May 3, 2001
Mechanics

 


 
This is either going to be a very boring journal entry -- or else a very interesting journal entry -- depending on your level of interest in the mechanics of Internet journaling.

(Those of you who find the subject only slightly less coma-inducing than 'bicycle-and-wedding chat' are excused for the day. The rest of you will have to stick around and suffer.)

For the past two years, I have been involved in an intense, love/hate relationship with my local Internet Service Provider. They hate me, and I would love to see them buried up to their necks in sand, drizzled in copious amounts of Sue Bee honey and placed strategically in front of a nest of angry red fire ants.

At least some of the time.

When *FootNotes* was still in its gestation phase ... back in the long-ago and far-away of September 1997 ... I had been on the Internet for less than a month. I'd been goofing around on AOL for a couple of years, prior to that, but everything changed when I hit that Netscape button for the first time.

The Oregon Boyfiend stood looking over my shoulder that evening, as I sat in front of his computer looking at the Internet for the very first time, and he gave me a crash course in surfing the 'Net. ("Don't eat Pringles while you're using my computer," I believe, were his exact instructions.)  But I had to figure everything else out for myself: browsers and search engines ... Netscape and Explorer ... HTML and URLs.

It was love at first site, as they say.

Right away I decided to assemble an Internet journal: an idea that the Oregon Boyfiend vehemently opposed.  Basically he felt that anybody who would hang her dirty laundry out on an Internet clothesline for all the world to see belonged on The Jerry Springer Show. (Or in California, maybe.)  I had absolutely no idea how to start, but I was as determined as I was clueless. Fortunately -- or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it -- I stumbled across GeoCities almost immediately. For an HTML nincompoop like me, GeoCities was like an answer to prayer. GeoCities took me in off the street, providing me with an address and a roof over my head. GeoCities made me part of a "community." GeoCities taught me how to build my website, and gave me all sorts of groovy editing and uploading tools, and explained everything in v e r y  s i m p l e language that even a nincompoop like me could understand. GeoCities all but knocked on my door and offered to do my laundry for me ... and all for free.

As long as I pimped for them.

It didn't take long for me to HATE the obligatory banners and pop-up ads that GeoCities required its "Community Members" to attach to their websites. Even then, I had very fixed ideas about how I wanted *FootNotes* to look ... and my vision didn't include the stoopid GeoCities watermark, branded at the bottom of each and every page. 

I started looking for ways to circumvent the requirements: moving the GeoCities HTML code around ... "hiding" the GeoCities HTML code ... sometimes deleting the GeoCities HTML code altogether (until I'd get another letter from GeoCities Corporate Headquarters, demanding that I reinstate the hated HTML code or face immediate and more or less permanent death).

I even joined a couple of those strident, angry "We Hate GeoCities! (And Yes, We're Still USING GeoCities! Shut Up!)" groups, filled with people who post strident, angry messages on bulletin boards all day long, and who write each other strident, angry e-mail, all about how much they hate GeoCities and about how angry and strident they are. "Why don't you people just move to an ISP?" contributed the occasional exasperated voice of reason to the "We Hate GeoCities!" message boards. This was generally met with derision and indignation by the other angry strident GeoCities users -- "Then what would we have to be angry and strident about?" -- but it definitely made me stop and think.

Why not indeed? I had only the vaguest idea what an "ISP" was, of course. But hey, if it was a way to get out from under the oppressive GeoCities thumb ... I was there.

So I began to research Internet Service Providers. My criteria was simple: 1.) it had to be cheap, 2.) it had to be local (so I could go pose for a groovy photo in front of their offices) and 3.) it had to operate quietly and efficiently in the background at all times ... never breaking down, never experiencing technical difficulties, and most importantly never requiring me to do anything technically complicated. (More "technically complicated" than remembering to plug in my monitor, I mean.)  Eventually I settled on a Berkeley-based ISP with a decent reputation, and I signed up for their most basic no-frills dial-up account package. I spent the better portion of a weekend moving the website to its new home.

Everything was fine again ... for a while. My new ISP and I enjoyed a brief but blissful honeymoon. My files uploaded regularly without a hitch or a glitch ... I had this fabulous new Internet e-mail address ... plus *FootNotes* was cooking right along, free of pop-ups or watermarks or gratuitous vitamin advertisements. Basically, the only interaction my service provider and I had with each other was the polite once-monthly e-mail reminder to pay my bill. Eventually I signed up for the automatic credit card payment, which eliminated even that tiny amount of monthly contact. We were like married people who live on separate floors and never speak to each other. I liked it that way.

