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Linux Anecdotes 68

Doug Muth writes: "Earlier today, I came across an old document on Lars Wirzenius's website titled Linux Anecdotes, which tells about the side of Linux that we never knew. An excerpt: 'At one point, Linus had implemented device files in /dev, and wanted to dial up the university computer and debug his terminal emulation code again. So he starts his terminal emulator program and tells it to use /dev/hda. That should have been /dev/ttyS1. Oops. Now his master boot record started with "ATDT" and the university modem pool phone number. I think he implemented permission checking the following day. '"
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Linux Anecdotes

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Perhaps slightly off topic, but I've never heard anyone say why Linus made Linux when alternatives like and Early FreeBSD and BSD Lite were available at the time...
  • It's called the fortune program.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    As long as we're on anecdotes :> My introduction to Linux came during the days when I was pretty comfortable with the 386 we owned, and was making silly text adventure games in QBasic for some time after beginning with Extended Color Basic on the TRS-80 Colour Computer 2. I had heard about the university giving out for free (and they still do) distributions of something called Linux, and a distribution called Mini-Linux that you could run from MS-DOS itself. (Later I learned that any distribution could do this with the proper tools ;>). I tried installing that, and initially I was quite suprised; still text based, lots of messages popping up at the beginning but no big deal. Required a password; this I was a little worried about, what if I forgot it? But since it existed as a directory on the MS-DOS drive I could just delete it and re-install if I needed to. The one thing that I -did- notice was that, compared to DOS, it was enormous. 35MB for DOS+Windows compared to a +100MB for Linux? Not a good deal when you're using a 200MB hard drive. Added to that, it didn't seem to like my sound card very much, and there was no place in sight for me to tell Linux where I could find it (none obvious to someone who has never touched Linux before, at least :>) Now, about 7 years later, I'm extremely impressed at the amount of work that has gone into making Linux usable and user-friendly. Provided you have recent and supported hardware, Mandrake and Redhat make installation and configuration a breeze (though admittedly, spending an hour or four recompiling the kernel to get support for certain parts of the computer is a bit of a stretch of anyone's patience ;>) But for all intents and purposes Linux is already a solid competitor for the desktop market.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Not to claim fame but to ask for help.

    While trying to backup a UFS (Solaris/Sparc) partition, I run the (incorrect!) command:

    tar cvI /dev/hdc backup.img

    Not to mention, I corrupted the first bytes of the UFS partition.
    If someone has a Ultra 5/10 with IDE hard disk (was about 4GB), Solaris/Sparc,
    could s/he possible send me the first 512 bytes of the disk?
    You can use the command:
    dd if=/dev/myufsdisk of=backupToSend.img count=1

    My e-mail is: simos@hellug.gr

  • I normally don't respond with such a boring comment,

    I took a look at your posting history... and I beg to differ, bro.

  • Yeah, but what I don't understand is why he could do a terminal emulator with two processes and didn't call that an operating system. Wouldn't some kind of OS kernel need to be running under them to launch the two processes and do scheduling, if nothing else?
  • Bill Jolitz 386 was released after Linux had gain momemtum, and BSD 4.4 Lite and FreeBSD was much later than that.

    He might or might not have heard of the partial releases of BSD (for VAX and Tahoe) (Net 1 and Net 2), and in any case they probably wouldn't have helped him much. I doubt he at that time was qualified to port BSD to 386. Remember, he used Linux as a tool to learn about the 386.
  • I suspect lots of people have had the opportunity to do this. While installing Win95 for dual boot I made the big mistake of using MS fdisk. I was trying to figure out why MS didn't like the partition I had create using linux fdisk. I didn't think that I told MS fdisk to write anything to disk but it overwrote large chunks of the partition table. When I tried to boot into linux I found that I didn't have any filesystems left and that all my linux partitions except for / were gone. I used some scribbled down notes from several weeks earlier to figure out what my partition boundaries had been. I recovered everything but /usr. I goofed with /usr and didn't use 'fsck -b' correctly.

