Red Hat and Debian fans debate desktop Linux

Mail from longtime reader Steve Mahaffey on the state of desktop Linux. My responses interspersed within:
SM: It’s been a while since I’ve emailed you, though I still read your site almost daily and comment from time to time.

DF: I appreciate that.

SM: Other than our common faith the most important subject that I could comment on might be desktop Linux.

DF: And it’s been a while since I’ve written about either of those. Too long.

SM: In the past I’ve used Mandrake and Suse briefly, and Red Hat 7.2/3 more extensively. As a server, Red Hat 7.3, booted to runlevel 3, runs until the power goes off at my West Houston home long enough to outlast my UPS. On the other hand, as a desktop OS, Red Hat 7.3 with KDE or Ximian Gnome would crash 1-3 x per week, and Ximian Gnome would get corrupted, requiring me to delete various ./.gnome* config files or files in /tmp to fix it, which most users would not be able to fathom or guess at.

DF: The more advanced desktop environments seem to be pretty sensitive to something or other. I haven’t figured out what exactly. That’s part of the reason why I run IceWM on Debian on my desktop; it’s stable. Running Gnome apps under IceWM on Debian “Unstable” (the experimental, bleeding-edge Debian distro), I’ve been chasing a slow memory leak that eventually consumes all available physical memory and eventually leads to a crash, but it takes a month or two. More on what I think is going on in a minute.

SM: Red Hat 8.0 on my primary workstation, on the other hand, is currently at 43 days uptime. NO CRASHES, once or twice I have restarted the x-server, and once I had a problem with the gnome conifg files. I know that you use Debian mostly, but Red Hat, Lindows, Mandrake, Lycoris, or the like will be the ones to have a mass impact on the desktop. Seems like Lycoris or Lindows was Debian based, though.

DF: I know Lindows is based on Debian. I don’t know Lycoris’ origin. You are correct that Debian will have minimal impact on the desktop, at least in the home. Debian doesn’t give a rip about commercial success and it shows.

I saw Red Hat 8 and Mandrake 9 recently and I was impressed at how far they’ve come. I haven’t touched Red Hat since 6.2 or Mandrake since, well, 7.2 probably. They looked stable and fast. And I saw a minimal (no options picked) Mandrake 9 install the other night. It was 144 megs. I remember not long ago trying to do minimal Red Hat and Mandrake installs and they were 300 megs, at least. That’s definitely a step in the right direction.

SM: Anyway, besides much greater stability, I have enough functionality for most of my needs in programs like Open Office, gnucash, Mozilla or Galeon, Evolution or KMail, etc. Some may have other needs, only met via Windows only programs, of course. I have noticed that RH 8.0 seems on occasion to be slow, but not most of the time. The menus are a little funny … easy to add to the KDE menus, but they don’t always seem to work. With Gnome, it’s easier to add a custom panel to add a non-default application, but it does work then.

DF: Linux currently meets most of the needs I observe on the typical user’s desktop. Not necessarily power users, but for the basic users who are interested in typing simple documents like letters and memos, simple spreadsheets (and let’s face it, an awful lot of spreadsheets use very basic math, if any at all), e-mail, Web browsing, chat, and listening to music, Linux provides solutions that are as good as, if not superior to, those that run on Windows.

I also observe how many users don’t know how to add an application to Windows’ Start menu, or desktop, or that quick-launch thing on the taskbar. It may be easier on Windows, but it’s still not easy enough for most people.

Of course, this is coming from someone who keeps at least one shell window open at all times in Linux and launches apps from there because it’s faster and easier for me to type the first few letters of an app and hit tab and then enter than it is to navigate a menu. For people like me, Linux is much, much superior to Windows and always will be.

SM: RH 8.0 did recognize my nVidia card, but did NOT enable opengl 3d acceleration. I had to install the nVidia drivers from the nVidia web site to get opengl acceleration…apparently Red Hat has decided to not support that at this time. Another oddity is that I have had to turn on the cd sound to play audio CDs by using the kde mixer…can’t seem to do it with the gnome mixer, and don’t know where to hack a config file or file permissions to do this.

