About: A short site history

0. The original blurb

This document replaces an index page section which, from 1995 to 1997, read as:

In the beginning, this web site was cheerfully, shamelessly ripped off Luc Lanthier’s own homepage. It was then heavily customized and modified by hand (with the help of a UNIX text editor and a hand crank.) There are no pictures or tables, and I like it that way. So there. All rights, 1995-1997, Christian Sauvé.

1. February 1995: The genesis

Allow me to hop in the time machine and go back to the very beginning of this web site.

  • The Time: February 1995, really early in the morning.
  • The Place: One of the University of Ottawa‘s Computer Lab, deep in the basement of the Thompson Residence building. Small windows near the ceiling of the lab let a few rays of sunshine enter this technological dungeon from time to time, but as it’s still winter the whole event takes place under harsh fluorescent lights.
  • The Characters: Me, but most importantly Luc Lanthier, a classmate at the time. Luc is/was a Unix enthusiast, and enthusiasm is/was also one of his most characteristic traits. He just can’t/couldn’t tell you something simply: He has/had to shake your sleeve until you think/thought an earthquake’s taking place, almost drag you to his workstation, where you’ll try to piece up together what his latest gadget does from a torrent of (enthusiastic) techno-jargonic discourse.
  • The Events: Don’t blame me; I was almost asleep when Luc stormed in the lab at 07:45, disturbing what must have been a Gopher session or a telnet connection to my National Capital Freenet account to check up on newsgroups. “Hey, guess what I did this week-end?!” he asked. As usual, I didn’t have to answer. After a few minutes, I was able to deduce that Luc had a Home Page. A what? Oh, you mean that Web thing? (Strange name, that!) At the time, it seemed pretty useless to me. Remember that I hadn’t quite woken up yet. Useless or not, though, I just couldn’t help myself. I held out as I could, but finally asked the fateful question a week or two later: “Luc, what did you do to get your home page?”

2. 1995-1997: The UfO years

1995 was the year the Web gathered forces before striking America with readily-accessible pornography, bomb-making instructions and -according to popular media- almost nothing else. Meanwhile, somewhere in cyberspace emerged one relatively clean page: Mine.

Lynx was THE browser. Pico was my editor and Luc’s page was my inspiration. I laboriously learned to cast “chmod 755 *.*” and to master the arcane language of the wizards: Unix. The design that emerged is still curiously almost the same framework that defines today’s site: An Home, a page about me, and a page about my writings. Over the months, things have been tweaked to a good degree of effectiveness, but the principle stays the same. Whether this demonstrates my good planning or my stubbornness remains to be seen.

Even today, I try to remain faithful to the guiding principles of my early pages: Clarity, Content and Compatibility: I aim for the dense paragraphs of text, the ability to be read by every browser from Lynx to Mozilla, the classical -some say boring- linear layout. Let my page be a manifesto for the HTMinimaLists of this (virtual) world. I’m a text-oriented guy, not a graphical artist.

Though the history of the site, even in these early days, I have considered graphics to be expendable.  While I have often used them as graphical headers, no information was ever lost if they were turned off. Some of this is a reflection of the software I was using during my University of Ottawa days: the holy Pico/Notepad + Lynx trilogy remains, even today, a favorite development platform. I fiddled around with such programs as Corel Draw! (version 1.0 to 1.5) and Image Composer (version 2.0 to 4.0) for graphics, plus Word and Wordperfect for text composition. I briefly flirted with frames, Java, complex tables and such doodads in April 1997 as an alternate page, only to take it all down for “version 2.0” a few months later given my lack of interest in these less-than-useful things.

I received a few comments about my page in those early years.

The strangest comment I’ve ever had was from a gentleman named “Jon Ray” (name changed to protect from Web searches), who emailed me from a temporary account to say something like “Well, I’ve never had a story written about me before!” I stared at the screen for a while, trying to figure out what he was trying to say, then realized that the protagonist of one story I had put online was in fact named “Jon Ray”. Weird. And no, Mr. “Ray”, the story wasn’t written about you, unless you’re a sadistic Web Critic who takes delight in the suicides of devastated artists. (Hey, it was a Science-Fiction story… Since then, a lot of other “Jon Rays” have appeared on the Web, but none have emailed me… yet.)

I must have had at least ten emails about my family name. While common enough in French-Canada, Sauvé is somewhat unusual elsewhere in North America. And so it seemed in those early days that every Sauvé who got an Internet account first searched on Altavista for our family name. And what page came up first? Guess… Fortunately (or not) this is no longer the case. (FAQ answer: Sauvé is pronounced “So-Vey”!)

