2012 03 04

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Contents

Feature Cast for 2012-03-4

(00:00:17.475) Intro

(00:02:34.202) Listener Feedback

  • Eric about allowances, customization, other questions and comments
    • On switching my wife back to Linux
  • Bryan with a request for more detail about my duply, duplicity setup
  • Will wanting to know how the end of Canonical's support for Kubuntu
    • Will affect this as my choice of distribution for my household machines

(00:16:19.497) Hacker Word of the Week: for free

(00:17:05.175) Combating Geek Fatigue

  • What is geek fatigue?
    • I have discussed this topic twice before
    • Last time I discussed boredom arising from repetitive work
      • And the urge to seek out novelty as a cause
    • I suggested that budgeting novelty and taking breaks could help
      • With these two particular instances of geek fatigue
    • This time around I wanted to talk more about the original case I discussed
      • Very close to the start of the podcast
    • I have been coming full circle in my personal use of technology
      • After having departed Linux years ago for the then less tiring OS X
        • I am mostly finished moving all the household members and their computers back to Linux
    • That original switch away from Linux in a nutshell had to do with the exhaustion of patience
      • That stems from fixing a seemingly endless repetition
        • Of the same or variations on similar problems
    • For those that follow me on the various social networks
      • You probably have a sense that this same form of fatigue has started rearing its head
    • I am trying to be more self aware as I feel much more invested in Linux this time around
    • For me, there is no easy out, Apple is currently behaving in ways towards their users and developers
      • That I cannot condone in good conscience
      • Limiting choice and exerting control well beyond what I think is reasonable for commercial endeavor
    • Trust me, I would take great comfort from having a plan B that would result in an immediate reset
      • Like my original dalliance with OS X did in terms of easing all the day to day work
        • That at the time was required to keep a Linux system running smoothly
    • I have a few more tools at my disposal, I think
      • At least for the more trivial cases such as repetitive administrative tasks
    • The focus of my programming projects, both for fun and profit
      • Have moved from immense server applications
        • To more opportunistic scripting, bits of shell or Python code I can usually hold all in my head
    • Having this set of skills and tools more fresh and at my mental fingertips
      • Means that I am now far more likely to throw together a bit of automation
        • To deal with a task that would otherwise end up draining away some enthusiasm
    • What remains then are the more persistent and the catastrophic problems
      • That require more willpower and creativity in order to keep them from overwhelming me
    • Some of these are self inflicted, variations on that urge to novelty
      • Such as the desire to attempt some upgrade or change that promises a smoother experience
    • Recently I ended up re-installing my lab machine resulting in missing a recent podcast
      • Because I was trying to get a newer version of my chosen desktop environment
        • Loaded and configured on an older but still supported version of Ubuntu
    • Reflecting on both that and a completely random meltdown of my laptop at around the same time
      • Has given me a few ideas and practices that I think are worth sharing
        • In terms of specific ways to combat the geek fatigue that so often accompanies
        • The choice to use an operating system that is still largely outside of the mainstream
  • My biggest ongoing anxiety is interference with my ability to get things done
    • The last time I was using Linux full time at home
      • I don't think I had anywhere near as involved hobbies requiring a working system
    • That time barely overlapped a short lived dabbling with video
    • I still have a pretty good quality mini-DV camera, my first FireWire device
      • That actually factors into the story of how I purchased my first Mac
    • I had been running Linux on one of the original super-slim Vaio notebooks
      • One of the ones with that very distinctive purplish, magnesium alloy case
    • My first son was born while I had this laptop
      • And that was the reason I got the camera which I connected to this machine originally
        • To extract the video and do some basic editing
    • The problem with the Vaio is that Sony chose to use a non-standards compliant FireWire chipset
    • When selecting a replacement, I originally had picked one from a system maker
      • That pre-loaded Linux so that the included hardware would all work
    • That purchase didn't work out most likely because the company was too small to be reliable
    • The frustration I encountered trying to get a pre-loaded Linux system with working FireWire
      • Ultimately led me to simply go to the nearest big box story that carried Apple
        • And purchase my first PowerBook which served well for the first multimedia need
    • Since then, mostly due to how Apple early on embraced and supported podcasting
      • I fostered more media based hobbies, ones that ultimately continue to factor
        • Into my concerns switching back and continuing to use Linux
    • I mentioned that I continue to use a long term support release of Ubuntu
    • The reason is that I know for certain that my FireWire mixer is rock solid with it
    • I would love to track the latest version of Ubuntu and KDE but do not want to trash
      • The working production stack I have for my podcast
