Well, here we go again.
This is the 5th “reboot” of my personal website in the last 12 years. I just can’t seem to find a format that I like.
That first site was put up in December of 2000 – the original SkilmNET – a combination of my high school nickname, “skilm”, and “NET” that was so popular back in those days (cNET, PSI-NET, etc.).
I was utterly fascinated with computers and the Internet. I had been introduced to the Internet at school in 1997-98, and when I finally convinced my parents to get a home Internet connection, I was mesmerized. I HAD to know how this magical thing worked. I spent hours exploring the possibilities – websites, email, instant messaging, video, the whole lot. I was so enthralled that I decided to study Computer Information Systems when I started at UMBC in the fall of 1999.
What I didn’t expect was that I would be SO FAR behind my peers in the program. I had been a musical theatre nerd in high school – a performer. I wasn’t good at math. I had never even physically opened up a computer before. Now, I was in programming classes desperately trying to learn C with hardcore nerds who had been doing all of this since they were pre-teens.
It was a disaster.
The silver lining is that as part of that C programming class, I was required to log into a UNIX server at UMBC: gl.umbc.edu (which is sadly shutdown now – I’ll never forget that box). You see, normal human beings don’t have computers with C compilers on them – let alone UNIX computers – so the university provided everyone with a shell account on gl.umbc.edu that you could access remotely via telnet. You would log in, do your work on their computer, and turn in your finished program.
YOU would do this, but so would EVERYONE ELSE. The system got SLOW. Especially when a big project was due. I was already aggravated enough that I had to learn this cryptic C language – I didn’t want to suffer with a slow computer while I did it. I knew that the university was using Linux and gcc to teach us. I knew that those software packages were freely-available. I knew that I could get hold of an old computer to use for this project. I thought, “How hard can it be?”
At the time, our family had just one computer in the house. I was thinking about adding another. This meant that I needed to learn a little bit about networking so that I could split the Internet connection. About 4 hours of head-scratching later, I learned that a hub was not enough – I would need a thing called a “router”.
In the meantime, I was able to get RedHat Linux (back before it was called Fedora) and the gcc compiler installed on an old, no-name Pentium 133MHz PC. It certainly wasn’t setting any speed records, but I was the ONLY user. Compared to my gl.umbc.edu experience, it was a rocketship.
I was so happy with it, I decided to let a few of my friends in the class in on the action. I figured out how set up user accounts and allow telnet access to my buddies. When Dave logged in from the other side of town, and I saw his username show up in my who command – it was amazing. My best friend since elementary school was using MY computer. From MILES away.
Over the next several years, I installed every service that I could possibly find on that box. I set up a webserver – complete with individual sites for each of my users. We had FTP. Shell accounts (over telnet or SSH). I learned enough to get an e-mail server going – it REALLY started working right once I learned about this crazy DNS thing. I got sick of being limited by the little Linksys home router that I bought, so I learned how to set up DHCP, routing and ipchains (later iptables) on another Linux computer. While I hated my database class in college, I LOVED the thrill of getting MySQL and PHP running on my own little piece of the Internet. I kept changelogs. I sent out e-mails to a Majordomo list of my half-dozen users warning about planned downtime for upgrades. I became the go-to guy for technical needs.
I advanced in my part-time job at the Baltimore County Public Library. I wasn’t shelving books anymore – I was doing tech support for the dial-up ISP service the library ran and learning everything I could about our Solaris UNIX backend systems. I became addicted to getting more and more bizarre computers for my network. I branched out from x86 with my first SPARC box – a SPARCstation 20 (we ran SPARC Solaris at the library). After I left the library to work for AppleCare, I bought a PPC G4 iMac. That led to an old NeXT Workstation. Then another SPARC box (this time a Sun Ultra 60).
Somewhere along the line, I upgraded my original Linux box to a Pentium II 400MHz. I kept finding new things to learn and set up: webmail, MRTG, applications to track my system logs, more robust remote management tools, more users. I even set up WordPress (which this site is running on) once or twice.
Eventually, once I took the job as the solitary computer guy at a small company, my hobby became too much like my job. I couldn’t keep up with it at home anymore. The friends who were my users drifted away, as often happens in life. I met the girl who would become my wife (as interesting as technology was, she was even more interesting). At the same time, the world changed. I didn’t NEED to host my own stuff to get what I wanted out of technology. The rise of services like LiveJournal, Flickr, Facebook, .Mac (later MobileMe, even later iCloud), YouTube, Dropbox, and Gmail meant that I didn’t have to use my own systems so that I could get cheap “unlimited” storage on the Internet. I got a phone that lets me use all these services, wherever I am, with ubiquitous wireless networking. The only reason to do it myself was for pride, and I just didn’t care enough about it anymore.
I kept the domain name and email addresses (which I was still using) alive by getting a hosting service. And it has just sat there – nearly idle – for years.
Now, I’m starting. Again.