Saturday, April 01, 2000

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BOOK Reviews

 I couldn't think what else to call this. It's sort of a journal about the journal, and a place to collect things on the subject of whether I ought to be doing this at all.

It all began on a Thursday morning...


Illigitimi non carborandum

Mark Huth replies

And Talin takes a new turn

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Thursday, November 5, 1998

Well, WORD is back to normal: it offered me Thursday, November 4, 1998 as the automatic entry. I had hoped the NT 4 upgrade would fix that.

I don't get a lot out of maintaining this site, and I particurlarly don't get much out of taking the time to put my notes in print; so when the first thing I see in the morning is this, it does make me wonder what is the point:

Darren Remington []


It is rather disconcerting to read through your replies to mail with such disparaging remarks about UNIX...

You are evaluating USE of Linux/UNIX based on your experiences with SETUP of a Linux system.

You talk about having to be a UNIX guru in order to get anything useful done with Linux/UNIX and then you say that if you take the time to become a UNIX guru, you won’t have an income.

Your entire perspective is *FLAWED*...

Difficulty of SETUP is not equivalent of difficulty of USE. There are plenty of people who have had difficulty in SETUP of Windows95/98/NT but I am sure you will tell me that doesn’t mean Windows is not for the masses. Just now (about 2 hours ago) I installed RedHat 5.1 on an unknown machine with mostly unknown hardware - it took all of about 30 minutes to complete the installation. I didn’t know what port the mouse was on. I didn’t know what kind of video card it was (or its memory). I didn’t even know what model or type the hard drive was. I now have a fully functional Linux system w/ X properly running.

As for difficulty of USE, once you get past your SETUP issues, I am confident you will find that you will have little trouble with USING the system. How can I be so bold about this? My wife writes X-files fan-fiction as a hobby. She is able to consistently and constantly produce short vignettes using StarOffice 4.0 (I didn’t feel like spending the money on ApplixWare when Corel will be releasing their office suite soon.) She tells me that using Linux/X is no more difficult than using M$-Windows. What kind of perspective does she bring to the fore? She started out using a Mac Performa with MacOS ver 7. She will not tolerate any CLI for herself.

Let’s see, my wife is able to churn out pages upon pages of writing. You too are an author. My wife is able to do something useful with Linux (as far as being an author.) You aren’t. I guess my wife must be smarter than you. Now then, when you finally get over looking down your condescending Joe-User nose at us propellorheads, maybe we can actually help you do something you consider useful.

If you wonder about what kind of productivity my wife is able to have with Linux - look at .

I designed the site, she provides the materials to fill it. All of it is done with Linux.

Do your credibility a favor and stop the whining about UNIX usability.

As for not having an income if you take the time to become a UNIX guru - there are plenty of us gurus out there that make a decent income. Heck, a few of them have even started their own mult-million revenue generating companies (like the guys I work for).

Just stop the whining - it makes you look like you don’t really want our help.



I am quite certain that UNIX aka the guru full employment act is useful; how else could it have survived this long? I am also quite certain that once set up with x-windows there are some applications programs that work well and others coming that can be used by anyone capable of following instructions, and I don't recall saying otherwise. Using UNIX after someone else has designed the site and set up the system is trivial; secretaries do it all the time.

Since this expert advice comes from someone who can't be bothered to say what it is I did that has him so upset, I can't be more specific; but clearly, since I am flawed and so is my attitude, it hardly matters. But it does make me rethink the whole notion of an on line day book. No one likes to be thought a fool, and I don't need this as my morning greeting, Maybe I'll feel different after breakfast, but I doubt it.

My columns are of course final draft after several days of working on them. All this stuff is first draft, more or less as it happens, and apparently it upsets people like DarrenR114. Why I let DarrenR114 upset me I am not sure, but as I say, no one likes to be thought a fool. Thank you, Darren. Everyone truly wants to egrep.

Would one gift the Giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us. I had not seen myself as a fatally flawed whiner.

But then followed:


It's time for breakfast. I was up late writing the column, because I am due to go north to a big game launch with much hoohaw and hype tomorrow and I want it done tonight. Alex, Jeff Siegel, and I set up a new system for Windows 98, and we learned a lot. I had an interesting experience with 100 MHz motherboards and the new AMD K6 2 300 MHz chip. Read about it in the column. It will be out in a couple of months in Japanese, then I'll post it in English.

