The slow seduction of the camels of the Dark Side
Now I'm considering installing Windows XP on my fastest machine. Why?
It all started when a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses stopped by my door to introduce themselves as my neighbors. I had been writing since 3AM – the words flowing out of me like teardrops – and I welcomed the knock on my door as I had missed breakfast and lunch, and the fire in my woodstove had gone out.
I generally fry solicitors for lunch.
One young lady wore braces and spoke not at all, but the one talking was pretty, and articulate. She asked me a couple leading questions, and then read from the Bible about heaven on earth. 'Did I agree?', she said. “Oh, yes” I said, thinking in more graphic detail about heaven on earth – via the Kama Sutra - with someone else.
She read a little more, and kept asking me if I agreed with each statement... and at every point I agreed - (There's plenty as agreeable in the Bible if you look in the right places, like in the eyes of a pretty woman that's at your door). I started planning my next move... what was it going to be?
Invite them in and whip out my copies of the Torah, Koran, and try to engage in a serious discussion of religion in general?
Offer them a glass of water, smile, and tell them that the Church of All Worlds welcomed members of all religions?
Ask her for her phone number and then sign her up (as my own act of charity) for the donotcall phone list?
A million plans like that ran through my head; I must have become a little glassy eyed. Just as I was going to invite them both to the Cthultu virgin sacrifice next week as “my special guests”, she ran out of steam, handed me a copy of the Watchtower, and fled up the street.
You know, ever since I started using the net, I've lacked burnable paper. The 4th class mail I get usually has little plastic windows on it and smells bad when burned... two pages of their pamphlet restarted my woodstove nicely, and I went back to writing.
What the heck does this have to do with a Linux geek installing windows? Well...
Maybe it started with a phone call I got last week from the very first person I ever worked for in the computer industry... Don Fox. He was in Florida, and thought I still lived in Fort Lauderdale. He googled for me, then rang me up. We talked for hours.
Back in the late 70s Don owned the Computer and Software Store in Ocean City, NJ, and I was in high school. I'd come by and play with the VIC-20 (a more powerful machine than the CBM Pet and IBM mini I had access to), writing dinky little programs in basic, and playing games on it, and we got to talking. I was a pretty good customer for a while, and when the Commodore 64 came out (1982?), I got one. I learned everything there was to know about it. Don offered me a job fixing the stream of broken 64s that came into his place (it was a great machine but quality control sucked), and I worked for Don, on and off, for a couple years.
My computer clique grew rapidly as Electronic Arts had a policy then of shipping two free copies of every new computer game to every retailer every month. I remember losing most of a summer to Zork, dreaming about it, scheming with friends to try and find solutions, late night phone calls like “why don't you try... and maybe if you...” Don was just as addicted to computer games as I was and we'd spend hours playing them when we should have been drumming up business. We also hacked a lot - back then it seemed possible to really know everything there was to know about a computer – “burn a new BIOS? No problem” - Don also did Dbase programming on the side, which was more lucrative than retail, and I got sucked into it. First we both got into Dbase III, then he moved to Clipper and I to Foxpro and SQL, and gradually our paths diverged over the mid-80s. I've seen him, oh, maybe five times since the 90s.
So anyway, Don and I talked for hours, reminiscing about the Good Old Days... He told me he'd been programming Access and Visual BASIC for the last 3 years, saying that Access 98 had sucked but Access 2000 was good enough to write real applications in, once you spent time learning the language. I asked him about Clipper - "Dead as a doornail, no demand for it"...
I told him about my Linux work of the last few years, and about some of the products that I've had a hand in... and I also told him I was a mite depressed at not finding work that fit my X11/gtk/embedded background - he interrupted - "GEK, what's that?". "Yea", I said. "Exactly."
He upped my spirits: "Remember when you first showed me the internet, back in 1987? I thought it would never fly. I thought you were nuts to be wasting time with it and that Unix thing. Even in 94 when you were starting that ISP, I didn't get it - what did you get from the Net that you couldn't from a BBS? You may have been wrong about a lot of things, but the Internet? I use it for everything now. I bought my last two cars online. I bank online. I'm online from the time I get up to the time I get to bed. It's changed my life. You showed me all that - you realized the potential early on - and few understood until much later. Your biggest problem is that you've always been way ahead of the curve."
Here I am trying to cure myself of Internet addiction... and all the way across the country I'm thanked for the Net by an old friend. The irony. "OK", I thought - "Maybe there will be a market in 10 years for google rehabiliation centers, that the web will be regulated like ritalin for causing ADD, that there will be a back to pen and paper movement, that digital recording will fade away to tape...."
"Maybe you should ressurect an old skill or two." Don said. "You've done a ton of database work. DBAs are making a pretty penny all over the country, there's a real shortage. You should also maybe give XP a try, most of the reasons why you switched to Unix are addressed by XP...."
After he hung up, I sat and stewed. I've spent a lot of time re-evaluating why I do just about everything I do in life this year, why not think about Linux, XP, and Mac again?
