Zachary J. Slater

Assembled in Philadelphia

Category: linux

Kids don’t understand command line interfaces and this isn’t a problem

Marc Scott says “Kids Can’t Use Computers… And This Is Why It Should Worry You“:

Mobile has killed technical competence. We now all carry around computers that pretend to be mobile phones or tablets. Most people don’t even think of their phone as a computer. It’s a device to get quick and easy access to Google. It’s a device that allows us to take photos and post them to Facebook. It’s a device that allows us to play games and post our scores to Twitter. It’s a device that locks away the file system (or hides it from us). It’s a device that only allows installation of sanitised apps through a regulated app store. It’s a device whose hardware can’t be upgraded or replaced and will be obsolete in a year or two. It’s a device that’s as much a general purpose computer as the Fisher Price toy I had when I was three.

The central idea of this article is that people who don’t understand exactly how a computer functions and can’t fix it themselves are morons who all grew up with GUIs that abstract ideas to the point where the Internet Explorer icon is The Internet.

All of the anecdotal evidence provided as to why this is such a bad thing are wildly incorrect.

Yes, some people don’t understand how to turn their computer monitors on or flip the wi-fi switch on the laptop so that they can browse the web. That isn’t a failing of their teaching so much as it is a failing of the software and hardware.

13 years ago I was a hardcore Linux nerd full of disdain for anyone that couldn’t fix their own computer. Today we have computers in our pockets that are more useful and easier to use than the computers I’ve owned most of my life. I can learn German and hook up my guitar to my pocket computer that also makes calls. This is an awesome thing that hardcore nerds love to ridicule.

Marc Scott’s advice for fixing this non-problem is that parents should force their children to learn a scripting language to find the wifi password from a list of possibilities; Windows and Mac users should install Linux; and Mobile users should get Ubuntu for phones.

Installing Linux next to or on top of Windows or OS X only teaches users something because Linux won’t do what they want. Yes, they’ll be forced to use the command line to get their printer, sound, 3D accelerated rendering or power management working properly. When that doesn’t work all they will have learned is that Linux sucks and they should never have installed it. When they can’t boot back to Windows because Grub trashed the boot loader they will just go back to Candy Crush on their phones.

These solutions are all ridiculous. That computers, and iOS in particular, are easy to use is not a problem that needs solving. Unintuitive software that doesn’t do what users want and grumpy old people like us who refuse to change are the problem. Devices should be easy to use and perform the functions that people expect. Nobody should be forced to learn a command-line to use their computer.

Writing for LinuxGames

After a brief hiatus (4 years!) I’m writing for LinuxGames again. My byline on that site has changed to “TimeDoctor” to jive with TimeDoctor Dot Org, my home of late for dozens of gameplay videos.

I had first started writing for LG in 2000.

The editor-in-chief, Dustin, and I happened to be in the IRC channel for Loki, where the developers behind the biggest success story in Linux gaming would dole out beta access and generally carouse with anyone interested in their games. That’s where I hounded Dustin to let me write for LG, and eventually got the job. I don’t really recall what my intentions toward writing were. Just that I enjoyed doing it and reading the output of other gaming sites like Blues News, sCary’s Shuga Shack, and loonygames. I guess that I needed to find a niche to excel and channel some creative output in.

If you had told me then that Valve would eventually be on Linux through a digital distribution platform of their own creation I would have asked you what a digital distribution platform was and wondered what it might look like. That it would take 13 years to get there seems even more ridiculous.

Loki’s idea of jumping the gun straight to boxed copies of games that were released much later than their Windows counterparts wasn’t long lived. They were pretty much the first and last to do it with the community behind them, despite the best efforts of Linux Game Publishing.

There were a few ethical mistakes at the time that I regret. Being both press and an unpaid beta tester for Loki. Although I was able to separate out the difference in attitude and style when writing reviews, and to my recollection none of the readers ever questioned it. I can’t help but feel It would have produced a better article if I had gone in fresh, and when Loki got weirder during their downfall I felt really creeped out by having to justify my requests for review copies to them. My e-mail archives don’t go back far enough to let me know if I guaranteed a “good review” but what I can remember was not cool. As the only site for coverage on the topic it seems even more ridiculous in retrospect that those discussions had to happen at all.

Beta testing at Loki lead directly to my career in Quality Assurance (at Microsoft of all places) and creating a site called Game QA Blog where some friends and I wrote about QA in gaming for a while.

Writing for Linux Games got me a role as a technical reviewer on Linux Game Programming. That book only seemed to exist to compete with another book called Programming Linux Games. We beat them to the punch on the better title, but they had far superior content.

At one point we had a podcast going, but it was short lived due to conflicting schedules. I helped transition the site from an aging custom content management system to WordPress. Pushing for the site to modernize made me stop waiting for anyone else to do it and make twitter and Facebook accounts.

Once my career got off the ground I started writing less and less for LinuxGames but I attribute most of my success to that site and the friends I made through it.

As an aside, I now host loonygames’ archived site on my DreamHost account after Jason Bergman, the titular “loonyboi,” put out a request for help in the past year or so. Jason wrote about it on his tumblog.

With all of the success Linux gaming has had recently it is great to be back at LinuxGames. Even if most of my posts today are written on my Mac 😉

Once you go Mac

Miguel De Icaza:

While I had Macs at Novell (to support Mono on MacOS), it would take a couple of years before I used a Mac regularly. In some vacation to Brazil around 2008 or so, I decided to only take the Mac for the trip and learn to live with the OS as a user, not just as a developer.

Computing-wise that three week vacation turned out to be very relaxing. Machine would suspend and resume without problem, WiFi just worked, audio did not stop working, I spend three weeks without having to recompile the kernel to adjust this or that, nor fighting the video drivers, or deal with the bizarre and random speed degradation that my ThinkPad suffered.

Right on the money.

This mirrors my own experience, except for the trip to Brazil.

I had been a pretty big proponent of Linux on the desktop since about 2001.

Some time before that I had my first experience with Linux that was mind-boggingly stupid. Win modems.

My first Linux was RedHat 5.2 in the late ’90s. To get on the internet from home you had to dial-out.

Most computers at the time shipped with the cheapest modem you could find. Unfortunately, the price for cost-reduction was compatibility. These Winmodems needed extremely custom software to operate that replaced most of the expensive hardware with software which was only available in Windows.

Old hat, I know but the frustration of having incompatible hardware and software is a constant theme in Linux and the stories of folks who switch away.

When I knew a Linux machine couldn’t serve me anymore I went to the Mac. Where my kernel doesn’t need recompilation and my boot loader doesn’t tend to explode when I try something new.

With the Mac’s rise to the challenge of courting Unix lovers I hope that Linux developers who have stuck with it will start to compete by making better designed software that is more welcoming to new users.

Free only goes so far.

So true

The most useless dialog box in Ubuntu

What packages do you need? Who knows! The help doesn’t even tell you.

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