[Relevant material starts at the paragraph that begins "Just an

Date: Wed, 10 Sep 2003 09:49:52 -0700
From: Rick Moen rick@linuxmafia.com
To: Bill Stoye skiffworks@earthlink.net
Subject: Re: [conspire] K3B/KDE

Quoting Bill Stoye (skiffworks@earthlink.net):

> Libranet has taken care of most of those problems for me, leaving me
> with plenty to learn, the curve just doesn't seem to be as sharp as it
> has been.

Good. It's supposed to be fun, after all.

I was one of those pioneers who adopted Linux in 1992, and the culture
shock / learning curve was pretty nasty, I can well remember.

> Most of my time with Linux has been focusing on just getting a
> system to run, it's time to start learning and using the various
> applications.

And that reminds me of the silver lining of having started in 1992:
You got to know fundamentally how things work, which is a pearl beyond
price and means you were not helpless when things went wrong or needed
diagnosis. (The cloud attached to the silver lining was that you had no
choice but to learn fundamentally how things work.) So, what I'm saying
is that just "learning and using the various applications" is a
long-term mistake, and I strongly urge getting to understand the basic
system framework.

One way to get a jump on the latter is via the tutorial book _Running
Linux_ by Matt Welsh, Kalle Dahlheimer, and others, 3rd Edition,
O'Reilly & Associates. Tutorial are distinguished from references by
the fact that you use them to learn previously unfamiliar things. As a
corollary to that, owning _Running Linux_ does you no good whatsoever
unless you take it off the shelf and read a few chapters from time to
time. One of the reasons I recommend the book over any number of truly
dismal me-too Linux books is that it's unabashedly a tutorial rather
than trying to split the difference and be half-tutorial,

> I spent a lot of time dual booting between Linux and Windows until the
> Knoppix installer nuked Windows, the only distro to do so....

You don't mention which release of Knoppix, the answer to which is
important in this case. The installation script wasn't part of the
original design, nor even written by Klaus Knopper: It's a third-party
contribution. For a very long time (and perhaps still), it was marked
as experimental and beta. Early versions of it had the (I thought, well
announced) trait of automatically erasing the entire target hard drive.
If you didn't want to clobber the entire hard drive, you simply didn't
run the script. In those early days, I clearly remember that you were
warned on-screen as you started the script that it was third-party beta
/ experimental code.

More recently, the script _has_ become much more mature, and now puts
you into cfdisk to partition as you see fit, rather than automatically
deleting anything. It's still eminently possible for _you_ to nuke
existing partitions (while in cfdisk), but doing so is no longer an
automatic part of the process.

> I no longer dual boot.

If I may say so, it's just as well. I've spent a long time observing
people who dual-boot among multiple operating systems, and, with very
rare exceptions, they're kidding themselves: In fact, they almost
invariably end up spending 99.9% of their time in just one of the
operating system. E.g., people who claimed they'd be dual-booting
Windows and OS/2 ended up almost all the time in Windows. People who
claimed they'd be dual-booting Windows and Linux end up almost all the
time in Windows.

Therefore, with rare exceptions (mostly entailing mobile laptop use) I
strongly recommend, instead, superior alternatives to dual-booting. For
example, there's VNC. Most people either have a second, decommissioned
computer (Pentium 90 or better) sitting around in a back closet or can
acquire one for pocket change. It won't need a second monitor, for
reasons I'll explain. So, they can have two computers: Use the second,
cheap, slow one for Linux and leave the Windows box alone. Put a cheap
ethernet card in each. Connect them using a crossover ethernet cable.
Install VNC Server on the Windows box and assign IP address
to the ethernet card. Start up VNC Server. (It exports a replica of
the console graphics across the network using the VNC remote-access

Now, remove the monitor from the Windows box, with the Windows box still
running. Put it on the cheap Linux box. Install Linux, assigning IP
address to the ethernet interface (so it can talk to the
other one). Any Linux distribution will automatically include VNC
Client. Now, start up the lovely Linux desktop of your choice. Any
time you need a Windows application, you can run it remotely on the
Windows machine from the comfort of your X11/Linux desktop environment.

> I have linuxmafia tips bookmarked, thank you.


Just an afterthought to yesterday's post, which I forgot to include at
that time: Sometimes, as a veteran Linux user, one sees requests for
help that are a bit difficult to answer, such as (and please don't take
offence) your original post about K3B and RH9 package-management on
conspire. Such posts put the veteran in a dilemma:

1. One possible angle of attack is to make a _guess_ about what the
user really means, and present suggestions about how to further diagnose
(or, ideally, resolve) what you _guess_ is the user's underlying

2. Or you can ask the user some questions trying to ferret out the real
nature of the problem, instead of wasting time following approach #1
(which is usually a wild-goose chase), and possibly offer some
suggestions about how to most fruitfully seek help in the future,
"helping us help you". Actually, Eric Raymond and I were, a couple of
years back, writing articles on that latter point separately, and
joined forces when we found out we were both writing the same piece.
The result is, I think, pretty cool:

3. Or you can ignore the user's post, hit the delete key, and move on.
Sadly, this is what almost always happens.

Why? Because, let me tell you, approach #1 is like banging your head
against the wall, and approach #2 gets you flamed as being "mean to
newbies". You'll notice that my reply to you on-list was about 60%
approach #1 and 40% approach #2. In my experience, that often still
gets you flamed. It doesn't get me flamed on "conspire", because the
fsckwits who would otherwise do it probably _wouldn't_ do so on a
mailing list I administer, but it used to happen regularly on the
politics-ridden SVLUG mailing list, to the point that I gave up
participating there as not worth the headache.

And, depressingly enough, I actually get unsolicited flamemail in my
e-mail inbox, regularly, based solely on my being co-author of the
aforementioned Smart Questions FAQ (URL above). I'm told that expert
users are under a moral obligation to "just answer the novice's
questions" and that any effort to help them ask questions better
calculated to get useful answers is being "mean". These missives land
in my mailbox at least every month, I swear.

And that is ridiculous and childish, but it's exactly what happens --
and is almost certainly the fundamental reason why difficult-to-answer
questions tends to, in the words of your prior mail, "fall on deaf ears".

Please note that I'm not saying _you_ would flame someone who posted
suggestions about how you might reframe your questions and/or collect
needed diagnostic information. My experience on the SVLUG mailing list,
for example, was that some _third_ party with an axe to grind would
invariably be the person who complained that the one guy who did _not_
ignore the novice's post was being "mean" to him. The complainer would
be (or pretend to be) on an ideological crusade to try to force other
people's volunteer help efforts to meet his standards, and so would beat
up the one guy who _did_ attempt to help as having been "not helpful".

And that is why such questions tend to "fall on deaf ears", I think.

Cheers, Founding member of the Hyphenation Society, a grassroots-based,
Rick Moen not-for-profit, locally-owned-and-operated, cooperatively-managed,
rick@linuxmafia.com modern-American-English-usage-improvement association.