I am unable to parse these directives to design a sane web site

by Mr. Sheehy

I’ve begun to think I’m living over my head. Unless I stay within some strict boundaries–very strict boundaries–I end up swimming. During a good stretch, I stand on a small but high plateau in the lake of this world, but inevitably I wander from my spot and . . . oops, I find myself desperately splashing back to my little platform.

Tonight I have spent a couple hours online trying to learn from random web sites how to include something called “Server Side Includes” into a web page. The idea is to make changes to a large website without having to change sixteen hundred pages. To speak more tangibly, I am about to generate those sixteen hundred pages for the website of a school, and all of these pages will have a list of related links on the side. I’m not using frames, and if in three weeks or three months we decide to add a link to the list (or take one away), I’d like to be able to change one file one time instead of opening seventeen pages and changing the link in each one.

You can do this using these server side scripts. Essentially, the script allows me to write a simple line of code into a web page that says (in code), “Read this other file and stick it in here.” I include that message in the billion sub pages, and when I want to change something, I just change that “other file.” It’s just like embedding, really, and in concept it’s no problemo, except I can’t figure how to create the proper set of files in my web site’s directory to make the script work.

I am stuck in a situation many of my students likely face every day. I’m reading content and I know so few of the words and jargon that I cannot make sense out of the text. For example, on a seemingly helpful article explaining how to include these scripts, I am told that

Any document with handler of “server-parsed” will be parsed by this module, if the Includes option is set. If documents containing server-side include directives are given the extension .shtml, the following directives will make Apache parse them and assign the resulting document the mime type of text/html:

AddType text/html .shtml
AddHandler server-parsed .shtml

I have put in bold the words that confuse me. For these words, the context has led me to question the meaning discussed and left me with my glasses on the counter, rubbing my eyes. A few of them I think I can pick together a bit–mime, for example, I think I could get past–but for the most part I am lost and can’t find a way to piece together any meaning from this code.

How many of my students feel this way with half the stories I present to them? With their science texts? With their syllabi on the first day of school?

But enough about their plight and empathy; I’ll help them when the time comes. Right now I need to generate some seriously intelligent way to build a site before it’s too late, and I CANNOT FIGURE IT OUT! I have googled this topic at least three times, been to a site called, “Ask Leo,” checked my Facebook account twice for anything new that might distract me, and even explored web hosts for a site I might publish in the future at my own expense.

That site, by the way, is a highly unlikely little venture called Sheehy Productions that would allow me to bring together all the random freelance work I do and offer it formally in one place. Originally I was looking through a web host trying to figure out information about how they read/supply server side scripts, but I became willingly distracted and followed any train of thought I could actually comprehend. Though I’m not likely to spend money to host a site for a company that may not generate any income for me, I explored the idea because at least it made sense.

The clock has now turned over to 12:04am. I need to read another page about scripts before getting some sleep. I have a friend coming over tomorrow with a powerful jackhammer and we’re going to try to fix my basement. This is another over-my-head situation, but in this case some friends from church were there to throw me a life preserver and drag me behind them. Even then, however, I am sure that before I drive away with the compressor and jackhammer, I will have to sign a paper that says I am about to bring home an instrument that could cause serious injury, even death, if not operated properly, and that if I happened to have been up all night the previous day attempting to read odd web design jargon, my ability to operate this equipment will likely be impaired. But that won’t bother me at all, because at least I’ll understand it.

Thanks for reading.

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