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Women in Tech

First Boot Feels Like Bringing Life to Inanimate

By Kai Staats MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Aug 19, 2004 8:43 AM PT

It's 10 p.m. and I have been sitting in this chair, fingers tapping on the keyboard, for nearly 13 hours.

First Boot Feels Like Bringing Life to Inanimate

Across my six desktops I have KMail with 10 or more drafts awaiting my closing thoughts; Mozilla with a half dozen tabs offering interfaces to various server-side databases; YDL.net; one or two Web sites where I am conducting research for current customer projects; and, of course, a minimum of two terminal emulators on my laptop that keep me connected to our primary Web server and local file access.

X-Chat is open as well, a rarity for me as I tend to leave my engineers to their development efforts and not distract them. Nor do I find the need to be pulled into conversations that swim between the size of their new television, bootable iPods, preferred beverage for serious coding, or the latest buzz on slashdot, which usually starts with, "Some guy has Linux booting on his [brand, model] cell phone! That is s-o-o-o cool!" and ends a few minutes and 100 responses to the thread later with, "The guy's an idiot. Why do you have to have a reason to put Linux on your cell phone!#@$ You can, therefore you should! Man, some people should just keep using Windows ..."

Different Locations

One engineer is in Canada. Another is in California. A third is in Texas. And an industry expert is in Australia. No two engineers are in the same room, let alone the same state. This seems, at first glance, to be a challenging means of developing something as tightly integrated as an operating system. And yet, surprisingly, at times, it works very well.

With a build-box and CVS server connected to each other via an isolated gigabit crossover and then each to our fiber optic backbone, these two machines form a central focus to the development effort. And around these machines we revolve, a virtual hub with spokes made of Internet connectivity.

In order to give Yellow Dog Linux life to the latest Apple G5 PowerMacs, whose Northbridge was modified midproduction (causing the kernel to "oops"), I have become the physical hands for my team in these final hours of development and testing.

Back and Forth

In this role, I stand in the server room atop a raised floor, through which a dedicated exchanger forces 50F-degree air past the backside of the mobile rack and onto my face, as I lean over the PowerMac to insert the power, USB, video, and Ethernet cables. I open my PowerBook, gain an IP address, log on to the IRC server, and engage:

eng1: hey bossman!

kai: let me remind you that "boss" is a 4-ltr word

eng2: we can think of other 4-ltr words, if you prefer

kai: remember who writes the checks :)

eng2: right, good point boss

kai: nice ... so where are we? let's get this thing done

eng1: the patched kernel is building ... give it a few minutes

eng3: parted is crap

eng1: why

eng3: won't make a blessed boot partition properly

eng2: did you use holy penguin pee?

eng3: yeah, didn't work ... yaboot can't see it

eng2: try pdisk

eng3: pdisk is crap too ... dies on large drives

kai: this is not a large drive

eng1: good point ... I'll post it to cvs in a minute

kai: what would you guys do without me? :)

kai: going to eat ... back in a few

(I move into the Terra Soft kitchen to fix a late dinner and then return 10 minutes later)

kai: Mmmm! 3 egg omelet with sauteed onions, mushrooms, diced red pepper, and curry powder ... you guys are missing out ... should I post a photo? :)

eng2: I had cold chinese food

eng3: this is why I hate all of you

kai: huh?

eng3: I had 3-day old beer

(pause)

kai: hey, how about that kernel?

eng1: done

kai: nice ... so tell me what to do!

I downloaded the new kernel RPM from the CVS server onto a functional box, edited yaboot.conf, ran ybin, and shut the machine down. I removed the drive, installed it into the new PowerMac, and booted. Back to IRC.

kai: it's booting

eng1: well?

kai: it's still booting

eng1: has it hit the kernel yet?

kai: yeah, just made it ... looks like it's working

eng2: no sh__?

eng1: what? surprised? I knew it would work :)

kai: I got a prompt. Y-E-S! We got it.

eng1: ok, this goes to YDL.net tomorrow ...

kai: thanks everyone, nice work ... we'll start building machines tomorrow ... we have a lot of G5s waiting to ship ... very nice :)

I have experienced the pain and reward of many development cycles of Yellow Dog Linux. Some come together quickly, others through a great deal more frustration and seemingly insurmountable barriers. But always, in the end, it works. I have come to trust this statement for there seems to be no limit to what can be done when individuals driven by a desire for improvement focus their talent and energy on one goal.

Human Creative Spirit

While each member of my team is motivated by different aspects of this effort, it is for me the thrill of having given life (as a team) to something that was inanimate just a moment before.

When the kernel boots for the first time -- in fact, every time I power-on my PowerBook -- I am reminded why I love my job -- not because of the computer nor Yellow Dog Linux itself (I can live without computers) but because the human creative spirit is reflected on the computer screen when it offers "localhost login:"

I read this as "You have given me life. Now what can I do for you."


Kai Staats, a MacNewsWorld columnist, is the cofounder and CEO of Terra Soft Solutions, developer of Yellow Dog Linux for PowerPC.


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