Linux Misconceptions

I can definitely see how these could arise. Before I had any experience with Linux, (but enough with computers in general) it seemed to me an ominous object looming over me, casting a large shadow over my computer abilities. Many users screamed at the first sight of Linux. Many of them hadn’t used Linux either but had heard other people talk of it. Whether those people used Linux or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that Linux is one big scary operation system to the majority of end users. But as I’ve found with most preconceptions, my fear of Linux was mostly unfounded.

Now these views are coming from a computer enthusiast. I have no qualms about spending several hours on end trying to figure out a problem. I also enjoy doing some self-learning, which is how I’ve acquired most of my computer skills.

Okay, let’s start off with a bit of an intro to Linux. First, and most basically, it’s an open operating system created by Linux Torvalds based on UNIX. It’s developed under the GNU General Public License which states that the source code for the operating system is available to anyone who wants it. Nowadays, it is redistributed by various groups and companies. Some distributions are offered for free while others are marketed commercially. In either case, they’re all based off an implementation of the UNIX kernel.

I’m a relative newbie to this Linux business so I’m not going to serenade you with complex terms and big definitions. It wasn’t until about half a year ago that I really became interested in Linux and its endless possibilities for both productivity and plain entertainment. Instead, I’ll give you an overview of what someone can (and can’t) expect when moving over to Linux.

There are several popular distributions available for Linux. These include Ubuntu, Fedora Core, SuSE, Mandriva, Slackware, MEPIS, Gentoo, and Debian. They all regularly have updates for these distros and are constantly fixing things and adding new features. After trying out several distros (including Fedora Core 3, SUSE 9.2 Pro, and Mandrake 10.1) I settled on SuSE 9.2 Professional which I was able to download for free off the SuSE mirrors.

Here’s a look at what it looks like:

As you can see, a pretty clean looking operating system. So it should be easy to use right? Well, there are a few problems. You see the Linux operating system itself is open source; however many of the applications we use are not. Also, the hardware in our computers need drivers to work properly. Some of the companies who make the hardware we use aren’t very open with their source code. This means there can be incompatibilities or bugs that can compromise the stability of the system. The Open Source community is growing though. People are seeing the advantages of open source and are moving towards it. As more people do migrate to Linux, companies will be forced to open up. That’s why you’re seeing better and better support for Linux from most companies. They see a potential market before them.

So once you’re past that hurdle, you’ll want to start checking out what you can do with you new operating system. The first thing you may notice (if you’re coming from a Windows system) is that the menu system is a bit different. Also depending which distro you installed, you’ll get different applications with it. Some distros, such as Fedora Core, aren’t developed by registered companies per se and thus cannot acquire some licenses. In this case, Fedora Core does not come with an mp3 decoder. You can play ogg vorbis fine right after installation, but you’ll need to get a mp3 plugin or another media player to play mp3s. And this is usually where most of the troubles start.

Installing programs under Linux is different from installing them in Windows. The Linux system has a ‘root’ user that you’re required to log in as when you make changes to the system. This is a result of the normal use of UNIX. It has an administrator that doesn’t actually use the system normally. So to install a program in Linux you’ll probably want to log in as this ‘root’ user. A side-effect of this setup is those Windows users won’t be able to do anything catastrophic to your Linux system without knowing your root password.

If you’ve got your program as source code, you’ll have to compile it. Most distros come with a compiler preinstalled. So unlike Windows where you can double click on an executable file and have a Graphical User Interface (GUI) guide you through the steps, you actually have to type in commands to compile and then install the program. For the most basic programs, you can open up a console and type ‘./configure’ then ‘make’ then log in as the superuser by ‘su’ and then the root password. Finally as superuser, you type ‘make install’ to install the application. Now this is the most basic compile and install as it gets. Unfortunately, you may run into errors due to a wide range of reasons including unsatisfied dependencies, missing libraries, and so forth. Most users don’t know or want to go through this tedious process just to install a program.

So that’s where many distros are focusing their efforts. They want to make Linux more accessible to the general user.

If you look around you’ll see binary packages created either by the distributers themselves or by community participants. These allow you to basically download and then install by simply clicking on them, much like is possible in Windows. The only difference is that you must once more log in as the root. As long as all the dependencies are satisfied, the program should install fine.

But dependencies are a pain in the ass. Most of the time, you need something to install an app properly, but that app has another dependency and down the line it goes. It’s really quite annoying. So to take it one step further, there are included applications with many distros that installs programs and finds all the dependencies for you. For example, under SuSE I have YaST (which stands for Yet Another Setup Tool). I just add the mirrors I want and then when I go to install a program (by simply clicking on it or several) it asks me whether it can install all the dependencies needed. It’s really quite slick. So you’ve basically solved the installing application problem.

