Archive for the ‘Backstory’ Category


On Being a Noob

June 24, 2006

The purpose of this blog is to take a look at Linux from the perspective of someone new to it.  While I'm sure I have internalized some of the jargon and a bit of the technical stuff, I'm still pretty green at all of this.  I'm not into using command lines…at all.  Why the heck would I want to go back into the MS-DOS era of computing?


I'm also not going to be compiling code.  I'm a user of software, not a writer, programmer or compiler of them.  And I resent anyone who tries to get me to become one.  These are things the old Linux guard is going to have to give up if they want to free the world of MS tyranny.


A year ago, when I spooled up Mepis that first time at home, I had a few problems.


First, the display was wrong for me since I was using the same old moniter that came with our old 486 Wintel machine.


Once I overcame that obstacle, I discovered that getting online was going to be a challenge.  In fact impossible for the time being.  My modem is a Winmodem, meaning it derives most its being and meaning from Windows.  Mepis Linux had no idea where it was, what is was or anything.


So Mepis became something I kept and used at work mostly, especially when the hard drive as was crapping out or I really wanted and needed the tabbed browsing.


Yes, I looked for and found the chipset and even downloaded the Linuxant software and couldn't get that to recognize my Winmodem.  I was quite frustrated.  Keep in mind, I'm still running off the live CD and running with over 600Mb of RAM.


In addition, the Mepis 3.3 version does not support my new printer, which is an Epson CX 7800.  These are not small things, but I am persisting.  Why?  Because I may not have a choice soon.




June 23, 2006

When my CD arrived, I was overjoyed.  I couldn't wait to try it out!  But as a busy teacher, I would have to wait.  But the opportunity presented itself soon enough.

My machine at school was a 800 MHz machine that had been running Win98 before they re-imaged it over the summer to XP.  That would be summer 2005.  The machine only had 64 Mb RAM and seriously whimpered under the yoke of XP.  Fortunately I knew our building tech guy well and he got a hold of 2 more Win98 machines that didn't have network cards.  I took the RAM from one machine and put it on my networked machine which stopped whimpering so loudly.  Then I worked on the non-networked machine.

Using XP, the computer administrators effectively made it impossible for teachers to install their own software.  I could see their point, to avoid infecting the entire network with junk.  But I had specialized things to install, like a scanner, a digital camera, several very specialized programs and assorted adaptive switches and touch screens.  This is why I got a machine that was not networked, so I could put my own stuff on it.  I didn't need internet access, I just needed to be able to scan, print and run things for the kids.  But Office XP was only available over the network.  What to do?

This where I installed and seriously began working with Open Office.  It is now a real working part of my classroom set up.  I was able to get some real work done, finally.

But then my networked machine started whining.  It was seriously going to pieces.  The hard drive made all of these knocking noises and would often refuse to boot at all.  My computer technology friend was overwhelmed from tons of teachers who were having problems with all of their former Win98 machines whining under XP.  So if I wanted to get online, I was on my own.

Enter the Simply Mepis CD.  I had to set up the machine to where it would boot off the CD.  This might be a daunting task to some, because it involves fiddling with the BIOS.  Fortunately most newer machines already boot from the CD.

I put the disk in the CD drive and I was pleased to see the initial screen for setting up the type of installation come up relatively quickly..  "Installation" being relative, because it is loaded in the RAM, not the hard drive in Live CD mode.  It took a couple of tries to figure out the setting, mainly because my monitor is on the old side.  So I chose a lower resolution plus went to the minimal options installation.  For some reason, the higher settings would not work on this machine.  Probably having only 128 Mb RAM and being only 800 MHz.

So once I got that worked out, Mepis proceeded to load.  It takes a few minutes for this to boot up and to get to anything resembling a desktop.  But once you finally get to it, it looks and feels very familiar except it is new.

Mepis even found the Apache server that runs our network.  I wasn't able to access the network drives, but I was able to get online and access the internet and email.  WhatÂ’s more, I was able to use the tabbed browsing of Firefox.  The regular network boot up under Windows is still using IE 6, and ONLY IE 6 since us teachers can't install our own stuff.

Mepis proved an excellent program for web browsing and checking email.  What about other stuff?

Well stay tuned.  Also, keep in mind that we're only using the live CD and have not actually installed anything.  Also, this is at work.  What about my home machine?

This was about a year ago all of this took place.

Stay tuned for more.  More problems and hopefully more solutions.


