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REPOST: On machine translation

Language is not pure information; it's information shorthand. It assumes a high degree of already-shared knowledge about the world. Some of these assumptions are near-universal; many are not.

REPOST: Linux is a toy.

This is one of the longer posts I've made regarding Linux's viability as a Windows replacement. I've edited it a bit from the original for things that have changed since then:

Linux is a toy. A powerful toy. An-almost-infinitely-customizable toy. But a toy nonetheless. I say this because the people who use it do so because they enjoy fiddling around with config files. Even if they actually like using it--and of course they do--using it requires one to fiddle with config files in ways that one would only know how to do if he enjoyed learning about such things. I'm sorry, but that is a tiny subset of the computer-using public. Most people don't want to fiddle with things to get them to work or use weird, off-brand knockoff software developed by groups of people who do it as a hobby. It is a toy.

Invariably, this comment upsets a lot of people and there's the obligatory "It runs the internet!" and "dont be rediculous i use it for my business!" (sic) replies. But none of that means it's not a toy. OpenOffice or Crossover Office do not a real computer--as most people actually use them--make. Most businesses do more than type and make spreadsheets.

Here is a quick list of software my parents' company, for whom I do IT from time to time, uses. These are industry-standard applications:

PowerClaim [powerclaim.com]

Xactimate [exactimate.com]

Internet Explorer (for dealing with the head office)

Without these, their business does not run.

REPOST: On newbies' ability to set up Linux

Another repost. I have intimated on this site before my thoughts on Linux, and have always wanted to write a monster post that details them more thoroughly, but the time doesn't come. Here is a slightly-edited-for-readability post from elsewhere on non-computer-savvy people's ability to set up and use Ubuntu Linux:

I build my own PCs. I think that's falling-off-a-log easy. But try to get a noob friend of yours into it. No really, try. They'll come up with the goofiest, craziest, hardest questions you've ever heard. I understand on a conceptual, top-down level what is going on when I'm putting a system together and getting drivers, etc. I've been doing it long enough that when I build a new one, it's a simple matter of just learning the changes since last time I did it. Usually I already know about them because I'm a geek and keep up on such things for fun. But, for example, the change from 20-pin to 24-pin ATX connectors caught me completely by surprise and required another trip to the store to get an adapter. It still happens. I know to look up beep codes. I know what to do if it doesn't start up. When all is said and done, I forget these little problems because they are not memorable--they are not salient events because I calmly and quickly solved them. This is not the case to a person who doesn't have that comparatively vast storehouse of latent knowledge.

For someone just starting out, though, that "24-pin ATX connector" confusion happens with every single step of the process. What seems simple to us only seems that way because we've got a massive backlog of understanding that we just take for granted. We only need to make adjustments to it.

REPOST: On the work/time dichotomy

Lately I have been bemoaning the fact that I don't have time to blog as much as I'd like. But then I realized that I actually write a lot, but they are on forums, and are usually only seen on that site by a few people. I am toying with the idea of reposting the longer ones here. Here is the first, which was in response to someone complaining about the hours they worked at their software dev job. Begin:

I'm an academic, and the single biggest reason is that I'm a workaholic and if the place didn't almost shut down for 4 months of the year, I'd work myself to an early grave. As it is now, though, I work my ass off 8 months of the year, and 4 months of the year I'm blessed and cursed to be able to get almost nothing done (well, nothing that requires the organization). It's been very good for my health and mental well-being, if not necessarily for my wallet.

Over the last summer break, I spent about a week staying with my friends who work at a major IT company as developers. I saw their lives, and was envious. They make a lot more money, they come home earlier, and it is virtually impossible for them to work at home, so they don't. "Damn," I thought, "I really did pick the wrong career." But then I noticed something: I was staying at their house in a different country from where I live for a week, and that was just one week out of about 7 or 8 in a row that I didn't have to report to work. I was still getting some things done on the laptop, but that had much more to do with my workaholic nature than necessity. "Damn," I thought, "maybe I picked the right career after all."

The point I'm trying to make is that you are ultimately in control of your time. You are. Really. It's your time. Your life. If you feel that you are losing it to a company, and the money isn't worth it, you need to change gears. It's not their fault. It's your fault for doing it.

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