I’ve had a few celebrity comments, a comic book writer (Mark S.) from Montreal who searched for his name on the Internet (shortly after Altavista went on-line at the end of 1995) and found a convention report (now offline) where I quoted him verbatim. “What I really that smart?” he commented. Another essay writer (Paul R.) noticed that I had called him “infuriating” and was relieved to see that someone had noticed…

From receiving email from people who had seen my page from the web to actively using search engines to track mentions of my page elsewhere on the web, there is only a slight matter of degree, a step soon taken.

I was floored to see that my review of Harry Turtledove’s The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump was cited twice, once on a Turtledove bibliography, once on a person’s “favorite books” page. Given that this is the only Turtledove book that I’ve read, this is quite amazing…

I’ve had to remove a mention of my page on another person’s site: The site (now defunct) was about SF author Samuel Delany, and mentioned a French review of his novel Dhalgren. Since it wasn’t a very positive review (and since even he admitted he couldn’t read French!), I respectfully asked him to remove the mention, which he gracefully (and promptly!) accepted.

One particularly weird incident (tangentially related to the above) happened when I was EgoSurfing on Altavista, looking for pages mentioning my name.  I found a Science-Fiction writer who had included my review of his short story as promotional blurb! The kicker? Attribution was given to “Christian Sauvé, University of Ottowa Review” Needless to say, this magazine doesn’t exist, and the only thing linking my review to the U of O was that it was hosted on aix2.uottawa.ca…  The blurb is still out there, used to
promote the writer’s short story collection. I still haven’t worked up my courage to tell him of my complete lack of literary respectability…

Another ego-surfing surprise came when I discovered not only my page on a complete stranger’s “Favorite Personal Pages” list, but also found out from one of their transcripts that France’s Canal+ had apparently done a TV show on French Science Fiction sites… and featured mine among others. My first thought was that they were really desperate if they had to use my site…

3. 1998-2002: The Xoom-NBCI/Geocities era

In November 1998, I finally had to face the fact that I had graduated from the University of Ottawa. The ultimate consequence of this was the dissolution of my UNIX account which contained my Web site. (Who cares about the diploma? I want my web site!!) Fortunately, I had ample notice of the unplugging, so I painlessly transferred the whole site to Xoom after a thorough examination of the major free hosting services. Xoom won because, at the time, they don’t use pop-up banners.  (They eventually settled on some god-awful frames…)

Version 3.0, along with my migration to Xoom, saw the abandonment of Pico (sniff…) and the use of FrontPage to unify, harmonize and double-check the site as a while.  I was shocked at how many mistakes there were. Every spell-check was a blow to my self-esteem.

When, in September 2000, xoom.com disappeared to become “NBCi.com”, I decided that if my web page was going to be an advertisement for someone, it might as well be for a new media company rather than some obsolete corporate empire.  Geocities.com came up as the best of the lot, despite occasional outages, so that’s where the site well, quickly undergoing some major changes [version 4.0] at the same time.

As the dot-com crash took the wind out of free web services, geocities.com decided to take away FTP services for non-paying users. I decided to bite the bullet and actually buy my own web-hosting services. At the same time, I began porting the site over from a table-based layout to a fully-compliant CSS/XHTML-standard design. Thus was born christian-sauve.com, and version 5.0 of this web site.

4. Why a web site?

It’s a question that pops up every so often.

It happened on the first day of one of my (summer) job: July 1996, Ottawa. Job title? Internet Researcher for Status of Women Canada. As in most federal department, they always use a part of the first day to show the new summer intern around. So I’m introduced to everyone and their cubicles with the same tagline: “Christian’s going to work on the Internet site. […] He even has his own web page!” Everything goes well until one particularly smart person asks the ultimate question: “Why?”

A good answer would have been something like “Because I can”, or even “why not?” But frankly, the true reason is far less idealistic:

To show off.

(Luc Lanthier read this and gravely stated “That’s the true Hacker’s Motivation, Christian”.)

I consider the Internet to be a terribly impersonal medium. How can you trust a person’s words if you don’t know him/her? With anonymity comes a loss of respect: To know is to trust.

Homepages are an exceptional way of broadcasting your identity all over the globe: It’s a business card with an infinite area, it’s a newsletter without costly reproduction costs, it’s a small personal speech that can be accessed from almost anywhere, anytime.

How can someone, who fancies himself an apprentice-writer, resist this medium of expression? I couldn’t. And this is the result. This page isn’t built to show off the Web: It’s propaganda for myself. This constraint has an effect not only on the content of this site, but also on the way it is publicized.

This homepage is properly indexed in Google, but otherwise the only place you’ll see it referenced is on a few friend’s pages and, most importantly, in my .signature. That’s it. My goal isn’t to make the whole world come to my page, but to let other people who wish to know me better have a small idea of who I am.

Identity. Self-expression. The essence of being. Who would have thought philosophy was a guiding factor in Web design?

5. 2004-????: The adventure continues

For the rest of the story, hop on to Turning Pro, the story of how christian-sauve got its dot-com. Then look at the What’s New Archives and have fun with the Site Reports!