Transitioning to Linux… sort of

I admit it. I’m a Microsoft Windows addict. It started a long time ago when I switched from CP/M to MS-DOS. Then Microsoft Windows 1.0 came out, and I tried it… and even ran some programs under it. When Windows NT came out, I was totally hooked. I learned to use several other operating systems, but those were always for a specific job or maybe just to play with. For ministry, professional, and personal use, I stuck with Microsoft Windows, with one exception. For web hosting for real (not experimental) web sites, I have always stuck with Solaris or Linux.
Every addict has rationalizations or reasons for their addiction. Here are my reasons for using Microsoft Windows, some of which are admitedly subjective:
  • Excellent hardware support and ease of installation.
  • Almost all serious consumer computers and peripherals support Microsoft Windows.
  • There is more selection of high quality software for Microsoft Windows than any other PC operating system .
  • I already know how to customize, use, and tweak Microsoft Windows to suit my needs.
  • I already know how to use much of the software that runs under Microsoft Windows.
  • I already know how to write programs for Microsoft Windows several different ways.
  • Some software that I need to use professionally is only available on Microsoft Windows.
  • Lots of support is available for Microsoft Windows because so many people use it.
  • The biggest market for PC software is for Microsoft Windows, so it makes sense to support it both as a software developer and a consumer.
  • Even when there are good alternatives to software that runs on Microsoft Windows, the Microsoft Windows version is often better in some ways.
That said, why on earth would I want to transition to Linux instead of Microsoft Windows?
  • Linux is free software in the sense of programming freedom and close to being free in terms of cost per copy.
  • Microsoft has been convicted of several violations of law and engages in some corporate practices that I find objectionable. Why should I support such corporate behavior?
  • Microsoft Windows is expensive to buy and expensive to upgrade.
  • Linux has vastly improved in hardware support, installation quality, and user friendliness over the last few years.
  • Some excellent software has been written that runs on Linux, including OpenOffice.org, Firefox, and Thunderbird.
  • X-Windows and Gnome or KDE are at least as good as Microsoft Windows.
  • Linux is inherently more secure than Microsoft Windows, by design.
  • All of the most damaging viruses and other malicious software runs on Microsoft Windows, but not on Linux.
  • I write software for Bible translators, most of whom don’t have large software budgets.
  • I am in a position where I can write free software that can be freely distributed with Linux.
  • Much of what I do on a computer can be done under Linux, one way or another.
OK, so with all of those reasons, what is holding me back from suddenly and completely dumping Windows and running Linux?
  • I still need to use some Windows-only programs for work.
  • I still need to support Microsoft Windows as a host platform for most of my customers.
  • I haven’t yet learned everything I need to know to use the new programs on Linux that replace the ones I was using on Microsoft Windows.
  • Even though I can do some things in both operating systems, there are still times when the software that requires Microsoft Windows just plain works better.
  • Sometimes I need to exchange data with other people who only run certain programs on Microsoft Windows, and either the conversions to/from a Linux alternative don’t work or are imperfect.
OK, so a “cold turkey” approach won’t work for me. What will? Since I will probably have to support Microsoft Windows for my customers as long as they use it, I may never totally kick the Microsoft habit. I can, however, greatly reduce my dependency on Microsoft Windows, and help others to do the same. How?
  • I’ll run both operating systems (preferably on separate machines, so they can be running at the same time), and keep trying to do more of what I do on the Linux system.
  • I’ll write cross-platform software that will run on either Linux or Windows; and if I can make it work with Mac OS X, too, that would be the icing on the cake.
  • I’ll keep learning how to do more with Linux and Linux-based software.
  • I’ll keep using Windows-based software as necessary, but keep looking for Linux-based alternatives.
So far, the plan is working. As I write this, my computer is running Linux, and so is the server hosting this blog. 🙂 I’ve figured out how to send, receive, and organize my email (including access to all past history and sorted messages pending action that I got in the Windows environment), use office software, manage files, maintain a web site, browse the web, write some simple programs, etc.
Now, I’ll just reboot back into Microsoft Windows and do a couple of things I haven’t figured out how to do in Linux, yet…

Sharpening the axe and laying the foundation

The last few months have been challenging to me, in terms of fighting frustration. My computer work has been like trying to run with lead weights on my feet. In a swamp.