Getting My Feet Wet

June 23, 2006

Once I determined to learn about Linux, I naturally went to which has a wealth of information.  Some of it is actually useful for noobs like me.  However, people fiddling around with Linux tend to be a very nerdy bunch.  I thought *I* was nerdy, but Linux attracts propeller heads of an entirely new level.  My geek-speak is a little rusty, so it was a real chore wading through all the new jargon about command lines, apt-get, distros, kernels and assorted other terms casually tossed about.  Did I really belong here?  And would it really be worth spending my time learning all this stuff?


The jury is still out, but I still waded in.  Otherwise there wouldn't be much to read, would there?


I'm still using dial-up which is quite frugal but not terribly geeky.  This automatically made the downloading of various distributions and programs a challenge.  It would also pose a challenge to actually using Linux down the road.


I wanted the easiest version of Linux that I could get.  Being inexpensive is also a plus.  Most distributions can be downloaded for free, but remember…dial up?  There are tons of choices.  Other than easy and cheap, I wanted something on a live CD.  A live CD allows a person to really try out Linux before committing to it.


So I found and ordered a Simply Mepis CD.  Most all the reviews I read on this distribution were favorable and it seemed like just the thing.  The cost was $1.99 plus $1.95 postage.  So for $3.94, I had my operating system.


I also ordered a set of disks for Mandrake 10.0, which I haven't ever used, mainly because there was no live CD available.  I wish I could tell you why I ordered it.  The only explanation is that once a person starts off into this they somehow begin acquiring several brands and flavors of Linux.  Most forums will include people who try multiple distrros before deciding on one they like.


It took several weeks before I got my Linux CDs.  In the meantime, the computers at work were seriously screwed up.  No one could get on the network to access email or the internet.  Networked computers were totally useless for even doing the paperwork required for making worksheets and tests and other materials for preplanning a new school year.


In the meantime, I began looking at some other alternative and open source programs.  Heard of Firefox?  This is open source and is the same Firefox used for Linux as for Windows.  Thunderbird is the email/RSS manager by Mozilla.  Then there is Open Office.  This was the answer to my Office XP dilemma.  These are all available in Windows as well and Linux.   And all for free.  Having something as powerful as Office for free is a tremendous bonus.


So now I was getting into the world of Open Source and getting a better understanding of the good points of all this.  There are bad points, too, which I'll reveal in time.


Fed Up

June 23, 2006

Last year, my computer crapped out, and I had to reformat the hard drive, get a new motherboard and a new CPU  for my 1.8 GHz eMachine.  Which means trying to reinstall Windows XP and Office XP and all my other programs.  Most programs, it is just a matter of putting the disc in and putting them back on the newly cleaned hard drive.  However, Microsoft put extra barriers to this process in the way of users in an effort to prevent piracy.


I have nothing against a company making money and doing what they can to copyright protect their stuff.  But because I had registered and activated this stuff before, I had to cal Microsoft's customer service in or to activate XP and Office.  It was highly painful and inconvenient finding the number, dialing and waiting.  Sure, Microsoft was friendly and courteous, albeit very nosily wanting to know why I was needing to install this stuff again.  I realized I was at this company's mercy in the future, because I did not truly own the software.  In the case of Office, I had laid down over $100 for it, but if I bought a new computer, upgraded my motherboard or CPU, I was at their mercy.  What if they decided I didn't need to use the program anymore?  What if they insisted I upgrade to their new version despite Office XP working just fine for me?  What if they didn't like whatever explanation I gave them for needing to install it?  Being Tethered to the Microsoft Mothership was not something I was looking forward to.  I liked the old days, where the company sold you a thing and then left you alone to do whatever with it as you please.  Then when you wanted more of their stuff, you went back to them and got it.

This is like having to get permission to use my appliances everytime I move to a new apartment or house. It's as if applaince makers want to make sure that I'm not letting anyone borrow my stuff, because that would infringe on their revenue stream. 

And what if I wanted to sell my copy of Office to someone after I upgraded to a new version?   Am I allowed to let my wife use it on her machine?


Being without and operating system and my major productivity tool was a scary prospect.  I bugged me that Microsoft didn't think they were getting enough of my money, or that my money didn't allow me to use their product as I saw fit without consulting with them first. It was here that I seriously started looking at alternatives.



June 23, 2006

Anyone out there ever heard of TiVo?  For many, that might be their first real experience with a Linux appliance as that is what is running TiVo.  I don't have TiVo, but I do have something that is running Linux right now.


