Adventures in Exceptional Nerdiness

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I work in a customer service job that requires me to know a much greater than average amount of technical knowledge on the topics of domain name and email management. The training we get isn’t by any means equivalent to a technical degree in a subject area that would cover these topics, but I certainly have much more understanding of how these things work than when I started this job.

I’ve always been really interested in programming. My attempts at learning more about it have not always met with success, or even lasting effect, but it’s always interested me. I’ve always been interested in how things work on a fundamental level, especially when that thing hides its inner workings so well. Programming lends itself really well to this. As a computer user, you only see the graphical interface connecting you to the program you’re using. But there are so many things going on behind the scenes when you use a computer program.

Recently I decided that I would install Linux on part of my Mac. I’ve heard that Linux isn’t always the most user friendly operating system, but I’d also heard that it’s gotten a lot better. And I’ve also heard that many of its best features are found in the command line (that scary DOS looking). The command line may look intimidating to the average computer user, but it intrigues me too. That’s usually what happens when I don’t know how something works.

At about the same time as I was installing Linux on my Mac at home, I was trying to figure out how to use the command line on the Windows 7 at my work to send email messages. See, an email message is sent by your mail program and a mail server having a conversation between each other. And it’s actually only a few lines long, not including the body of your message. So it’s actually something you can feasibly do by hand. ‘Why would you want to?’ is a perfectly valid question to be asking at this point. Well, one reason is that it allows you to send email messages that look as if they came from somewhere they didn’t (which lends itself to making spam or some good pranks). Another reason is that if you can send an email ‘manually’ so-to-speak, then you can potentially verify that an email address exists. This is a pretty useful thing to be able to do when you’re troubleshooting email problems that go beyond setting up your Outlook Express properly.

Knowing that I could do this on my Windows at work, I set out to accomplish the same task at home on my newly installed Linux. And this goal has taken me through reading a number of tutorials and resources on how to make use of Linux’s command line (aka terminal simulator, shell, bash <– that’s just me showing off). Turns out the command for sending email works exactly the same on Linux as it does on Windows. It took me a lot of discover to figure that out, but it’s ok because I’ve learned a lot about how to use my new operating system. Except, now I have another problem: my external hard drive can only be read by Linux. So in Linux I can take files off of it, but I can’t put new ones on. So now I have another goal: to change the ‘something’ on my hard drive so that I can use it with Linux as well as my Mac.

Even if you aren’t that interested in how the command line works, Linux is still a great operating system for anyone to use. For a really great newbie distribution (version) of Linux, try Ubuntu. The great thing about Linux systems, is that they’re free and very stable. In fact, unless I’m doing something very intense on my Linux OS, like converting files from one format to another, so far I have never heard my computer’s fan turn on once (which is an indication of how hard your computer is working, since the fan turns on when it gets hot, and it gets hot if its performing a lot of calculations all at once). This is in contrast to my Mac OS, which frequently engages the fan when I turn on large programs like iTunes. Maybe this is an indication of the age of my computer, which is fair. But the other great thing about Linux, is that you can put it on older computers that are starting to get bogged down by newer, bigger programs that are becoming hard for it to handle.

Now Linux does have its limitations. I wouldn’t install it on a gaming computer, and its equivalents of software like Office will always lag behind in compatibility. But all in all, I’m very please with Linux. No major complaints aside from the hard drive thing. And once I figure that out – no biggie.

If anyone’s interested in learning how to install Linux on their computer, I’d be happy to help point you in the right direction.

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