April 24, 2019

From the Desktop: Good Vibrations

Nudging Your Linux System to Support Sound

  • July 7, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

Sound. A five-letter English word that describes the vibration of gas molecules caused by an energy release. That's all there is to it, really. And yet sound is one of the most compelling sensations we humans seek out. We crave sound, desire it at every moment of our waking lives.

The sounds of nature fulfill a primitive part of our being. The sound of music answers a deep longing in our very souls. Sound is like one big security blanket--take it away and we get pretty insecure, pretty quickly.

On a day-to-day level, sound constantly washes over us, from the deluge of the city noises that you can feel on your skin to the rippling of the brook in a forest that just tickles your ears.

And the sound we most desire to hear is ourselves. The sound of a human voice tells us that we are not alone, which a vast majority of us do not want to be. We want to hear someone speaking so much, we get our machines to talk to us as much as we can. Cars tell us the lights are on, home alarms inform us when they're armed, and our PCs talk to us a lot.

My personal theory about PCs is that when we work with a machine so much, we tend to anthropomorphize it to pretty high degree. A classic example is sailors and their ships; sailing vessels are mostly called "she," sometimes "he," but never "it."

Computers are starting to get treated that way, too. In our quest to get computers to act more like human beings, we want them to make a lot of noise so we can respond to them on a more visceral level. They may not be talking on a large scale yet, but it is only a matter of time, I think.

In the meantime, if you are a new Linux user, you may need some help getting sound to work on your computer. I know I did. I have "plain" old SoundBlaster cards in my Linux PCs and, to date, no distribution has picked them up right from the get go. They have always needed a little nudging--and sometimes a big shove.

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