Ten years ago, I bought myself a toy — a sparkly new Dell XPS M170, a machine so overburdened with glitter that it glowed. Literally: It was bedecked with LEDs that shifted colors and pulsed with the music, if I so desired. Such jealousy it inspired.
Ironically, I bought it because I needed the power to run Windows XP — an amusing thought in this day and age. The old K6-2 I had lived on for four years was struggling with this new and weighty operating system, and I reacted in the same way most Windows users still do — I bit the bullet and bought a new machine.
A few months later I transferred it to a new owner, not because it was a problem or a nuisance, but because by that point I had discovered Linux. I didn’t need a high-end laptop to do the things I wanted, because with Linux I suddenly had access to older, cheaper hardware again. I was free from the power curve imposed by proprietary operating systems, and the same old K6-2 I had used for years was usable again.
And now a decade has passed. The arc of my Linux experiences moved from exploration to familiarity, from familiarity to ordinary, and the ordinary to the mundane. Over time I realized installing Ubuntu on a K6-2 wasn’t a great idea, but there were other machines and other versions that were better suited. Over time I resurrected quite a few Pentium-era machines with a sparse kernel and a careful choice of software. And in the process, I learned quite a lot.
But 10 years of documenting Linux adventures is more than enough. Thoreau left the Concord woods because he felt he had other lives to live, and I can sympathize. At this point, I feel I’ve spun out the thread as far as it will go, and it’s time to seek a new adventure. I don’t spend enough time picking through the guts of 18-year-old laptops, and spend too much time chasing down obscure home pages for esoteric software … and that’s not what I’d like to be doing.
In retrospect I wish I had been more successful in keeping this old blog up-to-date, because this is where the story began, and where it ought to have remained. I know there was a year-long quiet spell, when I was still experimenting but wasn’t publishing, so it could be said that I’ve had my obligatory sabbatical.
Truth be told though, the “new” site — which is quickly approaching it’s 30th month and its own form of immortality — just absorbed too much time. I said a long time ago I wasn’t interested in doing an app-a-day blog because it was gimmicky, but I did it anyway at the prodding of some long-time readers and because I had gifted myself a list of 400+ applications that needed pursuit.
That list burgeoned into more than 1000, then closer to 2000, and since then has taken on a life of its own. But it won’t ever end, and that’s the unfortunate (fortunate?) truth. There will always be another console program out there, hiding in the recesses of Github or ibiblio, and who knows? Maybe it’s the killer app for the console, and we just haven’t seen it out in the light of day yet.
But more than that, my adventures with ancient hardware and minimalist software hit their apex about three years ago, when I put a 150Mhz Pentium to work on a daily basis with Crux. Sadly, I haven’t really seen success of that caliber since. All those moments lost in time, like tears in the rain.
I have a half-dozen laptops in my house right now, and not one of them is of the i586 era. My last pre-Pentium III shattered when I opened it one morning, so old and brittle was the plastic. And unless I’m willing to drop US$100 on a pair of 20-year-old Latitudes, I’m unlikely to see anything from that era again. I haven’t even seen a free-ranging K6-2 in two or three years.
It’s the inexorable march of time, Fitzgerald’s sensation of being drawn back ceaselessly into the past. The machines get older and rarer, and the cutting-edge hardware slips into the gray state of obsoleteness. I keep one dual-core machine that I mostly use for cross-compiling, transcoding or other processor-heavy tasks, and the remainder all hail from late in the 686 generation.
That will always be the golden era of computing for me. I know there are folks who can reach back to the Pentium generation and call that their glory days. But for me, the advent of the Pentium 4 meant an entire crop of compatible hardware that was being discarded while still quite useful.
I can sense the next great sea change though. The newest generation will bear the brunt of sloppy programming and grotesque dependencies as we move into the high-speed, high-bandwidth days of cloud computing and mobile handheld devices. There’s no need to code like a girl when gigabit connections can send garbage code over a line in a fragment of a second.
I’ve felt that dragging sensation for the better part of a year now, and I don’t like the direction it’s pulling me. Even this 12-year-old laptop is struggling to keep apace with the monstrosity WordPress.com calls its admin pages, a monstrosity that is obviously shifting more and more toward smartphone users — fat buttons, scrolling lists with no scrollbars, enormous icons and complex overlapping page displays. I started this hobby when it was still a task intended for a computer, and not something you did to post pictures of yourself for your friends to vote up or down while binge-watching reruns of Friends.
And so the smartphone generation reaches the age of majority, and there are hints and whispers that the classic PC is descending from its apogee. Even the traditional laptop model is straining to stay relevant at a time when tablets and pad-type computers are all the rage. And so long as it’s not the latest and greatest Apple gimmick, it’s disgustingly cheap.
A 2-year-old dual core machine with an impressive graphics card and a 64-bit pedigree is cheaper than a department store ultralight, and does more with Linux. Machines that were new and fancy a half-decade ago are castoffs now, and that means the past is receding more quickly than I realize. Soon even my beloved Pentium 4 machines — the computers I drooled over in department store windows before heading home to my rinky-dink homemade 450Mhz Pentium II and lowly Voodoo3 card — will be impossible to find.
So it’s time to call it quits. At the end of the month, I’ll lock up the shop, and I’m content with that. I would prefer the K.Mandla brand name be bounded by the rise of the Pentium 4 on one end, and the dominion of mobile computing on the other. It’s a worthy generation to represent.
I’m also abandoning the moniker, the K.Mandla title that has served so well for the past decade. It was an offhand choice and unique enough to establish an “impress” of sorts, and that makes me a little proud. People still refer to this blog as a source of information and to the new one as a source of software, and the traffic between them both still reaches about 2000 visitors a day, on average days. Not bad for honest, non-clickbait, home-grown content.
In any case, if you see someone post as “K.Mandla” any time in the future, it’s not me. The name ends here, and I can invent something new and clever for future adventures.
I don’t plan to stop using Linux — ever. So long as I can reach kernel.org, and I’m not forced by some job or some regulation to use a lesser operating system, I’ll be spending my digital days with some version of *nix. I just won’t be sounding this barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.😉
And if this is your first visit to this site or its sister … you missed a great party!
Thanks for reading this far. さようなら, tsamaya ka khotso, and cheers. Be kind to one another. We’re all we’ve got. …