Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gentoo to Ubuntu Migration Part 1: Prologue

I've been using Linux for over a decade now, and loving almost every minute of it. Recently I changed the distribution I was using on my workstation from Gentoo to Ubuntu. Since one of the goals of this blog is to document my technology learning, I feel obliged to report on the transition experience. Also, at least one of my friends has an interest in this story.

In an attempt to make the story as dramatic as possible, I decided to break it into multiple sections. This, the first, is the back story: how I got into Linux.

I first got started with Linux around 1996, when I was still in high school. In BL Times (Before Linux), I ran a small bulletin board system (BBS) called raw sewage (a name which I cherished so much I use it for my website). The BBS is important because it gave me a requirement for my PC which was unusual at the time: multitasking, i.e. the ability to run multiple applications concurrently. These days, we take multitasking operating systems for granted, as virtually everybody has at least a couple programs running: a web browser, an email client, a spreadsheet or document, maybe a music player, and a game of solitaire when the boss isn't looking.

But my bulletin board days pre-dated Windows 95, which was Microsoft's first operating system that had semi-useful multitasking capabilities. (Yes, you could technically run multiple applications at once with Windows 3.x, but it was "fake" multitasking. I'm glossing over a lot of technical detail here: the techies should know what I mean and everyone else can take my word for it.)

Anyway, I was running MS-DOS, the old text-based operating system that required you to type in commands. DOS could only run one program at a time. I needed to have the bulletin board software running constantly, but I also wanted to be able to use my computer for other things. For a while, I used a program called DESQview, which effectively made DOS into a multitasking operating system. Eventually, for reasons I can't remember, DESQview fell out of favor with me.

I also dabbled in IBM's OS/2 Warp. I remember liking OS/2 for the most part. However, I ultimately gave it up as well, but, again, for reasons I can't remember. (My apologies: my memory is bad, and all this was over a decade ago---with college i.e. lots of beers---in between.)

At some point, I heard about this operating system called Linux that was a true multitasking system and free. Somehow, I happened across one of those multi-CD cases that contained at least three Linux distributions: RedHat, Debian and Slackware (there may have been more, but see my note about my memory). The case had a little insert that described how to install each operating system. I do remember that it suggested first-time users install Slackware: and so I did.

Of all the details I've forgotten, I do remember my initial reaction: underwhelmed. And I remember staying underwhelmed for quite a while, actually. Here I had read all these great things about Linux, how powerful it was, etc. And yet all I had was a foreign prompt staring at me. It resembled DOS, but it clearly wasn't DOS. It couldn't run my BBS software, or any other program with which I was familiar. And there was supposed to be a graphical interface, but I didn't know how to get to that... I remember I basically spent a lot of time just nosing around the file system, trying to make sense of things like "usr" and "var". But it was some time before I actually did anything useful with Linux.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Great Metal T-Shirt Social Experiment

It's been too long since my last post. My apologies to my dedicated readers.

This past weekend I attended the 2009 International Beer Fest in my hometown of Peoria, Illinois. The weather cooperated for the most part: the start of the day was warm and sunny, but it turned a bit chilly and rainy towards the end. But it was never so bad as to force everyone inside, thus making the crowd manageable. As usual, the beer selection was huge (I believe there were over 300 different beers available) and delicious.

I can't remember exactly how many times I've gone, but several times prior to this year's, I wore my Iron Maiden t-shirt. It started as a friendly wager between my wife (then-girlfriend) and I: she wore a shirt that she was sure would attract compliments and attention---sadly, I can't remember what her shirt said. However, I was sure my Iron Maiden t-shirt would get far more compliments. Obviously I wouldn't be blogging about this if I wasn't right: if I remember correctly, the final score was Iron Maiden 8 to her shirt's paltry 2.

For the record, I'm a huge Iron Maiden fan. That I could advertise my fondness of one of the greatest metal bands of all time and conduct a social experiment was... as awesome as Iron Maiden themselves!

So the Iron Maiden t-shirt became a staple of the next few Beer Fests, consistently garnering numerous compliments. Peoria is an Iron Maiden town!

Back to 2009: the Iron Maiden t-shirt lives on, although it's taken a beating over the years (it's at the front of my t-shirt rotation). Also, my wife got me an awesome Megadeth t-shirt for Christmas that was begging to make an appearance at Beer Fest. Just like my computers with which I'm always tinkering, I must also tinker with my "apparel technology". Why fix something that ain't broke? The Iron Maiden t-shirt is a guaranteed hit! My curiosity overwhelmed my sense of sticking with what works.

So I wore the Megadeth t-shirt. The result: a measly two compliments! I truly expected more.

However, this is only a sample size of one. It's not statistically valid. The same thing could have happened with the Iron Maiden t-shirt (but I doubt it).

The question is: do I give the Megadeth t-shirt another try at next year's Beer Fest? Part of me says that I have to---otherwise I'm simply practicing bad science, reducing this to a trivial layperson experiment; it demands sophistication and statistical rigor.

On the other hand, I don't know if I can bear another miss... not to mention a Protest the Hero t-shirt that is patiently waiting for its turn at Beer Fest.