Prairienet: How I Made Friends and Found a Career

Today’s post is prompted by the happy coincidence that I found my very first volunteer nametag while unpacking a box today. It’s from way back in 1994 or 1995, when I was still living in Champaign, Illinois. Before THAT, I’d been an active member in the Champaign-Urbana Computer Users Group, where I met a whole bunch of wonderful nerdy people, including my PC mentor and close friend, Mark Zinzow, and the eventually famous eccentric genius Michael Hart, who was working on Project Gutenberg even back in the late 1980s. (I regret not having time to contribute back then.)

My name tag!

I did that, because I’d been the de facto PC tech person in every job I’d had since I got my first IBM PC (with two, count-em, two! floppy disk drives) to write my dissertation on, and I needed helpers! Yes, I actually knew how everything worked, back in those simpler days and times.

Time passed and I got a fine job working at Wolfram Research as a technical writer (career score #1) (where I got to work with my second eccentric genius friend, Stephen Wolfram). I stayed friends with the PCUG folks, though, hung out on Usenet to learn more. A few years later, after I’d left Wolfran Research to raise my two sons, I saw an ad for classes on the World Wide Web and websites, which was hosted by Prairienet, a community internet kind of deal where many of my old friends were volunteering. The kids’ dad said maybe this newfangled web thing would be a way to keep my tech skills up while raising the kids. I agreed.

I took a class from a wonderful woman named Karen Fletcher, and suddenly I knew enough about HTML to teach classes myself. This was my first technical training experience (career score #2). Karen was a wonderful friend, even keeping me in touch with horses way back then thanks to her partner who was a horse trainer. She was also a Master Gardener, so we hung around with similar folks.

So, while my kids were little and I was learning about breastfeeding from La Leche League (not linking to them), I was also learning about websites from Greg Newby, Karen, Mark, and others over at Prairienet. And hey, here’s a fact I love to share: the first website I ever made was for my LLL group. It didn’t have any images, though. Why? It was before you could put images in! Everything was text! We were lucky we had bold and italic to spice things up. And lots of asterisks.

Bad image, but my copy is in a box.

One of the friends I met in Prairienet was also a coworker, Bruce Pea. What a nice guy. He got it into his head to write a user manual for Prairienet, since he was all techy and understood how it worked. However, he was not a writer by trade, so I stepped in to copy edit that 1995 book, The Prairienet Companion. I can assure you it was a lot easier than copy-editing the Mathematica Book (second edition), which I had also been working on.

This book contained 95% fewer occurrences than the first draft contained. Thank you, past me.

I turned around and one day there I was, a technical writer and trainer specializing in software documentation and training who also built user communities. Careers are weird! It’s mostly luck and coincidence for me, not a path I was driven toward. But I sure had fun between 1985-1995 learning my webmastering chops!

Another fact: I am still friends with Connor Kelly, the first person to ever find out about a La Leche League meeting online. That’s career score #3, because I swiftly combined what I learned on Prairienet with what I was doing in La Leche League, and in just a year or two was on the real internet, making the website of the whole LLL organization (and many others on the side). That led to volunteer-organizational fame, no fortune, and a lot of drama. And in LLL I helped create a user community, like a baby Facebook that failed due to drama and infighting but looked good enough on a resume to keep.

Hmm. I think I just wrote my biography in a half hour. I can’t believe I dredged up all these memories of myself and the internet as we grew up together. I bet my own spouse hadn’t heard so much about what I did during the decade I just summarized. I’m glad I found that little pin.

Hard-Won Internet

I haven’t blogged today mainly because I’m so tired from getting things done that needed doing. The best is that after much struggle and endless calls, being on hold, and trying to explain what we want, we got rural internet installed so maybe I can actually Zoom successfully and, oh, maybe, watch something streaming???

There’s the thing that communicates with the cell tower.

Even once Josh the installer guy got here it wasn’t easy. We really are NOT near any good cell towers (as I knew). Josh wandered around looking for them, since this is line-of-sight rural broadband.

Where is that tower?

After he finally found a tower and put up whatever that is at the top of this post, Josh drilled a big hole in my house (eek) and used a cool glow-in-the-dark stick to pull cable in. Voila!

What’s that guy doing?

You’d think I’d be all set, but of course I had to run into a snag. The software to register the modem was all messed up, plus it wouldn’t accept my magical code. I had to get through three calls with three helpful but confusing people, then suddenly a different page displayed and I got in. No idea what happened but I’ll accept it.

Thanks, Josh.

There’s more. But I’ll save it for tomorrow. I have to get ready for my riding lesson tomorrow.

The Hermits’ Rest Has Internet!

What a day! Halfway through the lovely morning, the monthly allotment of my hotspot was reached. Insert sad music here, because I got this message:

AT&T Free Msg: You have used 100% of your 30GB of mobile hotspot high-speed data for this bill period. Mobile hotspot data will be slowed to a max speed of 128Kbps until 03/24/2021. Go to http://www.att.com/myATTUsage to track your data use.

Text to me from the phone people

Uh. That speed meant I could sort of load a Facebook page. But I could not Zoom, I couldn’t load my kanban cards, I couldn’t do much of anything.

So, the first part of the rest of the day was spent on the phone trying to get me some gigabytes! We had to figure out how our devices worked and what we had. That was complicated. The phone lady said we really needed to go to a physical store.

Glad I’m vaccinated, because we had to go to a store! But it was a good one, still limiting people in it. After more figuring stuff out, we ended up getting Precious Internet Device.

That’s the box it came in. The flowers show my true love.

Since PID also means pelvic inflammatory disease, I’m calling Precious Internet Device “Piddy.” I love Piddy.

Happily internetting away.

It took no time at all to get it working. Now we have the ability to go online, Zoom, and do work. I’m so relieved. It’s like a huge weight off my shoulders. I don’t think I realized how much my wonky online access was stressing me out until it no longer was!

Of course, this is my life, so a new issue HAD to arise immediately. I’d mentioned that my phone screen was cracked. The phone store guy (who was so much like us that it made shopping okay) said he thought only the plastic protector was damaged.

I took off the case, and could not remove the plastic, so the guy tried it. He took one look at my phone and said, “You seem to have a damaged phone here.”

Sure enough, with the case off, the phone began to expand! Eek! The case was separating!

Those metal things should be inside the case. And the phone should be thinner.

It appears that the battery is expanding. I’m waiting for it to go boom now. Thank goodness I can now connect the phone to WiFi overnight and get it all backed up in time to transfer my stuff over to the new phone that’s coming tomorrow.

I’m glad I got the phone insurance! They even discounted it because we’d paid so much in. Now, however, I’m ready for my technological issues to take a hiatus.

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