  • > Whoever moderated that funny doesn't have a heart. The poor guy suffered thru that experience, it's not nice to laugh at his
    > mistakes.

    If he posted that story here, he's asking us to laugh WITH him. Which I hope all of us are.

    It beats the alternative: ``You're very angry about what just happened with your computer? Great, take this gun, go up into that clock tower & start shooting people. With any luck, you'll reduce the number of calls to tech support asking where the `Any' key is."

    Not to advocate violence. Of course. Except against the humor-impaired.

  • I once did a dd if=bootdisk.imb of=/dev/hda.

    Luckly, /dev/hda had Windows 95 and a swap partition on it. /dev/hdb was where Linux lived. Nothing important was lost.

  • by edhall ( 10025 ) <slashdot@weirdnoise.com> on Saturday April 14, 2001 @12:03PM (#292214) Homepage

    One other reason why Linus and others might have been staying away from BSD was the whole legal morass it was involved in at the time. Who would want to spend time on a project which might well be declared contraband if AT&T's lawsuit against Berkeley succeeded?

  • I'm not sure if your comment was a troll or not, but ...

    First, if you actually read this, you'd see that we're talking about Linux circa 1991 - 1992. If you took a look a 386BSD then (I don't think FreeBSD even existed yet) you'd see that it wasn't much nicer then Linux was.

    Second, /dev/hda *is* a block device. It seems that what you are talking about is accessing a block device in raw mode (in raw mode the device is accessed without going through a filesystem). Getting access to a raw disk is useful for a database (filesystem's rarely cache data in a way that useful for a database which can slow things down considerably) but it's in no way necessary. You just end up with a slightly slower database, not that a slower database is a good thing.

    And why are you spouting off about fsync ? A journaling filesystem would be doing it's own syncronization as would a database accessing a raw disk device. fsync should eventually end up calling the filesystems sync function anyways.

    And finally, yea the securelevel stuff in FreeBSD is nice, but OpenBSD is still more secure. Does that make OpenBSD a better OS then FreeBSD?
  • I tried to find the exact date Linus first put the Linux kernel on the net (I looked in ftp.nl.kernel.org) but I couldn't find it, only a (C) 1991 notice. Does anyone know at which date the 10th birthday of Linux is?
  • I just downloaded and untarred linux-0.01. If you then do an 'ls -l' you get September 17, 1991. Why didn't I do that before I posted my question?!

    And you're right; LiGNUx look ugly.
  • --- Linux or FreeBSD, it's like blondes or brunettes. I like both. ---
  • again... trying to make excuses for bad design...

    "but it's in no way necessary."

    secondly, putting a FreeBSD machine in securelevel 3 makes it vastly more secure than a default OpenBSD machine...
  • Linus wasn't very happy with Minix, so he kept improving his terminal emulator, and modifying it to become more like an operating system.

    Now we know. MS-DOS/Windows is an overgrown filesystem. Linux is an overgrown terminal emulator.

  • I've done something similar. While installing an old version of Debian, I needed to edit my fstab. The boot floppies came with a tiny editor called ae. Momentary brain fade led me to do

    ae /dev/hda

    Ok, my screen's full of binary garbage. Never mind. A brief bit of experimentation got me a file open prompt, and I had my fstab. I made a few alterations, and then saved. And, having just hit enter, saw where it was saving it. I spent the rest of the night rebuilding my partition table by hand.
  • That anecdote about using /dev/hda instead of /dev/ttyS1 sounds like BS. /dev/ttyS1 didn't exist in the kernel until very late, something like the 1.2 kernel line. Before that people used /dev/cua0, not /dev/ttyS1. You can still use the /dev/cua0 devices in the current kernels, but the kernel will throw a warning in syslog.
  • I set up a Netwinder at work, which was cool. I like that little guy.

    At one point I changed the root password. Typed it, typed it again, then logged out. When I logged back in, the password was incorrect. I managed to type the wrong password twice. Sigh.