DF: Given Red Hat’s history with KDE, it’s ironic that some things work better in KDE than Gnome on Red Hat. Nvidia’s decision to only provide binary drivers (not source) hasn’t proven popular with a lot of Linux distributors, which probably has a lot to do with the OpenGL issues. Red Hat isn’t going to go out of its way to make nVidia look good, and might actually go out of its way to make nVidia not look as good as ATI or Matrox or other companies who are willing to provide straight source, taking the chance that users will blame nVidia rather than Red Hat or Linux. (That’s not a particularly safe bet, but it’s not out of character, given past history.)

SM: Other things… Evolution crashes a lot. I’ve given up and started using KMail (for IMAP since I use my own mail server with IMAP). Galeon is good, but it seems that I had some printing issues and I’ve been using Mozilla more. I’ll have to see how the Phoenix browser comes along…it might be the best choice. Flash and Java required a manual install.

DF: Evolution is stable for me in Debian (more stable than Outlook 2000 under Windows 2000) but I’ve heard that complaint. I have to wonder if Evolution might be picky about the libraries it’s linked to and what it’s compiled with and how? Debian is really conservative; Red Hat is much more apt to use C compilers that haven’t proven themselves just yet. It’s great that GCC 3.2 is so much faster, but if that speed is still coming at the price of stability, let’s back off, eh?

I like Galeon but I don’t print Web pages much. Phoenix is turning into a very nice browser. Lately I’ve been using Mozilla nightly builds for the spam filtering in the mail client and no other reason.

SM: All in all, maybe Red Hat 8.0 is still more a distro that is more suited for corporate environments that have IT personnel around to hand-hold, and which need only modest desktop application abilities. But, it’s coming quite close to the fabled “Aunt Minnie” friendly OS that will really give Microsoft fits.

DF: It’ll take time to get mainstream appeal but I believe it will. Linux PCs in Wal-Mart are a very good thing, because it gives exposure and feedback. The press hasn’t been too kind to the Linux PCs sold there, but if the criticisms are addressed, things will get better, faster, for all distributions. Windows nothing but a really bad Mac wanna-be for 10 years, but it ripened because it infiltrated mass-market PCs. The press applauded Microsoft as it washed its dirty laundry in public. Linux won’t get that same treatment, but I’ll take a criticizing press over a kiss-butt press any day of the week if the goal is product maturity. Windows has been 20 years in the making, but XP still crashes too much.

And as far as Red Hat vs. Debian goes, I may have to give Red Hat another look as a desktop OS soon.

SM: Most of your comments seem to center around Linux and server applications. This is not trivial or unimportant. However, I think that the time for desktop Linux may be getting quite close, and I’d be interested in your comments if you feel so inclined.

DF: My focus has changed in the past year. Two years ago, I did desktop support, and server work in emergencies. About a year ago, I started moving into server support and only did desktop support in emergencies. It’s been a year since I’ve dealt with end users on a regular basis, so I don’t know as much what’s wanted or needed on the desktop anymore and I definitely don’t think about it nearly as much since I’m almost never confronted with it.

I think my thoughts on it are still worth something, since it’s only been a year, but that kind of experience definitely doesn’t age well.

Getting back to the desktop, the apps we need are in place. What they need most now are must-have features that Microsoft won’t supply, or won’t supply quickly. Bayesian spam filtering in Mozilla is a prime example of Open Source beating MS to the punch. A great idea showed up on Slashdot, some early implementations showed up immediately, and within a month or two, it’s in Mozilla’s alpha builds. The public at large will have a usable implementation within a couple of months. And there will be others. I suspect we’ll see lots of examples of it in digital media. I mean, whose design would you rather use, the design of someone concerned only with corporate interests, or the design of a group of users concerned with their fair-use rights and yours and mine?

SM: Anyway, maybe you’ll find my observations to be of interest.

DF: Always.