Now one of the greatest advantages to Linux is also its greatest weakness. Because it is an open source project, anyone can create new applications and modify existing ones. This means there’s an extremely wide variety of programs and you’ve got a good chance of finding something that meets your needs. However it also means that many applications are under a constant state of updating. Bugs need to be worked out and it’s difficult to test these applications under a variety of conditions if it is just a small project. That doesn’t mean the applications available on Linux are second-tier to Windows or Mac programs. Far from it. In fact, some programs have been ported over from Linux to Windows and Mac.

OpenOffice.Org, an office suite

Audacity, an sound recorder and editing program

Linux programs are being made to be compatible with most Windows-based programs. OpenOffice version 2, which is currently being worked on, will have much better Microsoft Office compatibilitiy. Wine, which is a program that allows some Windows applications to be run under Linux, is constantly improving with an ever growing list of compatible programs. Furthermore, your range of internet tools are also available. Kopete satisfies the IM programs all in one; Firefox is vastly superior (in my opinion) to Internet Explorer, and K3b is probably one of the better media burning programs available to either Linux or Windows.

Linux can be a very useful tool if you give it a chance. Once configured properly, it can be as easy to use as Windows while being much more secure. I’m not saying that it’s right for everyone. Many will get frustrated and never look upon it again, but most people aren’t even giving it the chance it deserves based solely on the fact that the next person didn’t have a very good experience with it. Oh for sure, someone who can’t use Windows adeptly shouldn’t even consider Linux. However if you’re ever looking for a challenge and a possible reward, give Linux a shot.


WTF’s Up With Our Education System?

That’s exactly how I feel right now. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and realizing just what I want for my future. Now as I said in an earlier posting, I had written about this subject in our school newspaper, but I couldn’t express myself as well I wanted to without offending too many people. But since this is my own blog, I’m going to write what I feel like.

The system SUCKS.

I sometimes feel ashamed to say it, but at one point I really enjoyed school. It was a nice blend of social and educational experiences. Now I just go there because I have to get through it. I use the social aspect of school to dull down the pain of sitting through classes. Sometimes I feel like I’m actually getting dumber as I sit there and soak in random pieces of information. Now, we can all memorize a few formulas and use them on the next test, but really what good does that do? Most of the time, we don’t even know why we use a specific formula. Even more unfortunate is the fact that most don’t care at all. Marks on a test are used as a scale for success at school. In reality this isn’t the case.

Some students work very hard and build very good work habits. Others are lazy (like me) and don’t try all that hard. However, dedication and hard work don’t necessarily translate into better marks. Trust me, I know first hand. The system emphasizes testing much too strongly. Tests are about as far away from real life application as it gets. When I think back to all the things I’ve learned in school, it’s only the things that I’ve applied to life that I retain. Other things, like some insignificant formulas I learned last year in physics, don’t even break through enough that I realize I forget them. What does that tell you? How successful was I at learning? Not very; too bad my grades would make you think I assimilated it all very well.

We’re seriously at risk of being turned into mindless zombies. We tend to have a habit of doing things at school for the sake of doing them. The teacher presents us the lesson for the day and we proceed to sit there and do problems over and over. Almost no thinking is required. You only need to know the formula or pattern and then you just start givin ‘er until it’s all done. Then on the tests, regurgitation is what is required of you. Forget a formula? Too bad, because you never understood where it came from or why it is used. Deriving things (otherwise known as logical thinking…) is rarely done in class. It’s just not part of the curriculum. The teachers need to get through a set amount of material in the course of a semester. The material doesn’t involve the students actually understanding. As long as it is covered , it’s fair game for exams.

And therein lies the problem. Indirectly, our creative thinking abilities have been stifled through high school. There’s no longer a need to think outside the box. There’s no incentive to. A person who follows the curriculum word for word and a person who does a whole lot more and tries to discover for themselves may get the same thing on a test. And in the end, that’s what shows up on that transcript. We’re going to run into some serious trouble in the future when we suddenly find ourselves with a lack of creative thinkers. Leaders need a vision. Doing questions with numbers slightly changed or writing out definitions over and over creates only double vision. During those long classes I find myself concentrating more on staying awake than the lesson being taught.

I had a nice chat with a few friends today. We all agreed that the landscape of education has been changing… for the worst. Going to university used to signal that you were a bright student or a hard worker. Now everyone and their pets can go to university as long as you have money. Bachelor degrees don’t seem to mean much at all since so many people have them. It’s like you need your Masters or Doctorate to really get into the industry. And you wonder why those big executives are getting paid millions of dollars. It’s cause there’s so few of them who are truly successful. I’m starting to see just why they’re in such high demand.