    Netwinders don't have floppy drives, by the way :-)*

    I spent ten minutes trying different possible erroneous passwords...

    Luckily, I was able to boot from the rescue partition and fix it, but that required a fair bit of paniced searching because there was nothing in the included docs...

    But then again, that's nothing compared to the time I did physical damage from a program.

    I was working on a robotic arm with a big servo. A gripper had to move up and the servo would go forward at one point. I was debugging (that was hell, but that's another story) and there was no delay between those operations (I forgot to add it). Result: gripper didn't clear what was in front of it when the servo pushed forward at "nothing gets into my way" mode. Can you say, "smashy-smashy?"

    No I didn't get fired. :-)*
  • "A stuffed penguin on every desktop."
  • Oh, I remember these old times with Prince of Persia on 386-PC's. It was also great fun to discover Linux on ftp.funet.fi

    In those days I didn't know any UNIX at all so I had to start learning all these small and somewhat silly commands on my Linux box. This was hard but I mastered it in a few years.

    Everyone was laughing at me on work for using this toy operating system. Time has changed and no one laughs anymore.


  • number 2 was cinematic, sure, but it lacked that special something that PoP had. Guess it's like that with all sequels.
  • I spent the rest of the night rebuilding my partition table by hand.

    I, also, once had to edit my partition table by hand. (Though not the hairy experience you went through.) And now I'm wondering how many people out there have done something like this. Less than one thousand? One hundred? How many people know the feeling of watching that computer boot up after having diddled with the partition table?

    • That anecdote about using /dev/hda instead of /dev/ttyS1 sounds like BS.
    Yeah - I want to believe, but...

    Reminds me of urban legend of the software company demonstrating voice recognition software for MS-DOS. One member of the audience viewing the demonstration calls out "format c colon enter", and in quick succession someone else shouts "y enter". The demonstration is brought to a premature end ;-)


  • he said why himself, he started Linux as an attempt to teach himself to program his 386. He never planned on it being popular, it was just a project for himself. Look back at the hole Linux is Obsolete thread, not much talk of any available alternatives.
    Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion.
  • I editted my partition table by hand once, using a disk sector editor - and a calculator...


  • That one sounds like this UserFriendly strip [userfriendly.org].
  • Hahah that was great. I normally don't respond with such a boring comment, but that really should be modded up! :)
  • Nope, it isn't hard :) A friend of mine once formatted a floppy in ext2 with the command "mke2fs /dev/hda". On a running webserver. Big one. It had only one hdd. /dev/hda. :)

    I myself once reduced a HP-UX LVM partition on the fly. Not wanting to make any mistakes i grabbed someone to confirm me that everything was correctly written before i pressed enter. He confirmed me that indeed the /dev/vg00/lvol3 is the /home partition an the command is correct. So i pushed Enter and it reduced the /dev/vg00/lvol2 (as it was clearly written on the command line which 4 eyes inspected it :) and reduced the swap partition. On a live system. Also big one. I now use 12x24 fonts and read the command aloud at least three times in moments like that. :)

    Shit INDEED happens :)

  • Why would booting from a blank floppy wipe your hard drive partition table? That sounds like a really bad bug.
  • Lars said > What is it that Linux has that no other operating system has? A cuddly, lovable, silly-looking mascot. If we play our cards right, the Linux penguin could be the next mass-consumer hit product. Can you imagine a Windows flag competing against our penguin? No, this time Mr. Gates has definitely dropped the ball and we're in exactly the right position to pick it up. Forget Microsoft, they're history. Start worrying about Mattel and the Barbie doll!

    No, no. Microsoft already has a cuddly stuffed animal toy - it's the Microsoft Barney doll that sings and dances and is Evil Purple colored. Fear that! -- Gates doesn't have a chance....

  • Removing the remote access device in default OpenBSD machine is vastly more secure then a FreeBSD machine in securelevel 3.