        • That is not only stable but incredibly easy for me to use
    • Holding back to an older version of my chosen Linux distribution invites its own drag
    • Despite being a supported release, not all of the pieces require the same attention
    • I get security and core stability updates, still, so that the machine remains very stable
    • I reported a crash while working with the KDE media player, Amarok
    • A maintainer closed the ticket the crash reporter opened
      • Telling me to stop sending information from old versions of software
        • That the KDE developers no longer support
    • The tying of fixes to major releases is not unique to Linux
      • In fact in my experience, this is far worse with proprietary packages and operating systems
    • Quite the contrary, the tradition of older but more stable distributions, like Debian
      • Or the long term support releases of Ubuntu maintained by Canonical
        • Inform my expectation that I can keep using older packages with less of a penalty
    • If I didn't have a considerable investment in my weekly production flow
      • I would feel a great deal less stress experimenting with ways
        • To get somewhat newer software running, both for the trivial and critical applications I use
    • Breaking some application or another, even making the whole system unusable
      • Simply wouldn't matter so much
    • If the basic stuff worked OK, like email and a browser, the threshold of breakage I could live with
      • Would be far greater than it is now
    • I suppose in the last year or so I've simply traded off what is my critical path on this machine
      • From a full development environment that mirrored the staging environment at my last job
        • To exclusively supporting the couple of podcasts I produce and host
    • Whatever the focus is, as much as I love the technology still for its own sake
      • What invites fatigue is when I cannot accomplish some particular set of tasks
  • There are a handful of much more specific measures that I think can help
    • More so than the advice I came up with in past discussions
    • Taking a break isn't always an option when trying to get some key functionality working
      • Like the ability to print, to connect to the net or suss out a display glitch
    • As I hope I've made clear, novelty isn't the sole catalyst
      • Of the sorts of projects that can run aground on frustrations
        • That build up into full blown geek fatigue
    • Especially when trying to keep some practice or hobby going
      • It is useful to have some more generally useful advice in mind
  • Researching as much as possible ahead of time often helps deflect fatigue
    • Doing so identifies what is in the realm of possibility
    • If I cannot find an answer on how to do something under Linux
      • Then the lack of information heads of making an attempt that will end in frustration
    • When I was younger, I didn't always heed this bit of wisdom
    • Often I would have an intuition about how to do something, like get some novel input devices running
      • And would just sit down and bash around until it either worked or I gave up
    • Putting it that way, it is understandable why failures would be that much more wearying
    • Spending some time figuring out if some new device or software tool will work with what I have
      • Prevents running down blind alleys that would never end up with a work solution
    • Doing a bit of searching and reading informs a more considered plan of action
      • That may involve clearing a couple of intermediate dependencies
        • Like getting some new or updated library or low level service working first
    • I have certainly felt a lot more defeated when skipping this discovery
      • Instead spending a day or entire weekend only to discover when I am at my wit's end
        • That I had skipped some necessary pre-requisite without which success was impossible
    • The discouragement I felt in those times really dragged out such projects
      • Often resulting in me shelving whatever it was for long periods, even indefinitely
    • Another form of fatigue can arise from trying to find answers
    • It is often difficult to come up with search terms that are not distinct enough
      • Especially when some bit of software has a common name or acronym
    • Sometimes you get lucky and have a very specific error string that can be quoted in a search
      • But other times it can be very difficult finding results that match the actual problem
    • Even when some matching hits are yield they are not guaranteed to be useful
    • I cannot count the times I've only been able to to find
      • Email or forum threads that are ancient, unanswered or both
    • Having access to an active community, like a user group, can help in these cases
      • Borrowing the experience of a wider set of folks who might have run into the same problem
        • Or undertaken the same upgrade, installation or task
  • Having a spare system for low-cost experimentation can keep fatigue removed from the critical path
    • This isn't always feasible if you have limited means or resources
    • There are a few creative ways, though, to come up with systems for this purpose
      • Like how I have often used a work system for this purpose
    • Sometimes the difference in how that machine is put to use
      • Makes it better suited to messing around with some idea that would be more tiring
        • If it interfered with the kinds of work I do on my home system
    • The reverse is as often true, that something that would mess up my development environment
      • Is less or even non-intrusive to the media work I do at home
    • I sometimes use my laptop for this sort of research and experimentation
      • Especially during a span where I do not have any upcoming travel