I became convinced of the quality of free software (in terms of the gcc compiler) in 1991-92, and started using it in everyday work. I switched to Linux in 93, but I ran NT on my desk with an Xwindow emulator from 94-96. Why did I do that? For programming, and file/web serving Linux was better - but for project management and document interchange, NT was the way to go. I managed with the best of both worlds for a long time. Then Windows 98 came out, and oh, was it buggy. NT 4.0 had such reliability issues that I made a living for a while swapping out NT servers for samba servers - seeing uptimes go from 3 days to 6 months, typically. Mac? Don't make me laugh.
And here was the little penguin that could. I got convinced that Linux and Open Source would sweep over the world. That was my state of mind from 97-02. I look now at how far the Linux desktop has come since then, and I'm amazed - yet it still isn't far enough.
In 02 I started having doubts. Linux companies were dropping like flies. Netscape lost the browser war, arguably much earlier, but I thought mozilla really would take back market share. PocketPC invaded the niche that PalmOS had been in, and Linux didn't. I kept working harder and harder at my job but it seemed like I was treading water at best. Although I'd been active in open source prior to actually doing it for a living full-time, I'd gradually dropped out of the things that most interested me. I would turn bricks into something that booted and then move on, never actually using a computer for anything useful, just solving other peoples problems with them. I kept thinking of how Mark Twain had dreamed of being a river pilot for years, and when he'd actually become one, all the romance dropped out of it.
Living in a gift culture is draining. I have name recognition now, sure, and food on the table, but that's about it. My interests have changed. I'm mostly interested in things like voice recognition, and sound production, things that Linux doesn't do well (yet!), and I want to be doing these things now, not years from now. That 24 track recorder I just put online has sat idle for a couple years now because I was unwilling to deal with another operating system in the house... and so, I didn't record or play, or even practice much all this time. Dumb. "What's the harm of running one little XP box for that?" - I thought.
I have got this far in my life by over rigorously applying the 80/20 rule. I thought that if I did 5 jobs - 5*(20% effort for 80% of the work) I was accomplishing 400 percent of the work of normal human being - which often was the case. But that last 20% of the work piles up, especially if you are doing 5 jobs at once... and, well, do the math - expending 400% more effort to finish
those 5 jobs is quite overwhelming.
At that point, you really have to sit down and think about what jobs are worth doing.
"For each machine, a purpose..." - I thought. I sat down with a fresh piece of paper, and diagrammed out what I wanted my house network to look like. Something was wrong from the start - why was having a house network important in the first place? I spent years with my mission in life being to hook computers up to the internet - it was even my handle for a time, "Johnny Net" - Johnny Appleseed... but wasn't using at least one computer for something other than the Internet more productive? Haven't I been saying that for months? Hmmm....
OK, that simplified cabling for the synthesiser - in fact, I could put the computer and synth somewhere I couldn't run ethernet... wham - boom - it fit perfectly. And, Joy of Joys, after I installed XP, and a little sneaker-net, I could record 4 tracks and midi in sync, spdif just worked. Worse... I had a ball playing with it... still worse... the interfaces to cakewalk and windows itself came right back to me - I even spent a few days without a mouse forcing myself to relearn the keyboard commands....
I went back to that piece of paper. what else bothered me about my existing computers and network? The pile of tapes, of interviews, ideas, todos and god knows what els in the corner drew my eye. I've been meaning to type them up, but the pile keeps getting bigger and bigger. Right next to the tape, a store-bought copy of dragon-dictate 6... I always dictate first drafts, I used to hire college students to take care of typing in the important ones, but now I can't do that... and so the tapes pile up.
"What do I use computers at home for? I need to be able to write, to outline, to share documents, to publish on the Web, to create e-mail, to create music, and preferably do as much of this stuff flat on my back with my eyes closed because that's how I think best. I don't know what I'm going to use a computer at home for work, for, why worry about it overmuch now? Make your home as productive as possible"
So I made my mini-itx box dual boot, and put dragon dictate on it. A 533 Mhz C3 processor fine for word processing and the web but it is about 5x too slow to do useful dictation to... but almost this entire blog was dictated last night before I went to sleep. I lay in bed this morning wishing the microphone cable would reach. With a really big font in open office I can see what I writing from a prone position.
And so, I started thinking about making my pride, my joy, my 200GB, 1GB RAM, 1.4 Ghz athlon computer dual boot. I've come a heck of a long way since last year. all I have to do is move DNS/DHCP and web service off of it to something else - Maybe an ipaq, maybe that dual ppro - and I can convert the big box... hey, I can upgrade to redhat 9 on one box... and use this other box as a firewall...
I don't know if this is a tactical retreat (I still have 3 dedicated Linux boxen and a Cisco in the house), but it sure is a change.
And so this oddessy back into the M$ world continues. I've lost that old-time religion. Certainly being more OS agnostic will help me find work close by....
Yesterday (remember that I was down about being an X11/Gtk programmer earlier in this blog?) I got a call out of the blue for an X11/gtk job in SF. Sounded like it had a lot of potential.
I still haven't diagrammed out the house net. Or told my realtor in writing to pull the house off the market. Or converted my main box to dual boot. Or finished pulling up the boards to my deck, or ordering firewood, or so many other things - so I'm going to log off now, and stay logged off for a while.