  • Friend of mine was once formatting a floppy (under Win 9x) when someone distracted him and he formatted C: instead.... hit the Y without even thinking..... nasty!

    Surprisingly Windozes didn't fall over straight away but kind of staggered about a bit first, it was interesting from a distance ;-)

    All together now: "wouldn't happen under Linux!"

  • give me all your garmonbozia

    YES!!! A Twin Peaks reference!!!
    "How's Annie? How's Annie!?!"
  • Where should Linux go next, then? I think the answer is clear, if you think about it: fluffy toys.

    Aha! Good to see that Ximian knows this [thinkgeek.com] and are pushing ahead in this exciting new technology! ;)
  • "...So he starts his terminal emulator program and tells it to use /dev/hda. That should have been /dev/ttyS1. Oops. Now his master boot record started with "ATDT" and the university modem pool phone number..."

    Reminds me of a time where I had to write a small program (years ago) for Windows 3.1. I had about 40000 (exagerating) files with "random" filenames that needed to be named sequentially by date, to the format "00000001.dat". One wrong character in a string of the source made the program think it should be starting from C:\ instead of the current directory, so it happily started in C:\, and renamed each (writable) file to a nice, clean, number, recursively searching each directory under it.

    Not really relevant, but we've all done things just as dumb, although I doubt how many people would've been inspired enough to turn a mistake into an operating system.
  • Similarly for me, doing a backup to rsd1a instead of rst1a (disk instead of tape). I hit 'break' real fast and spent the rest of that night (and much of the following morning) recovering the data on that disk.

    It turns out that I didn't actually lose that much, but I had to write my own version of tar to suck off the parts of the disk that I could still reach (I had a terminal open in an affected (the most important!) subdirectory, I just couldn't doi any thing that tried to access the mount point (like 'pwd').

    I had a hot date the next evening that didn't turn out that hot, when I pretty much fell flat on my face and didn't get up.

  • There is something mildly disturbing about that ...
  • I knew I'd read some of this before (Especially the "dialling the harddisk" thing). Rebel Code by Glyn Moody has a few of the anecdotes from Lars, as well as some more from diferent people who were involved with Linux & Linus in the early years. The book even has some of the original news articles to the Minix group, which can be very interesting when you put them in context.
  • by Vanders ( 110092 ) on Saturday April 14, 2001 @01:46PM (#292245) Homepage
    For a more detailed answer, get Andy Tanenbaums OS Design & Implentation, but for now, i'll try & explain.

    An OS is just a peice of software, just like any other peice of software. To the CPU, it's the same opcodes (With a special exception, but we'll skip that for now) The only reason that an OS is thought of as "special" is because it is the lowest level of software that you run on your computer. But it doesn't perform magic.

    Now, on the Intel x86, task switching (Which is what Linus's terminal emulator was doing) is fairly simple. You set up a few CPU tables (The Global Descriptor Table & Interupt Descriptor Table), and point a software interupt to your interupt handler. That is, and interupt occures every n nanoseconds, and your code is automatically jumped to by the CPU. Now, you can do anything in that peice of code, but an Operating System does something called scheduling, were it saves the status of the currently running "process", and loads the status of a previously saved process. (All this involves is pushing the CPU flags onto the stack, changing a few CPU registers, and then poping data off the stack) Then your interupt code exits and the CPU goes back to running the code. Except you've changed the CPU registers, so it actually goes back to running the code from the process you've just swaped in.

    This is all there is too it, in theory. Your two (Or however many) processes can do anything a program normally would.

    Just having the scheduler though, does not make your code into a kernel. You need things like memory allocators, device drivers, process loaders, a filesystem, and a callable API, before your code can be considered an Operating System.
  • "By then he'd already learned some social skills and knew that one just doesn't admit to liking computer games after the age of 12."

    Oh my how times have changed :) What was it last year, sales of electronic games beat out box office sales? Take that!

    And for those of you horrified by how badly Linus got beat playing Quake at the Transmeta Demo, I'm just glad to see he hasn't lost his love of games. I think.

