Home > Geeky, Software > Humility from software

Humility from software

September 26, 2006

When I first started learning to use computers, there was no one to help me.  I bought one, put it together, (it was pretty obvious what plugged into what) turned it on, and it said something about “Operating system not found”.  It sat there and nothing I typed or did would make it do anything.

The dealer had dropped off the machine with a box of accessories.  Among them was a shrink-wrapped box the size of a collegiate dictionary, entitled; “Microsoft MS-DOS 4.01” and another, similar box entitled “Microsoft Windows 3.0”.  By random chance I opened the DOS one first, and there was a book inside.  I started on page one.

In the months that followed I turned to my old buddy, the bookstore.  As expected, there were fat books there waiting to be studied.  So I did, encountering unfamiliar jargon and concepts, and plunged ahead waiting for the pieces to look familiar enough for assembly.  Before long I’d connected an HP scanner, given it a SCSI address, installed relevant software, and was retouching photos.  That is not a simple undertaking on Windows 3.0 with 8 mb RAM, so I learned about memory optimization, and the deeper possibilities in config.sys, autoexec.bat, win.ini and system.ini.

Then came DOS 5 and Windows 3.1 – I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  I bought a 486, installed the wonderful new OS, and plunged ahead.  But I never forgot the helpless feeling of frustration of not understanding a single word on the page and not knowing what to do next.  Today I make an effort to remember that feeling when I’m helping users with their creative mistakes.  (And hell; dropped into a similar situation, my mother figured out CPM from scratch the same way, so I’m not exactly a rocket scientist here.)

Now I’m trying to learn Linux.  I have the benefit of years of experience with DOS, Windows, Windows NT, 2000, 2000 Server, XP, and Server 2003.  I’m fooling around with Vista beta.  Yet, first out of the box, Linux just locks up on me and won’t do anything.

It really takes me back.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Linux can’t lock up or crash.  If it fails to properly interact with the hardware (always a possibility given the nearly infinite combinations) it can fold it’s little penguin wings, and regurgitate partially digested squid all over your keyboard, just like Windows.

I have even heard rumors that the vaunted Macintosh can do the same.  “It just works”, my ass.

A Linux forum helpfully advises:

All I had to do was enable Frame Buffer Objects under Graphics in the Cedega Global Settings. Note also that fgl_glxgears does not work on my system unless I run it with the -fbo option

As Noah said to The Lord in Bill Cosby’s ‘Ark’ story; “Riiiiiiiight!!!”

The reason Windows seems intuitive to me is that I’ve been using and administrating it so damn long.  There is a tendency to confuse the familiar with the logical and/or the virtuous.  Hardly surprising, this; it is at the root of all ethnocentrism.

There’s a scene in a Simpson’s episode where the cops are sitting in KrustyBurger discussing a trip one of them took to Shelbyville.  He had eaten at a strange restaurant called, ‘McDonald’s’:

‘…and they don’t call it a KrustyBurger.  You know what they call it?’
No, what do they call it?
They call it a ‘Quarter Pounder!’
Really?  Wow, that’s wierd.
And another thing!  They don’t call it a ‘Hydrogenated vegetable-product imitation KrustyShake.’  They just call it a Shake!  What about that!?
“Man, you don’t know what you’re gettin’!”

Anyway, I figured out how to get it started up in “Recovery” mode, which is sort of like KrustyBurger Windows Recovery Console and enter the following command:

dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg

It’ll be a while before commands like that have any real meaning for me.  “Xorg”?  Isn’t that some sort of giant menacing creature in a video game?  “I was attacked by a Xorg, but I used my BFG on him!!!  Pass the Cheetos.”

Thus entered the video configuration utility, which is in good old reliable text-mode.  I went through a bunch of options and set the infernal machine to ‘Vesa’, which is a word I do recognize as a video mode that almost every video adapter extant supports.  At this stage, I don’t need the fancier features of my video card – in fact I’ll probably never need them because I don’t play computer games or use CAD. I’m still learning how to use the OS and then how to do Windows network administration from an alien, Linux machine.  And in Vesa mode, the thing works just fine – hasn’t locked up since. It’s surprisingly fast, too.

