Page last updated on May 14, 2012
I seem to be attracted to operating systems like Linux, and I get loads
of fun from messing with setup. But a computer is supposed to have a practical use...
My machine is used for learning and communication: Programming, system management, internet, ICQ, IRC, email, usenet
etc. My best advice to anyone interested in learning more about computers and what
they can do, is to take a closer look at the operating system Linux.
You might think "Why? - Windows is far more widespread and has much more 'practical use' potential..."
Well, my reason for preferring Linux as a learning tool is that it not only allows me to learn, it encourages me to learn! You can live a rich and full life with Windows; write letters and manage email, surf the web and so on, not knowing anything at all about how the system works. But learning how the system works is what i want to do, and here the open source code and information sharing mindset found in the Linux community really makes a difference. I find no limitations in access to information, i'm not required to buy anything to access knowledge or training materials. I can just dig in. Even the system itself is available at no cost. With windows, everything is not available. And what is, often comes with a price tag. Should i want to try out another version of Windows, i'll have to pay. Should i want to try out a new and interesting programming tool, i'll have to pay. And even though i pay, i don't get full access to everything. I think this makes Windows an inferior learning platform. The money issue adds to the disaster by causing a social unbalance. Only people with enough money can access the Pay-per-feature-Windows-World-of-Wonders - meaning that many people in e.g. third world countries are unable to meet the educational entry fee imposed by Microsoft and other commercial entities.
Luckily, we have Linux. Look at e.g. Edubuntu Linux, which provides an open door to the world of computing for everyone - including people in 'third world countries. Edubuntu provides tools to learn formal school material (math, language, writing, physics etc.) as well as a platform to learn 'computing' on; basic operation, surfing the 'net, email, online communities, programming, system/data management and lots more. Those who wish, are free to take the system apart and tinker with it. Everything is available and yours to keep or modify as you like. It runs on second-hand-hardware, thus maintaining the widest possible potential audience.
I think this is a nice approach to both computing and my fellow human beings :)
Okay - you don't want a multilanguage platform stuffed with kiddies-school-stuff, but a server platform to run your webhotel? Linux has it. Want a cluster of number-crunching-machines? Linux does clustering. Want a stripped-down firewall to run on your old 486DX? Linux does that too. Then what about an enterprise-grade office-platform including 24/7 online support by dedicated IT-professionals? No problem. Just remember to bring your wallet - those IT-professionals want money for services rendered.
Actually, there's a mind-boggling spectrum of different versions of Linux. From absolute DIY-stuff to turnkey solutions. Running on everything from microcontroller hardware to server-farm-clusters. Free or paid. And best of all: without limits. Dig in. Learn as much as you like/need or just surf the web for fun. Who said "What do you want to do today?"...
A good starting point would be to visit DistroWatch or LinuxQuestions.
So, you ask 'Martin, what do you use yourself? What's best?'
Well... I can tell you what I think is best. For me. Do not under any circumstances try to copy my setup just because you think that's going to get you 'the best', because we've most likely got differing needs - meaning my setup is almost certainly not optimal for you. What I can do is tell you something about WHY I've chosen Debian Squeeze:
First of all it's of course free - as in free speech. Many distros are. But i like the attitude these people have. Second reason for going the Debian way is that Debian comes in multiple editions. Stable, testing and bleeding edge. Third reason is that it's available for several architectures. I can't install Suse, Redhat or Mandriva on my UltraSparc, now can I? This leaves me with Debian and Ubuntu to choose between - and I don't like the Ubuntu administration approach. Choosing Debian provides me with as many installations as I like, a uniform interface on all machines, thousands and thousands of point-and-click-installable software packages, flexibility to the max and a helpful community for the inevitable troubleshooting sessions.
There may be other distros out there that would satisfy all my wishes. On a regular basis I try out new ones. And since Debian software architecture and package management scheme seems to be the foundation upon which most distros are built - I keep returning to Debian.
Professionally I work with the programming language C. To get some variation into my life :) I try to get a handle on C++, PHP, SQL, HTML and a few other subjects at the same time. The page you are looking at is handwritten in straight HTML. It's a beta version... It'll always be! To avoid cluttering the 'net with proprietary (read: InternetExplorer-only-compatible) material, i try to adhere to 'generic' HTML and stay clear of 'tricks' working only on a subset (IE?) of the many browsers found out there. See AnyBrowser campaign for more info on this subject.
The PC has never impressed me; I started out with a TI-58 programmable calculator back in 1980,
upgraded to a Sinclair ZX-81, and then upgraded to an Amiga 500. These three machines kept me goin' and learnin' for 15 years. Today, I own a PC. It's the sixth one in ten years, starting with a 486-DX2/66, moving on to a DX4/100 followed by a K6/233, a Celeron 300A, an AMD Athlon 1400, an AMD Athlon64/3000, an AMD Opteron 165 and now my present setup which is made up of:
My Intel 486 50 MHz laptop.
My Intel P1 233 MHz laptop.
My Intel P3 800 MHz laptop.
My Intel Atom 1.6 GHz laptop.
By chance i've come across this Sun Ultra 5 workstation. It's a real workhorse, designed for professional use. Due to the fact that it is powered by an ULTRAsparc processor, it just doesn't run MS Windows. Period. But it runs Debian Linux...
The box contains:
This thing is not a PC in the traditional sense. Nevertheless, it features a real (actually quite good) keyboard, a monochrome LCD screen (8*80 characters and/or graphics)and a serial port. Preloaded software is fixed; text editor (wordstar-like), PIM and a couple of other small programs, most notably a BBC Basic. It's clearly intended for doing text entry. Anyone who can live with WP51 or Emacs will find this machine nothing less than ideal for note-taking or jotting down ideas. It's blisteringly fast in any sense of the word. No boot-time, no load-time, instant response to any input you type. The thing runs its Z80 cpu off 4 AA-cells and there's a whopping 64 KB RAM. Despite these limitations, an alternative OS can be installed and there are many programs to download. See Tim's Amstrad NC Users' Site for more info.