Now I’m not beating teachers over the head. In fact, I feel badly for them. They’re very much caught between a rock and the school boards (har har). They have very little flexibility if they intend to complete the stated curriculum. However, I can say that some teachers do make more of an effort to appeal to students in their teaching methods. Those teachers think creatively and in turn help their students do the same. I am truly grateful for them as it is that group that can inspire some young adults to look beyond the defined limits of our education system.


Mother’s Day

To all you mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

It’s easy to say this and all, but what is Mother’s Day really? To be honest, I don’t even know why we have it (well, okay to celebrate our mothers) but I mean where day originate from? I did some research and I can say, I am surprised at the answer.

Early celebrations of Mother’s Day may have originated from ancient Greece where celebrations were held for Rhea the Mother of the Gods. However, the Mother’s Day as we know it today came from a person named Ana Jarvis. She persuaded her mother’s church to celebrate Mother’s Day on the second anniversary of her mother’s death in 1907, on the second Sunday of May. After supporters and herself campaigned for it, in 1914, American President Woodrow Wilson announced Mother’s Day as a national holiday to be held on the second Sunday of May.

Now that you know the story behind it, doesn’t it seem like a pretty selfish holiday? 😉


Musical Parties = . . .

Awesome. Plain and simply, that was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time. The atmostphere was unbelievable. We’re all so bonded together now and we’ve gone through the same things. It’s an extremely tight group. We listened to portions of our show tonight and sang along. I also played some piano parts from the show and had a great time yelling at the top of my lungs along with everyone else. I’m sure I’ll regret that tomorrow. I think my voice is giving out.

On the flip side, it’s also pretty sad that it’s all over. We’ve been told that we’ve been sort of addicted to working together and being together almost constantly that when it’s all over suddenly, it’s going to feel very weird. I can already sense that as I look to ths next week when we’ll be back at boring old school with no musical to look forward to. It’s funny how we miss the things we sometimes hate. I remember sitting at musical rehearsals in the cafeteria wondering why the hell I was there for. This is just the beginning of my high school wind-down.

So off I go to bed here. It’s 3:31AM and my eyes feel like I’ve dumped a bucket of sand in them. I can hardly keep them open wide enough to see what I’m writing here. [sarcasm]I can hardly wait to do a week’s worth of schoolwork tomorrow[/sarcasm]. I think I’m going to cry just thinking about it. Ugh…

Oh and someone took my dress shoes after the show today. They must have just grabbed a pair out of the dressing room without really looking as there was a pair left there that kind of looked like mine. I took them so once I find out who’s they are, we’ll do a little swap.



So I went out and bought a pair of sunglasses. I had always heard of people spending hundreds of dollars on sunglasses, but had never really thought much of it myself. Well when it came time to pay almost $200 for this pair (those damn taxes will get you every time), I damn near felt like chucking my cookies. I mean come on, a bit of plastic with two lenses in the middle I bet would cost them all of what, maybe $30 to make… (Oh, I dunno, I could be horribly wrong too) The rest is spent on buying the Oakley name. Oh well, that’s how the world works I guess.

Oh, and here’s a picutre of them. May as well show them off now that I’ve got them. Oakley Minutes (black). Look at how this Oakley marketing picture makes them look about as best they possible could.

From this excercise, I think I’ve realized just how greedy I am. I spend way too much money on semi-uselss things. From now on, I’m definitely going to cut back. I don’t think I’ve really thought this way, ever. But I’m starting to understand that university is going to cost me both my arms and most of my legs. I’ll need every bit of money I can save. I mean I’ve spent about $1K on mp3 players alone. That makes me shudder just thinking about it. $1000 bones could buy most of my unversity books for a year. Gah… :-/ It’s not like I’m rich. I could definitely use my money more wisely like on my studies or something.

Speaking of my studies, I’ve got some thoughts on the school system. I wrote an article about it in our school newspaper, but indirectly that paper is very much censored. It has to go through a teacher advisor first and you can’t write exactly how you feel as the general public reads it. If you don’t want to offend people or get on someone’s bad side, then there are many things you just can’t write in a school newspaper. And there’s really no need to anger people about that topic. It’s pointless and I think I’d much rather people not beat on me at school. I’ll write something up here in the near future but I’ve got the final musical performance tonight that I need to prepare for. I need to get some food into me before I go.

The show seems to be a great success so far. Opening night was awesome. From what I’ve heard, we should actually make money this year as opposed to losing money which is what usually happens with these productions.