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BlueWolf's Howl

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April 07, 2006

How it all began...

When I first got into computers, it was just for geeks and people who had a lot of money to spend on a luxury (a computer and internet access). I financed my first 286 through a small, local computer company. Yes, a 286 was so expensive that I couldn't afford it all at once. By the time I finished paying for it, the 386s had already hit the market. I was tempted to upgrade, but figured if they came out that fast, something better would come out soon too. And not long after that, I walked into the local Circuit City and financed a Pentium with a (28K) modem. I was in debt, but I was in heaven.

I was lucky enough to find an ISP with 'unlimited access' for only $15/month. Although most people were using AOL at the time, I didn't bother because I knew that they charged per minute once you go over your allotted hours. People racked up some very expensive bills with that and I knew it would be trouble. But, with my ISP, in order to use it, I had to learn something about what I was doing. It wasn't the easy click and connect of AOL (which is why so many people use AOL). Following the instructions, I had to dial into their service and xmodem the software. Then I had to run the software and connect. I was totally fascinated by the whole process. I was allowed 5MB of web space and I wanted to have a web page. My ISP told me about FTP and gave me the info to reach my space. I spent hours on Yahoo (Google wasn't invented yet) and found everything I could about HTML and web pages. Being a regular in a chatroom may have seemed a waste of time, but that's where I learned how to do all kinds of HTML coding - so I could make my posts look the way I wanted, post pictures, etc... Granted, I also learned a lot about the 'seedier' side of the online community, but it was a small price to pay. I also found a wealth of information on the Usenet groups. That was the 'Wild West' of the Internet at that time.

My interest in Usenet was what led me to my first computer job. I was still working in Environmental Health and had a lot of down time. I would write and design web pages on an old 386 laptop that I bought (used - for a few hundred dollars) or just on paper. Once I got home, I would type the code in and upload the page. Then I would check my newsgroups. Unlike most, I wasn't too taken with the binaries groups - I found it boring. The graphics were slow to load (28K modem) and the plaintext talk groups held more of my interest. Just watching the posts in some of the computer groups, you could learn a TON of information. And my favorite was alt.astrology which had the funniest flame wars in the history of the planet. [alt.kooks was pretty funny too] I learned a lot about people and freedom. Sure, you were free to post anything you want. And you can. Freedom, yeah! But, so can anyone else. And if you post something ridiculous, you will be ridiculed... And if you're an idiot, someone is always around to shine a spotlight on it. Most of the time, if they're smart enough to pick up on your stupidity, they're also smart enough to point it out in a hilarious manner. This can often be entertaining.

Since I was a heavy Usenet junkie, I wanted to make sure that I got all the posts for my group. I noticed that some replies referred to posts I had never seen. So I decided to find another local unlimited access ISP so I could pull news from two news sources. I called an ISP named Tidalwave. The tech on the phone had no clue what a newsgroup was, much less who they got their feed from. I asked for the manager. Since the tech didn't know how to use the hold button, I heard the mayhem and noticed that it took quite a while to get a manager on the phone. He answered my question - and I mentioned how swamped they sounded. I asked if they needed any help. We talked about computers for a while and he said to come down for an interview. [I found out afterwards that he was one of those guys that doesn't get to talk to many girls - so no small wonder he stopped to chat and talk shop with me no matter how busy they were.] I went on the interview and was hired immediately. Ah, the joys of telephone tech support.

From that job, I learned every last part of the dial in process and settings (from the client side). I also learned about email, DNS, and FTP. I was introduced to Linux - Red Hat 4.0. And the manager introduced me to a book called Inside Windows NT 4.0. It was everything you needed to know about a 4.0 Server. OMG. I could actually read stuff and learn to do all kinds of things! I asked again about the news server. It was running rough and I was seeing missing posts on that one too. It was a very low priority. Mail, web and DNS were the top priorities. He was never going to get to it. I asked if I could take a shot at it. I read the online manual for DNews - which was the news server software that was being used. I knew that manual inside out. I knew that if they put that second hard drive in the server, you could spool the information across both hard drives and double your storage space. Since he realized he was never going to get to it, he let me take a shot at it. A senior tech supervised me while I put the hard drive into the server. Then I was really on my own. I knew more about DNews than either of them. It took a while, but I got it working. And then I streamlined the feed from UUnet so that the server wouldn't be overwhelmed. I found that we were receiving 1-2 gigs of information per day and trying to keep that information for 30 days on a server with only 9 gigs of hard drive space. Do the math. It doesn't work.

There were a few 'censorship' complaints about the streamlined feed. Nobody complained that I clipped the entire humanities category. The only complaint was that their 'binaires' group was gone! Luckily I had done my research. There were two categories - one called alt.binaries and the other called alt.binaires. Apparently someone creating the group had a spelling problem. And anyone posting in one group, was also crossposting in the other group. It was redundant. So, any complaints were answered with a math and spelling lesson. This seemed to at least convert the grumble from censor to cheap.

And that is how I became a Sys Admin. I'm not sure if it was because I showed my understanding of the server and its software, or that I was willing and able to field all calls pertaining to Usenet News. But, that's where I got my start - in the Wild Wild West of the Internet known as Usenet.

Posted by BlueWolf on April 7, 2006 09:27 AM