Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Editor's Note - as it is the height of summer, Mr Goodwins' senses have followed the Parisian model and are currently away for the month. Consequentially, the following diary entries are even more likely to be pure fantasy than usual and should not be used to influence major life decisions.

Editor's Note - as it is the height of summer, Mr Goodwins' senses have followed the Parisian model and are currently away for the month. Consequentially, the following diary entries are even more likely to be pure fantasy than usual and should not be used to influence major life decisions. The publishers of ZDNet UK can take no responsibility. For anything.

Monday

It's quiet. Too quiet. Decide to install Linux on an ancient NCR box sitting in the corner. Once the awe of nations, this dual Pentium 60 giant tower is now openly mocked by PDAs and spat upon by passing cellphones. Perhaps I can restore some pride by dressing it in the eccentric finery of this most fashionable of operating systems.

A quick power-up test reveals that it's working, but has NT 3.51 installed. I slide in the Linux boot disk, and restart. Cor! I'm running Linux! Oh, it wants to know what my SCSI adaptor is - and I have a long list of strange names to choose from. I lever off the NCR's case to peer at the chips within... and the computer turns itself off. There's a safety switch that kills the power if you have a look inside - which is about as useful on a PC as doing the same for a Triumph Spitfire. The only time the engine actually runs is after you've spent all day rebuilding it.

I bodge the safety switch, and carry on poking. Nightmare! NCR has built a machine that thinks it's a mainframe - all custom busses and cards, Microchannel Architecture slots (MCA! IBM coughed in its sleep and sent this little fleck of sputum flying across the world!) and acres upon acres of discrete logic.

Discrete logic is... well, you know all those Tomorrow's World stories about computer chips with millions upon millions of transistors in them? Discrete logic is lots of little chips with a few hundred transistors in them. You make prototypes with it. You make one or two pre-production hand-crafted units with it. As soon as you've got the thing working, you whap the whole design in one chip and have done. Not NCR, which liked to do things the very hard, very expensive way for no reason whatsoever. A Rolls-Royce design: at full speed, the only thing you can hear is the tapping of the user's impatient fingers on the desk.

There's more, but if ever you wanted a reason why NCR had about as much chance of survival in the modern world as would a coelacanth in a swimming pool, this computer is it. Needless to say, Linux has no truck with such arcanities and I abandon the project.

Tuesday

A dream: I'm standing in a long corridor, waiting for a table at a restaurant. My best friend's girlfriend disappears off to a side room with another woman in order to... no, hold on, wrong dream. Start again.

A dream (take 2): I'm trying to install Linux on an old but perfectly normal 486/66 computer. Everything works until I have to configure the SCSI adaptor. Nothing works. I download the datasheets from the Web, and set this jumper and that jumper, this address and that interrupt. Sometimes a hard disk answers when called, sometimes it doesn't. And whatever the situation, the computer slides into a coma after about twenty seconds. I start to sweat. I wish I was back at my desk, writing nice things about Microsoft Hell, I wish I was working for Microsoft....

I wake up, shaking. I'm at my desk. There's a SCSI adaptor in my hand, and a swarm of tiny black jumper links is scattered across my keyboard like cubist fleas. At my feet, a disembowelled computer from a long-forgotten company (who nevertheless made better computers than NCR). Time for the Betty Ford clinic, I think... but after this. After just one shot at making Linux run...

Wednesday

... well, just one more...

Thursday

My fevered mind is careering out of control across the six-lane highway of Logic and smashing into the crash barriers of Madness. But if I enable programmed IO at the secondary address then the DMA error message should go away... but how come I'm getting that message if the BIOS is disabled? There is nothing more I can do. I've drunk deep from the cup of Linux and now my drugged, shattered ego must be cast asunder, but if I try to flee the country customs will look for false bottoms in the bags under my eyes.

I resign my commission and enter a Zen monastery on the banks of the holy river Mer-Zee.

Friday (the 23rd March, 2031)

After many years of contemplation, self-denial and esoteric practices, I achieve enlightenment. There is no operating system. There is no computer. Address errors are purely a product of desire. Linux is not right, neither is it wrong. But it has beauty, even in its incompleteness.

My newly-found clarity grants me one last revelation: no matter how long you chant, Windows won't look a microscopic speck better.

Another ed's note: After reading this myriad of cerebral ramblings, I would like to reiterate: The publishers of ZDNet UK can take no responsibility...

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