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Experiencing Competence Theory

Most of you probably weren’t reading this blog back when I talked about an article I read about Competence Theory. Well, now I’ve experienced it. I know it’s not the first time I’ve experienced it, and there’s absolutely no way it’ll be the last time unless I decide to give up being a thinking, breathing, learning being. (For those of you who didn’t follow the link I provided above, shame on you, and here’s the deal: those who are incompetent are incapable of telling when they do things poorly, are incapable of seeing the differences between their poor work and the work of experts, and are generally overconfident.)

Anyway, I’ve been happily building up my first web site and learning CSS and generally having a grand ol’ time mucking about with code. And in my defense, it’s not too shabby for a first try. (It’s also fun to have a space where I can experiment with cool new things like Meebo Me.) But I’ve learned two very important lessons: I don’t know what I’m doing (yet), and stealing borrowing code and learning from it is dangerous when you don’t know what good code looks like. You may very well “learn” to do some things that aren’t kosher.

Since I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who doesn’t know the rules of the HTML road, here’s one for you. You can only use standard tags. This is true even if the tags you make up seem to work just fine, and even if you see other people making up tags right and left. I still haven’t wrapped my head around why made-up tags are taboo even if they work, but I also remember wondering what the big deal was with Boolean searching when Google seemed to understand me just fine… so I won’t argue. I assume it has to do with the fact that some unenlightened people don’t use Firefox (yet).

I’ve looked through my code again, and I can’t see any more “non-standard” tags (non-standards sounds so much better than “fake”). I’ve come to terms with using the <'span'> tag with a defined class, even thought that’s so much uglier. And I’ve learned that whenever I learn a new, cool trick from someone, I need to run it past a known and identified expert in the field because I obviously can’t tell what’s what.

This is what I love about blogging. How would I ever have learned this stuff otherwise? I should be getting continuing education credits for this.

And thanks, Steve, for your help. You’re the best.

Published inTeaching and Learning


  1. Steve Steve

    As far as I can tell, when a person “makes up” a tag, the broswer does as best it can to interpret what was intended (and some browsers do better than others). So if a person puts <someRandomThingIMadeUp title=”W00t!”>, the browser says “I have no idea what ‘someRandomThingIMadeUp’ is supposed to be, but I *do* know what a title is, so I’ll work with that.”

    As for why web standards are important, the standard text on that is Jeffrey Zeldman’s Designing With Web Standards. I admit to just skimming that book. My personal standards “how-to” book is Dan Cedarholm’s Web Standards Solutions, which is a great book for you right now, since you have already been getting your hands dirty with CSS.

    Cedarholm has another book called Bulletproof Web Design which looks very good, but I haven’t got my hands on it yet.

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