Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Linux. Just...Linux.

Have I ever mentioned how much I detest Linux, the open-source operating system? Probably not, but there's no time like the present to start. There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or all the tongues of Men for this blot on the good name of the human race. A typical session of attempting to install something goes like this:
  1. Download various packages and files.
  2. Begin following instructions provided, typing in arcane and arbitrary commands at the terminal. (If you have no instructions, you are basically out of luck.)
  3. If you're lucky, it will take more than 2 commands before you encounter an error.
  4. Spend anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours surfing the web trying to find out exactly what additional sequence or combination of arcane and arbitrary commands you need to type in to fix the error. Typically these will be scattered across several forum threads a few years in age, and must be pieced together with a care rivaling that of a linguist deciphering Linear B.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you either (miraculously, miracles DO still happen) finish the installation, or realize there are better uses of your time, like counting the number of sand grains on the nearest beach, or watching paint curl.
Linux is like the Gnosticism of computers, as it requires "mystic, revealed, esoteric knowledge", which can only be received from someone who's been working with computers practically since they were invented. As one of the professors here at school put it, "Linux has a trillion commands, and it requires you to know them all". There is no way to learn Linux on your own by trial-and-error -- you must rely on someone else telling you what to do. I mean, it's the 21st century already! We have things called graphical user interfaces and self-installing programs (and they DO exist for Linux, as I've used some in the past). So why can't some of the most ubiquitous and important scientific programs (*cough* IRAF *cough*) of our day actually avail themselves of these marvels of modern technology? The abacus is starting to look more and more like a viable and productive alternative!

(deep breath)
As you can probably tell, I just spent the last two and a half hours trying to install a package for IRAF on my Ubuntu distribution, with only marginal success. During this time I overcame exactly two Linux errors (along with a good number of human-caused mistakes). And I still can't get the package to work right. I'm beginning to be worried about the increase in my blood pressure. If you ever need a good argument against going into astronomy, it is the fact that IRAF does not run on Windows (or even Mac).

*sigh* Anyway, now that I have sufficiently vented my spleen, I need to get to bed and get my very-much-needed sleep. A hui hou!

1 comment:

  1. I'll chime in here, since my current job involves doing almost nothing but installing things in Linux (and programming in Python if I'm lucky):

    I've discovered a few general rules when installing Linux programs:

    Rule 1: If you have a package manager such as Ubuntu's Synaptic Package Manager, it is ALWAYS better to use it rather than doing some wget/apt-get install thing in the command line.

    Rule 2: When Rule 1 is not applicable, 99% of all programs can be installed with a simple "./configure, make, make install" run in the command line (providing you are in the folder you unzipped the tar ball into), BUT you must always use sudo or login as root if you are feeling brave.

    Rule 2.a: Always make sure you find out exactly what dependencies your program requires, and download them first, preferably following Rule 1.

    Rule 2.b: You can never have TOO many dependencies installed.

    Rule 3: Always, always, always check your PATH, and make sure you have the path to your /usr or /lib or /etc program folder in your command line profile. Always.

    Rule 4: You must come to understand four things about Linus Torvalds:

    4.a) Linus Torvalds can install Linux on a dead badger.

    4.b) The are no man pages for Linus Torvalds, only god pages.

    4.c) Linus Torvalds cannot die, only return 0.

    4.d) Linus Torvalds only has two buttons on his keyboard: '1' and '0'.


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