Friday, February 6, 2009

The Year 2000 (Y2K)

It was New Year's Eve of the year 2000 and we were all set to experience the greatest freakout of computer bugs in the history of glitches. It was the Milennium Bug. And it was said that the Internet wouldn't survive it. In fact, they said, even our clocks might not survive it. Our microwaves. Our cars. Anything that was guided by computer might come crashing to the ground, at dawn of the year 2000. They said this to a world who had maxed out their credit cards for every new electronic gadget that had come down the pike that decade. And now, they told us, it will all be a dud. And this, because of a lady who never foresaw the day we would need four digits to show the year. Maybe she did foresee it, but in 196?, it must have seemed eons away. And RAM was scarce. Techies and non-techies alike were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, squawking like Chicken Little: The sky is falling, the sky is falling. We won't survive the year 2000. My nieces were spending the night with us, and we were talking about the prospect of life without our newfound toy. (They jostled for elbow room at the computer. They didn't have one yet.) We played computer games and we watched the crowd in Times Square. We listened to predictions. I had my niece poised at the door, ready to run outside at my signal and blow the car horn. (That's what we do out in the boondocks.) Then the countdown started. Ack! At the stroke of midnight, the crowd went wild. I stood at the TV counting down for the ball to drop in Times Square. Outside, my niece did her duty and the horn was blaring. Far off, down in the pasture, fireworks boomed into the air. Our neighbors were celebrating, too.

On TV, all night, all they'd been speculating on was the stroke of midnight, and would every computer fail? After all my work, and on top of the news of the demise of my ArtForum, I was disgusted, as you might well imagine. But... I still had a sense of humor about it. At that moment, I conceived of a great practical joke that I would play on my nieces. No, I'm not the PJ I once was. I've mellowed ~ I have a reputation to maintain. Dignity. Integrity. But I still get a wild hare every now and then. I am a night owl, and the night was young. And I was giddy with champagne. I drank a whole cup. On TV, people were singing and dancing: 'It's the end of the world as we know it... and I feel fine! I feel fine!'

I felt fine! My computer was not smoking. But I was. I started hacking that keyboard. I was Stan with a plan. I was a Paintbrush whiz. I grabbed that Mouse and I painted that rectangle desktop green. Then I selected the color white, switched to text tool, and started typing gibberish. I chose Courier size 10 and I typed data. It didn't matter what data. I typed 000000s. I typed dates. I typed exes. I switched to Symbol and I typed Greek. I knew well what a trashed file looks like. I learned what a magnet does to a floppy disc back when floppies were 8 inches wide and, well ~ floppy. I covered that screen in Greek. In between the gibberish, I typed 2000, 1900, date does not compute. ERROR! ERROR! I typed all kinds of garbage. I switched to red, and changed the font size. I typed more garbage. Then I saved that file and made it into a Wallpaper. (Wallpaper was something I knew how to do. Early on, I'd had 6 months of a computer without Internet and with very little software loaded on it. I had time to learn how to do wallpaper.) Then I started on the folders.

By the year 2000, I had the knack of that drag-and-drop thing. I had Windows down pat. I created a single folder, and I named it dERRORf2000k. Then I dragged every folder on that desktop into that one folder. The one folder that couldn't be moved, I covered up. Shortcuts and Windows icons, I moved, covered with blank folders, or renamed to gibberish, having already learned that you can dump or rename shortcuts without affecting the file itself. I couldn't remove some of the Windows icons, but I could rename them. I renamed them gibberish. The one icon that wouldn't rename, I covered with the single folder I had created. That screen looked a mess! Those girls will freak when they see this screen, I thought. They will not know what to do. By then, I was dead tired, but happy, and I went to bed.

Come morning, I felt like dead meat. I am never much in the morning, and man, was I was sluggish that day! I was dying to see how the girls would react to to my little joke, but I didn't want to spill the beans, so I waited patiently. They never came up. I went downstairs and they were all involved in a movie. It was some long, drawn-out saga. It lasted for hours and hours. They never did come up. In the end, the joke was on me. My practical joke fell as flat as the Y2k Bug. I guess our great scare sounds pretty silly now. You just had to be there.

The Millenium Bug had scurried off to the cobwebs of tech history, and my site, Bugbones, was on the verge of a great new life. Said she.

Oh, the perils of Bugbones.

NOTE: This post was revised after I discovered I'd left out a segment. I've had to backtrack a little, in keeping with the timeline...
(Ref. chronology and y2k terms. I was there, but I just had to refresh my memory.

FTP Configuration Headaches

FTP. If I was going to have to start all over learning something, it might as well be some software of my own. I read everything I could find on FTP and thought I could learn it. So, I bought CuteFTP. I had no domain ~ but I had FTP.