This gizmo is best known as 'a cell phone'. But it's more; it's actually a mobile computer running the Symbian operating system. And the manufacturer backs it up by providing programming tools and documentation, so it is possible to write applications for it. Which is what many people have done! Until now i've not done any programming myself, but merely surfed the net for Symbian S60 3rd Ed. compatible software - and tried some of it out.
Professionally I work with Freescale Coldfire, the MicroChip PIC and several flavours of 8051. And more is coming :)
That, though, does not mean that I think less of Infineon's C166 series or the Atmel AVR series of RISC based microcontrollers. All regular little monsters! Or what about the ARM? Or the Crusoe chip? There are so many ;)
Who uses microcontrollers at home? Most of us do; washing machines, cars, microwave ovens and a host of other household appliances use these little dedicated processors to generate the functionality of whatever device they happen to live inside of. Nowadays, SOHO networking gear, routers and NAS devices all have webpage-driven maintenance interfaces, and guess what drives the webinterface on e.g. a router? Yup - a microcontroller! I've taken an interest in these little devices, because they are cheap, noiseless and will allow me to tweak and fiddle with added functionality. A router (or NAS device) has Ethernet connectors, a processor, RAM and flash memory and perhaps even USB ports. It's a small computer, delivered from factory with a given firmware implementing e.g 'router'. But hey - the device can often be cracked open and the factory-firmware can be replaced with something else; dedicated webserver, network sniffer, fileserver, you name it. I have an Asus WL500GD router, an older Linksys WRT54G router and a Linksys NSLU2 NAS device. All of them are capable of housing 'alternative' firmwares. And sure there are alternatives; go look at OpenWRT.org, DD-WRT.com or NSLU2-Linux.org. Actually, my NSLU2 runs a full-blown Debian Linux! But working with these devices, one must always remember that they are small computers. Don't try encoding ogg-files (GPL mp3...), but take advantage of their low power consumption and silent operation to implement 24/7-services like router, fileserver, webserver, home automation, monitoring and things like that. These devices keep getting more powerful as time goes by, and thus deployment of mainstream Linux distros on them becomes ever more realistic. Today, you have access to several native compilers and programming languages, forming a real LAMP, and implementing your own homegrown applications is entirely possible. So, for computing hobbyists, the game is on.
My interest for the french Citroën cars comes naturally. I've inherited it!
But at the moment there's no financial funding to drive anything anywhere. I've been divorced and is
struggling to clean up the economic mess that follows. My plan is to return to "the driving people's
club" in about two years, when all my bills have been paid. In the meantime, my car is stowed away
I own a CX 22TRS '86, and wouldn't trade it for a brand new Xsara, Xantia or any other of the personality-abandoned cars produced today. Citroën is meant to be avantgarde. That is what makes a Citroën stand out from the crowd of japanese-or-what-is-it looking cars.
Sadly Peugeot did not realize this when taking over the Citroën-company, and consequently a Citroën is nowadays just a Peugeot with another company logo on the grille.
In short: If you think that a particular Citroën looks/handles "normally", it's not a real Citroën
I have worked as part-time taxidriver for ten years. Occasionally full-time. I've driven Mercedes
124-series Diesels, 201-series Diesels, Peugeot J5 Diesel, Chevrolet StarCraft Diesel, WV Passat Diesel,
VW Caravelle Diesel, Volvo 850 Diesel. Take my word for it: Mercedes and Volvo are better;
durability, roadhandling, speed, whatever you think of!
They don't have the Citroën-touch, though...
Soul food. To me, that's what it's all about. Basically, i don't care whether music comes in the form of a live concert or is reproduced by a plain transistor radio on my kitchen table. The music is good if it makes my thoughts wander off to somewhere relaxing and/or makes my feet tap the rhythm all by themselves.
What do I listen to? Anything. From Liszt to Nina Hagen. Occasionally, I even listen to the kind of music you hear in malls and warehouses, and i try to avoid turning into a zombie when that happens. I like Roger Waters, Johann Sebastian Bach and Mahler. Mahalia Jackson, U2 and B.B.King. Mark Knopfler. You know...
So, I own a stereo merely to get at this 'good stuff'.
Well, livingroom stereo is 'under construction' at the moment. Today, it's made from a pair of Coral System400 boxes dated 1976, a Thule IA50C integrated amplifier and a Squeezebox Duet sound source.
This lets me access my music via a real-deal-DA-converter and thus tap into quality sound! The thing is, i've installed wired gigabit-LAN, and putting the entire music-collection online (stored in lossless audio-format) fits nicely in my overall plan about a full-blown multimedia system covering all rooms. Input from media files (audio and video) or internet-streaming, storage on a fileserver (NAS), distribution via LAN and consumption by media-clients like the SqueezeBox, commercial DMA's like WD TV Live HD or homebrewed mediacenters (MythTV, MediaPortal). Full-blown solution!
For this to happen, i'll need to have a registered car, right? Not at the moment. Later...
A Nokia N95 mobile phone with built-in FM radio + 8GB SD-card + in-ear-headphones from Sennheiser. This thing also connects to my motorcycle helmet via Bluetooth, enabling me to listen to audiobooks while on the move.
I like a glass of wine. Condensed summer, reminding me of sunny and warm days. Or as the liquid part of a great meal. I'm mostly into red wine, thinking white or rosť variations fit better into the 'snack'-category. Recently, wine drinking has gone online and I've signed up for an account at Vivino:
Let's see where this takes me...