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Websites: Simple is Smart, Secure, and Speedy

By Duane Thresher, Ph.D.          August 19, 2020

The IT incompetent might criticize the Apscitu websites — www.apscitu.com, www.apscitumail.com, and www.stop-it-incompetence.com — as simple so amateurish. These IT incompetents know so little about web programming and are so used to flashy websites jam-packed with annoying distractions — like one or more videos playing, full volume, when the website first comes up, when it finally does come up — they believe that is the way modern "good" websites should be. It's not, it's just that website design has been taken over by self-proclaimed artists who are IT incompetent. They don't care if a website is annoyingly hard to use or easily hackable or annoyingly slow, as long as it's flashy. To the IT incompetent, flashy seems advanced, which is stupidly wrong. Simple is smart, secure, and speedy.

The Apscitu name logo is based on the punched cards of early computers (actually until the mid-1980s), which were used to input programs to these mainframe computers (big single computers shared by many users). While this may seem a contradictory symbol for the advanced IT of Apscitu it actually is not. The use of punched cards was so tedious that much thought was put into the programs typed on them so as to avoid mistakes and make the programs as cleverly simple as possible.

I had the "opportunity" while I was first at MIT to program using punched cards for a couple of weeks before the old mainframe computer was hauled away. I can confirm that it was extremely tedious — if you made a program mistake you had to re-type the punched cards and again walk(!) over and submit them (a "batch job") to the computer operator to wait in a queue to have them run on the mainframe computer. That was the start of my careful clever programming.

(The Apscitu name logo is also a reminder that in IT all characters are made up of smaller bits. "Bits" is a contraction of "binary digits", 0's and 1's. The original Apscitu name logo was actually made of 0's and 1's.)

Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug is the classic book on website usability design. The title says it all (although the rest is a good read, including about using already universally understood icons). Website users should never have to think to use the website. Otherwise, they'll just give up and never come back. To not make the user think, i.e. to make the website simple, the designer has to think a lot, i.e. be smart. (I'll resist talking about whether the Web is giving people even shorter attention spans than TV gave them.)

The "Web", short for the World Wide Web (sometimes W3), is not the same as the "Internet", although the terms are often used interchangeably, particularly by the IT incompetent media. Internet is from "inter-network", i.e. a network connecting other networks, which is what the Internet is; see What is IT and What Makes Me an Expert?

The Web is all those sites (web server computers) on the Internet that speak Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and use Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) to speak over the Internet. "http" is what you see in the address bar of your browser preceding the web address, which consists of a domain name, like apscitu.com, sometimes one or more subdirectories, like /Credentials/, and ending with a filename with the suffix .html, like index.html. (See Do Capitals In Web Addresses Make Any Difference?)

If the .html filename is not visible it is probably because it is the assumed filename index.html. Try http://apscitu.com and http://apscitu.com/index.html in your browser. Same result.

Better than http is https, which is the secure version of http. You might have noticed that http://apscitu.com automatically goes to https://apscitu.com. https encrypts — hence the lock icon that often accompanies it in the address bar — all data going between the browser on your computer and the web server computer, in case some of the data is sensitive information. There is no sensitive information involved with the Apscitu websites, but always using https is a good security practice. See About Apscitu Mail.

Sometimes before the domain name of the web address you'll see the prefix www (world wide web). Having www and http at the beginning of the web address is redundant, as they are both there to indicate a website; www is historical, and also nicer looking. Technically, "www." is a subdomain of the domain name so should go somewhere different from just the domain name. However, usually it is just redirected, via the Domain Name System (DNS), to where just the domain name goes. Try https://apscitu.com and https://www.apscitu.com in your browser. Same result.

Researcher Tim Berners-Lee, now a professor at MIT, invented HTML, as well as HTTP and browsers, around 1990, right before the Internet boomed, which was really just the Web booming. Berners-Lee designed the system simply so researchers could easily get and read each other's research documents. The system was never intended for much of what it is used for today, particularly the interactivity, like web apps. As a result, much of the history of web programming is an effort to overcome these inherent shortcomings. For example, security was not a consideration until years later, but the best security is designed in from the beginning.

Real web programming itself, like for web apps, came only later. After HTML came CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), for greater control over how documents were displayed. Neither HTML nor CSS are really programming languages, but then came Javascript, for client-side programming, i.e. running in the user's browser on his computer. Then came programming languages like PHP (Personal Home Page, originally) and MySQL (My Structured Query Language) for server-side programming, particularly for database access, which is much of e-commerce. See Web Programming Expertise in my Credentials.

