Tech writing, Proofreading and Other Web Services

Rev. 2010-01-09

Return to Sitemap


I am available for proofreading existing sites, researching and writing material, and designing web sites within the limits of my methods.

This site contains thousands of words that I have written over the years. I have a BS in English with minors in Mechanical Engineering, Math and Physics. I have a secondary teaching certificate in English, Math, Physics and Drama (and an MFA in Theater.) Down through the years I have had several dozen articles and review published under editorial review and have had two short plays published that made me some money. From 1977 to 1994 I was self-employed doing small business programming, mostly in various versions of BASIC but also using assembly languages, FORTRAN, and COBOL. I worked with companies more in the manner of a CPA or attorney than as a software company.  I was born in 1942.

I can create or review what you have done and provide services at reasonable fees. I do not accept work I can't get done within an accepted deadline..

Mike Firth
Dallas Texas



Making a Site Like Mine

Titles as Sentences
While file names may have to be short and cryptic, Titles (inside the HTML) do not. Making them as 40 character sentences means that the indexing programs, including the one I use, will produce more readable results. And the sentence will display at the top of the screen in the browser.
Use a good Headline
A snappy headline will attract the eye and give information. One of my indexing programs pulls out headlines and makes a link file. If the first word of the title is relevant to the topic, it makes it easier to remember the topic of the site. Making a Site Like Mine is better than How My Site was Made because Making is more to the topic than How.
Design an Outline or Tree
Know first what chunks you want your site to encompass then work on filling in the chunks. My site does not show this outstandingly well, but I do have a vague idea of what territories are mine and what I want in them.
A site should have depth as well as length - from a series of base pages, it should be possible to deal with a series of topics. I dislike sites that spoon feed information as if the screen does not have a scroll bar and require that I click a Next Button just to get a couple of more paragraphs that I have to wait for, which images could have been loading while I was reading the first part.
If you provide Prev. & Next buttons, make it clear where they go. I rarely use a Top Link, since anyone using it probably can get there faster with Ctrl-Home or pushing the scroll bar.
Long Pages Have Jumps
If you do long pages, as I prefer, then add a Table of Contents like listing of Links at the top of the topics in the page. If the page is arranged alphabetically, a line of links to each letter section is useful.
Remember the Search Engines
A lot of people are going to jump into the middle of the site because search engines can find everything. My site will come up on almost any search related to glass. Provide a way on every page to get to the top of the site (Sitemap in my case) and if Outline or Tree to the beginning of the branch or major topic. I am not as good with this. Sitemap is easy, I just wrote a program to look at every file and if it didn't have a link to Sitemap, it put one in.
Xeno and other programs will provide a Site outline you can cut and paste if nothing else works.
Provide Lots of Hypertext links
This can be done semi-automatically with assistance from programming languages or manually. For example, a search program can return a list of all the words used on the site for building a glossary and then a program can take the words in the glossary and go back and turn all of them into links to the glossary word. This also allows people who land on a page from a search engine to go places in your site.
Use Accessories to Build Indexes
A number of languages or tools will extract information that can be easily formatted, if nothing else, dump it into a Text file and edit it in Word and save it out as HTML. On my site I index images, headlines, titles and file names.
Specify the size of images
This allows all the text to load while the browser reserves space for the image to load later. If a size is not specified, the browser waits till the image is fully loaded before continuing the text.
Compromise on Image Quality
A thumbnail can be so small that it only serves as a link. I prefer not to use tiny images, but have little need of huge detailed images, so I reduce the number of colors and set the resolution at a moderate level 72-100 pixels per inch. If the size of the image is sharply reduced by the size chosen above, then I make the image a link to itself, so clicking on it produces a full sized view in most browsers. Only if useful, by adding detailed text or mouse-over, do I consider an HTM file just for showing the larger image.
Use the ALT option on images
This provides a text which will appear above the site of the picture if it is slow to load, so a user may skip looking at a slow loading image if desired. It also gives basic information to blind users and to those who turn graphics loading off to save time online with a slow connection. It also is key to building an index for those who want to jump to images.
No Frames
Some browsers do not support frames. Bookmarking a site using frames is difficult. I think search engines don't point properly to the right page when they find a reference, only to the home page without directions. Most sites using frames use them in a way that could easily produce the same result with a few lines of header or footer code added to each file.


Beginning HTML

Word will produce HTML files, but the few that I have seen are very messy (lots of repeated formatting, not enough "intelligence" to start a format and keep it until changed.)
I would suggest, unless you want to do a Windows Machine and Front Page Express, etc., that you get a simple text editing program out (Mac should be fine) and get a browser going. I am assuming you can hop between them on the Mac (you have enough memory) as we can in Windows.
Get a copy of HTML for Dummies or any other text you are willing to live with. (I got that one because there is no extra trash. I looked at it in the store before I bought it.)
Write a simple HTML program and save it to disk. Open it in the browser.
Change the program. Refresh it in the browser and observe.
Here is a simple program (the simplest official, I believe)
Hello. World<br>

Almost all of HTML consists of pairs of commands that enclose choices, the closing symbol just being the opening one with
a slash in front of it. <a> </a> <p> </p> What a program like FPExpress does is automate parts of it - like inserting images and making links. It makes handling tables much easier.
Some times it is not clear exactly where a command's start is because extra added features are inserted
 <a href="mike.htm">hi mike</a> but you learn.



It's laborious and far less flexible than
standard page-layout programs in terms of typographic and other details. I
also dug out a text-editing program I purchased last year, Adobe PageMill
It is easy to see now how these programs ride on the underlying code.

