Final Report for the Cal Poly STC Web Site Practicum

by Steven Aoki
June 11, 1998
ENGL 418 (Technical Writing Practicum)--Matthew Novak
Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo

Figure 1.1: The introductory page on Cal Poly STC's web site.
For my Technical Writing Practicum, I designed a new World Wide Web site for Cal Poly's Society for Technical Communication club (see Figure 1.1).

I began by evaluating the old STC web site at First, I had trouble finding the site since the designer hid it within the "Technical Communication at Cal Poly" site. Additionally, I could not identify any difference between "The Society for Technical Communication" and "Technical Communication at Cal Poly" since the two sites merged so thoroughly. I did not even know whether Cal Poly had an STC club since the button that linked to the STC club site read "local," which could mean anything. Third, the changing menu bars and designs on each page disoriented me and made me wonder whether I was still on the same site. Fourth, the vague categories confused me, e.g., the site listed the members in a section called "information" instead of a section called "members." Finally, the site looked outdated as most of the links no longer worked.

After the evaluation, I planned a new site. I wanted one autonomous web site that clearly defined Cal Poly's STC and its exact relationship to "Technical Communication at Cal Poly." I also projected a descriptive menu bar, a consistent document design on every page, new links, and a current membership list.

My first big decision involved the utilization of Javascript in the HTML. While Javascripts greatly improve the interactivity in World Wide Web pages, they convolute the source code (making it illegible to others), do not work in the older browsers, and occasionally crash people's systems. Ultimately, I decided to use it with the rationale that Cal Poly STC should stay in synch with new technologies. Although useful techniques like "rollovers" (buttons that change when the mouse rolls over them) do not work in Internet Explorer, text browsers, or Netscape browsers without Java plug-ins, the buttons still operate upon clicking them. So viewers with incompatible browsers could still navigate through the pages just fine. In retrospect, I still feel I made the right decision.

The second and more important decision involved the usage of "frames." Frames divide the page into pieces. Typically, one piece could house a menu bar that would always stay the same, and any menu choice clicked on would bring up the page in another piece. Frames become advantageous for sites that possess many pages, as the webmaster can edit the menu bar only one time. Netscape versions under 2.0 and text browsers do not support frames, and frames convolute directories with at least three files instead of one.

Ultimately, I decided not to use frames for two reasons. First, frames split the entire page in half and my menu bar did not extend that far-so I would have to sacrifice that sizeable portion of space under the menu bar to use frames. Second, with a separate yet identical menu bar on each page, I could void out the menu choice that describes the page the viewer currently lies on. That way, the viewer can always know which page they're on by glancing at the menu bar. In retrospect, I should have used frames. It has become a pain in the neck to edit nine different menu bars on nine different pages.

For the menu bar, I ultimately decided to split categories into the following:

For all sub-sections of those sites, I inserted a "back button" with a Cal Poly STC logo to let viewers know that they still lay on Cal Poly STC's site.

I took my first step by creating an introductory page that would serve as the template for future pages. I experimented with various STC logos of different colors and styles, including the one I drew for Ali Sholer's "Technical Communication at Cal Poly" site. In the end, I settled on a traditional, orange "STC" logo overlapped by a "Cal Poly" logo. It looked more simple and professional compared to my extravagant book logo. For the background, I rejected a disconcerting STC wallpaper logo (see Figure 1.2) and a bizarre cyberspace-looking mesh for a resume-stock paper with the illusion of an STC watermark. Ultimately, I replaced this with a desaturated mosaic graphic of papers flying out of a computer screen (symbolic of what we do). And for the color scheme, I favored a yellow menu bar with a light background over light menu bars with dark backgrounds, simply because a pastel-like page looked more congenial.

Figure 1.2: A first draft of Cal Poly STC's introductory web page.
The menu bar with rollover buttons presented two nagging problems. First, the transparent backgrounds of the text caused a problem I've never seen before: upon rolling over the buttons, new text overlapped the old rather than replacing it (see Figure 1.2). The resulting quagmire of text proved illegible. I solved the problem by changing the background color of the buttons from transparent to the exact color of the menu bar (yellow). Second, letters like "y" with dips in their shape threw the buttons out of vertical balance (see Figure 1.2). To solve this dilemma, I had to tediously offset the text baselines to match each other by comparing them side by side in Photoshop.

I tried to write the introductory statement clearly and persuasively for a non-club member audience. Naturally, I discussed the Technical Writing Certificate along with conditions for membership to STC (from the application form), STC activities, STC publications, and Cal Poly STC's advisor. Later, I added a blurb about STC scholarships as further incentive to join. I reviewed the STC FAQ, but most of the information in it seemed irrelevant to our chapter.

