Learn more about me at nataliemac.com

Lite Brite, pixels, and books

As a kid, my favorite toy was my Lite Brite. The Lite Brite was a special treat that I only got to play with while my two younger sisters took their afternoon naps. My mom was afraid that they’d go crazy with all the little pegs or maybe choke on them, so each afternoon, I’d come home from kindergarten, eat lunch with my sisters, than anxiously wait for them to be sent off to our bedroom to take their afternoon naps. As soon as they were gone, I’d get out the Lite Brite and set about creating fun glowing pictures. Am I the only one who sees the parallel between Lite Brite pegs and pixels on a glowing computer screen?

I also loved to read. I preferred to read books or draw or color to playing outside. I’d often sit quietly in a grassy area of the playground at recess, reading a book. The other kids would get confused and think I was being punished – the idea of reading for fun was so foreign to them. My elementary school library was divided into two sections – one section with books for kids in first through third grade, and another section with books for kids in fourth through sixth grade. We visited the library once a week, and were allowed to take out two books. I think I was in second grade when the librarian gave me special permission to check out books from the fourth through sixth grade section, and it was sometime in third grade that I was allowed to check out six books each week instead of the usual two. I was a big fan of the Boxcar Children, and it wasn’t unusual for me to finish one of the Boxcar Children books in a single day.

The ‘Creative One’

As I entered high school, I spent a lot of time hanging out in the art room, and continued taking art classes way past the time it was required. My parents started introducing me to their friends and coworkers as ‘The Creative One’ and they still do to this day. I’m still not sure if they really mean that they think I’m creative or if they really mean they think I’m an oddball and perhaps some babies were switched at the hospital around the time I was born.

The Internet is Born

I was in college when the internet was born, perhaps one of the last college graduates who used to go to the library with a roll of dimes to do research for term papers. Does anyone else remember that? Making piles and piles of copies of articles from the reference section, then going through those with a highlighter. Research took up well over half the time it took to put a paper together. I’ll never forget when my university’s library got its first set of computers with this amazing capability of going online. We were beside ourselves.

Shortly afterward, I took a chunk of scholarship money and bought my first computer and got hooked up to this wondrous internet through America Online. I might have had the computer all of a week before I discovered that AOL members could have their own web sites. I set about creating my first web site – a marvel of a web site that included animated gifs and a blue background. When friends and family complained that blue hyperlinks were hard to see against my background of choice, I instructed them how to change their default link color preference in their browser.

Webrings and Affiliate Marketing

After a couple of years, I felt as though I had outgrown my first web site and rebuilt it, bigger and better than before. I became an Amazon Associate so that I could link to Amazon’s books and make tons of money from affiliate marketing. I had a “Library” section of my site where I recommended books I had known and loved. I had a puzzle section of the site where each month, I’d feature a few puzzles from different puzzle books (with links to buy them of course). If you wanted the answers to the puzzles, you had to wait for the next month when I’d post answers to the previous month’s puzzles at the same time as I posted the new month’s puzzles. I discovered web rings, and joined as many as I could. A book web ring linked to my Library section. A puzzle web ring linked to my puzzle pages – and visitors started coming.

AOL renamed their member section Hometown AOL and I won awards for having one of the most popular sites. AOL gave me more disk space for my site since I was using three different usernames to keep all my images and pages. A news anchor in a far away city stumbled upon my puzzle page and became obsessed with the puzzles to the point that he talked about my site on the air. It was my first lesson in internet marketing.

I Discover Tables

I started noticing elaborate layouts for web pages, and I started poking around in the HTML to figure out how it was being done. TABLES! What genius! I immediately tore down my own site yet again, and rebuilt it in a complex and beautiful table layout. I started making a few web sites for family and friends. I was definitely hooked. I learned the ins and outs of tables and was able to code up any layout in tables quickly.

Then people started talking about standards and about using CSS. I was working at Penn State University and I started taking some seminars and workshops to learn how to work with this new-fangled CSS stuff. At first, it wasn’t safe to use CSS for positioning – only for setting colors and font faces and that sort of thing. So we kept making table layouts and just using CSS to make the headings blue – because lo and behold – you could change all the headings on the site to red in a single line.

Zen and the Art of CSS

When new browsers came onto the market with better support for CSS-P as it was called in those days, I struggled. I didn’t get it. Tables seemed faster – I could do anything with them, after all. I kept trying to learn CSS-P, but I didn’t see the point, until I discovered the CSS Zen Garden. I was blown away. This was the same HTML file, just different CSS, and I couldn’t believe the diversity and flexibility. I set about learning web standards immediately. It took me some time, but I found some helpful online forums and got it all figured out. I’ve never stopped learning. There are over 50 web-development-related RSS feeds in my reader, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new techniques, ways to make sites more accessible, more usable, more search-engine-friendly, and just all around more useful.

I’ve discovered a real passion for User Experience design – I read case studies of A/B testing, and tweak and play with copy and button sizes and colors until I get better results. I run the Los Angeles WordPress Meetup, and offer seminars and classes, and attend conferences as often as my schedule and my pocketbook will allow.

I’ve worked for big companies and small companies and companies in between. Every job has something new to learn and new opportunities to try new things, but my favorite gigs are building truly useful web sites for small businesses – the kind of sites that are investments that improve the visibility of the business and help get the word out about what makes it unique. I love my job, my work – I love being in a field where learning constantly isn’t just an option, but a requirement. I love having the opportunity to improve the chances that a small business will succeed and thrive. I’m blessed and lucky and I intend to never stop learning.