 On the other hand, there are rewards to this job. One is Calvin Dodge's rant on the Halloween papers. Don't miss it.

and mail like



UNIX 11f

Dear Jerry;

Illegetimi non carborundum!! Loosely translated – don’t let the bastards get you down. I like your daily journal format, and look forward to reading it every day. And I don’t think of you as a whiner, even though you frequently vent. I couldn’t count the number of times that I have said out loud or under my breath, in the last 2 or 3 years that "I HATE computers." It goes with the job. And I know Unix people who have trouble with their boxes too. We have one Unix box where I work, running AIX (IBM’s version of Unix), and I DON’T LIKE IT. The commands and directory structure is just different enough from DOS to make it easy to make mistakes. The command terms are obscure and hard to remember Etc. If I worked with it all day every day, I would probably like it better. But the only reason we have it at all is because of some legacy software. As soon as that’s gone, so will Unix be gone. I’d rather set up and work on 10 Win95 boxes than 1 Unix box. I appreciate your being able to take the time to experiment and push the envelope a little. I wish I had that kind of freedom here. I spend most of my time putting out brush fires (can you say "end user"). Hang in there and keep up the good work. Thanks.

Roger Shorney


Thanks. But I do wonder if I am not getting a bit over exposed.


And I find myself wondering still. This takes a lot of time, more than simply scribbling notes in a log book would. The columns always have a happy ending (or I generally don't tell the story: I may issue a warning, but I don't go into great detail about failures). That worked for 20 years. I used to get hate mail, sure, but not very much. I have got more mail like the above (one reader points out that few "Real Players" user aol, amusingly) in the past month than I used to get in a year.

Well, a day. I have work to do. But it is a puzzlement.




Mark Huth []


If I may offer some perspective on darrenr’s note in view 22. I don’t have anything very new to say, just some background which might be convincing.

You and I have corresponded before, but let me refresh you on my background.

I am an M.D.-Ph.D. with a background in computer science. I worked on Wall Street for Burroughs and was involved in the development and implementation of the CHIPS system. CHIPS is the clearing house for interbank payment system, the system the Fed and US banks use to transfer money. I also worked on the SWIFT system (the worldwide version of CHIPS. I did contract work for HP in developing interfaces for medical equipment for personal computers and have been involved in medical electronic medical record development for all of my medical career. I’m currently on the advisory board for one of the largest medical informatics companies in the world. Finally, I’m a cardiologist and clinical director of information services for a modest sized multispecialty group. We’ve about 600 networked PC’s spread over 12 sites and attached to a large AIX box. We’ve a modest sized IS staff. We run NT, Unix, Windows 95/98, have a few Macs, and assorted SUN boxes, lab gear, etc.

I’d describe myself as platform neutral. As I mentioned to you in a previous email, I started to install linux on a personal system several weeks ago, mostly for fun. It is my first personal Unix box. I’ve some advantages you probably don’t have. I’ve an IS staff with loads of experience in Unix. I had formal training in UNIX, although it was long ago and far away.

I’d suggest that three way to look at this might be as individual user, administrator, and finally an advocate for users (ie you).

1) Darren’s perspective is one of what I’d describe as an ardent individual user. For the individual user, especially one for whom linux offers adequate software tools, linux can be a gem. Learning curve harder than dos/windows, but very stable and fast.

2) From the perspective of an administrator responsible for multiple systems and multiple users, linux is a bit more difficult. No question that you can set linux up to be a fine system. No question that it can be fast, stable, and very flexible. However, as you’ve seen, it may not be easy to get linux installed to be a fast, stable, and flexible system. Like you, I’d major difficulties with network cards, video cards, and Applixware. Clearly those difficulties can be minimized by specifying standard configurations. Clearly, linux can be set up to be easy to use. Pick a standard interface, a standard set of software packages and one can get a system which is stable, easy to set up and configure, and easy to use. Linux is, without a doubt, more stable than any version of windows. I’m not sure the easy of use is much different either. Why don’t we switch our users to Linux?.

There are lots of reasons. I guess the biggest reason is that we don’t have real problems with stability or easy of use with windows 95,98, or NT. We’ve good uptime, minimal problems, and very happy users. Thus, in your words, windows is "more than good enough". Second reason is availability of software. We can find statistical packages, scanning packages, design tools, network adminstration tools, etc, etc, etc. Further, we try hard to choose "horses for courses". We couldn’t run our enterprise systems on our NT boxes, they don’t have the horsepower. We don’t run our lab systems on our AIX system, because the software isn’t available for the AIX box, it runs on the Sun boxes. We don’t run our application servers, firewalls, or our print servers on our AIX box, because it is cheaper, easier, and faster to do it on our NT boxes. We run email systems, word processing, spreadsheets, presentation managers, dicom viewers, etc on windows based systems.

