Blasts from the Old Job

FTPIn the nearly 4½ years since I began my day job, which I suppose I can’t call “new” anymore, I have hardly worked on what was the centre of my existence for several years before: my home-grown TextStyleM content management system. In fact, over the years I have even let go most of my clients, only creating a new TextStyleM submodule for one client last year and amending some of the MySQL queries in the CMS as a result of a major upgrade of the LAMP (Linux / Apache / MySQL / PHP-Perl) kernels on the server where my remaining clients’ sites reside. However, I have been keeping relatively current in web development with PHP/MySQL, as I have developed a series of applications for my day job — the initiative that earned me that big recognition/cruise last winter. I say “relatively current” because I haven’t changed the software I use — a text editor and FTP client — in about a decade because, really, a text editor is just a text editor and anything that we see online can ultimately be coded by hand.

About two weeks ago, one of my remaining clients came to me for help about uploading material in a new subdirectory within its domain. The client wanted access to upload the material on its own, which means giving FTP access. Normally it would be easier to have the client send me the stuff to upload, but I didn’t “fight” (because I didn’t feel like it) the assurance that “my neighbour and web developer is very familiar with FTP,” even though that statement sent chills down my spine and reminded me of how, a decade ago, I would have people say to me, “My 13-year-old nephew knows all about websites and even created his own webpage, so I’m sure he can help us update once ours is up.” (That’s what got me working on TextStyleM in the first place.) The only warning I gave is that if this guy screws things up, I won’t be able to fix anything until I return to Montréal late this week.

And sure enough, the phone started ringing around 8:30 this morning. But I’m on effin’ vacation and only got up and called the client shortly before noon. As I expected, everything that was “wrong” was totally out of my control, from changing on the template what’s between the bloody <TITLE> tags to correctly sending the files via FTP. Plus, wouldn’t you know it: the site in the subdirectory looks almost fine in Internet Explorer but like total shit in Firefox. I know this is a snooty comment on my part, but I can’t help wonder if this neighbour/web developer is merely using a Mac-equivalent of FrontPage of old without having a clue what the fuck is happening in the background.

This reminds me of my biggest technical weaknesses: I freely admit that, design-wise, I suck. And I always lean towards pure server-side coding rather than fancier (and, I also admit, often more user-friendly) client-side scripting. But, to this day, I seldom fall into the trap of browser-specific compliance issues, or not being able to read a CSS stylesheet, or, for that matter, unwittingly uploading files in ASCII versus binary mode or vice versa.

Additionally, as I mentioned to BeeGoddessM earlier this week, I’m reminded of how sad I feel about having essentially abandoned TextStyleM. As I use a server installation of WordPress to write this blog, I see how it’s a formidable CMS for this kind of online publishing, but I also see how TextStyleM had content management features far beyond anything I’ve seen in other any other CMS. For instance, if an image was deleted, TextStyleM would scan the entire site and REMOVE every reference to that image to prevent gibberish code or a broken image on the affected page(s). Plus, publishing a site in two languages is easy as shit with TextStyleM. However, as BeeGoddessM pointed out five years ago, the interface of my CMS needed to change to become more like the other CMSs out there. I started working on that makeover and it would have kicked ass had I had the time and energy to bring it to fruition. But work and other life-altering events intervened, so it never happened.

Despite how stupid the day job has become recently, I definitely prefer the steady paycheque over the uncertainty of freelancing. But I still feel some sadness at seeing thousands upon thousands of hours of work not leading to anything significant today.