Things are looking up, though. A new computer has arrived, and I’m looking forward to setting it up and using it. I’ve also got a work-around to keep my old notebook computer running a bit longer, and it is almost at the point where I can spend more time using it for productive work than just setting it up. Actually, setting up a computer is not exactly unproductive. It is like sharpening an axe. In all of the Bible translation software development work I do, I use a computer set up with many different software packages: about 60 different installations. Unfortunately, most of those have to be done one at a time, at least under Microsoft Windows. Some have online updates and activations that have to be done. All this take time, and lots of it. Sure, I could do a disk image back up and restore… if restoring to an identical hardware configuration, and if I had an image that worked properly in all respects. 🙂 On the bright side, I’m getting pretty good at reinstalling everything. 🙂

My Toshiba computer got altitude sickness and trashed Microsoft Windows.

Seriously. I live and work at 8,400 feet above sea level. The view is great, here, but the air is kind of thin. The lower air density means that the same volume of air is capable of removing less heat from heat sources like the microprocessor in my computer. (Those things put out some serious heat, with an energy density similar to what an electric stove burner produces.) That means that the internal component temperatures rise higher than they would if I weren’t so high up in the mountains (or if I were in a pressurized aircraft cabin). This overheating was happening even at rather cool room temperatures (around 21 C or 70 F). This electronic fever does nasty things. It can cause some circuitry to malfunction. To prevent permanent damage, there is a thermal shutdown safety mechanism that kicked in many times before I figured out what the problem was. This sudden shutdown, without benefit of such niceties as finishing pending write operations can damage programs and data. This can be painful when the computer recovers, and tries to make sense out of what happened. It took a while to figure out what was going on, though, because the system blacked out and fainted while running Microsoft Windows XP Pro, but not while running Linux. I’m not sure if that is because Windows works the processor harder, or because it was trying too hard to conserve fan power on my notebook computer, even when running on AC power.

So, how did I figure out it was a thermal problem instead of viruses, spyware, software bugs, or yet another in this particular Toshiba computer’s long history of hardware failures? Actually, I didn’t, at least not all by myself. God told me. 🙂 So, I set the computer up on some of Rachel’s wooden blocks and move the computer farther from the wall for more air flow from the existing fans, and suddenly it didn’t glitch and faint on me so much. Before doing that, I couldn’t even get past the hardware scanning in an attempt to reinstall Microsoft Windows XP without the computer fainting, but after that, it worked without a glitch. Of course, the previous crashes had really messed things up on the hard disk to the point where I pretty much had to wipe it out and reinstall the operating systems and software and restore my important data from backups, but at least it worked, now.

For a little extra safety margin, I just replaced Rachel’s wooden blocks with a cooling pad designed for fever-prone notebook computers like mine (as well as to protect laps and furniture from overly-hot computers). There are several such things available commercially. The one I chose, a Targus Chill Hub, has two fairly quiet fans and 4 USB 2.0 ports in it. It was also reasonably inexpensive. So far, the computer is running cooler to the touch than when it was on blocks but without the 2 extra fans, and it has not glitched on me, no matter which operating system (Microsoft Windows or Linux) I boot into. Of course, it doesn’t seem as portable, this way, but at least it works, and should tide me over until my new desktop computer arrives. 🙂

Thanks go to the Lord, who let me know how to get some more useful service out of this computer, serving Him. 🙂

Wish List — Our Current Needs

[updated 26 October 2006]

Until now, I haven’t done much sharing of what our needs are as missionaries with you. I discuss them with the Lord, of course, and He often puts things on people’s hearts to give to help with things. Sometimes people ask us what our needs are, so here are both the long and the short lists. The short list: prayer and money. We can’t stay in full-time mission work without prayer. We don’t serve money, but it serves us well when it is time to pay the bills and to expand into new areas of ministry.

