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Archive for August, 2007

My comeuppance

Posted by Avadhut on 24 August 2007

First, a question: How’s this for a pick-up line?

O Watery-eyed woman, please tell me your good name.

Moving on to more important matters now: Past few days of inactivity on the blog have actually been due to work. More precisely, Drupal. No no. Don’t get me wrong. Not the bad kind of work. The good kind of work. The kind that has you scrambling to your desk every morning to finish what you left incomplete the night before, but with a smile on your face. 🙂

Now, I am not going to delve into the inherent goodness of open source and how it is a great big boon to mankind and will one day save us from extinction. But it is, and it will!

You see, everything I have ever wanted to ask about Drupal, everything I ever wanted to make it do—I could and I could. Communities hold a plethora of knowledge, and not just about Drupal but also MySQL and PHP and Apache and Ubuntu.

But it wasn’t always this sweet.

Let me start a few years back. How back? When free open-source OSes were a rarity and Windows won the people’s choice award for facilitating easy downloading of backdoor trojans and spontaneous formatting of hard drives.

One of those evenings, I suddenly got into a fit of career pangs, as one is wont to at that age and time of day. All my usual a-wondering had disappeared. It suddenly occurred to me that I was not exactly what you would call prime recruitment material. The horror of horrors!

This was the time when software had just reversed the poor trends and IT companies were beginning to flock college campuses again. Anyone with serious job hopes was rushing to their “computer classes” after school/college and locking themselves away with the usual “computer” job preparation materials: SimCity, Basic, etc.

(I have been told that things are easier nowadays. Last year someone from NITT told me that some of the top IT names don’t even interview anymore. All you needed to do was just clear the written test. Sigh.)

Till then I had assured myself that software was not my cup of tea and I would save myself (one is cocky at that age and with that level of blood sugar on a daily basis) for one of Mumbai’s glitzier hotels—as a master chef. Hey, I could cut onions faster than Sanjeev Kapoor could say “khana khazana.”

And then one weekend morning I lay in bed and decided to quickly overview my career plans for a few minutes. But not for too long as the bread pakoda ran out after 8:30 or so.

Now, I knew, back then, that I couldn’t program to save my life. The meta syllabus included a moderately difficult course on Basic and Windows 98. I’d passed through with flying colors scoring one mark more than the required threshold. The highlight of the period used to be watching the bugger—a Mr. Camelius, the high strung nervous sort—struggle with an early morning class on BASIC, break into a sweat, and then finally faint into the arms of a vigilant fellow in the front row.

Later, in college, I often wondered why someone would want a C program that printed out a pyramid of prime numbers. What essential human endeavor struggles for the want of good pyramid prime programs?

“Houston we have a problem!”
“We know. Perhaps a particular problem pertaining to the pyramid prime processor?”
“We like the alliteration Houston!”
“Merely making the mundane mirthful mister!”
“Ok! cut it…”

I hated most forms of programming. And particularly, the fancy shmancy prime number, sorting, pyramid type programs.

But then what certainty was there that I could make it into one of those hotels? They seldom came to Modern Colleges, let alone the Ganeshkhind one. Was I being foolhardy I wondered, as I lay in bed with an eye on the clock.

Then later that evening I decided that I must hedge my risk. I had to ensure that I knew the bare minimum to make it into a software firm just in case my core hotelier dreams fell flat.

So I asked myself—what I could do on a war footing. The threat loomed large that I would have to give GRE and then do an MS and PhD because I couldn’t get a job.

“Unix man. Unix is the way to go. That and Networking. Just focus on those two.”

I shared my thoughts with myself during one of the many walks to the gate for chai.

For one whole month I sat hunched over a UNIX manual and a huge textbook on Networking.

Who was that networking by? Ah yes. Tennenbaum. Andrew Tennenbaum I think.

After a month I thought I was ready to try out some of my newly learnt computing skills on my computer—Octagon, that’s what I called it back then (don’t ask me why).

Two hours later I was back in my room pulling out an old Barron’s guide to the GRE from under the bed and already mouthing words like apothecary and apothegm, fighting back the tears.

It was the worst thulping by an open source operating system I have ever received in my life.

Why were there backslashes everywhere? Why was vi editor such a cold-hearted bitch? Why do I have to press seven keys simultaneously to scroll down one page? Why? Why? Why weren’t things like the way its said in the manual:

finger–display information about local and remote users

When in reality it was more like this:

finger–put in eye in one smooth motion to get in the mood for vi editor

It was a futile struggle. Around me Unix maestros were clearly enjoying themselves enormously:

“Hey there is a problem with my port. Can someone just finger me right now!” .

was the sort of thing one Unix maestro would say to the other excitedly

For close to a year I never crossed my path with Unix ever again.

Till one night, after much recommendation from a friend I decided to give this RedHat thing a shot. I followed the manual by the letter. I slipped in the CD, booted from the disc, played around with my partitions a little bit, set up a root user and finally waited with bated breath while the installation happened.

Everything except the sound card and the PPPOE connection for the internet at home seemed to be working fine.

I could try to get them to work too. I checked the user forums and there was a wealth of information such as this response from a RedHat expert:

This is bug 2825 (http:// d=2825) . The work around is to ~# ln -f /etc/pppd/resolv.conf /etc/resolv.conf

To which, someone with a sense of humor replied:

I can confirm this bug. I am using a tap0 bridge to emulate PPPoE on a Globespan chipset-based USB aDSL bridge and the latests stable eciadsl-usermode drivers (which, btw are not in Universe). It would be nice to have an updated pppd perhaps backported from Dapper.
I know that Debian’s choice of using kernel-mode PPPoE makes rp-pppoe unnecessary, but I wonder if it would be possible to update rp-pppoe to 3.7 for those that still in using it.

I laughed heartily back then and decided that, for at least the time being, I was ok without the sound.

Its been more than six years since that day. I breathe open source now. All my development happens on a LAMP setup, and dabbling in Drupal is second nature to me. Forum posts are no longer cryptic, and even I have probably turned into one of those “humorous” responders on the several bug forums that are so ubiquitous today. Reverse engineering was never easier and manuals are a waste of time. Microsoft who? Ahhh … life is sweet indeed.

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