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COLUMN

My First Time

Akshay Patil

I guess I did it partially because I was tired of everyone making fun of me, not to mention all the underlying peer pressure. I mean, everyone does it, from biology to economics to political science majors. And of course, almost all of the computer science majors do it.

People always assumed that I did it too; I guess I’m just that sort of guy. You can imagine their surprise when I told them that not only did I not do it, but I didn’t even know how to. “It’s so easy!” they’d exclaim. “I’ve been doing it since middle school.” Finally I caved in and experimented with it this summer after I had finished with my job. I’m an addict now, but I don’t have as much time to spend on it now that classes have started.

Yes, it’s true; this MIT computer science major had never created a Web site until his sophomore year of college. Sad, isn’t it? I’d programmed in Scheme, C, C++, and Java, but I’d never gone through the trouble of learning HTML.

I did have to make a Web site as part of a project for my HASS class last semester. It was a group project, and I was a computer science major, so the task was naturally assigned to me. Instead of learning HTML and making a good website, I succumbed to laziness and made a horrible site using Netscape Composer (at this point, half of the MIT community simultaneously cringes and thinks “Well, at least he didn’t use Microsoft Word”). Then, early on in the summer I decided that my then 50 MB of space on Athena was going to waste, so I made a flimsy, worthless, one-page Web site using Microsoft Word (at this point, all the real computer scientists have stopped reading this article in disgust, and are rapidly making their way to the nearest toilet in order to throw up).

Finally I got my act together and made myself a real website. It definitely looks like a “first try” website, I have lots of little HTML goodies that contribute very little to the site, but are there because I feel the need of proving that I can do it -- a very common first-site-ever symptom.

My hacker friends (the ones who give me a verbal lashing when I mention that I’m considering adding frames to my site) hate it, because I have an intro page (with an animated gif file) and I use images everywhere. “Now I can’t view your page in a text-only web browser!” they complain.

“You don’t even have a cell phone,” I retort. It is beyond me why anyone would want to access my site via a cell phone or PDA in the first place. The site is utterly void of content, except for <warning! shameless plug imminent!> an incomplete archive of my past Tech columns.

I also have the novice habit of checking my guestbook every 10 minutes, and I’m always annoyed when people tell me they liked my website but don’t leave a message for me there. (At this point, Akshay realizes that he hasn’t checked his guestbook for a whole day, and immediately pops open a Web browser to take a look) As I was saying, the page definitely needs a lot of work before even comes remotely close to resembling the work of a competent individual, but at least I won’t inspire those incredulous looks anymore. It also gives me another thing to do while avoiding my problem sets.

It gives you a sense of pride and arrogance when you come across a poorly designed page and think to yourself, “My site kicks that site’s donkey.” Creating your own website also makes you appreciate the work and skill that goes into a well made website, although it becomes somewhat tempting to make your site just as phenomenal by stealing the source code (not that I condone that sort of action, I’m just saying, you know, one could hypothetically do it).

You are most probably going to make a website at some point, and you’ve now got 100 MB of free space just sitting on a Athena server somewhere. Might as well make the most of it. Come on, everyone’s doing it.