by Jinryu

Finding vs Creating

“The only thing is, she’s diabetec,” says the dad to me.

“No problem, sir,” I reassure him.  “There isn’t much to eat while you’re under in there anyhow!”

He laughs.

You run into parents everyday in coming to the Operating Room who are nervous.  And it is the sort of nervousness that defines humanity, I think.  If you don’t feel nervous when your kid undergoes surgery, even if just a routine tonsilectomy, you’re probably not a very good person.

[Supergirl]’s mom just found out after scans that she has a tumor in her head.  It’s apparently removable in a bit of surgery, an operation that someone else in the family also had 30 years ago (successfully) so one would imagine that it’s pretty safe.  But everyone worries, naturally I suppose.

I’m not sure what I feel sometimes.

The word “geek” used to mean bad things when I was growing up.  It used to mean that you didn’t dress as good as the popular kids (even if your school had uniforms), it meant that you didn’t have the popular friends (although everyone knew your name– it was necessary to make fun of you), and it probably meant that jocks could rag on you, or worse, beat you up for your lunch money.  There was a time when, if you caught someone reading too many fantasy books (like Lord of the Rings) or playing Magic, you’d say they were a geek.

What if they were playing Dungeons & Dragons?  What about video games and comic books?  You’d say they were dreamers, people out of touch with reality, or at the very least, people who spent so much time in a fantasy world that maybe that explained why they couldn’t be cool like everyone else.

But it’s not derrogatory anymore.  It’s about as matter-of-fact as calling someone a gym rat or a movie buff.  These are the everyday people who you asked to help getting WIFI working on your iPhone.  Ten years ago, you called someone a geek because you wanted to make fun of them; today, you go to them because they can make your life easier.  But you worry, even, about disturbing them, because you are ashamed that your problem may seem stupid to them.

Ever notice how that’s all changed now?  The geek may not have inherited the earth completely, but they’ve certainly earned their place in the ranks.  Technological advances have spread the culture like a virus– and while not everyone may be a geek, everyone certainly needs them.

I’m just glad that the stigma of it is almost gone, and people now (at least have started to) recognize the importance of what outworldly fantasy obsessions have brought to the world in terms of both convenience and culture.

About a month ago, I toyed with the idea of buying a new computer for my family.  My parents and my sister live together, and there are three machines in the house– my sister’s laptop, and a pair of desktops.  My sister’s laptop still works, even though she bought it about five years ago.  But the two desktops are in really sad shape.  One of them, Athlon (so-named because it was the first Athlon powered comp in the family) is running Windows XP with an apparently invalid cd key, so it’s no longer capable of receiving windows security updates.  For that reason, I told my sister to stick to her laptop and that machine hasn’t been really touched for over a year now.  The second desktop, Dell (it’s also running an Athlon, but it’s an out-of-box Dell modded for gaming in the Halo generation) with hardware significantly faster than Athlon still functions, but is slowly being crippled under the weight of constant Windows updates.

When I say that it’s being crippled under windows, I kid you not. Before I left for Korea, that computer was getting slow.  And about a month ago, it was so slow that, even though this used to be the gaming rig I used to play competitive Halo on, it takes over five minutes to load up Windows XP on no-frills mode.  Even when it’s loaded, programs will tend to lag forever under the strain of virus shields, malware protection, etc.

The thing is, I’ll admit, those computers didn’t run as efficiently as they might’ve, because I needed to make them idiot proof for my parents in my absence.  My sister is pretty comfortable doing enduser computer things, but nobody in the family is really good with technical bits like security or maintenance.  That meant that I had to rig them such that they would automatically update themselves with the latest security fixes, virus definitions, malware definitions, etc… but you know what? That stuff gets updated so frequently now on a windows machine, it’s ridiculous.  The headache is that trying to foolproof a windows machine for home use by people who aren’t computer savy is impossibly incompatible with efficiency.  I did mostly automate the security and maintenance of the computer — but it meant that every now and then at bootup, a process would start to update definitions, perform a scan, etc.  That stuff eats up ressources like nobody’s business.  I mean, I guess you could avoid all this– by shelling out a crapload of money, that is.  I think you can fix most of your tech problems by shelling out money, because with money you can buy a faster computer with which you simply won’t notice the lag. 

Is that what I’m paying for though? For a while, I looked pretty hard in the Apple camp– I considered what a Mac Mini, and even an iBook, might offer my folks.  My dad’s retired now, and he doesn’t have all that many hobbies.  I’ve been, for years, trying to encourage him to use the internet, but it wasn’t until he started watching things on Google Video or Youtube that he really started showing any interest.  Unfortunately, it takes a dozen or so minutes from hitting the power button on Dell until Youtube is actually viewable.  Could a Mac do better?