That would be my Zaurus 5500 SL PDA which I use to type 99% of my blog posts.  I got a PDA because I couldn't afford a laptop and the Zaurus has become a real companion and fulfilling most of what I would use a laptop for.  It has a built-in Blackberry-like thumb-pad/keyboard which I've gotten good at using. 


Basically, I read and write documents using an Office knock-off called Hancom Word.  After writing this, I save it on either the SD or CF card.  Then I put it in the card reader on the computer and then I run it through a spell check and then post it using cut and paste.  Any Word documents (and some pdf documents) can be saved on the flash drive and then I can read them on the Zaurus. 


The Zaurus runs off of a simple Linux Kernel.  The screen looks and behaves just like a Windows machine, where the stylus enables one to use the touch screen.  It was this journey which has made me a lot less timid about trying out Linux on my PC.


 Sharp still makes a Zaurus and you can find one like mine on eBay for around $200.  More portable than a laptop, it has made it much easier to read and write blog entries on the couch, in bed, in the car or wherever.  It has become my #1 blogging tool.



Getting to Know the Penguin

June 23, 2006

My inner geek needs some room for expression, so I guess this is as good a place as any to spread my proverbial geek-wings in order to fly.


Linux has been around a very long time, over 10 year as far as I know I remember first seeing or hearing about Red Hat and seeing that adorable little penguin, Tux. 


Yes, I am a noob when it comes to Linux.  This is going to be more and more obvious as a reader follows my adventure and my story.  But I also represent a significant group of people who:

-know quite a bit about computers

-is self-taught

-is not a programmer and don't really want to become one.

– is interested in doing things better, easier and cheaper.

– is willing to do a bit of learning.

-is not happy with Windows.


I used to be a Mac person.  Why did I switch to the Wintel universe?  Because Apple was over pricing every single thing they sold.  A simple keyboard for the Mac cost over $100 in 1994, while a new PC keyboard could be had for less than $30.  Programs would cost twice as much, if you could even find them.  Getting online and doing stuff online was more difficult as the BBS systems I was dialing into were all PC based.  And the Mac user BBS's all wanted to charge various fees.  Otherwise, Macs were excellent machines.  I never had a crash, never got hung up and never had to reboot.  If I could be a universe unto myself, it would be great.  But I wanted to be connected.  Another option I tried was AOL, using one of those ubiquitous floppies they kept sending to everyone.  Again, this was expensive since they were charging by the minute back in those days.


When ISPs began sprouting up all over the place, those of us with Macs were being rapidly left behind.  Catching up meant buying more Apple stuff.  A new CD-ROM costs 3x more than the PC counterpart.  It was harder to add new stuff.  So, in 1996, I took the plunge with a new AST 486 with Win95 installed.  I was now part of the assimilated hive. 


Working with a PC means having to do a lot of upkeep and babysitting.  My wife enjoyed it but her level of knowledge of computers was severely limited.  So I had to keep the machine maintained for both of us.  Plus I was working where I had a computer lab with Apple II GSs, A couple of Apple Performas, a couple of Mac Power PCs and then 8 or so Compaqs running Win95.  Such was the nature of educational computer labs in the late 1990s. 


The PCs did give me fits much more often than the Macs, even if they were running the exact same programs.  I'd get a kid set up and would often end up moving him while waiting to reboot the system after it got hung up.  That's not to say the Macs never had problems.  Sometimes they did, but it was very rare.


Gradually, we moved the GSs out and more PCs in.  By 2000, PCs running Win 95 or 98 were ruling the world.  But this was not enough for Microsoft.  They wanted to have more.  Despite the profits they made on every single machine sold, they discovered that some people were bootlegging Windows and other Microsoft products.  So it began instituting draconian registration and anti-piracy measures which made it more difficult even to use their stuff, even by those who actually paid for it.


And then came the viruses, the worms and the malware.  These would bring systems to their knees, rendering machines almost useless.  Companies had entire networks brought down by these things.  Eventually, programs and patches would help salvage a machine, but in the early days and sometimes even today, the only way to restore a machine is to reinstall everything.  Which means going through the registration process again, and having Microsoft question you as to why you need this certain activation code number…AGAIN.


Okay, this is not very exciting.  Most readers have similar stories, I'm sure.  The purpose here is to document my journey into the world of Linux.  Some of you might be thinking tbe same and are looking for information.  Stay with me, and you might learn a thing or two.