February 16, 2019

.comment: Help Comes From Unexpected Places - page 5

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

  • August 9, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Now you know how you, too, can through the expenditure of a few hundred dollars and several hours a day for a month bring to life some decorative software that you don't need. (Most of the XScreenSaver modules, by the way, don't use Mesa at all, and if you don't have it set up so that they can run at least somewhat the ones that need Mesa just don't compile.) There's a good chance that this is not information that you'll draw on immediately. But chances are that you'll find yourself gradually drawn into a similar situation one day: maybe you'll decide to upgrade your compiler, but RPM tells you that you need to upgrade your glibc, so you decide to do that, but glibc needs some new things--and before you know it, you're neck-deep in quicksand. Linux distributions are so nicely and reliably packaged that one really needs do nothing more than upgrade the whole system from time to time to get the (almost) newest stuff. But Linux inspires tinkering or tinkers gravitate to Linux, I don't know which. So part of the story is how easy it is to get into personally uncharted territory in pursuit of a seemingly simple goal.

Nor is that a Bad Thing. But when you're elbow-deep and sinking fast, it's good to know where help can be found. People relatively new to Linux are often accustomed to having telephone numbers they can dial for technical support, albeit often for pay. Linux distributors offer pay support, too, but I don't know of any who would deal with the mess I made in the quest for working 3-D screensavers. Yet help is available, all over the place. It helps to have a Bob Bernstein, but the Linux community is richly populated with ad-hoc gurus, too, on mailing lists especially. If you haven't yet, subscribe to your distribution's mailing list or, if there are several, the one that comes closest to your level of knowledge. Yes, there are usually lots of messages, and they can be a pain to wade through. But if you do wade through them, you'll learn a great deal. Often your questions will be answered before you ask them. Remember that everybody there is volunteering his or her time, so don't think you're owed help. When you do have a question that you simply cannot answer some other way, ask it on the mailing list. When someone else has a question that you can answer, answer it.

The moral of the story is that there's almost nothing that you can't find out this way--and that the authoritative, clear voice of experience and knowledge who helps you out may be someone en route to his first year of college.

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