Although I’m not doing the Postaday2011, I’m subscribed by email to The Daily Post blog where they are posting topic suggestions every day. Today’s is: Best accomplishment of 2010? And I thought I could actually do something with that, relative to the theme of this blog, because deciding to erase the windows operating system from my laptop and install a Linux OS, all on my own, was a pretty big deal, considering I’m not an uber-geek. Of course, I’m no stranger to making rash decisions and taking rash actions, but I try to limit them to only a few a year or so.
It has been almost six months since I made the transition, and I’ve had no reason to regret my decision. I think using Ubuntu/Linux will allow me to get a lot more use out of this laptop, and I won’t have to deal with it taking longer and longer to perform some operations trying to open new documents and new web pages with an old worn out OS. Life in open source is not completely frustration-free, however. To get photos from my new camera onto this computer, I first have to download them to my brother’s computer, because the transfer software is not translated for open source systems — yet. I’m waiting, uber-geeks.
As part of my effort to be more productive as a writer and artist in the new year, I’m joining the WordPress community challenge to post regularly throughout the year. But not every day. I could probably find enough material about open-source software and how to use it to write every day, but don’t really want to make this my full-time job.
The challenge for me will be to do my writing in the mornings, when I’m on my own time, and when I normally fritter away that time on Facebook and Twitter. Below I’ve quoted the sample post from the WordPress blog to fill in some more details. I’ll be back next week.
I’ve decided I want to blog more. Rather than just thinking about doing it, I’m starting right now. I will be posting on this blog once a week for all of 2011.
I know it won’t be easy, but it might be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals, to help me along the way, including asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.
If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.
(I forgot to make the “Postaweek2011” tag yesterday. My bad. Added now.)
I didn’t jump into the open source environment all at once, and I certainly didn’t start with Ubuntu. I wasn’t even aware of how much free software was available until just a few years ago, although I remember my second ex-husband mentioning “share-ware” from time to time, usually referring to alternate versions of popular video games that were available at no cost if you knew where to go to download them, and were generally decent facsimiles of the originals. Saving money on software became a real issue when I left my job in Kentucky and came home to help my brother take care of our dad in his final years. I didn’t start looking for a job when I got back, so I wasn’t in a position to spend large on computers and software. I bought a used IBM Thinkpad with Windows XP installed on it because I planned to use it for an online course. The laptop did not come with Office installed. There was a CD with the Lotus office suite, which I learned to use, but the programs were never real familiar feeling to me.
OpenOffice.org was my first introduction to an open source program that had the look and feel of the MS Office programs I had been trained to use when I worked for the State of Kentucky. I had no trouble finding my way around the word processor and spreadsheet programs. I think OpenOffice.org is the way to go for anyone who just needs a reliable set of productivity programs and doesn’t want to spend all the money to have the latest version of Word. The current version of OpenOffice Writer can open any Word document, and save a document in Word format. Same for the spreadsheet program and Excel. There is really no reason for an ordinary citizen or student to be chained to the high cost of Microsoft products.
And Microsoft is not the only replaceable product on a Windows PC — or on a Mac. If you like to edit photos but don’t like the high price of PhotoShop, check out GIMP. I’ve had all kinds of fun creating new variations on old photos, and I didn’t have to spend a penny. Of course, all of these free software providers are happy to accept donations of any size. They are well worth whatever size donation anyone can make. The developers keep on writing code for new products just because they want to make improvements on stuff that’s already “out there” but doesn’t do everything they want it to, and they are happy to make it available to everyone else so others can have that same expanded functionality. And the nice thing about such a large community of developers is that they operate like a self-regulating organism, catching and repairing bugs that get past others.
I’m completely sold on the open source enterprise. Even updates are less of a pain in the ass than they were with either the Mac or Windows machines I’ve used. I very rarely have to shut down my computer after downloading an update package and installing it. And it never, ever shuts off of its own accord, the way Windows machines are prone to do.
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.”
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.
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.