Ernie Gets a Linux Upgrade

One of my old PCs sitting in the basement had Windows 98 on it. The computer was named Ernie by my daughter many years ago. (The taller computer we had at the time received the name Bert, as in Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.) The OS seemed to be dieing a slow death as it experienced the blue screen of death on a regular basis. I suspected that the hardware was OK and the software was suffering from entropy. It seemed wrong to re-install Win98 in the year 2008, so I considered other alternatives.

For quite some time, I have been wanting to bring up a Linux machine. Why? Bragging rights, I suppose. Feed the inner geek. Real men run Linux, you know. (Masochists run Windows and wimps run Macs….just kidding.) I was also curious about how friendly and useful the OS would be. The Linux folklore also claims that it will run on anemic PCs without any problem. (I definitely didn’t want to install Vista on this old PC.) Back a few decades, I spent quite a bit of time on HP Unix computers and I used to be able to grep with the best of them. More recently our herd of computers have been running operating systems from Microsoft.

It seems that the Ubuntu release of Linux was getting positive reviews, so I chose it as the upgrade for Ernie. I downloaded the latest release and created an install CD. This first attempt to install linux failed, apparently because the PC only has about 200 Megs of memory. The download page said to use the “alternate” version of the release to deal with limited memory. I downloaded that version and the install progressed quite nicely.

During the install process, the software tried to find a network connection, which was unplugged at the time so it told me I could deal with that later. After the install, the system rebooted and ran just fine. The graphical user interface was familiar enough that I could just start using it without referring to the documentation. (We don’t need no stinkin’ manual.)

At this point, I am feeling quite confident, so I connected up the network (Ethernet to DSL at our house). The computer didn’t see the network and I could not find any way to reconfigure it. At this point, I broke down and checked the documentation, expecting to find a friendly little section for people that didn’t have the network plugged in during the installation. No such luck. Eventually, I gave up and re-installed the entire OS with the ethernet cable connected. Although that seems a bit extreme, it did take care of the problem.

Here I am, writing this blog post using Ernie with a new set of brains. (Ernie, not me.) Good old Firefox was automatically installed and is ready to go without any additional effort. Similarly, the OpenOffice suite is installed as part of the Ubuntu release. Not bad, not bad at all.

As described, I did have a few bumps in the road on the installation but nothing too dramatic. My experience with various versions of Windows is not any better. The machine does seem to run kind of slow, in terms of loading applications and responding to GUI changes. I suspect this is due to the limited PC memory. It probably runs about as fast as the Win98, though. I was just expecting better from lean-and-mean linux.

73, Bob K0NR

Wanted: Improved Content on the Ham Bands

On the dstar_digital Yahoo group, someone asked about how to deal with complaints about certain hams ragchewing on a particular system at all hours of the day and night. The specific example was about a d-star “reflector” but the concept applies to many types of ham radio operating. It seems that other users on the system are looking for more technical discussions, not long-winded chats.

Nate WY0X posted an interesting response, which I found to be thought provoking. I edited it slightly and posted it here with Nate’s permission:

First you have to ask yourself… are the complainers participating or just listening?

They have the “power” to change the topic of conversation by simply keying up their mics and speaking. Want a tech topic? Bring one up.

In running a repeater club for a number of years now, and also IRLP Reflectors… I’ve given up on trying to make everyone happy all of the time. In fact, I’ve found it’s more healthy to put the control of what they’re listening to into their hands, and letting them run with it.

The reason I ask is this… in my “tenure” as an IRLP Reflector operator, we have had on and off similar “complaints” from some node owners, for some Reflector channels.

The reality, when we looked into it was, that the nodes connected wanted “better content” (to use an Internet website term), but didn’t do anything to PROVIDE that content. Similar to a lot of things in Amateur Radio these days… people wanted others to provide something “interesting” for them to listen to! It all led back to “entitlement” attitudes. (“I should be able to always listen to interesting, technical content! But I don’t have to provide any!”)

Hahahaha… quite funny, really. Or sad, depending on if you get worked up over such things.

I figure, it’s ham radio… don’t like what you hear… apply Riley’s last Dayton speech in 2007 and “spin the big knob” on the rig.

So… what we found was that they were unhappy with LISTENING to the people actually USING the Reflector channel, but were just “whiners in their recliners” when it came to actually providing the so-called “more technical discussions” they seemingly wanted to hear.

The best e-mail was the guy who said he “Wasn’t technical himself, but wanted to listen to more technical discussions.” I about fell out of the chair laughing at that one! Being in a leadership role, I couldn’t really send back what I was REALLY thinking… “Yeah, good luck on that one, buddy!”

In the case of IRLP, the solution was simple. Everyone has the commands to turn it off… so we told ’em if they were bored with the conversation, to switch it off, go to another Reflector, or sit in silence… the rest of us would also do as we pleased.

So back to the “content” issue at hand… we have had both EchoLink and IRLP Reflectors “dedicated” to technical discussions on and off for years now, and no significant technical discussions ever take place on those. There’s no great “all tech, all the time” Ham Radio frequency or virtual channel on any linking mode that I know of.

So… in reality…

Your users are simply saying they want to “change the channel” or “spin the VFO” because they’re tired of the people who *do* talk.

Nothing wrong with that, but it won’t lead to any more “technical discussions” to define a place for those to happen… it takes participants and active people to make that happen.

As a repeater club President, I’ve stopped taking complaints about content. They always want ME to do something about what someone ELSE is saying/doing, when they have a mic of their own and won’t speak up.

That’s passive-aggressive behavior at it’s finest, and I no longer play. Unless people are breaking club rules, like making sexual innuendos on a regular basis, bad-mouthing all of ham radio, things like that… we get involved at that point, of course.

I feel for you if your users are complaining. But the only thing that “fixes” it long-term really is them participating. If they don’t, they’ll never hear conversations they want to hear. Tell ’em as soon as they fire up the PTT and talk… the topic changes!

Nate WY0X