Oct 26, 1999

Oldest webmaster in the country



A GLANCE at Mohamed Abu Hassan's website Cyberworld WargaTua has no hint that it is designed and developed by a retired school teacher. At 64, Mohamed is ostensibly the oldest webmaster in Malaysia.

Inspired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad's vision for an informed and tech savvy society, Mohamed, from Kampung Jana Sambungan in Kamunting, went out and bought a Pentium multimedia PC two years ago.

As the RM3,000 purchase came with a course in computer appreciation, Mohamed promptly signed up.

Thrice a week for three months, the retired primary school teacher travelled 15km to a computer shop in Taiping for evening classes.

Sitting in a classroom surrounded by 15-year-olds did not faze him. It instead drove his determination to master the computer. In fact, some of the younger students were nice enough to guide and help him navigate the mouse. ``I was the oldest student in my class,'' he laughs.

Once he became familiar with the ropes, Mohamed roamed the Net in search of web design tutorials and HTML source-codes. ``I was determined to design a website especially after my peers mocked my efforts to learn how to use a computer,'' he recalls.

Practice to preach Criticism by a visitor to his first homepage fuelled his determination.

Mohamed adds that by learning how to use a PC and master webpage design, he hopes to be a good example to the younger folk. ``As a school teacher, that is my outlook -- we should lead by example.''

Unlike his peers who think the Net is meant for the young, Mohamed believes the Net is a great thing that he is able to experience in his lifetime.

``My friends say I am an old man, a Haji ... why am I dabbling with the Net with all its negative influences,'' he says.

His answer is that the television is not a lesser evil and what we adopt is entirely up to us. ``With our hearts, we can choose what to do with the tools we have. We can take the good and leave the bad. It is for our own education process.''

The pensioner also admits that his wife was initially upset with the amount of time he spent on the Net. ``She has no interest in it except for the occasional recipe,'' he says, adding that he had posted a few online.

Mohamed is confident that the older generation can also learn from the Net. Age should not be a barrier.

``My finger typing is slow and I had problems handling the mouse initially but not anymore,'' he adds.

Hit and misses The father of three spent hours on end at his computer, learning HTML by himself. He asked acquaintances online how to develop pages. He would look for ideas from sites located in Germany, United States and Norway.

His diligence and passion in homepage design even caused him to fall ill due to long hours spent in front of a computer monitor.

His pursuits upset his wife who reveals that she did not mind the investment in a computer but did mind the expensive phone bills.

Mohamed painstakingly wrote every sentence on his site and to brighten the site up, he managed to get one of the local photo studios to allow him to use the scenery of Taiping and nearby towns.

He also documented a section on personal horrors experienced during World War Two. ``Those experiences are indelible and have left lasting imprints in my memory,'' he discloses.

In retrospect, Mohamed wished he had paid attention to Japanese classes during the Occupation as it would have been useful in his online pursuit.

Recent cyberpals and online acquaintances in Malacca, Rantau Panjang and Kubang Kerian in Kelantan constantly encouraged Mohamed along the way.

It was vindication at last when Mohamed's efforts paid off as his improved homepage garnered no less than 35 international awards for website design. (A full listing is available at Mohamed's website.)

He paid tribute to his cyberpals whom he met during his online tours who advised him on designing a better homepage.

``They are all younger than I am -- some half my age -- and I am grateful they took an old foggy like me seriously,'' he adds.

His advice to newbies online is to explore and look for useful elements from the Net instead of entering the darker side.

Cyberworld Wargatua (www.geocities.com/wargatua/) has a collection of personal beliefs, history, philosophy, poetry and Quran verses.