When Linux required installation parties

You can learn a lot from the open source community, but don't forget to be respectful.
132 readers like this
132 readers like this

I studied math in college. Back then, ordinarily, math students didn't have access to the computer lab; pen and paper were all we needed to do our work. But for my one required programming class, I got access to the college computer lab.

It was running SunOS with remote X terminals (this was circa 1996). I immediately fell in love with Unix. I fell in love with the command line, X Windows, the utilities—all of it.

When the class ended, I lost my access. A friend told me about this thing called Linux, where you could install a Unix operating system on your own PC. Back then, installing Slackware on your PC was non-trivial.

So I dragged my tower PC to a "Linux installation party." Somehow, enough Linux geeks managed to get it to work. Graphics wouldn't be working for another couple of years since writing X configuration by hand was not something I had time for, but I didn't care—I had a Unix at home!

I have used nothing but Linux desktops since then, and thanks to the hard work of the community, Linux installation no longer requires installation parties. At some point, I switched from Slackware to Debian, and to this day, Debian is my distribution of choice.

Shortly after college, for a statistics gig, I grew frustrated with the limitations of SPSS. That's when I discovered my second great open source love: Python. I used Numeric (the predecessor to the modern NumPy) to calculate "median by tag," which SPSS lacked. Back then, the Python community was small. I pointed out some issues with some Python math modules. (My exact words were, "Whoever wrote the poly module for Python knew neither math nor Python.") Guido van Rossum replied to my e-mail with three words: "It was me."

The good news is that we got rid of poly and zmod. Everyone in the community agreed that both of these modules were poorly written and mostly useless. Guido suggested that "Numeric" would be the right place for it. It would take about ten more years for the NumPy library to add the polynomial module.

The bad news is that it took me a few more years to learn how to interact better in the open source community. I made missteps along the way, accidentally hurting people on the other side of the screen.

Being kind to people, especially if you are not able to see them face to face, is important. If you have the chance to engage with the open source community, take it. You will learn a lot about programming, and even more about working as a team. What's more, you'll get a chance to contribute to something you care about.

But take it from me: The first time you suggest a change, do it gently and with a little humility.

Moshe sitting down, head slightly to the side. His t-shirt has Guardians of the Galaxy silhoutes against a background of sound visualization bars.
Moshe has been involved in the Linux community since 1998, helping in Linux "installation parties". He has been programming Python since 1999, and has contributed to the core Python interpreter. Moshe has been a DevOps/SRE since before those terms existed, caring deeply about software reliability, build reproducibility and other such things.

4 Comments

Ah, the good old days...
All the same, I've developed a worry this year that makes me nostalgic for those days of searching for info. Earlier this year, the jump from the 4.17 kernel to 4.18 knocked out the wifi on my laptop, having to do with a new "feature" of the kernel to supply a driver for Broadcom, which doesn't work for me, and doesn't allow the old broadcom-wl driver to work either.
More recently, the 4.19 kernel has knocked out ethernet with my Realtek chip on my desktop.
Searching gives evidence that others have had the problems too, but no solutions that I can understand, if there are any. So it seems we need to back off the bravado we had when we we began saying about Linux "it just works".

That was a nice story! Also, I think that was a great way to suggest an algo change, maybe you were nasty because you thought rebuttals would be fierce! Anyways, lets try and keep civility and good wording towards our fellows whenever possible! Cheers!

Yes, the good old days! I remember LAN parties and Install parties, often morphing from one to the other.

While I've never had the fortune of attending one of these? I DO remember the long drawn out conversations I had with friends elsewhere in the world trying to assist me with my installs of Fedora Core 2!....LoL! Talk about AGONY!? But I got through it the best I could...and now?...these young whippersnappers have no idea of how LUCKY they are to have
"installers" that will do most of the work for 'em! (Now....someone pass me my banjo and my glasses!...) LOL!

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