But then of course I fudked it all up.

By that point *FootNotes* was beginning to enjoy some modest success. My numbers were beginning to swell (almost as much as my head!), and I decided that what I needed now was my own domain name. Somehow, I felt, "users.lmi.net/secra" just didn't have the pizzazz to properly convey my vast reserves of incredible grooviness and stuff.

Specifically: I wanted to be www.secraterri.com.

Registering and purchasing the domain name, which I feared would be a complicated process, turned out to be a piece of cake. An expensive (and -- some may say -- frivolous) piece of cake, but a piece of cake nonetheless. After the domain name was registered ... and after I'd duly notified my ISP/my mother/my local congressman ... I excitedly typed the new URL into my web browser -- www.secraterri.com -- and waited for that *magic moment* when my very own domain name would appear in the address bar at the top of my browser.

And it did. For about two seconds. And then it resolutely flipped back over ...

... to "users.lmi.net/secra."

Sputtering and indignant, I called up my ISP and demanded to speak to the manager of the Customer Service Department. Why the hell wasn't my incredibly groovy domain name showing up as the web address?!?

Simple! explained Don The Customer Service Guy. Your parallel flange indicators aren't configured to support a flexural/axial load, so the connectivity of the emission compliance is interfacing with your spectral aura, rather than with the /sbin/ifup script, which means that all your gateway proxy verification is automatically being routed to France. If you want to pony up an additional $39.95 per month -- plus a one-time bazillion dollar set-up charge -- I can upgrade you from a *We Tolerate You Because You're Helping To Pay Our Utility Bill* account, to the infinitely groovier *We Tolerate You Because You're Financing Our Vacation Home In Maui* account. Provided, of course, that you immediately surrender your flange indicators (AND your firstborn child.)

Umm. No thanks.

I hung up feeling chastised ... but not beaten. Even if I'd had three-tenths of a clue what he was talking about, I knew that this was more than I could afford. I was already paying for two separate AOL accounts AND a stoopid AT&T WorldNet account (another story/another day), plus I had my monthly ISP bill, on top of everything else. An additional forty bucks a month was more cyber-related expense than I could justify.

I comforted myself with the knowledge that at least I owned my damn domain name ... and that someday I would be able to use it.

Over the course of the next year or so I was forced to make an occasional emergency call to my ISP's technical service department. My files weren't uploading properly. I couldn't access my Internet e-mail through Outlook Express. I was having problems connecting to the server. Don The Customer Service Guy never sounded happy to hear from me. In his mind, I'm sure, I was this computer-illiterate, pre-menopausal hag who called to yell at him every time she accidentally forgot to plug in her monitor. If I left him a voicemail message requesting a return call, he'd wait until the next day, and then he'd send me an e-mail instead. If I wrote him e-mail, he responded with a message on my answering machine, two days later. If I asked him to call me at home, he called me at the office. If I faxed him a service request, he didn't respond at all.

Why was I putting up with this shidt? I'd ask myself occasionally. I've known periodontists who treated me more gently. I started to make some token efforts, at that point, to break up with my ISP. I searched the Internet for alternative web hosts. I asked other Internet journalers for recommendations. I made a few phone calls.

But you know how it is. We get comfy. We resist change. We figure, If I just stick it out, maybe things will get better. So we sit back and we don't do anything at all ...

... and the next thing I knew another year had passed, and now it was Spring 2001, and I found myself starting to think about that domain name of mine again. I'd registered it. I'd paid for it. I owned it, forcryingoutloud. Why the hell wasn't I using it?  (Well ... technically, I was using it. It was the only URL I ever gave out to people, since it did eventually route through the ISP to my website, albeit circuitously. Plus it was the only URL *I* ever typed into a web browser. I refused to type any part of the ISP address, ever: a tiny act of defiance that made me feel only marginally better.)

I decided to take one more swing at fixing this.

Hi Don, read my determinedly courteous e-mail two weeks ago. I'd decided to make the initial request electronically, rather than over the phone. That way I could document, right from the start, what I already knew would probably be a painfully drawn-out process. I'm interested in exploring ways to use my registered domain name as the only URL for my website, I wrote ... almost sounding like I know what I'm talking about. While I was at it, I decided to ask about an increase in storage space. With new text, graphics and poorly-scanned Polaroids added nearly every day, *FootNotes* is rapidly reaching gargantuan proportions. I'm also interested in acquiring more storage space," I wrote. Is that still available in 10MB increments? If so, I'd like to order a dozen. And I sent the e-mail off to the ISP, knowing that it might be days -- or generations -- before I heard anything back.

