it. In a sense [or is it a nutshell], this is what this effort has been about, creating that “platform”. Enjoy…

The basic remit of this, The Lost Years Project, is to raise funds to bring this body of work and other related photography done between 1976 to around 1994 together, to digitise the negatives from which these images are derived and then, to create various products such as prints, print portfolios and books featuring this photography. There is a wealth of photography here that should find its way into the public realm – one way or the other. The PDF eBooks I have on offer here are but a small token of this effort. There’s a lot more from where all this came.

About Rogan Coles
With over four decades of professional working experience in the field, Rogan produces images that are telling and compelling. His expertise in corporate branding and architectural photography has earned him a reputation as an accomplished professional in these fields. On the flipside – Rogan’s passion is social documentary photography and visual storytelling. As a visual storyteller, Rogan brings his own unique perspective to each of his projects, capturing the essence of the story being told. Rogan has worked extensively on architectural, corporate and editorial assignments across Asia, in the UK, Canada and across southern Africa.

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