For the site's graphics, I perused clip art from various sources. The two "computer" graphics added pleasing decoration to the boring text. I created the tree effect in the "The Society for Technical Communication: Cal Poly Chapter" heading with the cloning tool in Photoshop. If you look closely, you can see that the heading contains the same tree as in the neighboring graphic. For the Cal Poly STC mailing address, I scanned in a stamp from my junk mail.

The bottom graphic with the pages fanning out of the computer (which also composes the background) had an original resolution of 72 dpi. Since the graphic started small as a rasterized image, I couldn't resize it bigger without losing massive quality, i.e., blocky shapes and stair-stepping in the lines or overall blurriness. So I decided to convert the raster image to an image made up of vector formulas. Vector graphics do not lose quality when resized. At first I attempted to use Illustrator, but I couldn't understand how to convert in the upgraded 7.0 lab version. So I used Streamline in the Graphic Arts EPL lab to convert it. Regrettably, I only had rudimentary knowledge of Streamline, and the list of options overwhelmed me. The graphic came out "mosaic-looking," but I liked that look and decided to stay with it. I resized it with ease and re-rasterized it as a GIF to fit it in the introductory page.

The "Jobs" page catalyzed some debate among the officers. Through a server-side include on AIX, I can password-protect the jobs directory. Eric Willard suggested that we only give STC members the password as incentive to join STC, but I worried that non-members would pay the $40 fee and then feel cheated by the lack of job resources. In the end, we decided to temporarily open the jobs directory to everyone. By the way, the userid would be "stc" and the password would be "e-prime" if I password-protected the jobs directory.

Since I lacked scholarship information for technical writers, I added a blurb in the introductory page rather than in the jobs section. I ultimately divided the categories into the following:

Originally, I had organized each job offer into tables with sections like "job description," "job requirements," "wages," and "whom to contact." But formatting each job offer took way too much time, so I resolved to paste each offer in verbatim with a date at the top. Currently, the job submission form e-mails the information to the webmaster. But in the future, I envision a newsgroup-like archive where job postings would go up automatically (like Doug Smith's "Estrella" server). That solution would work best as the job postings would collapse once the webmaster left.

I encountered an interesting problem on the pages with lots of links. My invisible tables prevented the words from wrapping under the menu bar. Hence, I renovated each "links" page by freeing all the words from the tables.

When I created the "members" page, I planned to display pictures of all the officers over their names and contact information. However, the officers seemed reluctant to the idea (evidenced by the way they dodged the photo shoots) so I suggested that they give me pictoral representations of themselves which could be cartoons or other symbolic objects. The officers procrastinated on that idea too, and then next year's elections came. So I resolved to pester next year's officers about it.

My final task involved the migration of the site to Doug Smith's "Rhetoric" server. After weeks of ignoring my e-mails, Doug invited me to his office where we downloaded the site. Ideally, I wanted an easy URL like, but Doug didn't want to change all the STC links on Ali Sholer's "Technical Communication at Cal Poly" pages (nine total since she did not use frames either). So he replaced the old Cal Poly STC pages with mine, thus giving my site the URL of its predecessor: I announced the address to Cal Poly's technical writer alias at 4pm on Thursday, May 21, 1998 (see Figure 1.3). The site has had 46 hits since then.

Date: Thu, 21 May 1998 16:05:15 -0700 (PDT)
From: Steven Aoki 
Subject: The STC Web Site

Come see Cal Poly's new STC web site at

The site includes:
  * important announcements from Cal Poly STC
  * information about Cal Poly STC
  * job resources for technical writers

Sometimes the server is down-if your browser reports a "file not found"
error, try again later.

Steven Aoki
Figure 1.3: Steven's announcement e-mail to Cal Poly's technical writing alias.

I still have a handful of objectives to complete as Cal Poly STC's webmaster. When Doug Smith moved the site over, the "jobs" directory got locked. As a temporary measure, I've created a mirror jobs directory on my own account. When (or if) Doug resolves the problem, I'll update the old jobs directory. I also planned an online version of Rachel Baumann's "Text Appeal" newsletter, and more links in the jobs directory from Jill Hayen's URL listings.

In conclusion, I learned how to set realistic goals instead of obscure intentions. In the past, I've notoriously undertaken web projects for my home page all at once instead of one at a time. As a result, I convoluted my site with unfinished projects. But thanks to the weekly siggies, I could not hop around from objective to objective--if I did, my weekly siggies would have had blanks for accomplishments. Weekly siggies motivated me to strive for down-to-earth goals.

I would not do anything differently except for one thing: I would've used frames, which in the long-run would've been easier to manage. Thus ends the development stage of the Cal Poly STC web site. As next year's webmaster, I will continue to modify the site and inform the club of any major changes.