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Archive for August 17th, 2007

For the past couple of weeks, I have been setting up my new laptop. It’s a challenge, since a number of items – the wireless card, the LightScribe capacity on the DVD drive, the webcam and the modem – are not supported straight off the CD with GNU/Linux. I’m frustrated that I don’t have the time to sit down and focus on each of these puzzles. However, I find that after eight years of using GNU/Linux, my attitude to these puzzles has changed.

Understand, I am an English major by education, and my technical knowledge is what I’ve picked up as needed. Moreover, I get bored by puzzles for their own sake – one reason I’ve never applied to MENSA (another is that one of the first members I met died because his pride in his own intelligence made him careless, but that’s another story). So, by training and temperament, I should be disliking the slow setup of the laptop immensely, especially since it’s compounded by my decision to use the Fedora version of the operating system, rather than the Debian one with which I’m most familiar.

Instead, I find myself unusually patient. Strangely enough, I actually look forward to approaching each problem, trying out ideas on my own, then scanning the Internet for possible solutions and patiently trying them one at a time. And, when I solve a problem (I’m now working on the third one), I have a small sense of triumph.

What’s changed me, I’m convinced, is using GNU/Linux. Unlike Windows or OS X, GNU/Linux assumes that you want to do things your way, and provides dozens of options for you, even from the desktop. If you need help, many programs have detailed help pages in one format or the other. So, naturally, if you’re the least bit curious, you can’t help starting to poke around. For some one like me, who is in Pandora’s league when it comes to curiosity, the temptation is constant and irresistible.

Besides, what choice do I have when something goes wrong or isn’t to my liking? I don’t use a commercial version of GNU/Linux, so I have no technical support to step me through solutions. If I go to a computer store, I’m lucky to find a clerk who has even heard of something called Linux, let alone Debian or Fedora. I can ask advice on mail forums, or search for helpful lines of investigation, but, in the end, I am left to experiment methodically.

This sort of patient trial and error is what developers call hacking (and, no, it has nothing to do with breaking into other people’s computers – that’s called cracking, to the initiated). Since my programming skills are laughable and I’ve never identified as a developer, the realization that I’ve picked up the habit and even learned to like it is somewhat disconcerting.

For years, I have made a living interpreting geeks to other people – and sometimes the other way around. But now I have to reassess myself. Maybe I’m a geek after all.

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