Further Thoughts on the CLI and the Average User

A week ago I published a boring little post on this blog about the command line and the average user. The essence of it was that non-geeks considering switching to Linux shouldn’t even be shown the command line, as it may scare them away. Much to my surprise, that post got a lot of attention.

Tuxmachines.org picked up the post and Free Software Daily linked to it shortly after that. Jarred, a friend and long-time reader, confessed on his own blog that he was a “reformed command line snob.” A couple of days later someone shared a link to my post on reddit, and that’s when all hell broke loose. Traffic to the post when from one hit every five minutes to one every minute. On Saturday I was getting up to two hits on the post per minute at the peak. I’ve also turned up discussions including a link to my dull post about the CLI and new users on a Polish forum, an Arch Linux forum thread and on Twitter as well as in connection with a Spanish-language post that seems to be saying roughly the same thing as I said.

Not long ago I wrote about problems getting the Android live CD to work. That post also got way more attention than I felt it deserved, and I said as much on my Facebook status. One of my brothers replied that I must have “struck a nerve.” I guess so. It looks like it has happened again.

Frankly, I was surprised that so many people seem to think that all Linux users should be expected to learn to use the command line. If this is the case, then how can we expect Linux to be widely-adopted? Perhaps that’s the key: some people don’t want Linux to become popular. For years it’s been a geek OS, something for tech savvy insiders to play with, but not for the faint of heart or soft of mind. If people can use Linux without ever even seeing the command line, as they typically are able to do with Macs and Windows PCs, it will no longer be an insider’s OS, the territory of true geeks.

Am I wrong?

Now, be sure to understand me on two points. First, I love using the command line. I’m not very good at it yet, but I’m getting there. I can download software and make basic modifications to the system with it, and I am learning some basic programming. Second, even if the command line becomes unnecessary for the “average user,” it will still be available to and useful for the advanced computer user. Look at any Mac computer and you’ll find the terminal. Most Mac users never touch it, but programmers and sysadmins do.

What I’m saying is that I’m not calling for the abolition of the command line. Rather, I’m advising those who want to “sell” regular folks on GNU/Linux to avoid showing the command line to them at all. Maybe later it will be called for, but not in the beginning. Perhaps never. It’s okay though. You can still “get your geek on” with Linux.

GeekAustin QA Special Interest Group

GeekAustin is forming a special interest group for QA specialists. As someone who’s found himself stumbling into this area, I’d love to be able to attend. New York is a long way from Austin, though.

If anyone reading this knows (in the sense of being personally familiar) of a QA group and/or event that’s held in the metro-NYC area, please let me know through a comment or message via my profile.

Everyone is encouraged to check out GeekAustin QA Special Interest Group’s first event, scheduled for mid-November. They are going to talk about the role of QA in the startup environment (right up my alley).

Children’s Bible School and 16 Years in New Jersey

This past Saturday, September 26, 2009, the Brazilian Church of Christ in Newark completed 16 years of service in New Jersey. Though it was a coincidence, this was also the day the women of the church offered Bible School for the children. It’s Vacation Bible School, except without the “vacation”!

The video above is from the closing presentation. They had classes and activities all day, from 10am until 4pm. My wife, Christiane, helped out and was thoroughly exhausted when she got home. For more pictures from the Bible school, click here.

The church kids also sang a special song the following day after the service ended. It was an adaptation of one of our hymns, rewritten to tell the story of the congregation. It was cleverly-worded and the children sang it well.

Kids singing in celebration of church's 16th anniversary.

Book Review: Hominids

The species Homo sapiens not only doesn’t come out smelling like roses in this book, we end up stinking of pollution and the deaths of thousands of species. Despite that and everything else I didn’t like in the tale this novel tells, this book was excellent, well-deserving of the Hugo Award it received.

Author Robert J. Sawyer weaves together quantum physics, human evolution and archeology in what feels very much like an alternate history story. Ponter Boddit, a physicist of species Homo neanderthalensis (assuming, as I tend to, that they were not a sub-species of Homo sapiens) quite unintentionally punches a hole between two universes and falls through. In his timeline/universe humanity is represented by what we call Neanderthals, our species having died out tens of thousands of years before. The world into which he falls, of course, is our own.

