The geek at night: learning CSS


Have you ever “viewed source” on a webpage? It’s frightening. All these nice layouts and pretty fonts… and then you flip things around, and suddenly it’s all a plain text mess. Ever wonder what it is, what all those little “” and weird codes and values mean? Probably not. Which is very wise. But if you have…

Current Site School, Fool
Then odds are you’re looking at the “old school” code, where people used thingies called tables to design webpages. Tables were never meant for this. It was a workaround, and worked okay for a while. All in all though, it was not a good idea. For years geeks have been working up better ways to design and present webpages, and CSS was the solution. But what is CSS?

Don’t ask. But if you’re still wondering, CSS is what you use to design webpages, from how you lay everything out to how the fonts look. I’ve dabbled in it before, but it’s time for me to really knuckle down and figure this stuff out.

Hitting the book
Naturally, to do so I got a book: Dan Shafer’s HTML Utopia: Designing Without Tables Using CSS. Currently I’m 160 of 488 pages in. For a loony like me, this stuff is riveting. He breaks things down nice and simply, step-by-step but with just enough left out to make you do some thinking yourself. I’m only a few chapters along, and I’m already starting to play with some code.

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So far, I can tell you that CSS stands for “Cascading Style Sheets,” it actually is pretty easy to learn and start implementing, and I’m very, very glad I took an ice cream break earlier. But seriously — I’ve been working on a template, originally a mocked-up table-based version. Now I’m going back through, ripping out the table code, and replacing it with CSS. It’s taken me less time to do all that, than it did to work up the original blank table code.

And I’m not even halfway through the book.

Still loads to learn
What this also means though, is that I’ve learned just enough to be able to really, really screw up a webpage. That’s a good sign, and there just might be hope — you always start by learning just enough to get yourself in trouble. It goes for websites, cars, martial arts, and pretty much anything you try to learn.

For now it’s bedtime, but tomorrow I’ll be back. Shafer uses a good mix of humor and fact to help us CSS newbies better understand how CSS is an improvement over tables. He’s taken the breadth and complexity of CSS, its basic properties, and the syntax of CSS design, and broken it down beautifully.

Granted, that’s just a fraction of stuff in this book that many might consider drier than a hangover in Death Valley. But don’t let the droopy eyes in the photo fool you. It’s 11:30pm — I’m sleepy, not bored. Yet I’m tired because I’ve been slogging through definitions and examples and am tuckered out in that strange way you only get when you’re doing something you enjoy.

Feeling brave? Want to move beyond Front Page (waaaaaaay beyond)? Get your own: HTML Utopia: Designing Without Tables Using CSS

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Anthony St. Clair - Travel Fantasy Author / Craft Beer Writer / Business Copywriter

Author and copywriter Anthony St. Clair has specialized in online content since 2000, blogged since 2004 and is the author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series.

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