[UFO Chicago] what draws you here?

Robert Thrasher thrasher@mc.net
Mon, 28 Jan 2002 09:28:07 -0600

Please remove my email address from the ufo lists.  

Thank you.

Robert Thrasher

-----Original Message-----
From: ufo-admin@ufo.chicago.il.us [mailto:ufo-admin@ufo.chicago.il.us]On
Behalf Of Jordan Bettis
Sent: Monday, January 28, 2002 3:07 AM
To: ufo@ufo.chicago.il.us
Subject: Re: [UFO Chicago] what draws you here?

On Sun, Jan 27, 2002 at 11:08:07PM -0500, John Kilbourne wrote:
> 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.) 

Well, since we're all having fun telling our "Using Linux" stories, let
me tell mine.

Flash back to High School, in late 1997. I was attempting to "conform"
and "fit in" by being part of the School's "tech team" or
somesuch. The purpose of the team was to fight a losing battle trying
to maintain the school's large collection of Windows computers. My
endeavor failed on account of my falling out with the technical
neophyte nun who ran the operation. One day, prior to the falling out,
an acquaintance from the group rather excitedly showed me a box for a
peice of software he had purchased. It was called "Red Hat Linux".

I remember going home that day and looking "Linux" up in Microsoft
Bookshelf. It didn't explain what it was at all, but it had alot of
references to GNU and how it's Not Unix. Actually, now that I think
about it, my memory of the write-ups seem similar to the Foldoc
entrees for GNU and Linux. Hrmm.

Anyhow, I put it on the back burner, but at the time, I was trying to
learn how to program in C. I had learned QBASIC in Seventh grade, and
wrote a 'pong' emulator in it, but it saturated my 386. I wanted to
learn C because that is what "real programmers" used and I wanted to
be able to write programs that wouldn't need huge amounts of computer
power to do simple tasks.

I eventually managed to obtain a copy of the Borland C++ compiler from
one of those "Sam's teach yourself" books. I installed it, but it
could only do Windows 3.1 APIs, and the APIs were incredibly
complicated and poorly documented in the help files. This was
complicated by the fact that my grasp of the core C language at the
time could best be described as 'feeble'.

As luck would have it, I loaned my disk to someone and they lost it,
then I accidently deleted the compiler. Without a compiler, I
endeavored to buy a new one, hopefully one with good docs and access
to the modern API. I priced it up on Microsoft.com, and found out that
the compiler would set me back (IIRC) about $300. I checked to see if
I could get an older version. The policy there was that I had to buy
the latest version and then email Microsoft Legal asking permission to
buy an older version. I checked out the learning version, it was still
very expensive, and I didn't qualify to get it. I then heard about
Visual Basic. I already knew basic, so I thought that it would be
easier to understand. Unfortunately, that compiler was $500. Again,
didn't qualify for the learning edition. 

You have to understand this in context, I had had a number of software
related problems. The only one of which I still remember was when I
broke my Windows 95 CD. I called Gateway tech support, because I was
still well within warranty. I was informed that the warranty only
covered hardware, and that I could buy another disk for $25.00, and pay
$25.00 for shipping and handling. I told them that their shipping
department could use some streamlining.

I tend to get pissed off when I know that someone else is throwing up
roadblocks to something I'm trying to accomplish for their own
personal amusement, and I was beginning to feel that way about
proprietary software. I finally got a copy of Microsoft Visual C++
Learning Edition from someone who got one of the Sam's books, so I
installed it and compiled "Hello, World!". It gave access to the '95
APIs, but the docs were still terse and it had a wonderful little
feature whereby it compiled a Trojan into your software that caused
it, when ran, to create a popup window that said that the program was
compiled using MSVC++ Learning Edition and that it couldn't be

That was what did it for me. It was the camel's straw. I met someone
through a friend that knew something about that Linux thing, and I had
discovered since my evening with Bookshelf that it was a free
alternative to Microsoft WIndows. He gave me the basics via email, and
I got a copy of Red Hat Linux 5.1. I installed it on a spare partition
and started to slowly learn Unix (I remember going to LinuxDoc.org and
searching for how to run X because, after logging in, I was given a
prompt for which many of the dos commands wouldn't work, and 'help'
was no help at all).

>From there, I just slowly learned as I went. I got into emacs, learned
that every distro of Linux has a full featured, functional, and free C
compiler. That the APIs are open and standardized, and documentation of
the same is outstanding.

A Debian Developer at my local LUG burnt me a copy of Slink and a
Half, and I put it on a 486 that was to be turned into a firewall. I
loved it so much that I put it on my desktop after destroying my Red
Hat install by deleting /dev. 

>From then on, it was just a slow accumulation of understanding. I
don't play many games, so I lost my Windows partition comparatively
quickly, and have been Windows Free for about two and a half to three
years. I've gotten to a point where I don't really recognize that
Windows is still there. I chose my school based partially on the fact
that it was standardized on Unix (Slowaris, unfortunately). People ask
me what I think of Microsoft, and I respond, quite truthfully, with "I
don't care". They have no real bearing on my life.

I read the GNU Manifesto after first getting into emacs. I thought it
was a load of crap. Later on, I began to realize that the frustration
that RMS felt when he couldn't fix the printer was the same as me with
my compiler woes. The power of software lies in its power to make us
more productive and happy, and when someone intentionally throws up
roadblocks to the users of the software for nothing more than their
own profit, that is truly a perverse thing.

I pick up things as needed, and I continue to learn new skills pretty
much every day. I tried Star Office to do my homework on GNU/Linux. It
sucked, so I learned LaTeX. The evolution of skillset has generally
been pushed on by things that I want to accomplish. Like, I'm at point
A. I want to get to point B. There's some technology at point C, that
being directly in between points A and B, and it can help me get from
the former to the latter, so I learn how to use it. 

Anyhow, that's my $0.02. I hope you're not too regretful that you
wasted the portion of your precious mortality taking the time to read

Jordan Bettis <http://www.hafd.org/~jordanb>
Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no
account be allowed to do the job.
          -- Douglas Adams