Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wanna Get Your Point Across...? Show 'Em The "Magic"

My Uncle Ernie was a jokester and a magician.

When he and my cousins would make the drive down from Wisconsin, I waited patiently at the kitchen table, hoping he'd show me some of his tricks before we ate dinner.

Uncle Ernie rarely disappointed us.

Simple magic really...misdirection to make stuff disappear, card tricks, quarters found in your ear.  It's all stuff we roll our eyes at as adults, but to a 10 year old kid...

My Uncle Ernie was Merlin Incarnate.

Of course, to the magician, it's an ability...just like driving a car or riding a bicycle.  You are able to do it better, directly proportional to the amount of practice you put into it.

A few years back, I was active on the forums of a particular Linux distro.  I also spend a good deal of time advocating for said distro so of course I wanted it to succeed.

At this particular time, there was a fairly well known bug that caused evolution to open upon an email field, even if Thunderbird was your default email client.  There was a fairly complex set of instructions to correct the problem but a lot of new users were put off by having to hand edit obscure configuration files to fix it.

I don't think it took me more than 15 minutes to write a script to fix the broken system call and implement it.  It was a dirty little hack...code most any self-respecting geek wouldn't let see the light of day, but it did the job and that's all I really cared about.  I messaged the forum poster and told him how to make the script active.  With the click of a mouse, his problem, and this problem in general was relegated to "Problems that used to be".

When this new user asked me how I had fixed it, I hesitated for a moment or two...thinking that any explanation would be wasted on the uninitiated...pearls before swine as it were.

But I did indeed explain to him how a dirty little script hack had corrected the problem.  He was not only opened his eyes to the real beauty of Linux and Open Source Software.

He now understood that if this problem had been a Windows issue, he would have had to wait until someone at Microsoft corrected the problem.  It might have been fixed, or it might not have been fixed...

With Linux, all he had to do was mention it on a forum and it was fixed on the spot.

I will let him reveal himself if he wishes...he is well-known in his distro circles and does a lot of good work both in the kernel and in the user space.  Not everyone has the opportunity to show others the magic trick.  Most people don't care...they just want the problem gone.

Like a funny noise in the motor of their car.

Like the squeaky door that doesn't respond to oil or lubricant.

Like the computer that won't open the right program when you click the trigger link.....

But every now and then, you show someone how the magic trick works and it intrigues them.

And that, in turn...

It can change history.
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