Mind you, not to rag on Windows all the time for no reason– I’ve been a Windows user since Windows 95 came out.  I was one of the last to jump on the bandwagon– I hated Windows 3.0, 3.1, and 3.11 most of all. I was a diehard DR-DOS fan, and when Digital Research died out and was replaced mostly by MS (Microsoft) DOS, I was sad.  But Windows 95 gave me a lot of WYSIWYG options that oldschool 80×24 ASCII didn’t, so I turned coats because the future was apparently there.   To give Microsoft credit– it is responsible for huge leaps and bounds in culture, bringing computing to the laymen who otherwise wouldn’t have given terminal style computing a second look.

For the record, I’m the sort of person who largely doesn’t care about how pretty something is.  (Although my girlfriend is beautiful, that’s just a coincidence.)  But Macs looked appealing, despite all that extra glam, because of what I was hearing performance-wise.  I mean, I’m sure there’s a bit of a transitional confusion for someone like me, who went the IBM-clone route back in the 90s.  But for my folks? I think that turning on the computer and doubleclicking a web browser should be the same.

But then another thought came up– Linux.

I’ll cut the story short, and skip to the conclusion– I’ve done several OS installations in the past month.  I’m running Linux Mint on my laptop now.  Originally, I did so just as a temporary measure to try out the distro for the fun of it before installing it for use on their computers, but I liked it so much that I said, To Hell with Vista.  I then installed it on the two computers back home.  Installation took some fuss, but once it was setup, the computers ran smoothly and multiples faster than they used to– Dell, who took about 12 minutes to really load up a Youtube video tolerably on Windows XP, now does the same task in under two minutes running on Linux Mint.  I’ve also, just a few days ago, installed Linux Ubuntu on Supergirl’s desktop, and I’m going to set up [Uncle L] in a week or two also.

I’ll admit that before I tried Linux Mint, I didn’t really Linux distros much thought as a viable alternative to Windows.  [Zanshin]’s been suggesting that I try it since we were in university, but I never got around to it.  I’m am poorer for not having given it a shot.  I’m not sure if earlier distros of Linux are as polished as Linux Mint (release 8, codenamed “Helena”) but I’m just really impressed at the functionality of it all.

Best of all is that for the most part, you don’t need to worry much about virus protection or hard disk fragmentation.  That just doesn’t happen (not significantly, anyhow) in Linux.

With Vista on my laptop, I had to turn off all the effects before I could get the system running as fast as I wanted it to, even though I primarily used it only for web browsing, web design and wordprocessing.  With Mint, I’ve turned on all effects and all those apps still run smooth.  In addition, Linux Mint adds a lot of functions that aren’t natively available in Vista or previous, such as multiple desktops.

For my dad, it means that he can power up the computer and it will actually start in a quick and timely fashion.  When you have someone who is a n00b, you don’t want to discourage them by making them wait forever– you want it to just work. And so far, Linux Mint just works.

Basically, I saved myself the cost of a new computer (maybe two) just by  finding something out there in the free universe that already existed. I guess part of it is just looking for what’s available, what sits waiting in the background outside of the commercial spotlight.

On some level, I really love Linux because of how much I’m paying for it– which is next to nothing (just basically the cost of the two blank CDs I burned the Mint and Ubuntu ISOs onto).  Since I’ve made the changes, things have been going quite peachy– system speeds are way up.  The thing I’ve always been beefing about is that if I pay for something, it should work.

One buys a can of tuna expecting that when he opens it, he can eat it’s contents.  One buys a car expecting that he has to bring it into the shop every now and then for maintenance– but though this model is true for cars, it should not be true for computers.  And I think this is what is dumb about the Windows model– they seem to be suggesting that it is our responsibility to keep things up to date and secure.

While I agree that it isn’t impossible to do so with some savy, Windows does not provide this savy.  This makes it an incomplete product, especially considering that I’m paying for it (yes, I use legal Windows copies).  I don’t know Macs as well, but from what I’ve seen of walking into their official store in Downtown Montreal, they seem to have a program of “if you have a problem, come to us” which is the kind of customer support that seems to be consistent with the price you’re paying.

With Linux distros, it seems that the support is on par with what you’re paying.  For someone using free distros like me, that means that it comes mostly from a community of fellow users.  I’ll admit that sometimes, it’s hard to find a solution and I need to do some clever search querrying to find what I’m looking for, but when I think about it in terms of bang for buck? It’s an amazing deal.  For my needs, and the needs of my family, it’s outshone Windows in terms of funcitonality for infinitely less cost.