Analysis of the Apple Mac Xserver

Given my positive reaction to the Compaq Proliant DL320, Svenson e-mailed and asked me what I thought of Apple’s Xserver.
In truest Slashdot fashion, I’m going to present strong opinions about something I’ve never seen. Well, not necessarily the strong opinions compared to some of what you’re used to seeing from my direction. But still…

Short answer: I like the idea. The PPC is a fine chip, and I’ve got a couple of old Macs at work (a 7300 and a 7500) running Debian. One of them keeps an eye on the DHCP servers and mails out daily reports (DHCP on Windows NT is really awful; I didn’t think it was possible to mess it up but Microsoft found a way) and acts as a backup listserver (we make changes on it and see if it breaks before we break the production server). The other one is currently acting as an IMAP/Webmail server that served as an outstanding proof of concept for our next big project. I don’t know that the machines are really any faster than a comparable Pentium-class CPU would be, but they’re robust and solid machines. I wouldn’t hesitate to press them into mission-critical duty if the need arose. For example, if the door opened, I’d be falling all over myself to make those two machines handle DHCP, WINS, and caching DNS for our two remote sites.

So… Apples running Linux are a fine thing. A 1U rack-mount unit with a pair of fast PPC chips in it and capable of running Linux is certainly a fine thing. It’ll suck down less CPU power than an equivalent Intel-based system would, which is an important consideration for densely-packed data centers. I wouldn’t run Mac OS X Server on it because I’d want all of its CPU power to go towards real work, rather than putting pretty pictures on a non-existent screen. Real servers are administered via telnet or dumb terminal.

What I don’t like about the Xserver is the price. As usual, you get more bang for the buck from an x86-based product. The entry-level Xserver has a single 1 GHz PowerPC, 256 megs of RAM, and a 60-gig IDE disk. It’ll set you back a cool 3 grand. We just paid just over $1300 for a Proliant DL320 with a 1.13 GHz P3 CPU, 128 megs of RAM, and a 40-gig IDE disk. Adding 256 megs of RAM is a hundred bucks, and the price difference between a 40- and a 60-gig drive is trivial. Now, granted, Apple’s price includes a server license, and I’m assuming you’ll run Linux or FreeBSD or OpenBSD on the Intel-based system. But Linux and BSD are hardly unproven; you can easily expect them to give you the same reliability as OS X Server and possibly better performance.

But the other thing that makes me uncomfortable is Apple’s experience making and selling and supporting servers, or rather its lack thereof. Compaq is used to making servers that sit in the datacenter and run 24/7. Big businesses have been running their businesses on Compaq servers for more than a decade. Compaq knows how to give businesses what they need. (So does HP, which is a good thing considering HP now owns Compaq.) If anything ever goes wrong with an Apple product, don’t bother calling Apple customer service. If you want to hear a more pleasant, helpful, and unsuspicious voice on the other end, call the IRS. You might even get better advice on how to fix your Mac from the IRS. (Apple will just tell you to remove the third-party memory in the machine. You’ll respond that you have no third-party memory, and they’ll repeat the demand. There. I just saved you a phone call. You don’t have to thank me.)

I know Apple makes good iron that’s capable of running a long time, assuming it has a quality OS on it. I’ve also been around long enough to know that hardware failures happen, regardless of how good the iron is, so you want someone to stand behind it. Compaq knows that IBM and Dell are constantly sitting on the fence like vultures, wanting to grab its business if it messes up, and it acts accordingly. That’s the beauty of competition.

So, what of the Xserver? It’ll be very interesting to see how much less electricity it uses than a comparable Intel-based system. It’ll be very interesting to see whether Apple’s experiment with IDE disks in the enterprise works out. It’ll be even more interesting to see how Apple adjusts to meeting the demands of the enterprise.

It sounds like a great job for Somebody Else.

I’ll be watching that guy’s experience closely.

A Saturday mixture

Luke again. As I was making the video about Luke, another member of my church was putting together a Bible study to wrap around it. I delivered that study to my small group last night. It was the first time I’d ever taught–to this group at least–using someone else’s material. I write my own and teach others to write their own, because there’s no way that a book written by distant authors can be in touch with a group’s particular needs. The Bible itself plays by a different set of rules, but taken in its entirety, it’s a pretty intimidating book. But a human taking poignant bits out of it and showing people how to use them–that works.
So last night I delivered the study, and near the end, I played the Luke video. Luke talked for five minutes on how it feels to be Luke. (The transcript appeared here originally–what I played was edited only slightly from that.) The group’s reaction?

