Computers, Open Source, and Linux
SlashDot is where I tend to get the latest breaking news for what's really important. Their motto: News for Nerds; Stuff that Matters. Mostly they hit the mark, especially if you customise your slashboxes and topics. You may find me occasionally posting there (very occasionally!) as " Bloody Peasant".
While I used Red Hat Linux for a very long time, and was instrumental in its adoption at my workplace, I've found it better suited to servers (and Astronomical Workstations) than to laptops. In 2006 I decided to try Ubuntu, after hearing all the hype about it. So I burned a CD for it, ran gparted to carve off a 10GB partition, and installed it. Never had I seen such an easy and hassle-free installation before. Not only that, but just about everything on my laptop worked: suspend, hibernate, and the built-in wireless. I was sold.
Since then I've been through about 3 different versions of Ubuntu, and
as of July 2008 I'm running 8.04, Hardy Heron (and the Red Hat partition
on my laptop has been decommissioned, at least for now). It's not
I can't claim all the credit for it, but I was a catalyst in getting the Astronomical Image Processing System (AIPS) ported to Linux back in 1993 (yes, nineteen ninety three). Jeff Uphoff (who moved from NRAO to TransMeta, back to NRAO, then to Orion Multisystems, then Penguin Computing, now at rPath) did most of the work. As a result, my work desktop system transformed from a Sparc IPX to a Linux system (initially a dual Pentium pro 200, then through several generations of X86 desktops to the laptop regime, now I use a Latitude D610) around 1996. My home system has been Linux based for even longer (started with kernel 1.2.13 [I think] on a 486, then upgraded to a P-II 450 and now a 3.4GHz Pentium -- made to order with no micro$oft tax!). Yes, Jeff did that first install too. While we (NRAO) started with a modified SLS distro, we soon moved to Red Hat. Personally, I prefer Ubuntu, as for laptop users it "just works" almost all the time.
Speaking of AIPS, that Gorilla is a link to my unofficial AIPS page for those of you inside NRAO; sorry, people; the rest of you just get redirected to the official AIPS page. Supporting this system has been most of my work life from 1990 through 2001 (and some before that; I first installed it around 1985 on a VAX 11/750 ["Outbax" at the VLA]). Most people who know what the system is already know where the formal AIPS web pages are (I created many of them, but don't maintain them anymore). And speaking of AIPS and Linux... here's an excerpt from a colleague's e-mail you might find revealing (what I said is in purple emphasised text); this dates from February 2002:
>> Several of you expressed an interest in learning what I found out. The >> bottom line, you will not be surprised to learn, is that most astronomers >> use Linux or Solaris. Linux is quickly becoming at least as popular as >> Solaris, if not more popular. > That's emphasised by the benchmark I just did on a brand new sun blade 100 > system with a 500MHz UltraIIE processor, 2 Gigs of memory and 70/30 Gigs > of SCSI/IDE disk, respectively. Cost about $13k including a DDS4 tape; > got 20.6 AIPSMarks. Our hottest Linux boxes have dual 1.7GHz processors, > a Gigabyte of RAM, 170 Gigs of all SCSI disk including one disk at 15k > RPM, and the same size monitor as the blade (21"), for a little over $5k. > It gets 85 AIPSMarks. Adding a DDS tape drive and comparing dollars per > AIPSMark, there's almost an 8:1 difference between the two. I knew which > machine would come out ahead, but didn't think it'd be by *that* much till > this morning. > If your software runs on Linux and Solaris, it's really a no-brainer what > hardware to buy anymore. wow. that's really stunning. I am going to go beat some people upside the head with this now. ;)
Printing and Linux was at first an adventure, especially when the little Epson stylus 800 suddenly became for all intents and purposes a full-blown PostscriptTM printer, thanks to the GhostScript technology that comes with most every Linux system. Cool! The same was true for the HP DeskJet 400 I got to replace it (I like the design of ink-jet print heads in the cartridge). However, my printing needs were rapidly becoming more sophisticated, and so around the start of 2000 I started researching what would make a better, faster, and Linux compatible printer. This led me (eventually) to the Lexmark Optra 40 (now long discontinued). I used the Linux Printing site extensively for this, and still do. What I didn't like about the Lexmark was its small memory (forget trying to do full-page 300dpi colour printouts) and its propensity for misfeeds on card stock (at least with my printer). These issues, plus the company's efforts to prevent refilling or reuse of the cartridges, and their apparent use of the DMCA to threaten people if they try to work around it, drove me firmly away from the brand.
But then something good happened. A certain High Profile printer vendor
hired an open source evangelist
(albeit temporarily), which gave them a kick in the right direction (Way
to go, Bruce!). HP now offers an open source
SANE: Scanner Access Now Easy. This, plus the XSane graphical interface ("front-end") is
the software that makes using scanners not only possible, but as the name
says, easy, on Linux. I now have an Epson Perfection 1650 Photo
scanner hooked up to my home system via USB, and it works (even the
built-in transparency unit). In the first two months, I must have scanned
in several hundred of my old 35mm slides, and a bunch of old photos too.
The neat thing is, I've set it up to work with
Digital Cameras... When my bought-in-1980 Pentax 35mm camera (a ME Super SLR) went on the fritz back in 2003, I realised it was time to join the digital era of photography. I ended up using the resources at DP Review to determine the best quality and fidelity -- and the most mega-pixels! -- you could get for the money, and various other resources. Five years later the prices of digital SLRs came down to the point where I could afford to get one (yay, I really missed that functionality!).
Both the old Sony (DSC-S85) and the new Nikon are compatible with Linux
(they appear as a VFAT file system under
And yes, I'm a geek, so we need the obligatory Geek code in here:
-----BEGIN GEEK CODE BLOCK----- Version: 3.1 GS/CS/O d-- s+: a++>? C++$ UL++++ P++$ L++++ E++ W+++$ N o? K++ !w !O M- V PS+++ PE- Y+ PGP+ t+ 5+ X R tv- b+ DI++ D--- G+ e++++ h---- r+++ y? ------END GEEK CODE BLOCK------
Patrick P. Murphy
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA