Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Cold Turkey

I'll admit it...I'm an addict. I've been forced to go cold turkey, and the withdrawal symptoms are not pleasant. I know that my supply has dried up, but woefully I keep seeking just one more fix...just one more fix...how I want one more!

My "drug of choice" is the Front Porch, Celebration's intranet site. Like many other computer-geek residents, I used to visit it several times a day. It was a high-tech version of the old guys sitting in front of the barber shop in Mayberry or the womenfolk gossiping at the supermarket or over the back fence. It had a lot of static information on organizations in town and upcoming events, but the most popular part was the resident-only forums. There, behind password-protected "walls," the true Celebration came to light. The discussions were lively, and sometimes quite heated, but always very addictive.

Like most addictions, the Front Porch got me through some really tough times. Back when my husband and I were spending most of our time in Chicago, with precious bi-weekly 48-hour stints in Celebration, the Front Porch was my lifeline. It kept me in the thick of life in Celebration, even though I was 1200 miles away. I could make contact with friends and keep up on gossip. Even with four inches of snow right outside my window, and a chill wind blowing outside, I could tap away at my keyboard and imagine myself looking out at palm trees gently swaying in the breeze under the warm caress of the sun.

We made our first Celebration friends via the Front Porch. Long before we met them face to face, we already knew them in the virtual world. Celebration wasn't an alien new neighborhood to us; it was "home" almost immediately, thanks in large part to the online community.

When we moved to town permanently, I still mainlined a daily Front Porch fix (well, actually, several times daily). Sure, I could use the phone or talk to people face to face, but the intranet remained an integral source of community gossip. It was the quickest way to spread the word to a large group of people. The wedding described in my blog a couple weeks ago is a prime example...thanks to the Front Porch, the entire lavish affair was pulled together from scratch within 48 hours.

It was great for more mundane uses, too. Need a recommendation for a business? Turn to the Front Porch. It's where we found our house painters and first-hand information about the spa we eventually bought. Want to give something away or lend a helping hand? It's where I gave away our kitchen light fixture when we bought a new one and loaned out our cat cage to a neighbor.

We even had a Front Porch Picnic to allow regular users to put faces to names. A massive rainstorm cut into attendance, but 30 intrepid souls still braved the monsoon to chow down and meet their fellow computer addicts.

But a couple of days ago, the Front Porch vanished into thin air, the victim of hackers who destroyed it and left a salute to Bin Laden in its place. No more news items, no more schedule of events, no more discussion forums, no more anything. Just a few mocking black lines of text on a stark white background. Our Technology cornerstone had crumbled...the Front Porch had disappeared.

Now, those of us who used it regularly are stumbling around like shell-shocked zombies. How could one of our main communication tools have been taken from us so suddenly? It's something you never think about; the intranet was always just there, just like electricity or the telephone. You never believe it could disappear in the blink of an eye.

Right now, there is just a lonely homepage, and I don't know how much (if anything) of the original Front Porch will be salvagable. I feel so lost...I often searched the forum archives for information, and I never thumbed through a phone book because I preferred the online resident directory. All that info. I depended on has vanished somewhere in cyberspace.

Thankfully, there is another discussion forum at http://www.34747forum.com where the lost souls of Celebration can get a small measure of comfort. But it's not quite the same as the Front Porch, as users can sign up anonymously. On the intranet, you had to post under your true identity, which kept most conflicts at a dull roar. But anonymity breeds courage, so things can get pretty crazy at the other forum. Also, it's not restricted to Celebration residents only, so the ambiance is different than our insular little site.

If this story has any moral, I guess it would be this: 1) Back up your data judiciously. You never know what can happen; I'm at a total loss to imagine why hackers would target the Celebration, Florida intranet. I always thought they targeted big sites, like Ebay or Amazon, not "gossip central" of a Podunk town. 2) Don't take anything for granted; know how easily it can be here today and gone tomorrow.

Well, enough blogging...I'm off to the forum for my fix.

Learn more about Celebration on my website: www.celebrationinfo.com

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