Monday, April 20, 2009

Fiendish Operating System

I can now rest in peace. I have got my comeuppance.

Last night I finally managed to wrap up an installation of Ubuntu on my laptop. Minor hiccups aside, things like hardware drivers missing and wireless networking issues, I now actually have two operating system coexisting in peace on this laptop: Windows XP and Ubuntu.

This may seem insignificant to you. But in my little world that is worthy of a Nobel. Now I can use Ubuntu as a light and free operating system to take care of all day to day tasks while Windows can take care of the complicated stuff like downloading Backdoor Trojans and playing Dearth Vader.

This finally puts to rest a long, long war of attrition between Unix and your truly that stretches back almost five years.

One evening, during my last year in school, I suddenly got into a fit of career pangs. All my usual confidence disappeared. It suddenly occurred to me that I was not exactly what you would call a brilliant student.

Now these are the times, when every parent (mine included) wants his child to be an engineer, and I think the biggest mistake I made in my life was to take non-med after class 10th. I couldnt understand a single subject (maybe except English, which was also the only subject whose mark-sheet I would show at home, my parents still wonder, as to why I never got the mark-sheets to the 100's of exams I gave in school).

Everyone with serious job hopes were rushing to their homes after class and locking themselves away with the usual entrance examination preparation materials: Shakuntala Devi, Vedic Maths, Organic Chemistry, old question papers and the like. I had no idea what I wanted with life.

Back in my time if you had non-med, an engineering career was the only option you had in life. The cream got into IIT's or NIT and DCE's the rest into regional and private engineering colleges. But if you didn’t then the going was pretty tough.

Till the time I got out of school I had assured myself that engineering was not my cup of tea and I would save myself the trouble of giving those entrance exams, which caused a lot of uproar in the house and ultimately I went to exam centers only to sleep in the second half of the exam (the first half was reserved for looking at the chicks in the room and by the time I realized they were more interested in the paper than me, I was off to sleep).

And then one weekend morning I lay in bed and decided to quickly overview my career plans for a few minutes. But not for too long as the bread pakoda ran out after 9:30 or so.

Now I knew I couldn’t become a computer engineer to save my life. The Meta syllabus included a moderately difficult course on C and C++. I’d passed through with flying colours scoring one mark more than pass point. (The highlight of the course was watching the professor, a charming and young lady struggle with an early morning class on Objected Oriented Programming, break into a sweat and then finally faint into the arms of a vigilant fellow in the front row. I bunked that class unfortunately.)

I’ve often wondered over the years hence why someone would want a C program that printed out a pyramid of prime numbers. What essential human endeavour struggles for want of good pyramid prime programs?

“Houston we have a problem!”
“We know. Perhaps a particular problem pertaining to the pyramid prime processor?”
“We like the alliteration Houston!”
“Merely making the mundane mirthful mister!”
“Ok cut it…”

I sucked at most forms of programming. And particularly the fancy shmancy prime number, sorting, pyramid type programs.

I got selected for a few non-descriptive engineering colleges. But then what certainty was there that I could make it into one of those engineering firms? They seldom came every year and, even when they did, they picked up one, maybe two people at a go. Was I being foolhardy I wondered, as I lay in bed with an eye on the clock.

Then later that evening I decided that I must hedge my risk. I told my parents that Foreign is where I want to go and bought myself some thick books on SAT, which was also close-by.

So I asked my tution teacher, what I could do on a war footing. The threat loomed large that I would have to give SAT and then do an MS and PhD because I couldn’t get a job.

“Unix man. Unix is the way to go man. That and Networking. Just do a diploma on these from NIIT and you'll find yourself a decent job.”

For one whole month I sat hunched over a UNIX manual and a huge textbook on Networking, that I borrowed from my tution sir to get a hang of what I am about to do.

Who was that networking by? Ah yes. Tennenbaum. Andrew Tennenbaum I think.

After a month I thought I was ready to try out some of my newly learnt computing skills on my home computer, that was a bad day.

Two hours later I was back in my room pulling out my guide to the SAT under the bed and already mouthing words like apothecary and apothegm fighting back the tears.

It was the worst thulping by an open source operating system I have ever received in my life.

Why were there backslashes everywhere? Why was the program editor such a cold-hearted bitch? Why do I have to press seven keys simultaneously to scroll down one page? Why? Why? Why weren’t things like the way its said in the manual:

It was a futile struggle. I was seeing those asterix's and hashes even in my sleep.

I went on to do my bachelors degree in something called Mass Communication, that I had no idea what it was, but I took it anyway as a cousin doing it told me you dont have to study at all for this course. Those three years sailed smoothly with a few pleasant memories. Then I went on to become gainfully employed against the fears of my parent.

For close to half a decade I never crossed my path with Unix ever again.

Till last night. After much recommendation from a friend I decided to give this Ubuntu thing a shot. I followed the manual by the letter. I slipped in the DVD, booted from the disc, played around with my partitions a little bit, set up a root user and finally waited with bated breath while the installation happened.

As of now everything except the sound card and the PPPOE connection for the internet at home seems to be working fine.

I could try to get them to work too. I checked the online user forums and there was a wealth of information such as this response from an Ubuntu expert:

This is bug 2825 (http:// d=2825) . The work around is to ~# ln -f /etc/pppd/resolv.conf /etc/resolv.conf

To which someone replied:

I can confirm this bug. I am using a tap0 bridge to emulate PPPoE on a Globespan chipset-based USB aDSL bridge and the latests stable eciadsl-usermode drivers (which, btw are not in Universe). It would be nice to have an updated pppd perhaps backported from Dapper.
I know that Debian’s choice of using kernel-mode PPPoE makes rp-pppoe unnecessary, but I wonder if it would be possible to update rp-pppoe to 3.7 for those that still in using it.

I laughed heartily and decided I was ok without the sound.

So for now, between me and Unix, its even.

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