From the perspective of someone who has responsibility for many end users and many systems I’d suggest that I’m not convinced that administration of many linux systems would be any easier than that of many windows systems. Should I standardize on Redhat or SUSE, run KDE or Gnome, should I standardize on Applixware or Corel, will my 100 megabit networks, my 10base T networks, my fiber networks, my microwave line, my wan, etc. all work as well as they do now? What if some of that gear isn’t supported by linux? As an aside, my head of networking used to work for one of the largest aerospace companies in the US as their Unix networking guru. When I suggest that Unix might be easier to setup and maintain for na´ve users in a complex corporate environment, he just shakes his head and laughs.

3) Is there a huge benefit to an industry pundit in climbing the Unix learning curve?

Would it give you more readership? Well, I’d still be interested in what you had to say, but honestly I’d be less interested. Would linux be of real benefit to you in keeping a system running and stable? Mayhaps, but my personal NT workstation is up for about 45 days. Would linux do much better? I’m not convinced. If you started installing network cards, scanners, multidisk changers, optical disks, games, etc, etc, I’m pretty sure you are going to have to be a lot of tweaking of your box no matter what OS you are running.

Would you have as much to write about? Nope!

Would you have fewer zealots bothering you? Doubtful (grin)!

Should you begin the climb? I’d suggest that you should. I do think linux is going to play a bigger role in the future and you and I will find more use for it in the future. I’d like to have your perspective available.

So, I’d suggest you keep doing what you are doing. Fool with linux, ignore Darren and the rest of the zealots, and keep working on the daybook. I, for one, really enjoy it!

Thanks. An excellent summary which largely confirms what I have thought for years.

I do intend to keep at this, in part because many readers want to know if they can try it, and if so, what will happen. I am also running out of time, and I have these fiction works to do. This last week or so with all this time devoted to this site it going to have, I fear, to suffice; in future it's got to be held to under an hour a day. Thanks again for the good advice.



Talin []


First off, I have to say that I’m rather surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed reading the recent discussions. You say that you’re writing a day book, yet about 2/3 of the content is from other people. From my perspective, it’s more like a strange fusion of a BBS and a magazine, with you in the role of editor. Unlike a real BBS, I get top-notch filtering, so I don’t have to wade through all the noise. But unlike a magazine, I get raw, unedited, diverse opinions on a lot of interesting subjects, that same sort of feeling of "direct contact" that I got with BIX, but without all the whining. And I get your little bits of analysis at the end of each posting.

I think that your #1 priority should be to automate this as much as possible, so that you don’t have to spend time editing in Front Page, converting letters, removing formatting, or anything else. You should just be able to click a button or two to append a letter, and your comments, to the bottom of a particular page. Or as my friend Andy Hook has been known to say: "Why do I have to deal with these STONE KNIVES and BEARSKINS? Why can’t I just have a tool which will solve all my problems?" The fact is that you should never have to actually open a letter and look at it in Word or Front Page if you don’t want to. In fact, the methodology of your individual pages is so regular and unvarying that ideally you shouldn’t ever have to open pages in an HTML editor at all, the act of appending new messages to your pages should be a completely automated procedure. {Love to. Tell me how!}

Now, as to Mr. Remington’s message:

As you know, I’ve been a fairly vocal evangelist for Linux in these pages. I won’t even claim to be platform neutral, in fact I’m downright partisan. Yet, I would be the first to admit that Linux has some serious shortcomings. Some of these are fixable, others may not be. The propeller-head geek in me loves Linux, for it’s challenges, it’s puzzles, and it’s power and flexibility. But as a former professional UI consultant, as well as an artist, I am on occasion appalled at the lack of coherence.

I want to talk about something known as the _Baby Duck Syndrome_, a term I first heard from my friend Ken Jordan. The idea is that when baby ducks are born, the first creature they see is designated "momma" and they love it forever. I don’t know if ducks really behave this way, but the term has been used to apply to engineers or programmers who fall in love with their very first tool, to the exclusion of all others. Many programmers have never been able to transcend beyond their first programming language, first shell, first editor, etc. (For example, I never understood your liking for CBASIC, long after it had ceased to be a viable language—except that it was there, and you learned it well, and learned to think in it.)

There are a lot of programmers who have "baby ducked" on Unix. I’ve met people who really believe that the Unix command like is the easiest, simplest, most efficient and most intuitive interface possible. To them, it’s just _obvious_ as to why it’s called "grep". After all, what could be simpler than remembering "generalized regular expression parser"? After all, parsing regular expressions is what it does, doesn’t it? ("You mean, you don’t know what a regular expression is? How could you be so stupid?")

