October 2002 Archives

October 8, 2002

VMWare: My New Best Friend

You can't be too rich or have too many computers. These days, I'm not feeling too rich, but I still want to have lots of computers. What's a poor geek to do?

This year, the answer for me has been a software package called VMware.

To find out why, read my essay: VMware: My new best friend.

Linux From Scratch

I've never had any desire to bake my own Linux system from scratch, but when someone hands you a recipe and says "Try it", you've got to at least take a nibble.

The recipe is from the Linux From Scratch project. LFS starts with about 100mb of original sources, and leads you through patching and compiling your way into a bootable Linux system.

The result is a bootable Linux system, but it's a long way from what I'd like to live with: right out of the oven you don't have any network utilities, not even which, and certainly not emacs. (Arrr, it's vim for dinner tonight, me hearties.) What drew me to Linux in the first place was that all the utilities I really wanted were already part of the system. In that sense, LFS is a step backwards.

And it also takes quite a while. Real time of about a day, compile times up in the hours on a ~1 Ghz Pentium box.  (Well, it was really a "guest OS" running under VMware on a 2.2Ghz P4.  See my essay about VMware for details.)

Complaints about the lack of tools are somewhat beside the point; from my point of view, LFS is a teaching tool. But if you're really intent on building your own distribution, Beyond Linux From Scratch (what else?) provides guidance on adding the all the pieces you might want to make a full Linux system.

Essays from Malcolm Gladwell

A friend of mine recommended I take a look at Malcolm Gladwell's site. Malcolm is best known as the author of The Tipping Point, but he's also a staff writer at The New Yorker. The best part of Malcolm's site is an archive of all his New Yorker pieces. We've subscribed to The New Yorker for years, but there are lots of wonderful pieces that I missed.

My friend sent along the recommendation because he knew I liked John McPhee (another New Yorker staffer). McPhee is more of a marathon runner: his pieces cover lots of ground very throughly. Gladwell is more of a sprinter. His prose isn't as lyrical as McPhee's can be, but his insights are penetrating.

I'll mention a few favorites, but almost every essay in his archive is a gem.

"The Social Life of Paper"
"The piles [of paper on your desk] look like a mess, but they aren't. When a group at Apple Computer studied piling behavior several years ago, they found that even the most disorderly piles usually make perfect sense to the piler, and that office workers could hold forth in great detail about the precise history and meaning of their piles."
The Art of Failure: Why some people choke and others panic
"Human beings sometimes falter under pressure. Pilots crash and divers drown. Under the glare of competition, basketball players cannot find the basket and golfers cannot find the pin. When that happens, we say variously that people have "panicked" or, to use the sports colloquialism, "choked." But what do those words mean?"
The New-Boy Network: What do job interviews really tell us?
"Ambady's next step led to an even more remarkable conclusion. She compared those snap judgments of teacher effectiveness with evaluations made, after a full semester of classes, by students of the same teachers. The correlation between the two, she found, was astoundingly high. A person watching a two-second silent video clip of a teacher he has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who sits in the teacher's class for an entire semester. "