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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.


23 Responses to “My comeuppance”

  1. Ergo said

    “Can someone just put a finger in me right now!”

    GAwd how I wait to hear someone say that to ME! You’ve given me this totally erotic picture of Unix Maestro’s fingering each other with sheer excitement! Makes me wish I was right in the middle of that chain.

    On a geekier note, in tackling my mathematical problems in school, I usually adopted the same technique of solving problems that you would call “reverse engineering” in your techie jargon. It’s thrilling in its own way.

  2. Avadhut said

    I was so sure that the “finger” thing would elicit a comment from you, ask C :)! Eww, stop making Unix maestros sound like porn stars.

    And isn’t reversing so much more exciting! Retracing someone else’s steps is much like a journey into, probably, their thoughts when they were solving/coding/hexing that particular problem/code/hex.

  3. Avadhut said

    Err, Jerry, Pink Imp has a very humble, and a never-heard-before, request—”Please stop saying porn things about CS.”

  4. Pink Imp said

    i think i am going to be sick after reading the first comment about something so technical and deep. avadhut, u ought have provided a glossary even if fingerd was to be the only word in it.


    I have to spew this even if it doesnt make sense to you because ur comment has offended the very depths of my CS soul.

    fingerd is a process that runs and produces a human-readable report of the system or user when asked to. now i am sure this doesnt sound as exciting to you as the original implicit post did.

    back to avadhut:

    why did u go crazy after VI? EMACS would have done as well and here the issue of availability, which is a major plus point of VI, wasn’t an issue?

  5. Avadhut said

    Err..We are talking about the year 1999. I wasn’t too familiar with Linux, let alone EMACS. I was simply doing what they told me to do in the freaking book, and I am pretty sure it contained no info whatsoever on EMACS :(.

  6. Pink Imp said

    but my prof said when he was in undergrad he knew ya. and believe me, he was in undergrad very long ago. he got his phd in 98.

  7. Ergo said

    Okay, listen you two uber-geeks.

    If you’re gonna use erotically charged words like “fingering” in the most obscure, geekiest, non-pornographic (i.e., boring!) context, then you better provide your regular readers with ample disclaimers and definitions. I mean, hello!? How is any normal human being supposed to know that Unix Maestros (and is it CS maestros too??) do something called “fingering each other” when they are excited and make requests for someone to “put a finger in me right now” when actually they might be referring to some totally uninteresting technical device or program or code or whatever called a “finger!” ANd why the hell is it called a FINGER anyway!?! I mean, HELLLOOO!!?!?

    Besides, let me think what I want to think, okay. It’s the only way this post and this topic will seem bearably interesting to me.

  8. Ergo said

    P.S., if you’re not gonna provide readers with spelled out versions of your abbrevs, then at least decide on how to spell them! Hello?! Is it EAMCS or EMACS?!? grrrr..

  9. Ergo said

    P.S. heheeheeehee… I love how I sabotaged this post, hijacked it, and made it so much more interesting to discuss now! 🙂 You should thank your porn gods for this–like Lucky Lukas Ridgestone! LOL!

  10. Avadhut said

    EAMCS? Whoever wrote that? It is EMACS (Editor MACroS) you dufus! (Ahh, being admin pays off in more ways than one!)

    And Lucky Lukas Ridgestone? LoL. He is so your type. You could probably forward a script based on this post for his next movie—two Unix maestros who end up fingering each other due to troublesome ports. LoL! I am tellin ya, it would be such a hit amongst the gay geek fraternity. An act for each command; other possible candidate commands are man (which can be prefixed to anything, e.g., man finger, man port,etc.), arch, grep, dofsck, expand, flex, gawk, gunzip, head, isosize, mount, probe, ramsize, and bison (scary that one is). LoL! Salivating already Jerr?

  11. Ergo said

    HAAARRRHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRHAAARAR!!! Oww My Gawd! DID you actually go check out who Lucky Lukas Ridgestone is!! Damn!

    Listen boy, I’m at work right now. You can’t get me salivating on thoughts of man-mounting, man-probing, and ramsizing (oooo, I love that one! 😉 while I’m at work! It’s dangerous; my fingers could involuntarily and helplessly type “”, and then I’d be totally screwed–in not a good way!

  12. Avadhut said

    Ha ha! Obviously I had to Google who this Ridgestone bloke was. From what I read, he has turned to directing now, and is quite talented at that, but you would obviously know this better. Ha ha!

    I am sure you are finding Linux much more interesting now. See, open source has something for everybody. Right back at ya Microsoft, try beating that!

  13. Ergo said

    I don’t see why the animosity towards Microsoft. I realize that it is quite fashionable in the FOSS community to disparage Billg and his company, much like it’s quite popular amoung the young, peaceniks, reds, and flower-power hippies to hate America and big businesses. But if you really look at the case objectively, Billg has as much right to do as he pleases with his products as you are free to produce and support open-source content.

