In Praise of Technical Error

Been a bit of a dry spell. Too many distractions from important stuff. So lots of mumblage here.

The other day I was listening to an episode (number three as I recall) of “Late Night Linux” [Link] which is the derivative of “Linux Luddites”. I have never quite figured out why the change other than a stentorian pronouncement of the new permitting profanity that I have yet to notice.

Anyway, the episode opened with a bit of a natter about 32 bit versions and how this only made sense because only old antiquated boxes are 32 bit. I was familiar with the argument but something – the voices or my environment – led me to consider further on the matter. One definite factor is that I have several of these older boxes and help some folks who have ditto and so I am often looking for distros that are not just 32 bit but non-PAE. 

I mentioned this to my colleague Magnetic Inductance Force and he did a bit of a chuckle-mumble. Admitted he sent them an eMail on the matter, which crystallized my own impression. With some priming from an article [Link] entitled “The Terminal Is Where Linux Begins – and Where You Should, Too” that influenced a conversation I had yesterday with my colleague Total Angular Momentum Inductance about how much command lineing is needful and how it impacts adopters.

The issue, I suspect, is an unacknowledged (denied?) dichotomy in the Linux community. The classical Linux community is geekish – operating code writers who are more at home with the command line than a GUI. But recognizing that elitism is a poor survival population in the modern environment, efforts have been bent to make Linux more attractive to the Winders Generation.

The dichotomy thus is between people who think technical excellence is a sine qua non and people who want an appliance but, for some reason, not a slablet. There are, of course, people in intermediate who are perfectly happy to disdain both the extremes of the dichotomy. And attractive as it may be the dichotomy is close in some senses but not quite the appliance-tool polarity.

I should qualify that I am a tool user, but not of the form of the classic Linuxite. I write code but could care less about writing operational code. I write number crunch code, mostly in FORTRAN. When I was running Winders I wrote in PASCAL and hated all the GUI stercus. I still hate the GUI stercus but one advantage of Linux is I could go back to FORTRAN. And now that LibreOffice has a BASIC built into its spreadsheet, I can go back to low end spreadsheet code.

What does this have to do with 32 bit? Well, the answer has to do with a related but different matter, namely the human-machine interface. Just as one cannot take notes or scribble equations without a machine, in this case a pen/pencil and some paper, one cannot do code (or any other computer activity) without a physical (maybe?) interaction between human and computer. IOW, you gotta have a machine in the middle to write code. The blatantly obvious parts of that machine side are keyboard and visual display.

This brings us to the 32 bit bit. Simply put new computers have terrible, crappy interface hardware. Laptops are especially bad. You have to pay through the nose to get a decent visual display and a decent keyboard is not to be found. For desktops, matters are less dire but not as good as they used to be.

Bottom line old laptops good, new laptops bad; old keyboards good, new keyboards mediocre to crappy.

Now I know I don’t want to run code on a 32 bit computer, especially FORTRAN code. It really doesn’t matter with spreadsheet code because there one is satisfied with two or three decimal places. But heavy nerd code is not for 32 bit boxes.

But one can have one or several 64 bit boxes that one terminals into to run the FORTRAN code. And not give up a decent interface.

But code writing is only part of the nerd story. An equally important part is writing up articles on what you find out in your research. And that also requires an effective and efficient man-machine (sexism here!) interface. Which redoubles the whole 32 bit shtick.

And before you mutter something about nerds being minuscule in numbers and therefore importance, remember how the computer came about in the first place.

So abandon those 32 bit implementations at your own risk.