[UFO Chicago] what draws you here?

Nate Riffe inkblot@movealong.org
Mon, 28 Jan 2002 00:33:52 -0600

Quoting John Kilbourne:
> I'm curious why people are drawn to go through the trouble of 
> learning and using linux. (assuming that others share some sense that 
> it is challenging.) 
> I remember two things I read between August and October. The first 
> was a snippet of In the Beginning Was the Command Line by Neil 
> Stephenson,

An excellent, excellent piece of writing.  If UFO had a UFO Book List,
I'd nominate it twice for inclusion.

> where he described linux as a free all-terrrain vehicle 
> that gets 100 miles to the gallon and doesn't break down, and windows 
> as a kind of plain station wagon that is expensive but has 
> dealerships on every corner for people who believe in ABC news. It 
> wasn't till I read The Cathedral and the Bazaar that I decided, "I 
> want to learn this". Eric Raymond said that learning unix/linux is 
> one step to gaining some sort of mastery with the computer (along 
> with learning a few programming languages and some other advice that 
> I've forgotten now).
> I figure that just getting linux to run means I must have learned 
> some general, useful things about computers. This is self-verifying; 
> nobody has to tell me that I do or don't know something. When my 
> email goes primarily to my linux box, that will be one additional, 
> objective indicator that I've learned something. It was only last 
> week that I finally got my RH 7.2 configured to access the web 
> through my DSL (thank you roaring penguin and linuxquestions.org. 
> So why do you do this at all?

Learning is precisely the reason why I began using Linux.  In 1996 I had
been using DOS and Windows for six years and I had a sense that I had
reached a wall in terms of what I could learn.  It was very frustrating
for me because in a way, I am that "infoglutton" that JonKatz used to
write about.

In June of 1996 I built a computer at a science and technology camp at
UW-Eau Claire and while I was there, I heard about Linux from one of the
college students that was hanging around campus for the summer.  When I
brought the box home it had only a dozen or so files on it:
autoexec.bat, config.sys, command.com, and a couple of drivers to make
the CD-ROM and sound work.  It wasn't even DOS, it was like, proto-DOS.

,,, Lemme skip backwards a bit.  I had a shell account on the venerable
M-Net system for a few years and I think I got it in August of 1995, but
bits rot so I'm not exactly sure.  At any rate I was somewhat familiar
with UNIX from the user end of things.  I knew that it was a wide
unexplored tract of infospace that was much bigger than WinDOS.  Ok back
to 1996 ...

I asked around to see if anyone could procure me a copy of Linux and my
friend Matt (who seemed, to me, to be able to pluck hardware and
software from the sky whenever he needed something) lent me a copy of
Slackware 2.2.  So I spent a month trying to install it, which rocked,
cause I learned so much during that month and had to be really clever to
get it done.  The CD-ROM drive I had was unsupported by Linux (this was
kernel 1.2.9 boys and girls) and I ended up having to copy the Slackware
stuff to a DOS partition using proto-DOS, and then rawriting the boot
floppies.  Then when I booted into the installer (such that it was),
selected "Install from hard drive".  The hostname I selected was

So the point of all this was to learn, which I did, extensively, and
continue to do.  I booted Linux on maverick on August 9th, 1996 (or at
least, five months later, that was the earliest date I could find in the
logs).  I'm typing this email on maverick, by the way.  I'm not using
any of the original hardware or software, although I still have in my
possession the original sound and video cards (both ISA, neither ISA
pnp).  maverick, as well as goose, have been in a state of perpetual
upgrade since they were first christened.  Such is the nature of
learning by doing.


> _______________________________________________
> UFO Chicago -- Users of Free Operating Systems
> Free Software Rules -- Proprietary Drools!
> http://ufo.chicago.il.us/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/ufo

--< ((\))< >----< inkblot@movealong.org >----< http://www.movealong.org/ >--
"In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really
good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they actually change their
minds ... I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in
politics or religion."            -- Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP keynote address