Silence.

Video professionals have told me that’s good.

Finally I broke the silence. “Luke is grateful because he has so much. And when you look at the ‘so much’ he has, there isn’t a one of those things that I don’t have. I’ve got great friends. I’ve got a great, supportive family. And I’ve got so much more than that. And yet, Luke’s a lot happier than I am. Something’s wrong here.”

More silence. One of the girls, who has a remarkable story in her own right to tell, looked like she was going to cry.

And how to follow that? You don’t. So I’m not gonna try. Segue, schmegway.

Roll your own mail server. Linux guru extraordinaire Nick Petreley just published a five-part series on setting up an IMAP server in Linux. It’s the best I’ve seen yet. It doesn’t talk about everything one would like to do with a mail server, and I prefer Courier IMAP over Cyrus IMAP, but if you want your own spam-filtering mail server, this is a great start. About the only thing he doesn’t cover is using Fetchmail to pull in mail from foreign accounts.

An interesting take on intellectual property. I’ve told you about Rick Prelinger before; he’s the one responsible for the Internet Archive’s movie archive, which is destined to endear him forever to small-time movie makers around the world. Here’s an article on IP from him which takes a unique take. Worth a read.

If you’re in need of free (and, more importantly, royalty-free) film footage, bookmark this page. Getting MPEG-2 video into Premiere is difficult; Prelinger offers some advice he’s been given.

Wintendo must go…

Some l337 h4x0r is watching this as I type. Yeah, I got the new virus. Fortunately it doesn’t look like it’s smart enough to look at an IMAP store, so it didn’t replicate. That’ll be the last time I use Outlook at home, and maybe at work. Yes, Linux has security vulnerabilities, but they’re benign compared to this crap. Especially if you’re behind a firewall with Telnet and even SSH access turned off. A root exploit on a machine disconnected from the world doesn’t do any good.
So kiss off, Gates. You embarrassed me. Yeah, I wrote a book about your worthless OS. I know a lot more about your worthless OS than about any alternative. That’s fine. I learned Wintendo, I can learn something else.

And to the loser who’s now recording my keystrokes: I’ll rebuild the system. Enjoy what little you get. Meanwhile, get a life, OK? Get interested in girls or something.

An easy DIY mailserver

Mail the easy way. It figures that I would find this now, after blowing most of a Saturday trying to get a mailserver set up. This won’t give you any nifty spam filtering, but if you want a fast, reliable, secure, mail server with every other nifty feature you could want, run to Qmail the Easy Way. There, you can download a script that goes and gets all the sources you need and compiles them for you. You get Qmail for SMTP (the fastest and most secure mail server available for Linux), Courier IMAP and POP for receiving, DJBDNS for name resolution, and a nifty Webmail interface. Combine that with your favorite Linux-from-sources distro, and you’ll have a rock-solid, fast-as-possible mail server for a whole lot less money than an Exchange server. And the hardware requirements are far lower. Dan Bernstein, the author of Qmail and DJBDNS, claims Red Hat used a 486 to test Qmail and it performed so well they just threw it into production.
If I had a lot of IMAP clients connecting I know I’d want a Pentium-class machine, but I remember back in the day running Domino under OS/2 on Pentium-90s. When we moved to Domino on NT running on a 533 MHz Alpha, it made our heads spin because we thought 90 MHz was good enough. This was with about 200 people connecting to it. This qmail setup would be a whole lot more efficient than Domino running under NT.