    ICQ 77863057
  • Ever rm * .html instead of rm *.html?

    It's not until you see the error about .html not existing that you realize what just happened.

    You can touch -- -i in directories you are afraid of doing this in. Many would proably just instinctively answer yes anyway though.

  • I can't find the server-- DNS problem? Could someone post the IP address?
  • Kieran! What's your e-mail address, you anon coward you? Mine's posted here or at http://kisrael.com
  • I use the joe (or jstar) text editor, and it creates backups after editing files called "filename~" (where "filename" is the original).

    After doing some editing I find myself typing "rm *~", except sometimes I leave off the trailing ~.

    This really sucks when you're in /etc, let me tell you.

  • by The Pim ( 140414 ) on Saturday April 14, 2001 @08:16AM (#292251)
    A fun collection of Linux quotes [linuxweb.com] (which doesn't seem to have a cannonical source anymore). My favorite:
    It's God. No, not Richard Stallman, or Linus Torvalds, but God.

  • Oh, oh, oh, Mr. Kotter, I do!

    Tried to boot from a blank floppy by mistake. Buh-bye partition table and hello hours of work and frustration.

    I hate whent that happens.

  • Whoever moderated that funny doesn't have a heart. The poor guy suffered thru that experience, it's not nice to laugh at his mistakes.
  • by MrBogus ( 173033 ) on Saturday April 14, 2001 @08:19AM (#292255)
    http://www.softpanorama.org/People/Torvalds/linus_ finland_period.shtml is a fairly detailed story about the beginnings of Linux and the problems that folks were having getting a PC version of BSD out.
  • not even close
  • hahahahaha... ha.... *belabored, nervous laugh* ha... uh, ahem.
  • Is that dialing the harddisk anecdote really true? That seems like such a braindead mistake to make!! But I guess even Linus is prone to brain farting once in a while..
  • I've been playing with Linux since 0.99 or whatever was around in 1992/93... Every time I log onto one of my Linux boxes, I find something new that I can't understand.
  • Probaby? I certainly should...
  • According to Rebel Code (excellent book by the way) 0.01 was released September '91 - but Linus only told a group of friends he'd met ont the Minix newsgroup. 0.02 was announced on the newsgroup on 5th Oct 1991.

    Answer to your sig - 'cos liGNUx is ugly
  • by TheOutlawTorn ( 192318 ) on Saturday April 14, 2001 @03:52AM (#292262)
    The "Dry Finnish Humor" patch is currently being reviewed by Alan Cox and should be available Real Soon Now. Linus sees no need for it, as he already gets the jokes.
  • That's what you get for conceiving of, designing, sweating over, compiling, debugging, researching, debugging, not implementing permissions in and then running Linux as root.


  • The poor guy suffered thru that experience, it's not nice to laugh at his mistakes.

    Sadly, there's no "+1, Poor Boy"...

  • I think that he hadn't implemented file permissions into the kernel yet, and this incident was what prompted him to do so. If there were no file permissions, then he could have done this as a normal user.
  • For those that have difficulty reaching the link, Google's cache is here.
    Linux Anecdotes [google.com]

    for the I hate clickable links crowd,
    http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:liw.iki.fi/li w/texts/linux-anecdotes.html+&hl=en

  • That has to be your own damn fault :0)
    why would you be ready to click 'y' when 'dir' doesn't ask you that question?? it should have clicked to you

  • by IanA ( 260196 )
    this story is what i call news that matters.
    good job!
  • My favourite guf of old:
    cd \dos

    del .
    instead of
    cd \dos

    dir .
    Of course you answer 'y' to the prompt without thinking about it.... DOH!
  • True, but you get so used to being asked y/n that you always answer 'y' without thinking, it's as atomatic as making coffee ;-)
  • You'r right. It's not funny to write ATDTnnnnnnn
    where your MBR should be.
    But when someone else does it... muahahaha.

A bug in the code is worth two in the documentation.