New South Wales coast, as interpreted by Mark Holder

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Version: 3.0
(February 8, 2014)

.How I Became A Geek.

I was first exposed to computers in high school, back in the early 80s. My teacher, appropriately named Mr. Gray, loved to brag that the school's room of TRS-80s was the best-equipped computer room north of Atlanta. In retrospect, one has to laugh at such pride, as all those machines are surely of little use as more than doorstops today. Nevertheless, it was interesting, I did well with BASIC and bombed mightily with COBAL. However, there was always something else to do and computing was put on the backburner for a number of years. Music, then photography, took precedence.

It was photography that drew me into computing. The digital realm of imaging captivated me, as it does to this day. I moved to Australia to marry my wife, whom I met online in a chat room dedicated to art. It was on her computer that I decided to try digital photo manipulation, using Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, and finally (and lastingly, as it turns out) the Gimp. Photo and imaging magazines were also employed to teach and inspire, and it was in one of these I found Corel's Photo-Paint 9 for Linux. I had read a review and was interested in trying PP9 and so attempted to install. The installer quickly told me I didn't have a Linux operating system on my computer, which caused me to scratch my head in wonderment. "What is Linux?" I thought. Still, I was aching to use PP9, a AUD$900 program I'd picked up for free! I had to learn more about this unknown (to me, at least) thing.

Luckily enough, another magazine had on its cover disc something called Mandrake Linux 7.2; I bought it and a new hard drive (mostly because I didn't know how to partition the existing hard drive) and set about installing Linux. It installed easily enough, a common trait with Mandrake, and I was Linux-enabled!

Moving from Windows to Linux was not without its problems. First, the two platforms share very few programs (only Gimp and Netscape at that time) and I quickly found it difficult to learn everything from the ground up. Admitting defeat, I formatted the hard drive and reinstalled Windows after a few days. I was a typically happy Windows user, accepting system crashes and virii as common occurences, investing in Norton Systemworks (which is a brilliant piece of software, in my opinion) to maintain my system. Still, the lure of Linux remained. I love a challenge and this was one I had to try again.

After reading numerous magazine articles about the trend to make Linux more user-friendly, I felt ready to attempt another install. The distribution I had in mind was Lycoris Desktop L/X and once again a magazine cover disc came to my rescue. I installed it alongside Windows and it worked beautifully. Everything was laid out in a logical manner, all the basic programs were in place, ready to work, and there is a friendly and very helpful community in place to answer any questions. In a short time I learned to install new programs and manage my system. Shortly thereafter, Windows crashed yet again, taking some files with it, and I was inspired to go exclusively Linux. I've never looked back.

My main Linux distribution is Slackware, the oldest surviving Linux distribution, tho I've dabbled with numerous others, including Mandrake, Knoppix , and openSUSE. Slackware adjeres to the design philosophy of Simple, Stable, Secure. As such, it has no user-friendly configuration tools or button-click installation, retaining its reputation as a distro for intermediate or advanced users. For users who want to get under the hood and learn Linux system administration from the ground up, Slackware is perhaps the best choice, as the skills developed can be used on most any Unix-like operating system. The most recent version, Slackware 11, is the most refined and stable, being in development for over a year.

My skill level with regard to Linux is somewhere in the day-to-day user level. I'm far from being a guru but have more advanced skills than a rank beginner. Part of the challenge of Linux is learning to do things differently, from program installation to general configuration.

While Redhat, Mandrake, et al are known as "kitchen sink" distributions, there are many that are much smaller. One I quite like is Damn Small Linux, a small but usable distribution that fits on a 50 megabyte mini-CD. For a comparison, many programs are larger than this entire distribution! DSL is based on the above-mentioned Knoppix and is a pleasure to work with on my wife's laptop, a 233Mhz Pentium with 64 megs of RAM. Another great distribution is Austrumi, which uses the Enlightenment window manager and looks great.

My computing needs are simple, just give me a good text editor, FTP client and web browser and I'm happy. Like most computer owners, my machine is greatly overpowered for the things I do with it, like the oft-cited "driving a Ferrari to the grocery store" comparison. Still, I'd like more speed, memory, processing power and bandwidth, tho most of it would go unused. Using powerful software on minimal hardware is something I find interesting, for which the above-mentioned DSL is perfect. It is my hope to some day write software that strikes a fine balance between utility and ease of use, power and simplicity. To that end, I'm learning the Ruby programming language, which is flexible and powerful while being easy to learn.