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Joe Crawford

From Respiratory Therapy to Pixel Therapy.
Joe believes the web is a good thing.
"It's about what you do with the materials at your disposal"

About you

What did you do before the Web?

Before the web I was a Respiratory Therapist. That's the derivation of the "Lung" part of "ArtLung".

Prior to being an RT I was directionless. As a 15 year old kid I fell in love with what I could do with the Amiga Computer. I put together resumés for family members and did computer graphics and some animation. That was at 15 or 16 years old. My first job was in a bank, then I worked in a library for a while. These were key formative jobs for me, as I started to learn about business, customers, the whole enchilada.

Before the web, I read Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (in 1983), Gibson's Neuromancer (in 1984), Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net (in 1989), and Clifford Stoll's Cuckoo's Egg (in 1989). This reading mentally prepared me for the idea of a global information network. I had an awareness that there was this internet "thing" that eventually I'd meet up with. I think I internalized that the net was necessarily going to be influenced by the same kind of forces that influence our daily lives -- government and business especially. I also realized that cyberspace would be globally available to anyone who cared to jack into the network. The cliché that "on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" should be a source for celebration, liberation, but also caution.

How did you find the web?

I found it at World Cafe in Santa Monica, California in 1995. It was a bar and internet cafe. I would go there late at night and surf what must have been Netscape 2 browsers. Surfing and searching and playing on irc was so cool. The concept of talking to people around the world on these little text interfaces was mind-blowing. HAM radio had been around for decades, but this was on computers, which made it better.

I bought Laura Lemay's "Teach Yourself HTML 3.2 in 14 Days" book and wrote my first HTML page longhand while I was working the night shift at a hospital in downtown L.A. The next morning I keyed it into SimpleText on my Mac and was stunned that it worked. I've been hooked since.

Why are you here?

To explore and to learn and to share. I like contributing to something that is "greater than the sum of the parts." I also take a great deal of pleasure from sites I've built for people which actually do things and make a change in their lives. I'm probably proudest of WebSanDiego.org, which I started 3 years ago now (it's March 2002 as I write this). I threw it together after having knocked around in various online forums for a while -- Dennis Wilen's Web405, WebMonster's web design list, and I remember really enjoying Usenet. I particularly like being part of good online communities. The benefits of meeting people you would not ordinarily meet are wonderful.

In the 1980's there was a PBS show hosted by a cartoonist - he'd have a guest on and they'd chat and draw. Wonderful, short-lived show. I remember someone on that show saying that when he was coming up he thought that having the right pen would be the thing that would turn him into a "professional" like a Herblock or Charles Schulz. But at some point he said he realized it's not about the "right" brush or pen, it's about what you do with the materials at your disposal.

Methods of production

What do you use to create your sites?

I'm partial to TextPad and BBEdit . Also emacs. You can read the artlung.com colophon for a list of the tools I use to build my personal projects. I suppose at one time or another I've touched a bit of everything - from HTML markup to JavaScript to server side scripting to databases - from Windows to *nix servers. I also bill myself as a designer, though I do less of that than I'd like. I end up doing a lot of crazy tasks -- I love a good challenge. Example: I built a word count of a hundreds-of-pages website for a potential client out of the unix tools -- linklint, lynx, curl, xpdf, and wc. It was wild to be able to mix and match tools in ways I had not imagined. The capacity to find new ways to use skills we have is invaluable.

About the Web

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the web?

Empowerment. The ability to give back to community. I think being able to re-create yourself is amazing. It certainly has been for me.

What do you see as the greatest dangers?

The main danger to the web is from those who think empowerment of individuals is a problem. People with an interest in taking away personal empowerment use financial and political influence to destroy or hobble the Internet. The battles over copyright, fair use, encryption, basically anything the EFF is squawking about, are about that collision. Another danger to the web is that it will become a mirror of the problems we have in the real world.

A third danger is that companies sometimes have an interest in undermining the data formats we use on the web by making the web proprietary. This is why I am proud to have gotten involved with the Web Standards Project when it was first forming. That's a continuous battle as new standards come into use. It's important that no one company have the capacity to control what happens on the web.

What would you say to folks who want to work the web?

You have to have the ganas to work on web stuff. All you need is desire. The technology changes frequently, and you have to keep up. The tools we use are always playing catch-up ball with best practices in accessibility, standards compliance, usability, design, browsers. If you keep your eye on the state of the art, work hard, and try to have fun with it, you're set.

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Joe Crawford
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