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The Journey to being a Linux Geek

Even before school, my future interests were clear: I tied-up the house with wires and made “electrical gadgets” out of old electrical junk. I remember being given my first battery, light bulbs, and wires. From there it was downhill.

The first PC:

My first computer was a HP 9816. It was a year older than me, had a 6800 Processor, 128k RAM, and an (external) pair of single sided 3.5” floppy drives.

It had a ROM BASIC board, and a set of VisiCalc floppies (with manual shutters), so I spent my time reading it’s comprehensive manuals, making mazes in Visicalc (out of #s), writing games in BASIC, and otherwise abusing the poor machine. It had really fun, easy graphics, which drew slowly enough that you could learn a lot. On the whole, a nice machine — I wish I knew what has happened to it and it’s pile of manuals…

From there, I migrated to a 386 with hercules graphics and DOS (that I shared with a friend). And eventually, Windows. I toyed with programming in BASIC, Visual Basic and Pascal. But mostly used my computers for gaming (and messing around with things). Most of the software I wrote around this time was in Psion OPL, on my inherited Series 3a.

Disillusion with MS Windows sets in

I was getting just a little peeved with my MS Windows desktop. When one has a 500MiB HDD, fitting Windows 98, Office, and Visual Studio on it and still having a productive machine is difficult. It was obvious that there were big problems with Windows (and Microsoft software in general). I became very Anti-Microsoft, although I knew of no alternatives and hypocritically stuck with the Microsoft way of life.

At the local computer trade show, my friends and I would paste “Microsoft Sucks!” stickers (provided by a nearby labelling store’s demonstration printers ;-) all over the Microsoft stand. We’d also torment the Microsoft demonstrators and shout support when they asked “Who uses Lotus 1-2-3?” — basically, we where their worst nightmare…

Enter GNU/Linux

Quite soon after my family capitulated to Internet access, I heard about Linux, and started to read about it online. I avidly read anything I could get my hands on, and tried a few shell accounts (BSD presumably), but never got anywhere near installing it myself.

One day, a computer technician was working on the school office PCs (which I considered to be my domain) and we chatted. He asked me if I used Linux, and offered to get me a CD. I’ve still got it — RedHat 5.1.

I installed it, played around with it for a while, and then abandoned it. For the next couple years after, I would try it again every now and again, especially when I could get my hands on a newer version, but never too seriously, because I didn’t have a decent internet connection, know how to program C, or have any real Linux-using friends. And of course, playing XBill only keeps you entertained for so long…

Later, I got involved in building my school’s Computer Room (from a pile of spare parts and dead PCs, plus the insurance payout for 2 stolen [dead] PCs). I knew that this would be a good place to use Linux, because I could share the dial-up internet connection more reliably, and run a local mail server. It would make much better use of our very limited resources.

Seriously, now

So, in the holidays I took the fastest machine home, scavenged some more RAM, and taught myself how to configure everything from scratch.

When I came across the file, I got really frightened and switched to qmail. The same happened when I looked into BIND, and I used djbdns.

Debian to the rescue

After about 6 months of administering this machine (still RH), I hit my first “dependency hell.” At about this point I was getting involved in our LUG, and Tom gave me a copy of Debian woody — I have never looked back!

The Linux quest really begins

Of course the next step was to network my home — this taught me almost everything else that I needed to know to be a Linux admin… I still have the same server that I started with (well same Debian install, case, and motherboard - everything else has died along the way).

Enter Ubuntu

With the release of Ubuntu Breezy, I decided that it was worth a look at, and installed it on my mother’s LTSP server and my laptop.

This wasn’t all bliss, Ubuntu is still a little rough on the edges (although less so than Debian, and in different places). However, I was pretty happy with it. That doesn’t mean that I run it on my main desktop, but I do on my laptops, and I install it on other people’s machines where possible.

Debian and Ubuntu Development

To get a project I’m involved in, ibid, into Debian and Ubuntu, I got started on Debian Development. I am a Debian Developer, maintaining a handful of packages, and do some Universe gardening in Ubuntu.


Now I only use Linux (and only Debian +derivatives). I maintain several networks under the guise of Hybrid, and co-maintain our LUGs servers (mailing lists, ftp/rsync mirror, and a freedom toaster).

I try and attend Free Software conferences where I can. Usually LugRadio Live if I’m in the UK, and in 2007, Ubuntu Live and OSCON.

I’m very happy with my software choices, and look forward to a Linuxy future :-)

All About Stefano

Stefano Rivera (tumbleweed) is a thoroughbred Debian-developing Linux geek.

He was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa as an almost-only-child (don’t ask, complicated family). He went to Michael Oak Waldorf School, and matriculated with distinction at Constantia Waldorf in 2003.

After a year out, teaching B&W photography to girls in America, curbing virus outbreaks, and writing code for GetReel Digital Services in London, he returned to Cape Town to study at UCT. After 4 years of study he has attained a BSc in IT (Computer Engineering) in 2007, a 1st class BSc Hons in 2008, and is currently hacking away at an MSc.

In his spare time, he surfs the internet, climbs mountains, writes Python code, works on debian and ubuntu, and tries to keep the penguins in line at the local LUG.

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