The Debian Jones Project

©2005 Keith R. George, Jr -- fair use applies.
Debian is a registered trademark of Software in the Public Interest, Inc.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Flamed Within an inch of my life!

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Brief Detox-vacation

Since this blog started (a total of... what? Maybe seven days ago?) I've been trying to update no less often that every couple of days, but I'm about to go through another attempt at quitting caffeine, and this means for a while I may not have the energy to do much more than run the remote control to my DVD player.

Besides, my good computer is in the shop, and without it I can't begin to work on the logical next step, the best debian-installer tutorial ever written in English. With any luck I should be able to start working on that perhaps a week from now, or even sooner. It'll take a lot of work and time, but when it's finished I should be almost ready to go online with the long awaited (by me) Watch this space for progress reports!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Linux Literacy: taking a stab at defining it.

The following is reprinted from the Just Linux forum.

What I would like to see is what exactly you mean by Linux literacy. Perhaps some sort of check list of things one needs to know to be considered Linux literate.

Well, here's what I think:

You ought to be able to install your system, handle your package manager, manage your root account, use your gui applications, manage your hardware devices (your printer, scanner, and cd burner) and use the shell in a basic, interactive way. Finally, I would add that you should be able to use the available documentation sources (including the community itself) to find the information that you need. I may have left something out, but that 's a pretty good thumbnail sketch.

I'm not the final authority on this. It's my wish that the community, especially those who write the documentation, start working toward a consensus on just what is considered "linux literate".

To an extent, it's really a personal judgement call. If you feel like you can use your computer effectively to do what you want and need, that's what makes you literate. One thing that I've left out of my checklist is lan networking, which is something that just hasn't come up in my everyday use. For others, that may be important.

Friday, May 13, 2005

"Linux Literacy" vs. "Linux Mastery"

One aspect of the world of Linux that I believe differs from Windows is a much larger gap between what I shall call "literacy" and "mastery". The tension this creates is always there, but I think it needs to be defined so that we can address it better.

Linux is a much bigger world to master than Windows, because it gives the knowledgable user much more freedom and power. There is simply no end to the reprogramming, reconfiguring, and re imagining that a really smart computer geek can accomplish with Linux, all the way up to creating a new Linux distribution. With Linux, the ceiling that defines mastery is a lot higher, because there is no ceiling. The sky's the limit.

Which is why we need to be especially careful to not give literacy short shrift. Linux literacy-- the ability to do practical things with a Linux system-- is a legitimate and respectable goal for an individual, and something that the community ought to be actively thinking and talking about promoting. I submit that linux's "no limits" philosphy and structure makes it much harder (if more fun) than Windows to master, but not really intrinsically harder to become literate in. I think that the distinction has been misunderstood way too often, especially outside the community. The resulting confusion has been exploited without shame or mercy by the usual traffickers in FUD. For business, Linux is more expensive than Window, the new line goes, because it's going to take thousands of dollars in support and training for employees to become proficient. This might be true, except that, in the vast majority of cases, mere literacy, not proficinecy, is all that is called for.

Everybody needs to understand that "literacy" and "mastery" are separate, if related, sets of skills. If someone wants to learn how to drive, you wouldn't try to teach em how to build an engine, but all too often, that's what happens in the linux community. Perfectly literate Linux users are made to feel like beginners. Beginners can feel overwhelmed.

I don't want to advocate wholesale splitting off, but someday I would like to see a Linux subcommunity for the literate-- documentation, sites, workshops, maybe a Literacy User Group or two. As Linux continues to develop as free software should-- not according to some corporate plan, but organically in every direction, I believe that this is going to happen, and I'm looking forward to being a part of it.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Joy of Text-To-Speech

Here's a cool tip for people who can't stand to read computer manuals: get your computer to read the manual to you! Text-to-speech programs are available for all popular computer platforms, and are a great study aid. If you can find the documentation you want in HTML, you can get your computer to read it to you while you do your housework, or to aid in pacing and comprehension as you read along.

The TTS program that I like to run on Linux is Festival, which runs at the command line. If Festival is installed, you can make your computer read any text file by using cd to go to the directory that contains the file, and typing the following command:

$festival --tts filename.txt

Of course, you can easily convert any webpage from html into a text file by simply copying and pasting into an editior and saving as text. Festival's metallic robot voice may take some getting used to, but it can be done.

Besides Festival, there's also a text-to-speech application available for Linux called Emacspeak, which, for all I know, has something to do with Emacs.

It pains me to say this, but the best text-to-speech program that I've ever run is a Windows program called ReadPlease. As I've said a hundred times before, ReadPlease is the only Windows program that I miss. It looks great, features a choice of voices, and sounds superior to Festival. It features a brisk, lilting cadence that reminds me of of Iambic Pentameter. Best of all, there's another version of Read Please available that works as a plug-in for Internet Explorer and can turn an entire webpage into an mp3 in just a few seconds. I've been known to install a Windows partition just so I can use the one month free sample version of the Plugin to record a decent-sounding mp3 version of web documentation, which I burn to CD ROMs and play on my Linux system, or in my portable MP3 player.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Socks, Towels, Underwear... and Linux Docs!

