Battlefield Visits Series

One of my favorite things to do is visit historical sites – especially battlefields. Over the last several years, I’ve begun to expand my horizons beyond Gettysburg; building up a desire to learn as much about the entire Civil War as possible. I had of course visited other local battlefields: Antietam, Harpers Ferry, and Manassas to name a few, but I knew there were more battlefields in other theatres, and my study of the Gettysburg campaign had opened my eyes to all the “minor” actions that took place on the way to the major battles that you think of. There had to be some type of definitive list of these events.

My curiosity led me to the CWSAC. In the 1990s, Congress had created the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission to determine which Civil War battlefields existed and their state of preservation at that time. Their efforts led to a list of 384 “principal” battlefields (from as many as 10,500 armed conflicts of all sizes over the 4 years of the Civil War). Most of these sites don’t have a National Park associated with them. Many aren’t even protected by a State or local park. I decided to set a goal to visit each site.

Since I began this journey a few years ago, I’ve made significant progress. As of this writing, I’ve visited 67 of these battlefields. I should also point out that I don’t strictly adhere to visiting only CWSAC sites – many of the smaller skirmish actions (especially those associated with the Gettysburg campaign) have been on my radar, too.

Up to this point, I’ve been keeping notes about my travels in a small journal, and I’ve also occasionally posted about my visits on Facebook, but I recently realized that a more proper outlet for this historical travel-log would be my blog here. So today I’m adding a new category called “Battlefield Visits” and I’ll be doing an entry for each battlefield that I’ve been to and the ones I travel to in the future. My hope is to make a couple of posts a week until I “catch up” with the sites I’ve hit already, but we’ll see how things go. Most of these posts will probably be quite short, but others may be longer – especially for places I’ve been to multiple times, or that are of greater significance. I’m excited to have you along for the ride!

New Look

Regular visitors will notice that things look a little different around here.

My previous hosting providers decided to raise their rates, and corrupted part of the website database at the same time (not exactly a great sales pitch). It seems that the only part of the site that I couldn’t recover was the categories for each post. As of this writing, I’m beginning to rebuild and reorganize those.

As I had to make a bunch of changes anyway, I decided to take a fresh approach to the look of the site as well. I’ve switched to a new theme that is cleaner and should behave nicely on whatever size screen you’re reading this on. I’ve also tweaked the color scheme a little. Feel free to let me know what you think!

While family, work, and school remain my top priority, I plan to continue nerding-out about history as time allows in 2018. Most notably, we have the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg to look forward to together!

New Website Address

I’ve decided to change things a little bit around here. I’m switching the web address for this site over to a domain I’ve had for a few years and just haven’t done anything with. As of today, the new official URL for this blog is:

http://peteskillman.com/

Any old links using the http://pete.skilmnet.net/ address should continue to work, I just wanted to start using a cleaner, more recognizable default address from here on out.

Please update your links and bookmarks accordingly, and thanks for reading!

The Historical Marker Database

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved road-side historical markers. I always wanted to stop and read them, and sometimes (when we weren’t in too much of a hurry) I got the chance to. There’s something really great about seeing tangible reminders of history out in the world where you’re living.

It turns out that I’m not the only person who feels this way. Several years ago, I discovered the Historical Marker Database – a hobby project of a history-loving IT guy like me – that seeks to catalogue every historical marker in the world. I make heavy use of the website when I’m researching, and it also makes for a fun way to go down a historical rabbit hole that I might not explore otherwise. You should definitely go check it out.

As you might imagine, finding all these markers is a huge undertaking – certainly more than one hobbyist can handle. A volunteer board of editors has sprung up over the years, and thousands of people have contributed photos and descriptions of markers to the cause.

When I was doing the research that resulted in my recent posts about the 138th PA along the Patapsco River, I discovered a marker that wasn’t listed on the HMDB website. I promptly registered for an account, read up on the editorial guidelines, and submitted an entry. People from all over the world can now discover the Mill Town History marker and learn a little bit about the town of Daniels, MD.

So be on the lookout for the history around you, and please share it with the rest of us!

One Year

I failed to recognize that last Thursday was the 1-year anniversary of the “reboot” of my personal website.

In that time, I’ve made a total of 134 posts, revived some old content I’d created a few years ago, and hopefully added something useful to the conversation.

We’re certainly not setting any traffic records here, but my most popular pages continue to be the assorted installments of the Mini-Federalist, and – most surprising to me – my discussions of Civil War artillery, which get a fair number of hits from Google searches.

It’s been fun so far. Thanks to all the regulars, and to all those who have just stopped by.

The Mini-Federalist

For those who are unaware, the Federalist Papers is one of the greatest collections of political thought ever assembled. This was the original argument in favor of adoption of the U.S. Constitution, that was laid out in the newspapers of New York between late-1787 and mid-1788. Originally published anonymously, we now know that Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were behind them (although sometimes we aren’t sure which ones specifically).

While they make great reading for nerds like me who are into this whole political science thing, they aren’t much read or understood by the general populace. There have been attempts over the years to put them onlinemake the language “friendlier”, or create audio versions, but another problem exists – there are 85 of these papers, and even though each is only a few pages long, it is hard to get through all of them.

I’d like to try to condense the ideas into a mini version, while translating the ideas into a more “modern” lexicon. So far as I can tell, no one has such a work online, and I think it would be a good exercise.

I’ve created a new category on the blog called “Mini-Federalist”, and hope to do a new entry regularly, going in order of the original papers. I accept that this will probably take a few years to complete. I welcome comments, questions, and criticisms as this will only make the final product better.

We Get E-mail

Anyone who runs a WordPress site knows about comment SPAM.

Basically, there are computerized robots roaming the Internet, looking for WordPress (and other blogs) to leave comments on. These comments are usually in the form of links to porn websites, or to sites selling fake Louis Vuitton bags out of Yugoslavia or something. The idea is to get links to their site on as many other sites as possible, because that’s how they increase their ranking on Google.

Anyway, I get a lot of this stuff. So much in fact that I can’t leave comments turned “on”, they have to be left in a “moderated” mode, where every comment needs to be approved before it is visible. It’s a mess.

It’s not all dark clouds, though. The entertaining thing is that there aren’t just links in these comments. They try to put something in there that sounds like a legitimate comment, but is always just a little off. Here are a few examples that I found particularly funny:

“A real uncle isn’t friends, although friends are usually each uncle.”

“Fancy can be the effective requirement for your personal living therefore the expansion of truley (sic) what most of us take pleasure in.”

“When you really need any accountancy of one’s importance, rely pals.”

“Around the world you most likely are someone, yet to person you most likely are everything about.”

Actually, there might be some good advice in there….

A Quick Plug….

I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to my old friend, Laura.

We used to work together at AQ way back in the day, and thanks to the magic of things like LiveJournal, Facebook, and Twitter, have been able to keep in touch through the years. She’s a cool person.

She too, has a blog and she’s very involved in 2nd Amendment issues (an area that is close to my heart as well). Go give her a read!

Starting

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.

Until now.

Now, I’m starting. Again.