Much of what you are getting in PageMill (I think) is what I am getting in FPExpress and can find in other programs: they are not "text-editing" programs in the terminology I have grown up with. (I am, by the way, 58.) Text editing {TE) is plain Jane shoving letters around. There are people (including me occasionally) who do HTML this way, looking at the results in a browser by saving the file and refreshing the browser.
The next step up is word processing. A simple word processing program "knows" about margins, tabs, indentations, line lengths, word wraps, etc. Most word processing programs hide the codes that hold this knowledge although most allow a skilled user to see where they are (like - I think I recall - Alt F3 Reveal Codes in Word Perfect) and edit them. When a word processing program allows "Save As Text" it is doing a conversion from WP to TE, following some simple rules about ends of lines, etc.
The next step up is WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get - Wooseewigue) - Seeing on the screen a good or excellent approximation of what will appear in paper. Now in the Mac world, this is all you are used to because the Mac was introduced after dot matrix printers became cheap enough to lay down dots fast enough to move the image from the screen to the paper. Until WYSIWYG came on hand, about 1982-83 in the PC world, all WP involved having codes that influenced a printer, the only way to see what the printed copy would look like was to print it. To save this to a file (without the file being huge - a graphics image of the page) requires complex codes for font, kerning, size, image location, etc.
But HTML is designed to offer to many different machines the ability to display a good or better approximation of a well designed page - what the page looks like depends on who is viewing it - I may have color or not - I may have a different choice of font, or not - I may do a text only display - as when I am blind and having the screen read to me - as my wife does in fact.
Therefore in HTML, the codes are wide open and (mostly) agreed upon. There are actually levels of codes - the good old simple ones, the mildly hot shot newer ones and the cutting edge, drive at least some people crazy, codes.
It is possible to make a perfectly good and fairly enjoyable page with about 6 HTML code/command groups - Headline <H1></H1> thru <H6>, Line break, <BR><P></P>; Structure <html><body</body></html> and the href and img src commands.
It is the browser (or editing program) that takes those codes and images them on the screen - perhaps different for each person. In the editing program, you can use drag n'drop, click on pointers, etc., to "edit" the screen and the HTML editing program makes codes for you as you work.
The power of a WYSIWYG editor is that you can drag and drop and see instantly what is happening. This was the case when I couldn't figure out how to get text running down the left side of an image, when I dragged it until it happened and then went and looked - the image source command was in the middle of the text paragraph!

I have one or two questions for when you have time to send an answer. If I
begin to do a site using PageMill/FPE, is it later possible to insert other
instructions written in code?

Yes (assuming PageMill makes HTML code) I constantly call up an existing page, drop into the Source Code viewer to see why something is done in a particular way, and fine tune or correct something that I can't seem to do in FPE - for example, get two images separated that have no space between them, or untangle some NAME = mess I made. FPE allows entry of unchecked text so people knowing advanced features can use them (or learn them.)

In particular, I have not yet found in
PageMill anything on how (if at all) it can handle a key-word database. I
believe you used shareware for this element of your site, so it seems that a
site might be a combination of elements: some written on a text-editor, some
inserting other pieces of html coding, some using other programs (e.g.
shareware); and some, perhaps, even copied and pasted from codes used for
existing sites. Is that an accurate picture?

Simply yes.
More complexly - the keyword database was built by a search engine run by a company that is offering me a free service and it is kept on their machine someplace - their machine comes in and looks at my ISP's machine and makes up the database. When you do a search, you get results, I get a service and a list of words searched for sent to me with an ad and they get ?* (see below) To add this, I just signed up and cut and pasted the code you find on the page.
When a person looks at my start page (not the site map) the counter at the bottom of the page shows a count. This count is kept by another company that takes a command sent from my page when loaded, adds 1 and returns the count. I get a small service and a report on how many accesses have gone on during the week, you get an suggestion of the popularity of my site and they get ?*
I have no banner ads. They are added by cutting and pasting. They pay money to the site if a viewer clicks on them. They deliver customers to the source of the ad. Depending on the ad, the code to make the ad banner on the screen is a small program - Java - running on the viewer's machine. This code is typically loaded from a source shown in the HTML code and run.
Finally, there a programs that run on the ISP web server - I have none of these because I don't have the right on my server. These are the programs where you type in a product description (Pliers) and instead of just a set of links, you get a whole new web page showing part numbers, costs, delivery time and links to images or to buy. The HTML code delivered your search word to a "server side" task handler, which called up the info in a database search - the results returned were delivered to a formatting program that made an HTML page that was sent to your machine for display.
So finally, to have an interactive result, somewhere on the Internet you have to have the right to run a program to return results - I pre-format all my stuff off line and up load it.

I have told you about the Mac/Windows thing. I continue to lean towards
making the dreaded change from Mac to Windows, precisely because of things
like the shareware issue, and also with a view to communicating with other
servers when it comes time to upload the site. I know I can use the Mac
platform for much of this work, but the problem comes in communication with

I don't know about the limits of shareware on the Mac. Internet protocols should allow complete freedom in creating pages and using ftp (I use CuteFTP) via a Mac program to upload them. Whether this is easy or tough on a Mac, I can't say.

I shall continue to work on planning my site and practicing with both text
editing and html code over the next week or 10 days, by which time I will
probably have purchased some hardware to run Windows.

Thanks Mike, for your continuing feedback.






Contact Mike Firth