Rinias wrote on 05-11-2005 09:04 PM:
No prob!

how's the weather up there in Binghamton? I've got fond memories of the few weeks I spent up there every summer. It's not the greatest place in the world, but there are nice things about it! Do you live in Binghamton or around it? I've got two aunts, an uncle and a cousin who live there- Front Street, Riverside, and Lee, I think, though it used to be Chestnut. Anyway...

As for the Linux manuals, I think making them simple is going to be harder then you (we) think. But in my opinion, it's worth it!

PS- Debian sure seems to be rockin! Just did a netinstall on amd64 and it's not bad at all!

Debian Jones wrote on 05-12-2005 12:39 AM:
Briefly-- I'm about to run off to the all-night laundrette.

Your family and I share the same basic neighborhood, I think, the West Side. Some may say that Binghamton isn't the best place in the world, but I fucking hate it. It's just that I've been here for 42 of my 47 years, and that's quite enough, thank you! Every walk down the street reminds me of some other walk down the same street twenty years ago, and I just don't like that. My dream is to live in Manhattan.

I guess it's not that bad. At least this is one of our better neighborhoods, and my apartment is in a lovely old building, filled with winding and interlocking hallways, high ceilings, and beautiful hardwood floors.

What I am interested in conveying isn't so much information about Linux, but an approach-- a way to jump right in and learn by doing. Basically, it goes like this:

1. Get a second computer
2. install, install install
3. Back up your data.
4. Be very careful, but in the beginning it's okay to x-root, no matter what anyone tells you.

The idea is that if you're not putting your main system at risk, your data is saved, and you know you can always reinstall if things go wrong, you can go anywhere and do anything without fear. You can log in as root and solve permissions problems in a simple gui way. You can fool
around with different distros, you can try things that may not work out just for the hell of it. Wanna see what slackware looks like? Gentoo? What the hell, give it a shot. That's why I call it Linux Power Newbie. Power is the freedom to experiment without fear. It's how I learned, and I want to create documentation that will facilitate that process. I want to write AROUND that process, not into the center of it. I don't think it will be that hard, because my concern for now is pretty finite. I'm not interested in rewriting all Linux knowledge. I just want to help an ordinary user get his foot in the door. Hard or not, I can't think of anything I'd rather do with my time just now.

I just registed the domain name, and purchased two years of hosting, but I'm probably going to keep posting my antitutorial musings on the blog, try to get people from JustLinux to submit comments, and then when I have accumulated enough material, use the website to publish it in a better organized, more polished form.

Did I say that I was going to be brief? I should know myself better than that!

Big Site News! I'm a dot com!

I just got off the phone with a very helpful and polite young man from, where I have registered the domain name! That's right! I'm now a dot com!

Thus I begin building my empire. First off, I'm hoping to sell ad space to Microsoft, who has been the primary sponsor for for as long as I can remember. I'm also planning on putting my bald sweaty head on a t-shirt.

Next stop... Easy Street!

Me No Guru!

As I approach the task of documenting Linux for the would-be Power Newbie, I am forced to come clean about my credentials, which from some perspectives are pretty slim. I could make a long long list of things that I don't know how to do, some of which is considered pretty elementary. I don't know how to compile a program from source, or install a driver, or write a shell script. I don't even know how to dual boot.

But I do know how to do just about everything with my linux system that most ordinary people like to do with their Windows systems. And I do it for free, without installing a secret corporate Black Box on my computer. Everything I write here is really intended as a letter back in time to the person I was three years ago, when I had heard of Linux, but had never seen an actual Linux system running. This is what I wish someone had been able to tell me.

I am an expert at one thing, and that is not being an expert-- but I would I submit that this is exactly the sort of expertise that is sadly missing from the sprawling wilderness of Linux documentation. That's why I'm not going to shy away from bucking conventional wisdom, and from disagreeing with people who I know damn well know much than I do about the Linux O.S. These disagrements can get pretty heated. (Just wait until I get into the X-Root!) I suppose that I will one day accidentally impart "information" that is just plain wrong. I aplogize in advance, and ask to be corrected.

I love geeks. I mean it! I luff them. I loave them. Most people don't know it yet, but computer geeks have already saved the world. If not for computer geeks, the PC revolution would have been exactly what it was supposed to be-- a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft, Inc-- and I happen to think that would have been a fast track to an Orwellian corporate technostate. What we would all have in our homes would be something like Orwell's telescreens, only with better porn. The most significant social contribution of Gnu/Linux (if I may use the correct term for once in my life) may turn out to be the pressure that it places on Big Brother Bill's Black Box. Microsoft is finding that they can't shove whatever secret information-gathering super-network they like down our throats, because we have an alternative-- thanks to the geeks!