        • So it is easier to set the portable aside if I end up breaking something on it
    • Again, joining an active community like a user group can help
      • As members often offer second hand machines for cheap or even free
    • The only limitation I would warn about is that not all such spare systems are equally suitable
    • My laptop, for instance, lacks FireWire ports meaning I cannot use it with my main mixer
    • Likewise, it isn't really practical for me to drag my mixer, mics and cables into my workplace
    • Thinking about these limits, though, and the different demands on the systems
      • To which you have access is still worthwhile
        • As the payoff is finding a lower stress way to figure out a needed solution
  • Keeping good notes from each particular incident helps in the face of re-occurring problems
    • When I had to re-install my lab machine due to the failed upgrade of its desktop environment
      • I was able to flip right back to the experiences I had compiling from source
        • The driver necessary to making my FireWire mixer work under Linux
    • Not all situations that cause geek fatigue are necessarily repetitions
      • But for the ones that are, especially when reinstalling or restoring
        • Having detailed, complete notes can be a sanity saver
        • Especially when the original research effort was pretty involved
    • I've even found that my notes contain hints for related problems
      • Or help me better understand general troubleshooting tools
    • In particular, writing up useful log files and formats
      • Or standard diagnostic tools like those that let you interrogate system buses like PCI and USB
        • Can be more generally useful for entire classes of issues such as getting input devices working
    • I think there is also a benefit to the psyche, in terms of reminders of past successes
    • Fatigue can be brought on by the feeling of failure after problem after crash
    • Simply looking over what I've written up when I often also have a simple, positive exclamation
      • Reminds me that success is possible and encourages the extra bit of patience often required for it
    • I'll repeat my encouragement to find the time to write up your notes to share online
    • I just recently received a comment on my original write up
      • Of getting my mixer working under Linux and was able to reassure the commenter
        • That my instructions still worked, adding a bit more detail about my particular situation
  • Being able to quickly and easily reset minimizes the lasting effects of a failed project
    • Keeping good, recent backups with a simple way to restore your data is just generally good advice
    • Usually, though, the emphasis is on your data, the files and information important to you
    • I'd add to that that being able to revert a system to a previously working configuration
      • Can really help when you've spent an afternoon trying something that ultimately didn't work
    • Being able to quickly restore software configurations as well as your data
      • Avoids the compounding negativity of having failed to get something working
        • And not being able to make full use of your system any more
    • Having two failed laptops and one self inflicted failed desktop would have been unbearable
      • If I had had to rebuild all three of those systems from scratch
        • Re-figuring out how I configured the packages that are critical to me
        • Rather than just being able to restore and copy over known good configs
    • It was this ability more so than anything else that finally made the value of a backup plan stick
    • Especially with older, rougher vintages of Linux
      • I had many experiences where I had to re-construct my system from my notes
        • And articles, blog posts or forum messages I had bookmarked
    • Having a decent restore plan now, I cannot imagine attempting an installation or upgrade
      • Without the ability to simply re-install and re-apply all my old, working configs
    • The sense of relief I had when last doing so on my lab machine
      • And then unexpectedly having to do it again on my laptop
      • Really was huge knowing well from firsthand experience what the alternative entails
  • Finding ways to keep the ultimate goal or guiding principles in mind
    • Is crucial at the stage at which I find myself
      • With the lack of a fallback plan like switching to OS X as I had done in the past
    • I suppose for me it is like the notion of a sort of psychic buffering
      • Like the oatmeal cookie the Oracle gives Neo in the first Matrix film
    • I owe my co-host on the Living Proof Brew Cast credit for that great example
      • Of what I increasingly think is an important notion
    • The Oracle offers Neo a bit of tangible comfort in a fresh baked cookie
      • And the permission to relax, to not worry although neither of these changes his circumstances
    • The specific tips I've shared, and any you'd like to send in as feedback to this episode
      • Are the cookies, the immediate things that can be done to grapple with geek fatigue
    • It is important to find the way to step back and keep things in perspective
      • Whether that is the strength I draw from knowing I am contributing to a community
        • With a strong shared ethos of openness
      • Or it is reminding ourselves more generally that it is OK to just let go, to step back
    • If you have tips as I've suggested or even just stories of your own dealings
      • With fatigue arising from the day to day interaction with personal computing technology
        • As always you can send those to feedback at the command line dot net
        • Where I'll be happy to share them with everyone else

(00:40:37.937) Outro

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