[Nottingham] Linux learning curve

ForkBombFluf fluf at freeshell.org
Thu Oct 9 19:13:52 UTC 2008

OK, I think I've deleted most of the swear words and inflammatory comments 
now, so time for press--

On Thu, 9 Oct 2008, Martin wrote:

>> From a minor memory jog just now (thanks Patek!) :-)
> Over a beer or two in the Bell, Stef was showing off her learning
> material for a one week Linux course that she'd just been on over
> somewhere Newark-ish or thereabouts ;-) From a drunken quick scan
> through, the course material looked pretty good.

The LPIC-1 training course was at ForLinux in *proper* Newark, castle and 
all, and some details were posted to this very list none too long ago. 
We were a very fortunate group of guinea pigs, a small class of 8 (err.. 
7, one mysteriously disappeared from the lab after the first day), and a 
subset of those are on this list.

Some had never seen a Linux OS before, apart from being intrigued by a 
previous half-hour or so play with a LiveCD, and others were looking to 
fill-in-the-gaps as it were, with any basic knowledge they were afraid 
they might have missed in the (usually somewhat patchwork) self-teaching 
process.  A couple had never heard of "LUGs" before, and after my 
tantalizing explanation of "flame wars" and how to start them by simply 
asking if "chanllenge-response" is a good way to deal with spam or not, I 
could see by the sparkle in their eyes that they were eager to seek out 
their locals to learn more and experiment further.

The atmosphere was very much one of "we're all here to learn," and as such 
was a "safe" place to ask questions that some of us perhaps felt we 
"should already know the answer to" without fear of ridicule.

It was definitely not a course suitable for someone new to computing 
concepts in general, though, but more for someone who has used other OSes 
and is newish to or not completely comfortable with Linux in particular.

> I was quite surprised for how big a volume was needed for what I
> considered to be 'common' Linux/*nix OS knowledge. One full week and

Two things:

One: the bottom half of the pages were blank, so you could scribble love 
notes to yourself, to vim, to emacs, etc.  That did come in very useful 
IMHO.  It helped keep topics and commands neatly organized while 
alleviating feelings of clutter.  The slight expense, of course, was that 
the binder was indeed a bit bulky for the amount of info that was in it.

Two:  As (I'm assuming here, correct me if I'm wrong) you've been a 
lifelong geek and a Linux sysadmin of some years, it's very easy for you 
to underestimate just how much you have learned over the years and already 
know, compared to the average user at large.

Or maybe you *did*, at one stage, learn all LPIC-1 expects of you in 3 
days.  There are those among us who *can* do this, I am well aware, but 
they are far from the majority, and reiterating how basic and simple it 
was for *you* to someone who is trying very hard to do something they 
might not find as simple or intuitive, is rarely a productive strategy in 
promoting the uptake of (in this case) your favorite (and hardly most 
preponderant) operating system.

Just to keep things in perspective here, I actually had a work colleague 
tell me I was a "sad geek" when she found out I was spending a week of my 
own holiday time to go on a Linux training course.  And before you ask, 
yes, she works in a tech support role too!

> So perhaps there is indeed a very steep learning curve to what is behind
> the desktop in Linux and *nix...

Most of us, for example, found trying to use vim instead of pico/nano a 
counter-intuitive and frustration inducing experience.  We understand that 
single/short keystrokes are faster and that the potential for quicker and 
more exact searching and editing is there once you've *learned* it, but in 
a sense it's also like learning to type all over again.  There's nothing 
initially intuitive about "asdf" being on my left hand instead of my 
right, just as there's nothing initially intuitive about typing "k" to go 
up, "j" to go down, "gg" to go to the start of a file, or "^" to go to the 
beginning of a line, etc. etc. (or is it Esc Esc?)

As another example, a topic like networking is a big bite to chew off for 
those unfamiliar with it.  Learning and understanding the OSI model, 
knowing differences between protocols, memorizing common port numbers, 
analyzing parts of a frame or packet, subnetting, etc. are not the normal 
realm of most desktop users, or even, I'd argue, a lot of technicians. For 
many, a week could easily be well spent on this section alone.

> Interestingly, one of the Linux mags this month has an article called
> "The Girlfriend Test" to see how well a naive computer user can do
> everyday computer tasks on a Linux system. No surprises, but interesting
> as a good idea and comparison. Brief summary: Most bits were intuitive
> and worked well, and some not. Any "geek-speak" dialogs were a complete
> show-stopper.

I assume this must have been done within Xwindows, as opposed to a series 
of novice users abandoned into the dark void of the bash shell?

A more telling twist to the test might have been to further examine how 
the new computer user fares with Linux vs. not only Windows, but MacOS X.

> Perhaps computers are just simply too complicated!

For tasks that you already *koow* how to do efficiently without them, 
there is always a learning curve.  Most of us have to learn to walk first, 
before we can move on to flying spaceships.  Some may never progress far 
past walking, because that's all they think they really *need*, while 
others may forget what walking was ever like because they've been floating 
in zero G for so long.

> Licensing issues even more so!!

EULA?  What EULA?  I've just learned to click "accept", because otherwise 
the software never seems to work right.

Adios amigos,


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