Default values

From a young age, I was interested in things. I had a yellow margarine tub which I used to store my things. I referred to the container simply as my box. I was interested in small things that would fit inside my box.

My uncle Pat introduced my family and me to computing when I was let’s just say 12. Uncle Pat brought us a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The machine connected to the television as a display and to a tape recorder for persistent data storage. After I had blown up the tape recorder by plugging the ear and mic cable into the electrical supply, the only game we had was rendered inoperable. The game incidentally was Digger. I was the only one in the family that continued to use the Spectrum from that day on. I picked up basic, Basic skills and that was the beginning of my computing career. The tape recorder was disassembled, and useful parts went into the ‘box’ for later projects.

My next machine was an Olivetti PC1. The x86 architecture brought me into the DOS era. I was able to program in Pascal, C and C++. The machine served me very well through to second year in college. The Olivetti was my first platform with configuration options.

I discovered and understood that I could change behaviour by modifying hardware and software parameters. As the software progressed to Windows and up through the versions, the number of parameters and mechanisms of changing behaviour increased in what felt like the order of a logarithmic function. Settings dialogues, BIOS, config files, the registry and plugins were my primary twiddle bits. I would tune hardware performance, tweak the user interface and configure software until everything was just right. My brain required this tuning to my particular preferences before I could comfortably use a new machine. I always used the latest software versions available so as to make sure that I had the latest features and configuration options. This simple was the way I was.

My Linux journey started when I was in second year in college. At the time, my main objective was to be able to work on programming assignments from home where otherwise I would have to work on them in the college computer labs. Linux enabled this. In addition to changing software behaviour through configuration, Linux opened up a new set of possibilities to reprogramming the actual system software. I can attribute some of my software analysis, understanding and diagnostic skills to my early days with Linux.

Fast forward to January 2005. I had started a new role. I had been using Linux for years on servers and dabbled on the desktop when all of a sudden, I saw a glimmer of something new and appealing. Ubuntu, a new Linux distribution was just emerging and was gaining popularity. Ubuntu’s defining principle of “Linux for human beings” resonated with me. When I took Ubuntu for a first test drive, the organisation and clean design impressed upon me immediately. I believe this was the moment when new synaptic pathways formed, old faded away and a new way of thinking and behaving emerged. I believe that this was the moment when I accepted default values.

Ubuntu stripped away what other operating systems provided too much of. Perhaps Ubuntu took up an opportunity when my life was going in new directions with parenthood. Maybe there simply was no time for previous obsessions and Ubuntu came along at the right time in the form of a simpler instrument.

I continue to use Ubuntu to this day. I am able to setup a new machine and be working in 40–60 minutes. I have been liberated.