Some aspects of this story rubbed me the wrong way. First, as I mentioned above, Homo sapiens is presented as the somewhat idiotic “bad guy” species, and Homo neanderthanlensis is the wise species. Where we have spread out, overpopulated in many areas, polluted the environment, waged bloody wars and brought about the extinction, directly and indirectly, of hundreds of thousands of species, the Neanderthals have peacefully developed a world of sustainable, renewable energy. The human population is relatively small and large fauna like Mammonths roam the earth. I’m sorry, that’s just too idyllic.

While the contrast between the worlds of Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis makes for interesting reading, in some places it pushed the limits of my ability to suspend disbelief. While it is possible that Neaderthals were, or could have been, high thinking creatures, it seems doubtful to me. Then again, I am no paleontologist.

By the same token, I am no theologian either. Neither is Mr. Sawyer, who portrayed Neanderthals as the original atheists. So deep is their atheism that they have no notion of “God” or an afterlife. When presented with religious ideas, Ponter Boddit finds it incomprehensible. Personally, I find it hard to believe that any sentient species would ever evolve and not have the idea cross its collective mind, at least as a concept. However much religious belief may be a quirk of our brains, any thinking species would have to approach at least the possibility of a supreme intelligence, if only to discount the notion. Further, the presentation of religion, particularly in the form of one of the main character’s Catholic faith, seemed facile at best.

At this point it may appear as though I hated the book. I didn’t. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Mr. Sawyer is a masterful writer and aside from the occasionally preachy tone of this story, I was drawn in and engaged on many levels. The deeply flawed character of humanity (even, to a limited extent, of Homo neanderthanlensis) is highlighted, while at the same time our capacity for generosity and love shows through. This was one of those books that I found myself thinking about when I wasn’t reading it, and which I read more quickly as the conclusion neared.

If you are into science fiction, and especially those that deal with alternate timelines and parallel worlds, take a look at this book. I highly recommend it.

See Also:
Robert J. Sawyer’s website and blog

O batismo nas águas

“Pedro então lhes respondeu: Arrependei-vos, e cada um de vós seja batizado em nome de Jesus Cristo, para remissão de vossos pecados; e recebereis o dom do Espírito Santo. Porque a promessa vos pertence a vós, a vossos filhos, e a todos os que estão longe: a quantos o Senhor nosso Deus chamar.”

Atos 2:38-39

Uma vez estava visitando uma igreja evangélica e vi um aviso na parede da entrada falando que teria um curso para quem queria receber o “batismo nas águas.” Quem preparou aquela propagando não escreveu simplesmente “batismo” porque, de acordo com o ensino daquela igreja, existe uma diferença entre batismo nas águas e o batismo no Espirito. Biblicamente falando, não existe tal diferença.

No dia em que a igreja nasceu, o dia de Pentecostes, quando veio o Espírito Santo de Deus, o apóstolo Pedro deixou claro para o povo reunido que ao arrepender dos pecados e ser batizado nas águas, o novo discípulo de Cristo receberia o perdão dos pecados e a presença perpétua do Espirito Santo em sua vida. O Espírito vem na hora do batismo nas águas, e não em algum momento depois.

Se você gostaria de reunir com cristãos que entendam esta verdade e outras da Bíblia, clique aqui para procurar uma igreja perto de você. Se você mora na região de Newark, Nova Jérsei, entre em contato comigo através desta postagem ou pelo e-mail que tem no meu perfil. Gostaria de estudar a Bíblia contigo e ajudar tirar as suas dúvidas.

Thoughts on Jaycee Dugard

jdugard18 years, 2 months and 6 days. That’s the timespan Wolfram Alpha tells me lies between June 10, 1991 and August 26, 2009. It’s how long Jaycee Dugard was under the control of sex offender Phillip Garrido. He kidnapped her at age 11 from a school bus stop in sight of her home. He held her longer than she had been alive when he grabbed her. I’m not sure whether I ever heard of her case before a few weeks ago, when it was announced that she had reappeared, having shown up for a parole meeting with Garrido. She has haunted my mind ever since.

