Geek culture changes

I have gone from working in places where I have about 4 computers on my desk plus root everywhere to working for Silicon Valley startups where people bring their own laptop to the job and no one has ever seen a terminal window before. Most of the bloggers I know (and support at work) deal with their blogs and web hosts entirely from ftp desktop clients. And at someone else’s fairly technically oriented workplace that shall remain nameless, just the other day, I over heard two people talking:

Q: So why do you people use those window things? And why are they always those black screens? Is it like, to look like The Matrix or something?
A: Um, well, I think it’s just a culture thing. It’s old school. Or something.

As I was reading through scads of comments on php.net and the forums on phpWomen.org I thought about how some people post stuff like “and here’s how I like to indent my code“, with examples. Actually I like reading that stuff and when it’s super simple, all the better. Yet I never post my own notes and habits and cheap unix tricks, because I’m embarrassed they aren’t super whizz bang hackery but are just my thoughts on vim vs. vi, or notes on how to change my csh prompt to be different colors. Why don’t I post on that stuff? I might start. How many times over the years have I gone to look something up and ended up on shallowsky.com? A ZILLION TIMES! (Thanks Akkana!) I’m not posting for programmers – actually I might be posting for the bloggers who are only just trying out their new shell account and want to know what it can do.

So about geek culture changes. Aside from people who don’t scream when they see a command line, what about the deeper culture? I was reading Rebecca MacKinnon’s post Silicon Valley’s benevolent dictatorships and thinking back on all the pocket-watch-toting, vest-wearing, oddball sys admins I’ve known. MacKinnon (heavily quoting Danny O’Brien) describes how U.S. geeks put a lot of trust in technology and the internet:

we have come to depend way too heavily on a small number of Internet and telecoms companies to conduct the most private and intimate details of our professional and personal lives. As long as those companies have values aligned with our own and are run by people we think have integrity, we don’t see a huge problem. But what if the values cease to be aligned or political circumstances change?

While I agree with MacKinnon that a company’s leaders are important, I suspect that a lot of power right now is in the hands of sys admins, quite often the actual benevolent association or intersection of hippies and hacker-anarchists who inhabit university basements and run the backbone of the net. They’re also powerful in determining what happens. I think about what is happening and how it’s partly about a cultural shift in what people think the Internet is – rather than it being something you get your hands dirty in, that you play around with, where you bother to go read the RFCs even if you’re not writing them… something that people like you are *making*… you shift it and its policies – you are its state and government – to something you consume or use that is run by far-distant giant corporations (whether they are trustable or not is not the point.) I wonder about younger generations of sys admins. Are they DIY in spirit – and have they been activists? That matters too – along with privacy policies which in theory are set by legal departments and corporate heads – because the people who will implement that stuff often care and have influence.

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Installing Eeebuntu on an Asus Eeepc 900

Last night I installed eeebuntu on my Eeepc 900. You see how I love this little beast!

The instructions and forums on eeebuntu.org were helpful. I realized while I was doing the install that there’s Ubuntu Eee as well and that eeebuntu is basically just this one guy, Steve or “bezdomny”. Since he is super responsive on the forums and people report good experiences with the install, I figured it is a good bet as an OS. Ubuntu Eee also looks good!

I didn’t take good notes but here is my memory of what I had to do. I first tried to create a bootable USB stick from my Mac, but was missing syslinux so I used Oblomovka’s MacBook running Ubuntu to reformat it with parted (set 1 boot on). Then put the eeebuntu iso file on the USB stick with bezdomny’s isostick.sh script.

Then my eeepc booted from the USB stick. I hit “escape” during bootup and got a screen with 4 choices; the 4GB and 16GB drives on the eee, and two partitions on the USB stick. I chose a USB partition at random (wrong one) and then the other, which worked beautifully! It took a few minutes to boot. Wireless didn’t work, but when I plugged an ethernet cable into my Eee, I was on the net within about 15 seconds without having to configure anything.