And if you want it all? All you’re missing (possibly) is fetchmail for grabbing mail from foreign mailservers, procmail for a filtering language, and a spamfilter package.
Incidentally, Bernstein writes highly secure, highly efficient software, and he’s really dictatorial about what changes go in it. That’s partly because he guarantees its security–he’ll pay you $5,000 if you can compromise it and he can replicate what you did. Yes, it’s open source, and he gives it away, but since you can’t modify it unconditionally, the BSD people hate him. And since you can’t do anything you want with it except close it, Stallman and his FSF hate him. Since I try to offend the BSD and FSF zealots any time I can, I think that would be reason enough to use Bernstein’s software, assuming it was capable. But it’s not just capable. It’s smaller, faster, and more secure than any alternative and he’s even willing to warrant it–something the likes of Microsoft and Oracle will never do–and you can compile it on any architecture with whatever optimizations you want, and it’s free, so I say you and I are fools not to be using it.

Time to be offensive. It’s been a really long time since I’ve offended people by talking about religion. I was talking with one of my good friends from church (and another part of the conversation reminded me that if I ever decide I want to try to make a living by writing, I need to offer him a job as beg him to be my agent) and we were talking about God’s will. His son had been having some problems, and he was questioning his attitude a little. I understand. My attitude would be similar, and I’d be questioning it afterward too.

I don’t remember what he said, but I paraphrased it back to him to see if I understood what he meant: “I ask for God’s will, but I admit that a lot of times I’m afraid of what God’s will is, and that it might be different from mine.”

“Perfectly said,” he said. (He always says I state things perfectly. I’d better not ever read him that e-mail I wrote at around 9:30 on Wednesday that I’ve been regretting ever since…)

“I know where you’re coming from,” I said. “I’m afraid of it too, most of the time.”

He stopped for a minute and asked if that was OK. I thought about it for a minute. It’s definitely natural to want something different from what God wants. And if you think you might be wrong but want to be right, sure, you’ll be afraid of God’s will. And that’s certainly preferable to being hostile to God’s will, insisting on your way or the highway. You have to reach a certain level of maturity to be willing to ask God’s will, even when you’re afraid of it.

But that’s not all there is. God will take that if it’s all He can get, but what God really wants is unconditional surrender. The Lord’s Prayer says, “Thy will be done.” No strings attached. Jesus prayed, “If it’s possible, take this away from me. But not my will, but Yours be done.” No strings attached there either.
One of us cited Abraham as the human who got as close to that ideal as is humanly possible. But I pointed out how Abraham got there. For 99 years of his life, Abraham didn’t trust God completely, and he did things on his own. At least twice he felt his life was in danger, and he lied to protect his skin and nearly forced his wife into adultery in so doing. We can look back and say, “Abraham! God said he’d make you a great nation! You’re sitting there childless, and Sarah’s not pregnant yet either. Are you a great nation yet? No way! And God’s at least 9 months away from being able to deliver on that promise. You know what, Abraham? You’re invincible! Those guys could try to kill you and they absolutely would fail.” But we’ve got the advantage of hindsight.

At some point, Abraham must have looked back over his life and come to that conclusion himself. Because by the time he was about 110, he unconditionally did anything and everything God told him to do.

I’m convinced that Abraham became the superhero of faith by looking back over his life objectively and being observant enough to see God’s hand in everything, and being far enough along in years to be able to see a whole lot of God’s work, and see that God’s way was good, better than anything he could have possibly put together on his own.

So yeah, I feel bad about being 26 and attaching strings to my surrender. I’ve got a whole book of God’s made-and-kept promises, and I have read the whole thing, cover to cover. But nothing’s more convincing than your own experience, and at 26 I’ve still got some of that to gain. He’s further along than I am in the experience department and in the miracles department–he’s got two kids that no doctor can explain. The second is less than a year old, but if he’s like a cat and has nine lives, he’s already used up two or three.

Hopefully neither of us needs a whole lot more convincing. I think we’ll both get there before we turn 110, but I’m not surprised that neither of us is there yet.

A Linkfest for Wednesday

Sorry, I didn’t feel much like writing at all last night. I stayed up too late configuring my new fetchmail-procmail-courier-exim mailserver, so I felt fried all day. So I’ll just say this: The common UW-IMAP server that comes with most Linux distros is junk. It just works, yes, but it’s dog slow. Courier-IMAP is a pain to compile, but if you can find a binary for it, configuration isn’t too painful, and it absolutely flies. With my mail served off a Courier-IMAP server, reading it with Sylpheed, the speed is much higher than that of Outlook Express with the mail stored locally. Connecting to my UW-IMAP server was painful.
With that said, here are some links.

