The Battle Against Obsolescence

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 12/15/2011

As a child, I loved science art equally. Somehow over the years, I ended up in marketing—perhaps because I hated school, and followed the path of least resistance too often. In marketing, I dealt with issues that intersected art and science (the Web made that more common) and solved some very tricky problems. In doing so, I helped build up a $20-million company and a Web 2.0 start-up, both of which are still going quite strong, and both of which I did for other people.

I never quite had the passion to make my own business out of it, but I did have the passion to acquire mad skillz when I needed them—and to steamroll the occasional tech a**hole who tried to block or marginalize my work. Before the Web became such a great tech reference source, I used to just hang out in the computer aisle at the bookstore and follow my interests from book to book, jumping around and assembling a picture if whatever I needed to know. When tech sites improved and search engines made them easy to find, I re-adjusted my research behavior and career around it.

That gave me temporary super-powers, but again in following the path of least resistance, I got sucked into the Microsoft Active Server Page trap. This is where everyone looking to jump on the Web bandwagon discovered a Microsoft server that they had access to running IIS and VBScript without going the extra mile for the LAMP alternative. And even if they found it, they couldn’t necessarily get LAMP because hardware was expensive in those days, and budding web developers such as myself, didn’t control the hardware.

So, I like everyone else became riddled with vendor-reliance, and never quite recovered from being made obsolete from the catastrophic .NET extinction event—when Microsoft came out with .NET and made ASP “Classic” go out of style. I tried learning .NET, but like Java before it, I couldn’t make the leap. I’m just not a career programmer, and the requirements in terms of study, hardware and money were all too steep. I made a study of finding a better way.

At that time in my career, I really felt naked and powerless. I never realized how much of my identity was wrapped up in being able to program and have abilities others didn’t. Moving jobs, I even lost access to my precious servers—a magical curated garden where I could run my code. The giant reset button was pressed on me. Every line of VBScript I wrote on my miscellaneous work machines felt like a waste. Plus, I was pushing forty and running out of professional work-time. I couldn’t be a baby again. So, I made a study of doing it right.

This site is the result of that study. There’s two parts to being a tech super-power. The first is being able to pick up and use whatever is easily at your disposal to great effect—in other words, the effective use of just any old tools you have around—and usually the same tools everyone else has and uses. That’s what I’m doing here writing this blog on the subway with my iPhone and WordPress. Don’t walk away from good, solid solutions at your fingertips, especially when you get the benefit fast and can move on.

The second part of being a high-tech superpower is having the ability to write and execute programming code in a way that lasts nearly forever. You spend too much time mastering a code-writing and execution environment to have the reset button pressed on you every few years. Some knowledge and ability has to be of a fundamental and largely unchanging nature, while still being hugely useful, accessible to the beginner to get started. It’s a tall order, but I think I’ve done it. This site us about this later approach.

No mysteries here. I’m talking about Unix-like operating systems (including Linux) and mostly only the Python programming language on top of that. I strip out as much else as possible, even the bloated core command-set, known in the Linux world as GNU, and the Unix world as the POSIX standard. I use instead Busybox because it provides most of the functionality people need with a tiny fraction of the space. Even Linux is bloated, coming in at about 300MB for a minimal instal. My version is under 20MB.

Yep, I’ve got my own version of Linux that I will introduce you to with this site, which is derived from something called Tiny Core Linux. It’s a great learning platform, and something I feel works like a lifeboat for the next technology extinction event. So tag along with me as I introduce you to Levinux and how quickly you can be executing code on a platform that you control, can carry with you to Macs or PCs, and so resembles the Cloud and generic servers that you’ll just generally be awesome anywhere and everywhere.