opinion

What's Old is New Again

Stephen Yagielowicz
They say that technology is advancing at an alarming rate and they are of course correct — but that doesn't mean that we can afford to forget our roots.

A case in point is the electronic foolishness I was up to the other day, attempting to cleanse one of my servers from all traces of the successful attacks against it by both Russian and Chinese hackers; and to restore it to top running condition — a difficult task for someone as technically inept as myself, and who is more than happy to let a hosting company worry about such "plumbing" issues. But hey, hosting plans change, and the level of inspection I wanted was going to be up to me.

So there I was, my PuTTY client open, providing a black, soulless window into the inner depths of my server — its command line staring back at me, waiting for my input. "Oh dear, I just know I'm gonna type in something stupid and kill this thing..." the thought flashing through my head, I was transported back to the early '90s, when I learnt HTML using DOS Edit, because the luxury of MS Windows was still off in the future.

But this wasn't a web page I was designing, where a quick edit could fix a problem; this was pure monkey business, poking around the box' various systems and file structures and hoping that I wouldn't have to call tech support and say "sorry squire, it seems I broke it" — they have, after all, heard that from me before...

I took a deep breath, and typed in one of the very few commands I remembered: "ls –l" — and with that, I was on my way, probing the server's various nooks and crannies; deleting files that were corrupted or no longer needed, until I was satisfied that most if not all of the offending material was removed. Well, at least all that I could find.

During the process, my hesitation was overcome by nostalgia, as I contemplated the dichotomy of today's flashy Web 2.0 landscape — and the façade that is merely a skin on a much older architecture; where despite the shininess of the showroom, an operator will still sometimes have to venture into a dark basement to smack a rusty pipe with a wrench.

It was, however, this mix of old and new that made the process infinitely easier for me, as I made use of my dual-monitor setup to run PuTTY on one monitor and to keep a dozen browser tabs open on the other — each displaying the results of various Google searches, such as "WTF is FreeBSD?" and "How do you recursively remove a directory?"

Simple enough for many, but for those readers who don't know what I'm talking about, trust me — it doesn't matter how often you use your computer for sex, you really don't want to be this intimate with one.

While I'm still eyeing my server with a fair degree of suspicion, it now seems to be a clean slate — a blank canvas awaiting the master's inspiration (and backup files).

This is really the true essence of being a Webmaster: seeing the possibilities and calling them out of the void — the world truly at your fingertips. And while the world, the web, and technology have all dramatically evolved over the past few years, there is still much opportunity to be found and success to be had. It all starts with a clean slate and taking what's old and making it new again.

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