Gentoo Linux. This is another Linux-from-scratch-type distro. This one’s headed up by Daniel Robbins, who’s written a number of good Linux articles for IBM developerworks. I haven’t checked this one out just yet but I intend to–as big as Sorcerer is, Gentoo’s bigger still, and has been in development longer.

Tinyapps.org is a site dedicated to small, useful programs and utilities, mostly for DOS and Windows. There’s some good stuff there.

I had a couple of other things I’ve been meaning to post but they’ve slipped my mind. So I’m outta here.

Mail server successful!

A lightweight Windows web browser. Windows!? What’s that? Yes, I still use it at work, even though my Windows time at home is dwindling. A couple of weeks ago I told you about Dillo, a superfast, minimalist Web browser for Linux that’s in development. It’s still considered alpha-quality; I’ve had absolutely no trouble with it but some readers report it crashes on them occasionally. I’ve had enough success with it that I want it at work.
Well, I didn’t get my wish exactly, but yesterday at work after following a link to a link to a link while looking for something else (you know how that goes–you never find what you’re looking for when you’re looking for it, on the Web or in real life) I found Off By One a free standards-compliant HTML 3.2 browser. Its executable is a full 1.1 megs in size. There are sites it won’t render quite right, because it lacks Java and JavaScript and it’s an HTML 4.0 and CSS world out there these days, but it’s the fastest browser I’ve ever seen on Win32. If I had to live with Windows 9x on a 486 or a slow Pentium, this is the browser I’d want.

A nice-looking Weblog package. I found a blogger on Freshmeat called Supasite. It doesn’t look like it does a nice calendar by default like Greymatter, but it does categories, natively. And it looks like nothing would stop me from changing the system date and putting in entries from way back when, so I could start moving content in from this site’s previous incarnations (including some stuff that hasn’t been online for most of this year). Greymatter breaks when you try to do that.

The downside? Setup is much more difficult, since it relies on PHP and MySQL, in addition to Apache and Perl.

Local mail server revisited. I figured out what I was doing wrong. To get exim, procmail, fetchmail, and courier-imap all working together, I had to do a couple more steps. First, I had to create a maildir for my non-priveliged account with the maildirmake command. Next, I created a .forward file:
# Exim filter
save $home/Maildir/new/

Next, I created a .procmailrc file:
MAILDIR=$HOME/Maildir
DEFAULT=$MAILDIR/new/
LOGFILE=$MAILDIR/Maillog

Then I ran fetchmail manually. It pulled down three messages from my SWBell account. I connected to the experimental server with Sylpheed and… I had mail! Suh-weeet!

Now if I can just get one of those canned spam filters running, I’ll be a very happy camper…

More of the same.

As I watched my Royals’ parent club, the Oakland Athletics, play the Yankees, I burned a CD under Linux for the first time. I honestly don’t remember when I last used my old Sony CD-R (it’s so old it’s a 2X burner!) but that was under Windows.
But burning an ISO image is insanely easy, at least if you’ve got a SCSI drive. Here’s the voodoo I needed:

cdrecord -v speed=2 dev=0,0 binary-i386-1.iso

By the time I could have pulled up the ISO image in Easy CD Creator, I’d typed the command line and cdrecord had already burned a meg.

How do you know the numbers? cat /proc/scsi/scsi.

And I know now why my people at work who are in the know on Linux love Debian. How big is a default installation of the current release? 141 megs. Including XFree86 3.36. It’s definitely not a distro for those who like the bleeding edge or even the leading edge, but if you’re wanting to build a Firewall, Debian looks like the distro of choice, and it’ll fit on a discarded 170-meg drive with room to spare.

