Journey into Linux, Part Two

Sometimes it’s the things you don’t expect to be doing in life that end up being what you do… in life. Or something like that. When I started down the path to adulthood and the working world, my “plan,” if you can call it a plan, was to spend my life “saving endangered species.” Sound a little vague? Kind of hard to achieve a goal made of such filmy, flimsy stuff, y’know? First I thought working at a zoo was the end zone. Then after a few years working at a zoo, I thought getting a graduate degree in genetics and “managing captive populations for preservation of genetic variation” was what I was after. Then after I finished the coursework for my master’s degree and ended up working in a lab doing race-horse parentage testing, I thought… well, I sometimes thought I’d just go crazy. But I went to work every day, ran tests, entered all the results into the computer in the lab — into a Foxbase program. All I knew about it was the name. I could say words like “dos,” and “asky,” and knew one had something to do with running the programs, and the other was a type of file. And I wasn’t much interested in knowing more.

Oh, how far I’ve come. Considering my initial lack of interest (if not downright resistance), it’s remarkable that I managed to learn anything at all about computer programs — even enough so that now in my current job as a college testing center administrator and sometime tutor, I’m being sought out to help students taking beginning web design classes because I’ve had some HTML training. Life is sometimes too strange for fiction.

For me, the transition from a line of code in a text file to something cool appearing on a web page has an element of the magical about it. And it is FUN to work magic. After I discovered the magic of HTML through some workshops I took as an employee with the State of Kentucky (after I left the race-horse lab), I realized how much enjoyment I could get out of using a computer as a creative outlet, when it wasn’t frustrating me to distraction with balking over every request I made of it. This was especially true when I switched from Mac computers and laptops, to an IBM ThinkPad with Windows XP-Pro installed on it. Everything seemed to make the thing hang up. I suppose I’m lucky in that I never encountered the “blue screen of death” that I’ve heard other people talk about. My computer was just massively slow. It may well be that a laptop is not an ideal place to install some types of software.

Which brings me to Ubuntu. As I said in the previous post, I had not known what to expect from using a Linux operating system on my computer, but I was determined to learn, or re-learn, whatever I needed to so that I could use it instead of Windows. When the Ubuntu distribution of Linux was recommended to me, and I checked out the website, I was surprised and delighted by what I saw. It looked easy! It was just a different looking desktop, but seemed to have all the usability features that we’ve all grown used to from using Windows and Mac OS. I thought, “this’ll be a snap.”

Journey into Linux, Part One

When I started thinking about switching to Linux, I really didn’t know what I would be letting myself in for. I didn’t really know if I’d be able to use it, if I’d like it, or if I would decide after checking into it to just forget the whole venture as a bad idea. Then I did it anyway. Kind of like when I bought the clipper set with all the comb attachments with the idea that I could start cutting my own hair — just shear it all off at one inch in length and see what would happen. Would it all stand straight out from my head, or would it still curl? Would I be able to wear it in spikes? Would I have to wear a bag over my head for six months until it all grew back? (None of the above, as it turned out, but I liked the results enough that I have continued cutting my own hair almost ever since.)

What I found out when I started researching Linux, was that there was a thriving community of programmers devoted to the cause of open source software who were making Linux user friendly to everyone — kind of like a Labrador Retriever puppy. And who could not like a Lab puppy, I ask you? On the other hand, proprietary software can be more like a cranky old skunk — do something it doesn’t like and it will leave a stench on you that you may never get washed off.

But, back to the beginning. I’m not exactly your typical computer geek/nerd/whatever. I’m from a much earlier generation. There were no home computers when I was growing up. No cell phones — not even any cordless phones. No play-stations — or color televisions. Just to put things in perspective.

My first computer actually belonged to my first ex-husband. It was a Commodore 64 that he bought (in 1983) so he could take a junior college course in computer programming, thinking he would “go into” that line of work. But he didn’t like it. I learned how to use a little word-processing program on it, and I never looked back.

A brand new world

Since I started using Linux on my laptop, I’ve thought of a lot of things to say about Linux on my regular blog, Crazybasenji.com. I started off with a post about how I decided to try Linux, and some of my first experiences with it. However, some of my readers might not be interested in reading so much about computer stuff, especially if they primarily read my blog for the basenji stories. So I decided to start a spin-off blog (kind of like how CSI spun off CSI Miami, and then CSI New York, etc.). So stay tuned.