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Hear the crashing steel, feel the steering wheel

July 12, 2009

No posts the latter part of the week – startlingly late sleepage (i.e. 5 a.m.) this week, which has given me a little time to read and almost finish Love and Sex With Robots, but not enough to write it up.  Also, busy at work, which is a good thing, fending off poverty as it does, but which does make you tired.  (Working on materials localized into other languages; eight days of working with SimHei and PMingLiU is like eight days of flying in the fog, hoping your instruments are correct because there’s no way you could tell if they weren’t.)  Off to Vegas for a CAREWare job for two days today, which will probably make me more productive blog-wise – when it’s 110 degrees outside, I can guarantee I’m not going far from the hotel room in the off hours.

And yesterday the personal PC crashed – all I did was reboot, which I almost never do if I can help it, and it just kept going back to the BIOS over and over.  Fortunately, I have the work PC, and was able to find a solution, at least to the lost files crisis (got a new HD in February and have been lazy about backup since then) – download Ubuntu Linux, burn to disc, and boot the failed PC from the disc, using the option to try Linux w/o having to install it. 

Of course, as the article linked above states, in most cases you have to immediately turn off the paved surface of the GUI onto the dirt road of command line instructions in order to get Linux to see your HD with commands such as “mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sda1 /media/disk -o force” – with no accompanying note or documentation link to let you know whether this will put any kind of marker on the disk that would stop Windows from finding that drive again without expensive professional help.  Paving these roads is something that will be critical if Linux wants to be accepted by the masses, especially since I doubt I’m the only one who is both overjoyed at such a free, easy solution, and aggravated that I still have to take the work laptop on this trip, since there’s no “auto detect” for wireless connections.  I would have to start with “sudo lsmod | grep ipw2200” or some such to begin configuring my wireless card, and I just can’t take the risk that it won’t work at the hotel. (Also, I found an option to select my Verizon wireless modem as an Internet connection, but since there’s no VZ Access Manager for Linux, I remain baffled as to what good that selection does – something to look into when I have time on my return, I suppose.)

It seems to me that crashes like mine are golden opportunities for Linux to increase market share, since what people like me want in a crisis is a) to ensure I haven’t lost my files, and b) to get on the Internet ASAP without any fuss.  I was pleased with the Ubuntu GUI, and overjoyed that I could move my files from the laptop to my external HD – I could have lived without Windows Live Writer, CAREWare itself, and any of my other Windows programs, if (with only hours to go before I get on a plane) I could have Internet without effort.

But what I’ve seen on Slashdot and other postings is a mindset among many of those who use, contribute to and support Linux distributions, which is this (use Wilford Brimley voice in your head as you read this) “You ain’t got no business ownin’ a car if you can’t fix what’s under the hood” attitude that actually discourages improvements to GUIs.  (Of course, they also have a stake in keeping OS software a little difficult to configure, as that keeps them employed as consultants.)  “Go on now back to your short pants and your GUI, boy.”  It’s a mindset that thinks working with a computer should be hard, based on the idea that you should understand how your tools work before you’re qualified to use them.  For me, this analogy doesn’t hold up here – I do understand, for instance, how Adobe Captivate works, and all its little quirks and oddities. (Don’t double click a Captivate file to start the program; don’t start Captivate and then check the Internet while it loads or it’ll hang and you’ll have to kill the process; you can open another instance if you make some tiny change in the open document so it’s “unsaved,” otherwise the program will close it and open the new doc; write in the new Flash file name and location before saving the source file or it’ll discard that information when you close, etc. etc.)  Asking me to have deep knowledge of my OS before I can learn the tools I use every day is like asking an electrician to understand the physics behind nuclear power plants before he’s qualified to wire a house.

That said, this was my first exposure to Linux, and I love the idea that you can download it on one machine (for free), image it with a burner to CD (for free), and plug it into another machine without having to commit to a permanent installation.  And, of course, I love that it saw my Windows files and let me move them to safety.  Maybe if I install it to the HD, then all that good auto-detect stuff I’m looking for comes into play (it found all my USB hubbed equipment w/no effort on my part, why not the wireless card?).  Even if I were willing, I’m not able to convert, since both my jobs are Windows-based (v-dash at MS subsidiary and consultant on .NET application), but I would consider installing it next to Windows, or if I could run Windows efficiently within it.

Up next after Love and Sex is The Craftsman, which seems appropriate given my recent experience.  Not “on message” on AI or robotics, but in line with the interest I’ve taken here in the nature of what makes people competent (the orderly march with no “C”s in Macro vs. the disorderly march which leads to deeper knowledge of and commitment to a way of doing things).

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