I reformatted my experimental mail server, then I installed Debian. Then I made it a mailserver. Exim, a sendmail replacement, was already installed. So was procmail. So here’s what I did to make a mail server:

apt-get install courier-imap
apt-get install fetchmail

I created a .fetchmailrc file in my home directory:

poll postoffice.swbell.net with protocol pop3
user dfarq password noway is dfarq

Then I made the file secure:
chmod 0710 .fetchmailrc

I configured courier-imap. I had to scroll down to the bottom of /etc/courier-imap.config and uncomment the last line to activate it. Then I configured exim. I searched for the phrase “maildir” and uncommented the line that enables maildir format (courier doesn’t work with the default mbox format, and maildirs are more efficient anyway).

Then I ran fetchmail: fetchmail -d.

That should have worked. It didn’t. Exim continued to use mbox format. So I can connect to my IMAP server, which is populated by fetchmail, which is in turn served by exim, but since exim doesn’t put the mail in a format the server understands, I’ve got nothing to read.

So I guess I’m going to think about ditching exim for qmail. I have no great loyalty to exim except that Debian put it there by default.

And the Cardinals are eliminated (I’m furious with the way LaRussa handled Matt Morris; he won’t win 22 games next season, that’s a given now) and the A’s are going to have to play Game 5 without Jermaine Dye. I see the Royals have problems with the Yankees even when they’re wearing another uniform. Hopefully they can pull it off today. I’d have liked to have seen Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Jeremy Giambi and Mike Magnante go to the Series in Royals’ uniforms, but if they get there in someone else’s, I’ll take it.

Just had a conversation with Dan Bowman to confirm my feeble grip on sanity (but I was afraid I may have let go, so that is good news), and now it’s way late. It’s actually about 11:30; this server runs on Farquhar time. I’m gonna go make friends with my pillow. Apologies if this is poorly edited.

Time to talk about big, manly computers

Enough of this other stuff. I actually felt like messing around with computers yesterday. I read about Eric Raymond’s new PC (IBM was nice enough to finance building an obnoxious Linux box for Mr Raymond and Linus Torvalds), which is, in short, a dual Athlon-1200 setup with two big SCSI drives. Unfortunately, he neglected to mention how much memory he put in it. I’m assuming he splurged and got a gig or two. His comment? “I tried hard to gold-plate as much of the system as possible and load on all the extras and accessories I could, and was nevertheless unable to raise the total parts bill over $7,000.”
When they made the machine more reasonable (pulling the exotic tape backup drive and 21-inch monitor and other niceties), the system still cost $4,200. One participants’ comment? “People pay more than that for crap computers all the time.” Yup. I know one guy at work who had about $10,000 left in his budget at the end of July, so he decided he needed a new Macintosh. He spent every dime of it and didn’t get half the computer Raymond described.

The true test, of course, was compiling the Linux kernel. How long did it take? Two minutes, 21 seconds. I don’t think I have a computer that can compile it in under 10 minutes. Needless to say, I’m extremely jealous.

I had lunch with one of the seminarians assigned to my church (actually, seeing as it was at 3:30, I’m not sure what you would call that meal. Well, since people tend to argue whether the afternoon meal is lunch or dinner, and whether the evening meal is dinner or supper, I guess the 3:30 meal must be dinner). He mentioned that Best Bait-n-Switch had 256-meg Kingston DIMMs on sale for $25 after rebate, so we went. I picked one up.

With that, I had enough stuff to build a PC to replace several of the boxes I have laying around. Compare my setup to Raymond’s new setup:

CPU: AMD K6-2, 350 MHz
Mobo: AOpen AX59Pro
RAM: 256 MB Kingston
NIC: Generic cheapie Macronix (DEC Tulip derivative)
SCSI adapter: Initio 9090U (it came bundled with my CD-R way back when)
Hard drives: 850 MB Seagate IDE, 2 GB Quantum SCSI
CD-ROM: Generic, flaky 24X ATAPI
Video: STB Velocity 128 (nVidia Riva 128)
Case: InWin ATX desktop, no idea the model#, $37 at Directron a few months back

Yep. Pathetic. For whatever reason the machine wouldn’t boot off the Sorcerer CD, so I ended up installing Mandrake 7 on it (I wanted something reasonably modern that didn’t use the infamous GCC 2.96 compiler). It’s going to be an experimental mail server, so it doesn’t have to be fabulous.

