(Linux and) The enduring magic of Unix

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In the summer of my 14th year, I needed a new computer.

Kids today need things all the time, but I really needed a new computer. Why? Because the PC clone I shared with my dad had a 286 processor and Linux® required at least a 386. I tried the Slackware boot disk one of my dad’s colleagues gave me anyway, but the screen would display “LI” and then freeze, two letters shy of the “LILO” it would print when the bootloader was successful.

The kernel just didn’t know what to do with my antiquated processor. I spent a lot of time looking at a frozen screen with nothing but “LI_” on it.

So I made a deal with my dad (I earn half, you pay half) and got a McJob. Three months later, I had saved $250–half the amount needed to buy a used 386dx40 from some random computer store in the classified section of the Rocky Mountain News. I gave up my summer for Linux. Ok, so I wasn’t going to be outside playing football or something, but it was still summer and I spent it filling sodas. Why did I care about Linux that much?

Let’s turn the clock back a little. A year before that, I got a 2400bps modem for my birthday. Dialing into small BBS systems was a unique thrill. The local BBS community showed traces of life everywhere – software, message boards, welcome screens – but never any actual people. It was exciting and unfulfilling at the same time, and there was only so much I could explore without running up the phone bill. After a season or two I had pretty much exhausted the entertainment potential of the reachable BBS universe.

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