Here is the long list:

  • Prayer interceding for effective ministry, strong marriage, wisdom parenting, safety, health, provision, and whatever else the Lord leads you in prayer.
  • Money for an urgent replacement for my primary notebook computer. The warranty has expired, and the cost of repair is prohibitive. Actually, I’d like 3 computers: a fast desktop computer for software development in Microsoft Windows and Linux (2.66 GHz, 2GB RAM, 250GB Hard drive, DVD Writer), a notebook computer for travel and for testing software in a normal user (not software developer) configuration (except with at least 100 GB Hard drive and 1GB RAM, Windows Vista ready), and a MacIntosh computer (Intel-based, capable of running OS X 10.4 or later) for cross-platform development testing. Those 3 are listed in priority order. The first one (about $1,192) is the one that is most urgent has been paid for and is on its way to our house. Praise God! The notebook computer could run $550 for a minimal one to $1,126 for a nice one. The cheapest Mac suitable for software development is a Mac Mini for about $799 + the cost of an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
  • Another vehicle, preferably 4WD and big enough to hold our family. Rainbow Missions, Inc. accepts tax-deductible donations of vehicles that still run. 🙂
  • Money to cover the additional costs of finalizing Rachel’s adoption, including extra travel to PNG and back for Lori, Rachel, and myself (about $8000). This has to be ready by this Spring. (It would be really nice if Evan could come along, too…)
  • Money to pay off all the rest of our debt.
  • Enough new regular supporters so that we can both pay our bills here, travel as the Lord leads, and return to our field assignment at the right time, without going into debt again.
White PeakAll that mention of money reminds me of something Pastor Bill said in his sermon tonight, about an analysis a certain denomination did to determine how many dollars it took to save a soul. I guess they just divided all church spending by the number of people saved and got something like $65,000 per soul. Of course, that number (and any others like it) is superfluous, because (1) not all of that money was really spent directly to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and (2) it certainly isn’t the money doing the saving. Jesus already paid the price with his blood, so salvation is free for us. It really does cost money to get the Gospel to people, though… sometimes very little, and sometimes a great deal, depending on exactly who is being reached by whom and how. God’s economics are hard for me to figure out, but this much I know: if God didn’t spare His own Son’s blood to save people, He certainly isn’t going to balk at calling us to spend significant time and resources to get the Good News to people so that they can be saved and God’s Word to them so they can be discipled. He also has been known to perform miracles to provide for those doing His work, and those who support His work. In any case, it will definitely be worth it, storing up treasures in Heaven.

We used to be our own biggest supporters, using funds saved up from when I was working as an engineer. That well has run dry, but the Lord has many wells. 🙂

Beauty and Morality

I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty and morality, lately.

Imagination rocks I like to look for and enjoy beauty. I enjoy photographing beautiful scenery. I think that one reason I enjoy photography so much is that it helps me practice looking for beauty, and I keep getting better at it. Honestly, I can even find beauty in rocks. I keep thanking God for the beauty He has created and for our capacity to appreciate it.

Yet, there is a dark side to avoid with respect to beauty– not in the beauty itself, but in our reaction to it. There are some people who see natural beauty in God’s creation, and worship the creation rather than the creator. Instead of seeing the colors of the sunrise and thanking God for them, they think the sun is a god, or that “nature” is a god. Or they see a young lady with a beautiful body and engage in lustful thoughts. What is the difference between righteous beauty and lewd pornography? It is in the heart of those who view and produce the images. No wonder legislators have such a hard time defining the difference! Indeed, the very same object may be the center of obedience for one person and the center of sin for another. Take, for example, the bronze snake God told Moses to make (Numbers 21:8-9). It later became an idol that people worshipped (2 Kings 18:4). The same chunk of brass was to some an object of obedience to God’s command, and to others an object of worship that incited the jealousy of God.

So how can you tell a pure thing from an impure thing? Look in the heart of the viewer. (Titus 1:15) Of course, someone with a pure heart before God is not going to enjoy looking at sin or portrayals of sin, and will avoid those things, seeking what is pure to look at and think about. (Philippians 4:8)

There is great beauty in God’s creation that He wants us to enjoy– but not to worship. 🙂

Computer Glitch! Whodunnit?

