The Digital Village

Shimon Young

Web Creature

They tell you a lot of things while you're growing up.

They tell you to work hard.

They tell you to be focussed and dedicated.

They tell you that the early bird catches the worm.

They tell you to wash occasionally.

Let me tell you how I came to be here.

Years ago, I was a student back in The University of Leeds. I was happy then. Or rather, now I know was happy then. Life was simple. Sentences were short.

It couldn't last.

Faced with the prospect of having to leave university and get a job programming C++ for a bank, I did the only thing a hardened slacker could.

I decided to do a PhD.

The only problem being that my grades weren't quite amazing enough to stay in the prestigious Leeds comp-sci department. I had to find someone else naive enough to take me on. Which is why the Good Lord made City University. There really doesn't seem to be any other justifiable reason for its continued existence.

Anyway, they agreed to pay me a large sum of Tax-Free cash to research MRI scans of gerbil brains. The reason they were so confident in hiring me to investigate cutting-edge computer vision algorithms is because I call myself 'Shim'. This is significant as the process of aligning the magnets prior to taking an MRI scan is called 'Shimming'. Hence you have 'shim controls' and 'shim' supplies and such like. So wouldn't it just be hilarious if the guy doing the MRI research was called Shim.

Seriously. That's what they told me.

Anyway, so I moved to London to further my academic career and started to work.

The first thing that struck me was that you had to read papers. Technical papers. Papers with lots of hard sums. Papers that I frankly didn't understand.

The next thing that struck me was that you had to write papers. Technical papers. Papers with lots of hard sums. Papers that I frankly couldn't write.

So I retreated to what I knew, which at the time was writing X/Motif applications on Unix. I put together some pretty interfaces which appeared to be doing something to an image of some poor mouse's head and this kept them happy and distracted them from realising that I didn't know the first thing about computer vision.

And then one day, someone told me postgrads had space on the Uni's web server.

Acres of it. Untold gigabytes of unquotad(?) web space. A whole new universe of time-massacreing potential opened before me. Days turned to weeks turned to months as I developed an utterly pointless web site dedicated to the obscene and awful poetry of an ex-acquaintance.

And so it went on. I managed to wangle my way into doing the JJ Hucke Guitars web site. They even gave me a shiny special edition 5th Anniversary Antarctica for the bother. A whole new experience. I had been paid for something I did. But more than that.

I had become a designer.

Just like every other loser who has ever strung two tags together in HTML and loaded an image into Paint Shop Pro. But I had a glimmer of hope of a way out of eternal Geekdom.

And the money was running out. My time was up and they were expecting deliverables. And PhD deliverables hurt. They hurt trees, they hurt printers, they hurt mice and above all they hurt my sleep.

Once again I did the only thing a hardened slacker could.

I walked out.

I simply emailed them that the whole thing was a ludicrous joke. I remember trying to decide which amazing and cutting quote to finish my resignation with. It was a toss-up between the Discordian "Repent. Quit your jobs. Slack off" which had been my sig for some time, or the retrospectively more resonant "So Long. And thanks for all the Fish". Unfortunately, I chose the former. Ho hum.

So, I'm out on my own. Not in school for the first time. But it matters not. Because I am a designer. An internet designer. And everyone wants a web site.

I shall start my own business.

All I needed to do (after slipping back into the past tense) was to hack a few web sites together and charge slightly under the ludicrously high going rate and I'd have it made. I could still get up late and take every other day off.

Obviously, this didn't happen. People can never quite get it together to decide what actually should go on a web site even though they seem to acknowledge they need one. So I end up producing posters and leaflets and brochures and bar-mitzvah invitations.

It felt very strange for several reasons. Firstly, I wasn't writing code. Secondly, I was technically actually a designer. I designed things that ended up on paper and not a monitor. I got paid for doing such. A designer.

I got a brief glimpse of another world. The world of the people who didn't do science at university. The people we sneered at and didn't speak to.

There are a lot more girls in that world. And they'd speak to you. And be interested in what you do. I remember early on a brief moment when I saw a young attractive girl walk up to one of my posters and gently say 'That's pretty. Who did that?'. Now that just doesn't happen with C++.

It couldn't go on though. I felt guilty about charging people real money for straight graphic design work as I knew full well that I was only faking and they'd find out soon enough that it was all a sham. Deadlines were very stressful and it was eating into my sleeping time. I was building up more debts and borrowing more money. My landlord got sick of me and was going to chuck me out. The only place to move to was even more expensive and I'd have to actually buy my own hardware rather than borrowing other peoples.

It was all really bad.

And then I met Yoz.

I bumped in to him at some housewarming in Hendon one dull saturday night. I arrived with a pretty girl that I had recently had the good fortune to meet, and promptly abandoned her while I geeked the rest of the evening with Yoz. (This may go someway towards explaining while she recently left to Israel without saying goodbye)

Yoz was flouncing around in a long leather jacket, brandishing his Palm-Pilot and appeared to be offering the possibility of employment to everyone within a 5 mile radius. It was therefore my duty to convince him that a despite complete lack of any meaningful experience that I was exactly what TDV needed most. Unwilling to leave the evening without putting some information into his Palm Pilot, he took my contact details and I scrambled out to see if the aforementioned pretty girl still wanted anything to do with me.

After too many months, and an interview with Richard Creasey which involved me yammering on about what an utter mess I made of my PhD rather than any positive assets I may have had, I finally got the call to duty.

So here I am, part of the working masses, sometimes even getting in to work before midday, bashing out the odd graphic now again and writing the occasional XML based perl embedded web content production system.

But don't try this at home.

Remember kids, TDV can't always be there when you cross the road.


Jason Williams


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