Civilization, as a whole, allows us many efficiencies. If I lived completely on my own, I’d have to do everything for myself. Do I need a chair? I’d better learn how to make one. Am I hungry? I’d have to (literally) hunt up some food. At its simplest, civilization allows us to exchange things for other, completely different things.

Technology also increases efficiency. It’s possible to dig a hole with your hands. The energy expended to remove a given amount of soil from the ground is great, but there’s nothing complicated about it. Get yourself a shovel, and the required effort drops considerably. Get yourself a backhoe and the required effort drops far more. The gains come at a cost, however. You have to make or buy a shovel, so there’s some form of up-front payment to be made. The backhoe requires even more investment in the form of the purchase of the equipment, training for the operator, as well as continuing costs for fuel and maintenance. Efficiency isn’t free, but if you need to move large volumes of soil both quickly and easily, the backhoe more than makes up for these costs.

Extend this analogy to the extreme and one can begin to understand how the enormous trucks using in mining operations are a good value. A $3.5 million dollar truck that can move 400 tons of ore at a time is a better value than a $30,000 truck that would require 800 trips to do the same thing … if you need to move thousands of tons of ore every day.

I started thinking about this because of my journal dilemma. Should I continue to use static HTML pages as I have been, or move to a content management system? This site uses WordPress, which generates the page you see on the fly from data stored in a SQL database. It’s convenient and incredibly flexible.

Three days ago, I didn’t expect to be testing a content management system. It started with a member of the Journals mailing list I’m subscribed to asking for help in figuring out why her entries were not rendering properly for some users. I went to look at her site and noticed two things. It used WordPress so my ability to help would be severely limited. Also, the site was far more sophisticated than content management systems were capable of handling even a few years ago. My interest was piqued.

I’m no HTML expert, but I understand exactly what each command does in the templates I made for Seeking the Alien Shore. It took me a fair bit of reading to gain this knowledge, but I did it. As a consequence, I can trouble-shoot problems fairly easily.

The person who asked for help didn’t have a similar understanding of HTML (her problem was an open <div> declaration) but still managed to put together and maintain a complex site. In no way do I mean to disparage her, far from it in fact, but it did get me thinking. Perhaps I don’t need to understand everything about a system to use it. Why should I? I couldn’t build a car from parts, perform a tune-up, or do anything by the most rudimentary preventative maintenance, but I still do own a car and drive it perfectly well.

I installed WordPress without difficulty. I’ve also learned how to install templates and back up the SQL database. What I know about making static web pages can be applied to modifying or constructing templates. Do I really need to do any more? I don’t need to, but moving to this system without knowing it all is a bit of a hurdle because it’s a leap of faith. When I started my journal eight years ago (!) I didn’t know it all, but I learned. Putting myself in a situation where I again am often lost isn’t easy. Perhaps I should consider this an advantage.

Look up ‘control freak’ in the dictionary and the picture you see won’t be mine. Not by a long shot. With computers however, I’ve wanted to know more, and I’ve been able to. Logically, I seem to have made my decision. Still, I hesitate.