Now I can play with the applications and with joining it to the Microsoft Active Directory.  I’ll fix the video drivers later, when I have a clue where they can be found.  So if you’re a newbie user, frustrated by your computer, I understand.  As my favorite president said, “I feel your pain.”

And if you’re using Windows, I could even help.  Linux?  Not so much.

Categories: Geeky, Software
  1. Ed
    September 26, 2006 at 19:17 | #1

    Is this the laptop you had talked about before?
    Check out http://www.linux-on-laptops.com/

    Getting 3-D working on Linux for different videocards can be quite a task, or it can just fall into place.  The older hardware is supported directly in the kernel, and most installers can ID and make it work out of the box.  The newer stuff …

    AMD’s latest socket AM2 is quite problematic for Linux and there are a few listed “friendly” motherboards.

  2. September 26, 2006 at 19:40 | #2

    Yes it is the laptop mentioned earlier.  That is a cool site!  Definitely going on my favorites.  There are a couple articles about the X23 and many others.  Thanks for the link.

    Now that it is running reliably I can start working through the books and see where it goes.

  3. September 26, 2006 at 22:02 | #3

    Xserver is what controls the desktop, keyboard, mouse, sound card, and you guessed it… video card.  It also controls other devices, but understanding these fundamentals can be essential for remastering Linux.  I found that out first hand lol.  The xorg part, I believe has to do with the group that created Xserver, but that is flaky for me.

    You certainly have to love those Linux forums.  I have lots of great stories from em, but if you can be as specific as possible and get everything out from the get-go, chances are you will find help.

    Hey DOF, don’t be afraid to ask me if you want to borrow my Linux book for a while.  I probably wont need it till January.

  4. September 26, 2006 at 22:20 | #4

    Thanks – got books.  Time, in much shorter supply…  :-/

  5. September 27, 2006 at 08:59 | #5

    Yes, Macs can lock up or crash, but it rarely happens and recovery is easy. As someone who started with the C-64 (five to ten minutes to save a small text change) I was delighted to switch to Windows. But then the nightmares started. I probably would have stayed with Windows forever but for moving to a new state and leaving my old computer behind. My son’s handmedown Mac made me a convert. I envy people who can play with code; I tried, but it’s all Greek to me, so every year that goes by makes me more grateful for the Mac’s simplicity and stability.

  6. zilch
    September 28, 2006 at 07:33 | #6

    Ah, yes- Windows 3.1.  The last useable OS from Microsoft. :lol:

    Yes, Macs do crash, as catana said.  And the PC at home with XP works pretty well: I can play Oblivion on it, which the Mac won’t do.  But I still find the Mac OS less cumbersome, the organization more intuitive.  Certainly some of that is simply because I know my way around the Mac better.  But Steve Jobs is cooler than Bill Gates, isn’t he?  And that’s what’s important, after all…

  7. September 29, 2006 at 12:43 | #7

    Sadly I remember windows 1.0 and DOS versions so old that it makes my head hurt.  8 hours of work to run a 30 second program. No thanks

  8. September 29, 2006 at 12:59 | #8

    My family never really had Windows on a PC till Windows 95 came around.  Up till that point we had DOS.  I thought it was cool, and when we got Sim City 3000 to work on it…  Oh boy, don’t even get me started on Sim City.

  9. September 29, 2006 at 13:28 | #9

    I dimly remember encountering DOS 3.3 on a few customer’s machines, but fortunately worked with an older tech who knew it cold and could help me out.

    Never saw Windows 1.0 on any machine – was it text-based or graphical?

  10. September 29, 2006 at 13:55 | #10

    We never could get windows 1.0 to do anything other than have this huge clock on the screen. The army bought the program and never distributed the books on what to do with it. I believe that was about the time the first dos shells came out and everyone was amazed. No one could afford the Apple/ Mac software or couldn’t find the right programs. The Army was split back in those days between IMB and Apple and IBM won.

Comments are closed.