Black or white?

Mad Teddy's web-pages

Black or white?

Copyright December 1995 by Mad Teddy

It came upon the old email
That blackboards were somewhat "old hat".
This prompted several staff to wail:
"I don't agree with that!

The noxious fumes from those pens are worse
By far than a bit of chalk dust,
And whiteboard dazzle's a real curse!
Oh, save our blackboards we must!"

A number of years ago, when I was teaching at a local college, the move was on to get rid of all the blackboards in the classrooms and replace them with the vastly superior, modern whiteboards.

Well, some people think they're vastly superior, anyway. Modern they may be; but I, for one, detest them.

They first made their appearance sometime in the late 1970's or early 1980's. Everyone was saying how wonderful they were: so much easier to clean; no messy chalk dust to sweep up; so much easier to read than your old-fashioned blackboard.

I beg to differ. I consider myself fortunate that, when I was a schoolkid in the 1960's and a uni student in the 1970's, this blight had not yet descended.

With my not-great eyesight, I found it difficult enough to keep up with taking notes from what a teacher or lecturer was writing on the blackboard; but at least one had a chance. Thick, bright white or yellow text against a matt black or very dark green background is far easier to read for someone with a condition like mine than scrawny black or blue streaks made on a shiny white surface by an almost-expired marker pen. (As a teacher myself, in later years, I found that these pens don't last very long at all.)

Quite often, the board is on a wall opposite the room's windows. So on a bright sunny day, with lots of light streaming into the room from behind, quite often the poor student has little chance of seeing anything of value on the dreaded whiteboard without weaving his/her head up and down and from side to side, squinting to avoid being half-blinded by dazzling spots of reflected sunlight.

The worst part is the marker pens themselves. Apart from the fact that they have short lives, they are very messy. Being a left-handed writer, I'd find that quite often my hand would be covered in the foul stuff at the end of a lesson - and, if I wasn't very careful, it would be all over my clothes in short order. An urgent visit to the washroom was mandatory.

From a teacher's point of view, chalk on a blackboard has a satisfying sense of natural resistance. You can draw intricate diagrams, with the materials affording enough friction to allow you to have good control. However, with a slippery marker pen tip on a slimy whiteboard surface, you can easily skid all over the place.

But the most egregious aspect of the pens is the smell! Granted, the earlier xylene-based solvents have been replaced by less offensive substances; but the improvement is not all that great nonetheless. Frequently, I'd finish a session feeling dirty, dizzy and sick.

Accepted wisdom is that the stuff is easy to wipe off the board. Well, many a time I've found otherwise; the eraser provided is often filthy, not having been cleaned for goodness knows how long - and using it just smears the goo all over the board in a vile grey streak. And then, of course, there is the inevitable occasion when one finds that one has accidentally used a permanent marker, and that no amount of scrubbing will shift it without the aid of a bottle of methylated spirit, or some other organic solvent.

So, when the inevitable began to happen in earnest at my work-place, I decided to try to start a protest movement amongst my colleagues. The poem you see above was a part of that process. Like "Programmer's Lament", also among these pages, it featured in an "e-Christmas card" I programmed (in DOS BASIC, of course - what else?!) toward the end of the year.

Significantly, many other staff members agreed with me. It didn't do any good, though; inevitably, the "white plague" triumphed in the end...

(If you'd like to save the midi file, b_or_w.mid, to your hard drive, you can right-click here.)

On a related matter:

If you've come from my home page - and/or through various other pages in this site - to get here, no doubt you've noticed that I've adopted a certain overall style: black backgrounds, and large, brightly coloured text, interspersed with pictures, animations, and "on-the-run" links. The font used for most text is size 4, whereas many (if not most) websites employ size 3, the "industry standard" - and with a white (or at least pale) background, and black text.

It has to do partly with the fact that I find light-on-dark much easier on the eyes; but it's also partly just a matter of personal preference. As a youngster, I liked kids' books which adopted a similar style, long before my eyes went wacko.

- And I'm in good company! There are plenty of other websites which adopt a somewhat similar approach. Have a look, for example, at Altair's Tesla coil page; also check out his home page. (It's an intriguing site; have a good look around.)

Also check out Big Clive's website; big bright text on a black background is a feature here, too.

Again, in somewhat similar vein, there are Bill Beaty's pages. Check out his autobiographical, science hobbyist, and weird science pages (lots of links) - and also, of course, his home page. (And you thought I was weird?!)

In all fairness, it must be said that Bill's pages do appear to be designed for a higher resolution screen than my preferred 640480 pixels, which to an extent negates the effect of big fonts; and not all of his pages are light-on-dark. But they're still far from "non-standard". Also, some parts of Altair's pages require a wider screen. However, I'm sure you get the general idea.

This is the World Wide Web. There's room on it for some World Wide Weirdos. So, come on - let's live dangerously, and break a few "rules"!

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