However, in my study of user-inteface literature I’ve realized that different interface styles appeal to different personality types. I’m somewhat of an oddity, being an experienced programmer who prefers GUIs and dragging icons to CLIs and pipes and regular expressions, yet has used both extensively.

I’ve heard a lot of people cite that "my mother" or some other differently-clued individual "uses Linux". While this is laudable, I really wonder what is meant by "uses". One thing that’s for sure about Linux is that there are a lot of different user levels, such as (in rough order of complexity) 1) using a pre-installed application, 2) doing routine file management, 3) doing backups, 4) installing a new OS version, 5) installing new applications from an RPM, 6) customizing the desktop, 7) changing window managers, 8) installing a new application from a source distribution, 9) upgrading a toolkit, 10) re-configuring an already-installed server, 11) installing a new server, 12) recompiling the kernel to add features, 13) modifying an application or fixing a bug, 14) modifying the kernel, 15) writing a new application from scratch, etc... I somehow doubt that the typical Linux user’s mother does #15, or even #7. However, one of the differences between Linux and NT is that on Linux, there is a relatively smooth gradient between these levels, whereas with NT the first few levels are trivial, and then you hit a hard wall at around #9, and #12-#14 are either impossible or illegal for the overwhelming majority of users.

Another thing that is just appalling to me is the complete _apathy_ I get from most Linux enthusiasts regarding ease-of-use issues. Some are actively hostile to the idea, and don’t want system resources "wasted" catering to a bunch of clueless people who probably use AOL and WebTV (ah, dehumanization at’s an art). Fortunately, this particular breed is rather rare. A more common species are those who don’t believe that there’s any problem, that Linux is perfectly easy for anyone to learn.

Of course, there are a few dedicated individuals, such as Jeremy Arnold (, who are working to make the Linux experience better for the average user. However, while there are a number of projects dedicated to this ideal, from what I can see none of them have been able to generate the kind of grass-roots mass enthusiasm surrounding projects such as Apache or XFree86. I suppose that making ordinary people happy and productive isn’t as interesting as hacking code, which is actually understandable considering how badly many hackers were treated by their peer groups in high school.

There are also a number of projects dedicated to creating a Linux "desktop", however they seem focused primarily on building a GUI toolkit, which is only a small part of the total end-user experience. (Such as the fact that there are about six different documentation and help formats commonly used under Linux, each with a different reader program. Or the fact that the OS doesn’t automatically detect the CD in the drive and mount it. I could go on and on...)

And’s so easy to get a hacker to understand. All you have to do is get them to shut up for a while, take them gently over to an ordinary person attempting to struggle with the complexity of a badly-designed interface, and make them watch. Watch quietly, with humility and patience. If they have any compassion left after the cold, dark time of their own adolescence, they will learn, and remember. Now, if there was some way I could get a large number of Linux enthusiasts to do this...I guess that takes some sort of "leadership" quality, not one of my strong areas.

I think that the Second Computer Revolution has not yet shown it’s human face. Remember, the first computer revolution didn’t start out as being "for the rest of us", although that was certainly it’s culmination. (Which makes me think: Part of the reason why the first revolution waned was because the "rest of us" wanted the benefits of the revolution, but didn’t want to be burdened with it’s ideals. Perhaps this is what makes some hackers so hostile to those "enterprise computing" types? Perhaps this time the "rest of us" will learn that the ideals are part of the package, and that there’s no free lunch. Hmmm...I have to think more on this, it could be important.)


Talin (

Talin’s first law: "Computing power is infinitely wasteable."

A number of good points. I like your graded scale of "uses". Your final thoughts could be important. Remember: I borrowed $12,000 to buy Ezekiel my friend who happened to be a Z-80 computer, in 1976. Yesterday I built a hideously powerful machine for $500. It's the scale that has made it possible for the rest of us to have computing power. Remember when Ctein kept harping about how computers would make the rich richer and the poor, who would never have access to computing power, much poorer? I kept trying to explain that God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal; and Bill Gates has made the rest of us equal in that his efforts like them or not sold so damn many computers that were if not good enough then seen to be good enough that good old supply and demand brought the price down from $12,000 (included a Diablo to print) to $699 with monitor and printer. Which is to say, cigarette money…

It is the ubiquity of small computers that makes the Second Revolution happen. Just as the real Industrial Revolution didn't happen with steam power; it was the quarter horsepower electric motor that really made the modern world possible. If you find a way to automate this process, let me know. I am going to have to stop doing so much of it.



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