Category Archives: Smalltalk

Linux and Me

Although it is not a focal point of my professional live any more, Linux and I share a long common history. My first encounter was with “S.u.S.E. Linux August 1995″ (kernel 1.1.12) in October or November of 1995. Until then I had only played around a bit with MINIX 1.5 on a  80286-based PC. But it had been a bit of a disappointment for me and I never really got into things.

This changed dramatically with Linux. I spent many hours trying to get a setup with X11 (only FVWM2 was available as window manager then) to work. This was not as easy as today. There was no, or very little, support from YaST, the setup tool of SuSE. And one had to be careful with the monitor (CRT of course) configuration. Because too high frequencies could physically damage your monitor. I never used the system to actually perform any work, it was solely for learning.

This changed with SuSE 4.4 and even more so with SuSE 6.1. I do not remember the exact dates, but SuSE 6.1 was installed in late 1997 when I ran my own small company as a “side-project” to my university studies. But since the company was highly successful, I soon used things like HylaFax on Linux and of course also ran my local mail server (sendmail can be a challenge, especially when Google does not exist yet). There even was a dial-in modem for terminal connections.

What I always disliked about SuSE, was that the updates from one version to another never really worked for me. So in about 2002 I finally decided to switch to Debian Woody (3.0). That was again a learning curve, but the apt packaging system was vastly superior to what I had seen on SuSE before and I never had problems with upgrades. The experience gained then is also quite helpful these days for the Raspberry Pi.

Things continued with CentOS, Fedora, and Ubuntu – with the last two powering my company notebook for a short while back in 2008. But the experience was mixed and I never liked Linux as a general-purpose desktop operating system. I had used it extensively for writing LaTeX documents (using Xfig a lot for diagrams) during my university time. But other than that, for too many Windows (or later Mac) applications I never found a proper replacement.

But for servers Linux is definitely my preferred OS. And especially so because most of the innovations of the last years, like configuration management systems (e.g. Chef, Puppet, Ansible) and containers (e.g. Docker), came to live on Linux.

The Importance of Names

Every once in a while someone is rolling their eyes when I, again, insist on a well-chosen name for a piece of software or an architectural component. And the same also goes for the text of log messages, by they way; but let’s stick with the software example for now.

Well, my experience with many customers has been the following, which is why I think names are important: As soon as the name “has left your mouth” the customer will immediately and sub-consciously create an association in his mind what is behind it. This only takes a second or two, so it is finished before I even start to explain what a piece of software does.

Assuming that my name was chosen poorly, and hence his idea about the software’s purpose is wrong, he will then desperately try to match my explanation with his mental picture. Obviously this will not be successful and after some time (hopefully just a few minutes), he will interrupt me and say that he doesn’t understand and shouldn’t the software actually be doing this and that.

It makes the conversation longer than necessary and, more importantly, creates some friction; the latter is hopefully not too big, but esp. at the beginning of a project when there is no good personal relationship yet, it’s something you want to avoid. Also, think about all the people who just read the name in a document or presentation and don’t have a chance to talk with you. They will run around and spread the (wrong) word. I have been on several projects where bad names created some really big problems for the aforementioned reasons.

My New Toy: Mac Mini

Having been a very happy iPod user for more than six years, I finally got myself a Mac Mini as a kind of New Year’s present. And I must admit that it totally blew me away! The overall usability and the many tiny details that show the degree of thinking that was put into the product are awesome. And of course the design is so much beyond any computer I ever had before.

My only problem now is to find and play with all those nice tools that make one’s life even better. What I already installed are of course Emacs, Eclipse, and a few more. Once I have gained enough experience there will probably be a separate post on what I consider useful.