It only took one day to get a response this time. Much quicker than I'd expected, actually. But the news wasn't good.

You are already over the 25MB storage limit allowed to *Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie* Dial-Up Accounts! screamed Don's e-mail reply. You need to remove 15MB from your website before sundown or we will come to your house and PERSONALLY kill you totally dead!!

OK. That's not exactly what he said. But it had the same effect on my nervous system. "Remove 15MB from my website?" That was like asking me to "remove" several favorite vital organs. And precisely which 15MB would I remove? My cartoons? The trashy, twisted summer potboiler? The college journals, filled with angst and bad poetry? I immediately picked up the phone, of course, and furiously dialed the Customer Support number.

Voicemail.

"I need a call back IMMEDIATELY!" I screeched into the receiver. "I'm VERY UPSET about my account, and I want to talk to somebody WITHOUT FAIL." This of course practically guaranteed 1.) I would never ever ever get a call back, or 

2.) if I did get a call back ... it would be Don.

I know what you're thinking. At this point you're thinking Jesus H. Christ on a parallel flange indicator, Secra!! Why don't you just CHANGE your freakin INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER and be DONE with it? And the truth is ... I don't know why I'm giving them another chance. I suppose part of it goes back to that whole "We get comfy/we resist change" mindset. Part of it is because even though they fall down in the Customer Service department occasionally, in all other ways they've been OK, especially in service and reliability. (Not to mention the *hip factor.* I mean ... they're located in Berkeley, forcryingoutloud. How cool is that??)  

But mostly, I think, it's simple laziness. *FootNotes* is like a house of cards. It's this incredibly complex, incredibly huge creation that I've uploaded bazillions of *time and energy molecules* into, over the past three years ... and yet it's also extremely fragile. This past year alone it has faced a number of threats: computer meltdowns, service problems, writer's block, rolling blackouts, hostile takeovers. Some of these "threats" have been documented publicly, while some of them have happened behind-the-scenes. The point is that it really wouldn't take very much to knock over my little house of cards. It's not a technical issue, really: I scrupulously save everything *FootNotes*-related to two separate, secure offline locations. If the website were to blow up due to technical problems, I could probably rebuild it. But it would take time and effort and technical expertise (and a computer that doesn't scream when I turn it on) ... none of which I possess in any abundance.  And in the meantime I might very well lose motivation. Not to mention my audience.

And I don't want to take that chance yet. I just want to use my fudking domain name.

While I waited for Don the Customer Service Guy to call me back, I did something I'd never actually done before: I went to my ISP's website and read up on all of their different service plans and account options. Hold the phone! I said. Look at all of these different service plans and account options! Some of which were not only affordable (or at least more affordable than they were two years ago), but looked like they might actually suit my needs. By the time Don finally called me back  --  five hours later  --  I was already considerably less agitated. I knew what I wanted to do now. I was informed. I was focused. I had a plan.

I was ready to commit to ... a web account.

What exactly, I asked him, would it take to "upgrade" me? And please don't give me a long-winded shpiel filled with geekspeak and complicated sales jargon. All I want to know is:

  • Exactly how much will it cost?
  • Exactly what will I get for my money?
  • Exactly what will *I* be required to do, technically, to make it happen?

Simple! explained Don The Customer Service Guy. For a bi-monthly Coagitating Microfiber Upgrade Fee, plus a one-time bazillion dollar set-up charge, your *Teeny Tiny Itsy Bitsy* Dial-Up Account will be automatically upgraded to the *See? We Knew You Would Never Leave Us!* account, providing you with five additional e-mail addresses, a couple of spare flux capacitors, a vegetable peeler and an extra 40DDD bazooms of storage capacity. (Unless you would rather go with the *Pay Us Enough and We Might Even Answer The Phone Once In A While* Plan ... in which case your minimum bi-annual proxy defibrillation charge would be subdivided by 3.478% and rounded up to the nearest lateral incisor.) Set-up would be easy: you would simply be required to fill out and submit the upgrade application ... log on to the new cross-functional R/3X server ... move all of your website files to the SGU-compliant analgesic configurator ... and destroy all of your old *FootNotes* files before sundown.

And -- of course -- you have to immediately relinquish your firstborn child.

Fine, I said weakly. Do it.

(Jaymi? Start packing your bags, honey: Mama's finally gonna be using her domain name.)



one year ago: three kinds of people


previous
archives
*footnotes*
next
throw a rock