18 years is a long time. I would have been on summer vacation already when she was kidnapped, having completed 9th grade in late May. I’m pretty sure I spent the summer reading under a tree and tinkering around with my garden and multiple projects. I went on to complete high school, go to college, travel several times to Brazil and get married. I’ve had children. My father died during this time. I taught EFL and ESL, did mission work, faced an impossible parish ministry in New Mexico and quit full-time congregational ministry altogether. I’ve lived, learned, loved, lost…all while Jaycee Dugard was held captive.

Turning this situation around in my mind, I see no really good angle. Sometimes people (especially many of my Brazilian friends) say that everything happens for a reason. Jaycee’s kidnapping is my top example now of how this is absolutely not true.  Yes, she has two daughters who are reportedly very bright and in good health despite never having been to a doctor or a dentist before in their lives, but they are the children of rape, brought up to believe that their mother was their oldest sister, never knowing, apparently, the evil that had been done to her. I’m glad she was not alone all those years with the two who took her, and that she has her daughters to comfort her.  Still, so sad.  What happened to that 11 year old girl in June 1991 and which continued for nearly two decades was wrong, a violation of all that is right and good.

While I was living my life, Jaycee Dugard was bound first in body, then in mind.  Times came when she could have simply walked away.  Psychologically, though, she was held to that place with those people, together with her daughters.  I was free, and she was not.  And then I remember: my wife is the same age as Jaycee.  Again, I find only tragedy and sadness everywhere I look at this story.

My atheist friends would likely hold this up as evidence of the non-existence of a supreme deity.  Of course, they are right, assuming that they mean a supreme deity wouldn’t let this happen.  While as a Christian I am bewildered by the evil that was permitted, my faith is secure.  The God in whom I believe is the same that gave us free will, the one who has long permitted tremendous evil in a world ages old.  My trust is in a God who is to me incomprehensible (thus it’s best I avoid making idolatrous images of him in my mind and worshiping them) but who also keeps his promises.  I depend on a God who allowed Jaycee to suffer (I’m supposed to say “allegedly”, I think) at the hands of a sexually-deviant religious nut case.  It isn’t that he allowed this to happen for his greater purposes to be fulfilled.  It just happened.

Now that Jaycee is free physically and her whereabouts known to those who truly care about her, what can the rest of us do?

First, with regard to Jaycee and her daughters, it’s worth knowing that there’s a legitimate trust fund that has been set up for them.  If you would like to contribute financially, the address is as follows:

The Jaycee Dugard Trust Fund
C/O Viewtech Financial Services
Post Office Box 596
Atwood, California , 92811

Second, if you pray, please remember not only Jaycee Dugard and her family, but also all missing children and their families.

Third, do something.  I can’t really do anything for Jaycee.  I can’t give her back her childhood, her teen years or any part of the more than 18 years that monster and his wife took from her.  She has family close to her taking care of her now as best they can, but how many men, women and children around the world and in your very neighborhood are hurting?  If you have children of your own, are you spending enough time with them?  Hold them closer.  What I’m trying to get at is this: you cannot save the world, but you can change your own world.  Be there for someone.

One of my dreams is to be able to use what I learn in life, including in the area of open source technology, for the benefit of others, particularly in Brazil.  This is a vision I have and hope to share, one of helping young people especially to find their way out of poverty through education and tech training.  In the meantime, I need to be the best husband, father and friend that I can be to those around me.  Grandiose plans for the future must never get in the way of living for others now.

Perhaps I’ve rambled a bit here.  I felt I had to get this off my chest, so to speak.  It feels like somewhat of an invasion to talk so much about someone’s pain when I don’t even know the person, and I apologize if it gives any offense.  It just seems important to say these things.  More important still to live them.

Avoiding Blogger Burnout

Recently a couple of bloggers whose posts I appreciate expressed what I’d say sounds like burnout. Brian Nicklaus says “I’m Tired of Words”, and Big Bear says he’s “Just about ‘Linuxed out’”. I can sympathize. Over more than three years of blogging I’ve gotten to the point several times that I thought I’d have to stop. So, I did.