    Indeed, this is the beauty of the free market, where open-source producers are free to create products with minimal to no contractual obligations while others like Steve Jobs and Billg are free to patent and copyright their property at will. The best part is, the free market will organically favor the most efficient and profitable mode of transaction–be it the open-source route or the closed-source one.

    Interestingly, for all the attacks against Billg and MS, the Apple company and Steve Jobs have been historically the most restrictive in their business practices ever. Notice how Macs were so incompatible with any PC/IBM software until only recently; how PCs allowed any OS platform–even linux–to function comfortably, but Mac was closed to any alternative OS.

    Moreover, it was only about a year or so ago that Macs began using intel chips, whereas PCs were compatible with Intel, AMC, and whatever other processor chips out there. Then look at ipods: they won’t work with any other MP3 software other than itunes. The iphones feature only i-pod supporting MP3s, and Apple has forged a restrictive alliance with AT&T as their sole and exclusive network provider, which means one cannot buy an i-phone and use it with non-At&T carriers legally, which means you can’t use the phone in India as yet.

    It is simply annoying to disparage either Apple or Microsoft in complete evasion of their respective strengths and weaknesses. I’m inclined to argue that despite the absolutely superior aesthetics of the Macs and their superior computing power, Macs are more restrictive, more labyrinthine, more tediously non-user-friendly, and decidedly anti FOSS than Microsoft and the PC is.

  14. Avadhut said

    Uff! I was only commenting on Microsoft’s shortcomings in satisfying the needs of a community as niche as gay geeks. The role MS played in furthering the proliferation of PCs is unparalleled, and I’d strongly defend them, even, against any FOSS evangelist.

  15. Ergo said

    Uff! I see; what a tangential way to introduce MS in the discussion though. Anyway, but my comment wasn’t necessarily directed at you; I was just commenting on the state of affairs and discourse surrounding this topic. My comment should have been more appropriate as a post on my blog, as topic of discussion. It’s interesting. I hear many people argue that open-source is anti-capitalist and all since it forgoes the right to property, and in that sense, they argue that open-source is closest to communism than capitalism. But they forget that to “forego” the right to property is to presume that you have that right in the first place. You cannot give up a code (or program or a right) if you don’t have it in the first place. Communism denies you that right; capitalism protects it, even if you subsequently wish to forego it. 🙂

    Totally unrelated to your post and our comments thereunder. We should get back to gay porn, even if it is to the chagrin of Pink Imp and ilk of her kind! 🙂

  16. Avadhut said

    True. This does deserve a whole post. People from the open source community, well some of them, have this whole wrong notion about how things ought to be.

    There was this talk given by Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project, at CERN. I more than admire him—not only his technological contributions but also the work he has done to forward the cause of open-source software. But his talk left me so disappointed. He’s not a particularly charismatic speaker. The flower child-geek look does him a world of good, but not nearly enough. Several times, justifications in his talk were given by statements such as “it is inherently evil,” or “it is bad,” or “it is your fundamental right.” He said in the talk, and I quote, “never buy DRM-enabled media that you are incapable of cracking yourself.” Of course, he hates everything from gaming consoles to TiVo, and thinks we should not buy any of those things.

    The worst line of his talk was somewhere around the 40-minute mark. “Why should you not use Windows?” Of course, he said the standard stuff, about it being “inherently evil,” spying on you, and sending all searches to (Apparently, the fact that does this as well is not a problem). Here comes the best one—”A couple of years ago, in India, two people from the Al Qaeda were working at Microsoft, and they were caught attempting to insert trojans and viruses into Windows. Fortunately, they were apprehended. Who knows how many such attempts go unnoticed?”

    Like some piece out of tabloid news, he was flashing this fact around, like it could make an undefeatable case against Microsoft.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I admire this guy, use mostly open source software, and contribute to it even. But Stallman’s statement leaves such a bad taste in the mouth; it only serves to hurt his credibility.

  17. Avadhut said

    PS: @J–How did we get going from open source software to gay porn back to open source software?(!)

  18. Pink Imp said

    i want this blog to have a moral moderator. x-(

  19. Pink Imp said

    P.S. the iphone has been cracked to work with non AT&T

    i wonder abt the ipod now…

  20. Charlotte said

    Question: Why watery-eyed?

  21. Ergo said

    Who’s watery-eyed??

    Avs are you watery-eyed? Why are you crying? What did Charl do to you now!? Ugh. Women, I tell ya! Nevermind. I’m here for you… you can run into my bosom and weep your heart out. You can drench my shirt with your tears, which will then make me have to take my shirt off…. and then……… (can’t speak of it any further; I might scare Pink Imp off again! ;))

  22. Charlotte said

    Ergo stop being gross!

    ::in a dignified voice:: I was referring to the first line of Ava’s post.

  23. Avadhut said

    Urgghh. No I am not watery eyed. And even if I were, I would not need a bosom in which to wipe my watery eyes.

    But when we go swimming, you can remove your shirt J! LoL. Since you are oh so insistent.

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