Web programming is what makes websites flashy ... and also insecure and slow, the more so when done by the IT incompetent. When all that is required of a website is to simply display documents — text and images — as Tim Berners-Lee originally intended, then simply using HTML and CSS is smart ... and also secure and speedy. That is all the Apscitu websites are for, so HTML and CSS are all the Apscitu websites use, and they are smart, secure, and speedy.

The Apscitu websites, like all other websites, are under hacker attack 24/7/365. Hackers from all over the world — actually their automated programs — repeatedly access websites trying every known vulnerability in web programming. For most websites, a large fraction of all their website accesses are from hackers (which is irritating because often you have to pay your website hoster by the number of accesses). I often go through the Apscitu websites access logs, which is a good security practice, so know this from abundant experience.

Because the Apscitu websites simply use HTML and CSS, there is little chance they can be hacked. Recently, in a spear phishing email to me, hackers said they had hacked into my Apscitu website and unless I paid $1500 to a Bitcoin address, they would destroy my business. I knew this was nonsense and didn't pay, but the hackers were preying on how common it has become for this to happen. See Apscitu Warned of Twitter Hacking Two Years Ago.

Having a built-in search on a website, which would require web programming, would seem to many IT incompetents as a requirement for a good website. But if you have tried many of these you know they are virtually worthless — for example, that of Amazon.com (see The Decline and Fall of Amazon). You are much better off Googling the website name and what you are looking for on it. (Ironically, many websites build in "Search by Google".) For example, to find a name on the Apscitu website Google "apscitu name".

Better yet use Google but don't let them track you. Use DuckDuckGo.com — terrible name but good search engine — and type "!g apscitu name". (That's what I do to find a name on my Apscitu website.) The "!g" tells DuckDuckGo to use the Google search engine (!b for Microsoft's Bing) but DuckDuckGo doesn't tell Google who is asking.

Of course, this searching depends on Google (Bing, etc.) having indexed the website. Website indexing is done by robots, which are automated programs that access websites, like for hackers. I know from the Apscitu websites access logs that Google (Bing, etc.) index the Apscitu websites at least once a day, sometimes more. They are almost as bad as hackers.

Speaking of Google, remember why Google became so popular: it was a simple webpage, just a box to enter what you were searching for. Compare it with flashy jam-packed Yahoo search. (Admit it, you thought Yahoo search was dead.)

Speaking of Yahoo, it uses Microsoft's Bing search engine for its results, like DuckDuckGo can. Particularly in DuckDuckGo's case, using one of the older bigger search engines is not as pathetic as it seems. Google, specifically its indexing robots, has been around for a long time so has accumulated the largest indexing database. It will take years to catch up. What counts though is what a search engine does with this data, i.e. deciding what search results are most relevant to you and ordering (ranking) them accordingly.

DuckDuckGo does a much better job of this. The reason is that Google has a different agenda for this. Google tracks you, as mentioned, and one of the reasons it does this is so that it can learn about what you are interested in so it can tailor — some would say manipulate — the results of your future searches based on this history. If two different people search for the exact same term on Google at the same time they will get different results. Even one person searching for the exact same term on Google multiple searches later will get different results, even if there have been no changes in the indexing database.

This may sound helpful, but there are indications that if liberal Google decides you are a conservative from your tracking history, it will rank liberal results higher. (There was a controversy about this years ago, but it was that conservatives would get conservative results and liberals would get liberal results and both groups would end up living in their own bubbles.) There is also the inherent expectation that searching for the exact same term should produce the same results — the definition of a fool is someone who does the same thing twice and expects different results (often attributed to Einstein). In any case, there is reason to use DuckDuckGo.

Again, it's the flashy stuff done with web programming that makes websites slow, particularly if done by IT incompetents. Like having to think, if your website is slow, people will not wait, they will just give up and never come back. No one is going to wait a minute or more for a single image to download, an image whose file size is 100 times larger than it has to be to display correctly. Not optimizing image file size is a common error of the artistic IT incompetent website designer.

On the Apscitu websites, there is no web programming and all the images are optimized, so if the websites are slow, the problem is at your end. See Amazon Streaming Jammed Up.

I'm sure you have your own list of flashy hard-to-use slow websites that have annoyed you. There are so many of them; they have become the norm, even for huge organizations. And probably you have heard — perhaps on the Apscitu websites — of many that have been hacked, repeatedly. See Apscitu's two recent articles, HealthCare.gov Hacked and Apscitu Warned of Twitter Hacking Two Years Ago.

Perhaps one day, flashy hard-to-use hackable slow websites will be "deprecated", as they say in programming, just like Adobe Flash, the hard-to-use hackable slow programming language that used to be used for making websites "flashy".