Cute FTP was supposed to be easy. And it probably was, relatively speaking. I had no other FTP to compare it to, unless you count those on-line uploaders provided by Angelfire and Yahoo; but those didn't have to be configured. I shudder to recall the difficulty I had configuring Cute FTP. I don't think it was the fault of the software. Their help manual was thorough, but confusing to me. I had some fear of technology, and for good reason. I never really know what I'm doing when I try to configure things. Wizards ask questions, present choices. If I'd never seen the software, how did I know what to answer? If there is no wizard, it's even worse: a dozen drivers, icons, and executable files to unpack and distribute ~ very puzzling. Consequently, at the end of my struggle to configure any software, the machine usually works worse than when I started ~ or doesn't work at all. Asking around doesn't help. When I was configuring CuteFTP, no-one I knew had ever heard of FTP. I muddled my way through, read the manual a dozen times, and went through a blue-jillion trial-and-error steps. Something didn't click. I don't know what was more confusing, the tilde in the username, my host's directory structure, the proper placement of slashes for directories, or the meticulous instructions on filling in IP numbers. Usually in these battles, if my struggle doesn't lead to complete destruction of my PC, it leads to new knowledge, if not expertise. In the FTP battle, I studied other sites' URLs, looked at their slashes and tildes, dug through my ISP's original installation instructions, and read up on IP numbers. I puzzled through manuals, tried what I thought they said, and failed time and time again. Then, with some sudden revelation, the path was clear and I was "in." The old epic writings speak of wailing, moaning, and the gnashing of teeth. I can tell you I did plenty of it. So much trauma! And yet ten years later, I had practically forgotten ever hosting Bugbones at OCS Online and couldn't remember why I'd bought CuteFTP. My file dates and page links show that by February of 2000 ~ maybe even before ~ I had Bugbones the second up and running on OCS. All of this, I did with the idea of getting my own domain.

Topic: The Annals of Southern Muse.
Timeline: Purchased CuteFTP on May 21, 1999

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Domains, Registrars, and Hosts

I had spent several months reading up on domains and how to get them. I was confused by the various entities involved in getting a domain. I only had a vague comprehension of the differences between a domain, a registrar, a host, and a server. It mattered, because each separate entity had its own set of fees ~ and how much might those be? Each process also brought its own new set of technical difficulties. I discovered that a domain name was one thing ~ you could "park" it free (whatever that meant). Page hosting was another thing entirely, and no matter how much I read, it seemed that I couldn't get around having to pay a monthly fee for it. Free advice was everywhere to be found, and some of the tutorials stated that your local ISP might give you a free page. I checked into it. Sure enough, OCS, my local Internet Service Provider, did offer a free personal web page. Since I was already paying them for Internet service and the page was "free," I thought that hosting might be included in the monthly fee I was already paying. If so, I would only have to buy a domain name. OCS didn't have FTP, but buying FTP software would still be cheaper than a monthly hosting fee.

At this point, I wasn't even sure that OCS would let me hang a domain name on the free page they gave me. Angelfire advertised that you could turn your free page into a domain at any time ~ for a fee. But what was I buying? The terms were confusing. I knew I'd be paying for space that I now got for free. Oh, Angelfire promised I'd get lots of other cool things that I didn't know I needed ~ wouldn't know what to do with when I got them. But the Angelfire web-shell upgrade had left me in a bind. I could barely log in, much less navigate the new directory. Did I want to pay them for that? I now knew that Angelfire wasn't the only host in town. Cheap hosting was everywhere, for as little as five dollars a month. Nearly all hosts required a one-time set-up fee, ranging from fifteen to seventy dollars. I could manage a one-time flat fee. Registering a domain name would cost about ten dollars. Once you had a domain name, you had to "park" it apparently. I wasn't sure what "parking" entailed. Was it free parking, or would I have to put a quarter in the meter ever few hours? (I thought I knew the answer to that!) What was the difference between registering and parking anyhow?

Transition: Bugbones to Southern Muse.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Reconstructing the Timeline

I can place the dates of some of these events with pretty good accuracy, with the help of Wikipedia, old e-mails, and the invoice paper trail. MiningCo came into being about 1996. My old PC was built by OCS (a local hack) in 1997, but I got it secondhand a few years later. Late in 1998, I'd discovered Yahoo Mail and Angelfire. Sometime that same year came the Art Forum on MiningCo. Perhaps it was already there, but I found it in '98. My short-lived Bugbones Buzz forum on was in place by January 1999, if not before. Sometime between that little forum and May of 1999, I had scraped up enough to hook up Internet. I was an old hand at email by now, but using the email wizard to configure a local ISP provider's info through Outlook Express was another story. What headaches! (The Perils of Dial-Up Modems and Lost Drivers on Second-Hand Computers will be saved for another post.) Also around May of 1999, MiningCo disappeared and came on the scene.

On May 21, 1999, I bought CuteFTP. I didn't have a domain. When I came across that old receipt, I was puzzled as to why I bought an FTP program before I bought a domain, but it came back to me...