Yes, I truly love geeks-- but I am not a geek. True, I collect episodes of "Mystery Science Theater 3000", can't wait for the new "Star Wars" to come out, and goshdarnit, I hardly ever get laid... but for purposes of this blog, a "geek" is someone who can actually read your average Linux Documentation. That's not me... but Linux is for me, too.

And-- whoever you are-- Linux is for you.

What is a Linux Power Newbie?

Linux Power Newbie (LPN) is nothing more than a cute term I that I coined for a Linux beginner who has the power to install his or her own system.

Installation is ultimate power. When you know you can install a new system, you can try anything, sample any new distro with impunity. You can also fix just about anything, because installation is the ultimate repair kit. When you can install just about anything. For system repairs, reinstalling is a rather blunt instrument, but it works, and it works in a whole lot of circumstances. And, as Robert Blake used to say in his old STP commercials, that's the name of that tune!

This means that you can learn Linux from the perspective of getting your hands on it, and not from reading about getting your hands on it. And that's the name of this tune!

Of course, when you reformat your hard drive for an install, you lose all your data, and that can be inconvenient, to say the least. In the beginning, you're going to want to be practicing your installing on a second computer, something cheap and low-end that you picked up somewhere. You can usually pick up a low-end Pentium class computer for under a hundred bucks, if you know where to look, and are just a little bit lucky. My first Linux computer cost me forty dollars at a garage sale, and came with a very decent monitor. Later on, you're going to want to back up your data, which, of course, is always a good habit to get into.

Someday, as you grow in knowledge and are satisfied that you have found the greatest Linux distro, you're not going to need to install your system all the time, just as Keith Richard probably doesn't have to spend hours practicing scales any more. That's how you need to think about installing for a linux beginner. It's like practicing the scales for a beginning musician.

Is it hard to install Linux? If you've never installed an operating system before, you might think so. If you try to read your average Linux installation tutorial, it probably won't convince you otherwise. That's why I can't emphasize the following enough: In my opinion, and barring extraordinary circumstances, installing your average Linux operating system is much, much easier than reading your average Linux installation tutorial! That's why, when I write my own documentation for installing Debian, it's not going to be a traditional "tutorial" so much as a supplement-- an introduction, a reference, an appendix-- to the most direct and concise tutorial possible, the debian-installer program itself. Coming soon to this blog!

Is installing Linux time-consuming? It's like making a cake from a mix, which is time consuming for your oven, but not really for you. Likewise, installing Linux may take up a lot of your computer's time, but not your time... This is another reason why a second computer for learning is a very good idea. More on this later.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


FRTM stands for "F**k reading the manual!", which is intended as an ironic variation on that popular Linux chestnut "RFTM", which stands, I am told, for "Read the F**king manual."

Don't get me wrong. Sometimes, you may have to R the FM. There may be no getting around that. But if you really really hate reading a computer manual, that doesn't make youa bad person. This blog is dedicated to the principal that Linux needs education and documentation that is geared toward easy access to simple practical and effective solutions, for everyday users who may not not necessarily be interested in programming, or building a web server, or any of the scores of elaborate things that Linux technology excels at. Everyday home computer users who want to surf, write, chat, play games, download porn, or what have you, and businesses who want to do simple office functions shouldn't have to choose between paying an outrageous price to install a Microsoft Black Box, or having to slog through a thousand pages of badly written and incomprehnsible geekspeak.

As a Linux user, I consider myself to be something of a pioneer. I'm not one of the earliest of Linux users, by any means-- but I may be one of the first to come to Linux without any particular aptitude or experience with technology. I came to Linux for political and cultural reasons that are still very real for me, although I have since discovered technical, economic and even aesthetic reasons for loving it all the more.

It took two years of frustration and struggle for me to become a fairly competent desktop Linux user. It was completely worth it, because it's over now, and I can look forward to spending the rest of my computing life without anybody's secret corporate code on my machine, and I have access to software that is free, legal, and developing at an explosive rate. Plus, who knows how far I can take it? Maybe one day, I'll really master shell programming, or even find out what the hell C++ is.

It was worth it, but looking back, it wasn't really necessary. There wasn't that much to learn, and I could have picked it up a lot faster if I'd only had access to the information I needed, uncluttered by the information that I didn't need, and a hands-on approach that makes learning natural. It's much much easier to install your average Linux distro than it is to read the average tutorial about installing Linux. We're surrounded by documentation that is more of a barrier than a bridge to practical use for the vast majority of potential users.

As a Linux pioneer, my responsibility is to make it easier for those who want to follow me. This page marks the beginning of that mission.

Debian Jones