One strategy I have for avoiding blogger burnout is to take a break. This seems simple enough, but when you really get into blogging, a day without a post can make you feel non-existent. That’s a good sign that you really need the break. Taking a break lets you put life back into perspective, mull things over and return to blogging with fresh ideas. Usually I set a number of days or weeks and leave an announcement on my blog about the hiatus.

That brings me to the second way I have of keeping an interest in blogging. I allow myself to change perspectives. When I first started this blog, Igneous Quill, my underlying motivation was to use it to help me sort out my thoughts after a series of bad events in my life. Over time the focus shifted heavily to questions of religion, so much so that the tagline on my blog said it was “The Theological Workshop of Adam Gonnerman.” As I became more and more disgusted with the negativity and backbiting among church people, particularly as they misbehave online, I turned my attention to geekier pursuits. Open source and Linux are special interests I like blogging about, along with other topics. That isn’t to say that this is now a “Linux blog.” I can still write about anything I want (while largely avoiding religion), and a year from now I may well have already moved on to another area of interest.

Taking breaks and changing perspectives both help me keep up with my favorite hobby, blogging. The last thing I want is for this blog to became another lifeless floater in the blogosphere. You know, the kind that looks okay but hasn’t been updated for two years. I only want that to happen when I’m dead…and maybe not even then.

Thanks Begin Linux

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a contest run by Begin Linux. People were asked to submit screenshots of their Linux desktop to a flickr stream for a chance to win a useful pdf, and I won. Andrew Weber (who works with his father Mike) from Begin Linux sent along a Linux Command Line manual which I believe will come in handy.

Take a look at the Begin Linux site, blog, Twitter feed and of course the flickr page with desktop pictures.

Next week, beginning September 28, Begin Linux will be moderating an online event called “OpenOfficeWeek.” Click here for details.

Please Don’t Show the Command Line to the Uninitiated

Not long ago I had the opportunity to show off GNU/Linux to a friend. She’s been a lifelong Windows user and is just your average, non-technical computer user. She’d heard of this thing called “Linux,” but had never seen a Linux distro in use. So, I gladly booted up my laptop and also the desktop (we were at my house, my wife and I having one of our many cookouts) and showed her Linux Mint 7 via a live CD and also Ubuntu 8.10, which is installed on my family’s desktop.

Everything was going fine as I showed her the office software and some games. It was when I went to show her selective screenshot that I erred. I opened the command line on the desktop and quickly set it up to take the shot. I could see my friend visibly shrink back as she shook her head and started to say she couldn’t work with something like that. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn’t thinking, and that was the problem.

By that point I had rebooted my laptop without the live CD, so I was in Ubuntu 9.04. I opened the “Take Screenshot” app in the GUI and was able to show her there the option for “Grab a selected area.” This option was not available in the Ubuntu 8.10 release. My friend relaxed and commented that this was a nice feature to have.

Less than a year ago I looked at the command line with great uncertainty, though I had the will and curiousity to learn my way around it. Now most of what I use it for comes as second nature. For non-geeks thinking about switching from Windows there is little as unnerving as the thought of having to use a command line. Some will remember back to the old DOS days and see the command line as antiquated (wrongly, of course), while others will shudder at the thought of “breaking” something.

Distros like Ubuntu typically don’t require any command line familiarity. Most everything can be done in the GUI, and software can be located and installed from the Synaptic Package Manager. If you are trying to show an average computer user the strengths and benefits of Linux, don’t make the mistake I did. Don’t give even the appearance of going over the person’s head. Make it look as easy as it really is, demonstrating everything the GUI can do to make life easier.

Ubuntu 10.04: Lucid Lynx

Mark Shuttleworth announced that Ubuntu 10.04 will have the development name “Lucid Lynx,” continuing the tradition of funky animal names. With Ubuntu 9.10 not yet released at this point it feels somehow anti-climatic to be thinking already about the following release. Then again, it’s nice to have an operating system to work with that has a regular release schedule, free upgrades and, of course, the option to not upgrade at all.

The nod from Mark towards Debian, upon which Ubuntu is based, was nice. More interesting to me was his mention of other distros coming on board in collaboration. Check out the video above and share your thoughts.