Getting Courier-IMAP proved difficult. Someone at Inter7.com decided he didn’t like PacBell, and Southwestern Bell by association, so he blocks access from their networks. How nice of him. I understand not liking the companies (I hate Southwestern Bell as much as anyone), but punishing their customers isn’t going to accomplish anything. I’m stuck with SWBell because I don’t want to pay for basic cable so I can get a cable modem. If I get DSL from anyone else, then I’m using Southwestern Bell plus someone else, so they can blame each other. And who knows? If I connected from someone else who’s also using SWBell’s network, would I be blocked?

He posted his complaints to PacBell, and I have to wonder if part of the reason PacBell ignores him is because of his liberal use of a phrase that contains the word “mother” and implies incest…

At any rate, there’s an easy way to get past rude people who are blocking your ISP. Use someone else’s network. Go to www.anonymizer.com, then punch in the forbidden web page. Now I’m not using Southwestern Bell’s network, but rather, Anonymizer’s network, which is then forwarding the information I requested.

Unfortunately I didn’t get the mailserver built, as Courier-IMAP is even harder to get running than it is to download, but it was kind of fun to mess around with Linux again.

If you’re interested in what I was doing, here’s the article I followed.
Hey, it’s playoffs time. And ESPN is highlighting 1986, which as far as I’m concerned, is the second-best postseason ever (no one can top my Royals’ magical 1985, of course). ESPN’s doing a “voices of 1986,” but I noticed the voice I most want to hear isn’t up there yet. They’d better not forget him. I’ll never forget the photo of young Bosox closer Calvin Schiraldi with his face buried in a towel after Game 6. Hobbling first baseman Bill Buckner was the goat, but Schiraldi took it hard.

I actually met Schiraldi three years later. He was pitching for the Cubs by then, trying to put his career back together in spite of manager Don “Gerbil” Zimmer’s best efforts to prevent it. Nice guy. All people remember now is an unreliable relief pitcher (the specifics: a 13.50 ERA in the World Series, thanks in part to a home run he gave up to Ray Knight and the three consecutive singles he gave up preceding Buckner’s error) and they forget his 1.41 ERA in the regular season, followed by his 1.50 ERA in the playoffs. I remember a tired, overworked pitcher who gave everything he had and in the end just had nothing left. Boston had four pitchers worth having that year: Bruce Hurst, the incomparable Roger Clemens, “Oil Can” Boyd, and Schiraldi. In the postseason, those four men pitched until their arms fell off, and Boyd and Schiraldi were never quite the same after that. Hurst went on to have a respectable career; Clemens of course is still pitching and is now known as one of the biggest jerks in the game. These days, Schiraldi’s a high school teacher and coach in Texas.

I went looking for stuff on Schiraldi and I found this short story: The Girl who Hated Calvin Schiraldi. Obviously I don’t see it her way.

I’m posting this from Linux because Windows lost my last post

I wrote up a post in advance, then against my better judgment I sent in a boy to do a man’s work. Windows crashed on me. Granted, it doesn’t happen too terribly often, but when you lose work, that’s not much consolation.
I’m writing this from my Sorcerer-built Linux box, which I’ve christened Exodus. I don’t normally name PCs, but Exodus seems like an appropriate name for the machine that’ll help me leave Windows behind. (I’ll probably keep a Windows box around since I can make some fast money writing about Windows, but for real work, I think this Linux box is going see some heavy duty.)

I compiled Kmail; it’s adequate for my e-mail needs. I need IMAP, the ability to easily handle attachments, and the ability to cut and paste to and from my browser. So Kmail’s the ideal candidate, if it can do these things without crashing.

Add KDE’s Advanced Editor, with its ability to reformat text a la Notetab, and I’ve got everything I need to maintain this site. That’s nice.

I’m tired. I think I’ve got an appointment with my pillow, and this steel-slab buckling-spring IBM keyboard doesn’t look like a very comfortable substitute. I’m outta here.

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