The Geek In Me Speaks – Again

Here it is, the next afternoon, and I’m still trying to load Linux on the laptop! If this operating system is ever going to be widely accepted, it’s going to have to install a whole lot easier.

This time it’s the already withdrawn Red Hat 9.0. We’ll see.

The Geek In Me Speaks

Here’s a major surprise – I love computers. I find them fascinating and am always tempted to learn what I can and expand the envelope, if possible.

It’s possible this goes back to my first experience with computers, in high school in 1967. Somehow, we had two computers at school. Actually, we had one – an IBM 360 (I think) which was booted by flipping switches in the proper order and ‘fed’ with punch cards or paper tape.

What seemed like our second computer was a Model 34 Teletype, somehow connected by phone line to a computer at a local college. I played Wumpus, Golf and Horse Racing. Everything came out as printed text on that very slow teletypewriter.

In 1978 I got a Radio Shack TRS-80. Later, I got a Commodore 64 and then a series of PCs, culminating in the homebuilt Athlon XP 1600+ machine I’m composing this on.

I like being on the ‘bleeding’ edge, so I’ve kept an old computer handy and loaded Linux as the operating system. Depending on whom you believe, Linux will soon roust Windows as the operating system of choice, sending Bill Gates and the Evil Empire to the poorhouse… or it is an ill conceived idea promulgated by geeks who can’t really see who the final user will be (I saw Walter Mossberg say this yesterday on CNBC) and don’t care to design in ease of use.

I want the first choice to be true but I’m scared it’s the second. That’s not a totally fatal situation, but it certainly means Linux isn’t quite ready for prime time.

My latest install attempts (and they’re ongoing as I type this) will bear this out.

With a new, five year old, laptop (Dell D300XT), an extra hard drive for it and a great deal of curiosity, I set out to make the laptop run Linux. Since this is an extra hard drive, I should be able to swap drives and go back and forth from Windows to Linux without one affecting the other.

Since Red Hat has decided to get out of the consumer desktop end of Linux, I decided to try a new distribution. As I understand it, all Linux versions share certain core components but differ in the other programs that come in the distribution. Suse seemed like a good idea. I had read about it. It has its fans… why not?

The recommended way to install Suse seems to be by installing a small subset of Linux (in my case burning a CD-R) and then using FTP (file transfer protocol) to pluck everything else directly off a server and right onto my hard drive.

If there are detailed… or even sparse… instructions for doing this, I couldn’t find them! The Suse installer started asking questions I had no answer for within the first few seconds of the install. There was no help button to press; nowhere to go. Using Google I was able to get some answers, but every time I’d solve one problem, another would spring up in its place.

Next I went to Debian; another respected distribution. They had a few network install suggestions, but all led to boot disks that were wrong or unavailable.

Finally, I went to Red Hat’s ‘cousin’ Fedora. There’s some sort of incestuous relationship here. I’m not sure what it is, but I think in some way Fedora is part of Red Hat.

I began the installation from 3 CD’s I had downloaded overnight a few days ago. A Linux distribution, even from a cable modem, requires hours and hours of downloading and then burning of bootable ISO CD’s.

Fedora seemed to understand what my system was all about (though it looked like the installation was taking place at 800×600 resolution on my 1024×768 laptop screen). It asked what kind of system I wanted loaded and when I chose ‘desktop’, the loading began.

I’m not sure how long it was… probably around an hour… when Fedora just stopped. A screen, telling me there were four minutes left, stared at me. No motion from the hard drive. No motion from the CD. Nada.

After a while I got tired of waiting and rebooted the system. What I had was nothing. The system wouldn’t boot. Linux wasn’t installed. I have just started the process again.

Maybe I didn’t have enough patience. Maybe the computer was doing some sort of Klingon Mind Meld and didn’t want to be disturbed? How should I know?

Even if this installation is fully successful, my job won’t be done. I’ll need to figure out how to enable my wireless network card, a printer hooked to my router and configure all sorts of computing minutiae, like email parameters.

Right now, it looks like the install will continue long after I’ve gone to bed. Maybe this will give the machine a chance to decide it wants to work this time.

Look Ma – I’m on Slashdot

I love Slashdot. How could I stay away from a site whose slogan is “News for Nerds. Stuff that matters.”

I am there at least 4-5 times a day, following their links to see the latest in high tech. It is Linux biased in much the way The Catholic Church is Christian biased. But, it’s geek and nerd populated and I share a certain sensibility with many of its habitues (though, unfortunately I no longer share the same generation with them)

Its readers, rapidly responding to the story postings, add insight, insult and everything in between.

What makes Slashdot so effective is its self moderating system which starts limiting what you easily read (you can always get to everything, but probably don’t want to) as users come on and rate the postings. Judging by what I see, there are a lot of people moderating at any given time, though Slashdot only gives you the opportunity to moderate every once in a while. Then, later, the moderations get moderated!

In many ways it is analogous to Google, where your association with others decides your relative importance and where your links appear.

Anyway, I’m writing all this because I finally got a posting of mine on to start a thread. It started this morning, early, when I saw an article in the New York Times about speeding up media (listening at double speed, for instance) and how that is a burgeoning field.

I have used that same technique in my studies at Mississippi State, watching DVD’s at double speed. For me, it’s been very effective. Now, it’s shared with others.

Continue reading “Look Ma – I’m on Slashdot”

What I’m Working On

Note: I know a lot of people are linking here looking for my fake hurricane photo. You can find it by clicking here. When you’re done, you might enjoy the rest of my blog, starting with today’s entry.

I found a very cool applet called Weathergraph. The idea is to chart a graph of temperature, windchill/heat index, and wind on 4 graphs; daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. Because of a graphing database tool call RRD, the database stays the same size even as the graphs ingest more data.

If it were only this easy.

The program required installing a Perl (Perl is an interpereted computer language heavily used in web applications) module call Geo::Metar and RRD Tool. So I won’t become a pain in the butt to my webhost, I decided to install these myself… local to my site. I bet if I knew Perl or even Bash scripting this would have been easier.

Perl modules don’t want to be installed locally, and when they are… they cry.

There’s a concept in Linux (which is what runs on) called ‘superuser’ or su. I don’t have that privilege on this server. That means there are lots of things I can’t do. Many of those would make all of this easier.

I got it done, but please don’t ask me to retrace my steps. I have no idea!

Immediately, I realized I didn’t care as much about windchill/heat index as I did in dew point. No problem. Just rewrite the program.

Again, I don’t know Perl. But, I’ve come to the conclusion that most computer languages are very similar, and with the help of a few books, I think I figured it out.

Unfortunately, every time a graph was plotted, the dew point and temperature were the same. No good.

Back to the program. If you’ve never seen what computer programs look like, here’s a small sample:

$req = new HTTP::Request GET =>


$response = $ua->request($req);

if ($response->is_error) {

$failed[$i] = $response->as_string;




if ($response->is_error) {

for ( $j = 1; $j <= 5 ; $j++){ print $failed[$j]; } die;

I’m still not 100% sure (because once this program gets running it takes a significant amount of time before it will actually plot a graph) but it seems like the problem was in the windchill/heat index routines. I had turned all mentions of windchill/heat index into dew point, but didn’t realize the program still wanted to apply the rules of windchill/heat index to the dew point. And tonight, there is no windchill or heat index.

I pulled that section of code from the program.

This may be way beyond me. Who knows? I am nothing more than a 53 year old ‘script kiddie.’

When the graphs go ‘live’, I’ll post an announcement. I expect to have one for each ‘official’ weather station in connecticut and maybe a few others. Each graph will cost me 233 Kbytes of my limited space.