So, I tried to follow this advice to get wireless working,

http://eeebuntu.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=175&highlight=wireless

But then got a little bit confused because I wasn’t sure where I should install madwifi and if it would work if I rebooted from the USB. At that point I decided I’d just take a chance and install over the totally working, but annoying and ugly and Windows-like, Xandros linux install that came with my eee. (Seriously, look at this, even their web site gives me hives.) It occurred to me that I might keep Xandros on the 4GB drive and install eeebuntu on the 16GB drive, and be able to boot either one. Which, if I couldn’t get wireless working on eeebuntu, would spare me scrambling around trying to re-install Xandros. I went on IRC at irc.freenode.net and asked on #ubuntu-eeepc if anyone knew if that would work. No one answered. I got on #ubuntu-women just to feel braver but didn’t ask anything. After some more poking around forums I decided to hell with it, blow away Xandros and if I have to reinstall it, comprendo bastante este video guía para instalearlo.

So I installed on the 4GB drive. It went completely smoothly, quickly, I rebooted, hey presto magic huzzah, I had working ubuntu on my eeepc. Plugging into ethernet worked smoothly again. I got the madwifi fix with wget and installed it. It didn’t work… I re-read the thread on the forums for the millionth time. They kept saying “turn on the wireless” and finally Oblomovka and I got it that we had to turn on wireless in the BIOS. So, reboot, hit F2, looked at “Advanced” and “Devices” or something like that, it was pretty intuitive, and got a list of stuff enabled and disabled. I enabled wireless and the webcam. Rebooted, and wireless worked SO beautifully. (Not like Xandros which was incredibly clunky and failed to get me onto my own home network half the time.)

More wireless links: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/EeePC/Fixes

Next problem to fix. The mousing was crazy. Or, really, the touchpad. I don’t have a mouse, but I still think of it as “mousing”. There was a system preferences panel for mouse and display, but nothing for the touchpad. A bit more reading and I was lost… but then a bit MORE reading and google-fu and I found that going to Applications, then Add/Remove, then searching All Available applications for “touchpad” or “synaptic” would get me the control panel that I needed. That worked but during install I got a warning to change a setting in xorg.conf which I will tell you is in /etc/X11. It’s helpful to look at some examples of xorg.conf options. Then, while in vi putting in the setting, I realized my keyboard is messed up and thinks that the ” key is actually an @ sign. So I’ll have to go figure that out and fix it — I know I chose US keyboard layout — what could it be?

What I need to be able to work off this machine on my trip:

Firefox, Greasemonkey
A good chat client
vim, perl (python would be nice)
the touchpad not to be freaking crazy. Tap-to-click OFF. Who uses that! Omg! Sucks!
Not sure if I will just suck it up with email and go back to Pine, or install Thunderbird and migrate my mailboxes, or use webmail of some stripe (ugh) Currently am favoring Pine because I’m lazy; Thunderbird only if I have time to install it.

Oh also, I’m resolving to document this more formally and contribute docs-writing to eeebuntu.

** further updates later today **

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Ubuntu "Girlfriend Experiment" PHAIL

Ugh… I really get pissed at the basic idea of “we can see how usable Ubuntu is by testing it on our girlfriends.” Assumption: “We” are male; “our” girlfriends are ignorant of technical matters. And are stupid. Femininity here is equated with non-technical status. This is not only untrue, it is a really poisonous idea to spread.

http://contentconsumer.com/2008/04/27/is-ubuntu-useable-enough-for-my-girlfriend/

First task: Tell me what the capital of Bosnia is. Second task: watch a video on YouTube Third task: Download a Spice Girls album.

Uhhh WTF with the Spice Girls? Care to infantalize women’s use on the internet any more?

How about finding some RECIPES too?

All of this just yanks my chain big time, like when people say in talks and demos, “It’s so easy, my MOM can do it.” (And then everyone in the audience laughs knowingly.) Like moms are the dumbest people ever. My pet peeve at technical conferences. I am a mom!

I am also a girlfriend!

I am also technically competent and don’t enjoy condescension!

Test Linux on your ignorant dad, next time, or your poker buddy. Be sure to have him download crap about the Backstreet Boys and other overly gendered BS.

Hundreds of women on the linuxchix mailing list are rolling their eyes in unison.

WAIT I’m so confused, maybe if they made the Ubuntu background pink?!?

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