January 2009 Issue


Hey, you know what’s fun?  As you page through this site, try to discern the logical connection between the subject matter of the columns and the little ads at the end of each one (and the large ad in the left column too, actually).  There almost always is one, but it can be fairly surreal.  My use of the word “constructions” in a column, for instance, apparently prompts ads for Carhartt work clothes.

Onward.  It occurred to me the other day that it has been almost four years since I switched from Windows XP to Ubuntu Linux.  What brought this to mind was this article in the New York Times last week, which is a decent overview of Ubuntu and its founder, Mark Shuttleworth.  Not to quibble, but the Times writer, as is drearily the norm in the mass media, filled his article with not-so-subtle signals that you really don’t wanna stand too close to this weirdo operating system.

But Ubuntu is not, as the Times writer says, “relatively easy to use for the technologically savvy.”  It’s incredibly easy to use for just about anybody, period.  I do my work on two very old computers (2004 vintage low-end Dells, which I got four years ago for less than $300 apiece on eBay).  One of them is set up to dual-boot, giving me a choice between Ubuntu or Windows XP Professional when I turn on the machine.  (I need XP to run various dictionary CDs.)  Every time I have occasion to boot into Windows, I remember why I dumped it.  The dorky, inconsistent interface.  The weird delays, freezes and crashes for no reason.  The endless emergency updates,  invariably futile attempts to plug the latest hole discovered in the sieve that is Windows “security.”  The choice between being vulnerable to trojans and viruses and running buggy, bloated anti-virus software that slows your computer more than a virus would (a choice I dodge by not allowing Windows to connect to the internet except to get updates).  Running the same computer under Windows and Ubuntu is a real eye-opener.  Under Ubuntu it runs faster, feels far more stable, and has never, in four years, frozen or crashed.

I can honestly say that I have never, not for a moment, regretted switching to Linux.  And in four years I haven’t paid a dime for software.  Firefox, Thunderbird mail, Open Office and all the other apps that come built into Ubuntu are better than their Microsoft equivalents, in the case of Firefox far better. There is no need to run an antivirus program.  Updates are automatic and drama-free.  Best of all, it really does just work, and I never think about it, which is how a computer is supposed to work, right?

Give it a shot.  You can download it for free and try it on your PC without installing anything or disturbing your Windows installation.

Onward.  With the apparently imminent collapse of the newspaper industry, I’m expecting to lose a big chunk of my already minuscule income in the near future.  I will, of course, continue this column even if there are no newspapers to print it.  Unfortunately the publishing industry seems headed in a similar direction, so doing another book in the near future seems unlikely.  Given the progress of my ms, on the other hand, even producing these columns is taxing my limited energy, so that’s a bit irrelevant.  In any case, if you have any spare doubloons kicking around the house, they’d be greatly appreciated.

And now, on with the show…

Page 1 of 2 | Next page