As I wrote before, my experience with my Toshiba Satellite P35 has not been a pleasant one. It has spent more time away from me and in the possession of repair personnel than any other computer I have owned. After the last repair, it seems to work, mostly. But not quite right. Once I got it loaded up with all of the software I use regularly, I discovered that it hangs, crashes, or turns itself off periodically. The most frequent thing it does that is bad is to just hang, meaning that it no longer responds to keyboard or mouse input of any sort, not even Ctrl-Alt-Del, and the screen does not change. Earlier today, I noticed that it just turned itself off. Any open, unsaved work is lost. I’ve tried to figure out what makes it do that. So far, I have found that (1) it never misbehaves while running Linux, (2) it is always running Microsoft Windows XP when it crashes or freezes, (3) the most reliable ways to make it freeze are to attempt a backup of all of drive C: with Microsoft Windows backup or to try to scan all of drive C: for viruses using Norton Antivirus. However, backing up all of drive C: with Acronis TrueImage Home does not cause a crash, but does cause an error message about an unreadable sector, in spite of the fact that Toshiba just replaced the hard drive on this computer. An almost identical set of software runs fine on a Dell notebook computer without ever locking up or crashing. From that, I conclude:

  1. This could be a manifestation of creeping hard drive errors affecting the Windows Partition but not the Linux partition, even though Microsoft Windows is supposed to handle errors in NTFS partitions more gracefully.
  2. This could be a manifestation of other intermittent hardware problems that Linux silently recovers from but which crashes Microsoft Windows.
  3. Some software that I installed (intentionally or otherwise) that is different on the Toshiba than on the Dell may be causing the problem. There isn’t much that is different between the two systems. The most notable differences are the Anti-Virus programs (McAfee on the Dell and Norton AntiVirus on the Toshiba) and the vendor-unique programs and drivers provided by their respective manufacturers.
  4. I really would like a new Dell computer to run Windows, and an Apple computer to run Mac OS X 20.4 or better. And I’d like this one to start working again, or at least keep working reliably under Linux.
  5. I wish I could switch more fully to Linux… but I develop software that must run under Windows XP and rely on some specialized software that runs only under Windows. I dual-boot between Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux, now, but to really phase in more use of Linux without losing too much time rebooting, it would be good to have two systems running at the same time, one of which was always running Linux. Then I could easily do the “normal” stuff that Linux does well, like email, web surfing, writing documents, etc., at the same time as I developed software to run under Windows XP.

I could call Toshiba technical support again, but (1) my warranty has expired, and (2) the first thing they will probably ask me to do is to use the “recovery” disk to blast my system back to as-shipped state and see if the problem goes away. I have an aversion to doing that, of course, given how long it takes to reinstall all of the software and restore the data.

Why write a psalm?

Why write a psalm? Why not? My reasons are:

God is worthy of thanks, praise, and worship. Writing and reciting or singing a psalm is one way to give God the honor He deserves.

We are made to worship God, so entering into true worship of our loving Father gives us joy and peace.

Praising God is a good way to take my mind off of the multitudes of problems we have in this world, and remind myself of Jesus’ victory over the world.

Honoring God with thanksgiving, praise, and worship really annoys the enemy and is therefore a good way to resist him.

God likes it. (In my case, I think it is kind of like the way parents post their young children’s art on their refrigerator. He likes it more because He loves me than because of my talent.)

Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 encourage speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

It is fun.

People who read psalms tend to be encouraged.

Psalm-writing helps you exercise and build up your faith.

Psalms make great ammunition in spiritual warfare.

Sometimes my spirit burns within me in a zeal to praise God and/or proclaim His Word, and psalm writing is a constructive way to deal with that burning desire.

It might encourage other people to write psalms, so that God gets even more glory.mountain view

Try it. You’ll like it. 🙂 Study how the psalms in the Bible are written, meditate on them, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you. He is delighted to help people bring more glory to the Father and the Son!