Thursday, June 29, 2006

Egregious errors edge out Edubuntu Ecstasy

(reposted from Scot's Forums)
Click here for the thread)

It was the best of distros, it was the worst of distros.

I had found what I thought was the holy grail of Linux installs in Edubuntu - A "bullet proof" (at least within reason) installation that runs easily and quickly, installs a reasonable amount of software without presenting a googolplex of options, allows functionality immediately after install, and presents enough simplicity that my daughter literally unplugged her PC (and eMachines 2Ghz box) herself and brought it out of her bedroom into my office so I could load it up. (I had put it on a test box first, and she was immediately taken with it when she saw it). My daughter, I should note, is 11.

I grant that Edubuntu is not the distro for all people. Its name says it all regarding its target audience. *I* would not run it on my box (personal or work), but I thought I had found that distro I could put on all the other computers in the house (for the technophobic wife, and 4 kids ranging in ages from 3 to 14).

I could wax poetic about the *buntu line, but that's for a different post.

No, gentle reader, it's time that I take you from my ebullient high to the emotional ruin when I realized, after 48 hours of troubleshooting, that I was going to reinstall WinXP in order to avoid full sleep deprivation trauma, save my marriage and help my daughter avoid blog withdrawal.

Some background on my experience: I ran Mandrake (when it *was* mandrake) for over 2 years on my day-to-day work PC, until my work required a switch. I have an ancient IBM PC running Fedora Core as a Samba/web test server. At work I use test boxes running Centos. HOWEVER, while I am comfortable USING Linux, I'm not a *nix system admin. "Make" still weirds me out and usually gives me hives, because I'm not really sure what it's doing or if it's working right. Thank God for automount and automatic partitioning during installs. No, I can't tell you where my shadow file is or how to create a user without a GUI.

My downfall all comes down to 2 words: USB Wireless.

I tell ya: networking should simply not be that hard. Either tell me a particular device is not supported and stop getting my hopes up, or the driver should pretty much install and work. Neither is the case here.

I tried the following adapters:
D-Link DWL-G122
Zonet ZEW2501
Hawking HWU54G

When I performed the actual Edubuntu install, the Zonet was plugged in. While Edubuntu recognized something wireless-ish was installed (WLAN0 existed), no amount of setting the SSID and WEP key (128bit) would actually get me an IP address.

I then began an odyssey which included:
  • Multiple installs/updates of unrelated packages because edubuntu doesn't come preloaded with the tools for make

  • Installing and un-installing the included ndiswrapper-utils package

  • Installing the latest version of ndiswrapper from the sourceforge site

  • Installing/copying the drivers from the manufacturer

  • Installing Unshield from an Ubuntu "universe" install site because Edubuntu can't read Windows .EXE files

  • Installing Cabextract from an Ubuntu "universe" install site because after you unpack the .EXE you still gotta read them CABs

  • Installing/upgrading various packages while installing Unshield and Cabextract because some stuff wasn't working

  • Finding out that the driver from the manufacturer is not the "right" driver because it's all about the chipset

  • Trying to match the output from commands like lsusb and lspci (why would that matter for a usb device?!?) to the hardware list on the ndiswrapper sourceforge site.

  • Trying to compile from source the "right" drivers

In the end, while I knew I could keep hammering at this and possibly find a fix, I also realized that the Achilles’ heel which is Linux+wireless networking remained and if it was this hard to set up, then supporting and changing things on my network was going to be a hassle also.

With the sharp tangy taste of crow in my mouth, I slunk back into my cave with my tail between my legs.

So what am I asking? If anyone has ideas, I'm willing to try them out. I still have some test boxes around that can be used in a pinch. I can take another swipe at it because I really believe *buntu has the chance to be something special.

Otherwise, this is merely a cautionary tale. Here there be dragons. Don your asbestos underwear and proceed with all due caution.

- Leon

Thursday, May 25, 2006

LINK: Do what you love

And thanks to Doug at for pointing it out.
How to Do What You Love
January 2006

To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We've got it down to four words: "Do what you love." But it's not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.

The very idea is foreign to what most of us learn as kids. When I was a kid, it seemed as if work and fun were opposites by definition. Life had two states: some of the time adults were making you do things, and that was called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called playing. Occasionally the things adults made you do were fun, just as, occasionally, playing wasn't-- for example, if you fell and hurt yourself. But except for these few anomalous cases, work was pretty much defined as not-fun.

And it did not seem to be an accident. School, it was implied, was tedious because it was preparation for grownup work.

The world then was divided into two groups, grownups and kids. Grownups, like some kind of cursed race, had to work. Kids didn't, but they did have to go to school, which was a dilute version of work meant to prepare us for the real thing. Much as we disliked school, the grownups all agreed that grownup work was worse, and that we had it easy.

Teachers in particular all seemed to believe implicitly that work was not fun. Which is not surprising: work wasn't fun for most of them. Why did we have to memorize state capitals instead of playing dodgeball? For the same reason they had to watch over a bunch of kids instead of lying on a beach. You couldn't just do what you wanted.

I'm not saying we should let little kids do whatever they want. They may have to be made to work on certain things. But if we make kids work on dull stuff, it might be wise to tell them that tediousness is not the defining quality of work, and indeed that the reason they have to work on dull stuff now is so they can work on more interesting stuff later. [1]

Once, when I was about 9 or 10, my father told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, so long as I enjoyed it. I remember that precisely because it seemed so anomalous. It was like being told to use dry water. Whatever I thought he meant, I didn't think he meant work could literally be fun-- fun like playing. It took me years to grasp that.

By high school, the prospect of an actual job was on the horizon. Adults would sometimes come to speak to us about their work, or we would go to see them at work. It was always understood that they enjoyed what they did. In retrospect I think one may have: the private jet pilot. But I don't think the bank manager really did.

The main reason they all acted as if they enjoyed their work was presumably the upper-middle class convention that you're supposed to. It would not merely be bad for your career to say that you despised your job, but a social faux-pas.

Why is it conventional to pretend to like what you do? The first sentence of this essay explains that. If you have to like something to do it well, then the most successful people will all like what they do. That's where the upper-middle class tradition comes from. Just as houses all over America are full of chairs that are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of chairs designed 250 years ago for French kings, conventional attitudes about work are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of the attitudes of people who've done great things.

What a recipe for alienation. By the time they reach an age to think about what they'd like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one's work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. Having a job is said to be even more onerous than schoolwork. And yet all the adults claim to like what they do. You can't blame kids for thinking "I am not like these people; I am not suited to this world."

Actually they've been told three lies: the stuff they've been taught to regard as work in school is not real work; grownup work is not (necessarily) worse than schoolwork; and many of the adults around them are lying when they say they like what they do.

The most dangerous liars can be the kids' own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. [2] Maybe it would be better for kids in this one case if parents were not so unselfish. A parent who set an example of loving their work might help their kids more than an expensive house. [3]

It was not till I was in college that the idea of work finally broke free from the idea of making a living. Then the important question became not how to make money, but what to work on. Ideally these coincided, but some spectacular boundary cases (like Einstein in the patent office) proved they weren't identical.

... read more here: