Monday, August 24, 2009

Aug. 25, 1991: Kid From Helsinki Foments Linux Revolution

From, 24 August, 2009.


1991: Linus Torvalds, a 21-year-old university student from Finland, writes a post to a user group asking for feedback on a little project he’s working on. He’s built a simple kernel for a Unix-like operating system that runs on an Intel 386 processor, and he wants to develop it further. The kernel eventually becomes Linux, which is released in 1994 and distributed over the internet for free.

Thousands of contributors began refining the Linux kernel and the operating system built on top of it. Linux went on to become, arguably, the biggest success story of the free-software movement, proving that the work of thousands of volunteers can create a piece of free software as powerful as one sold by any corporation.

In the early 1980s, the Unix operating system was already in widespread use throughout academia and businesses for both servers and workstations. It was being rapidly developed and deployed. Unix code could be made to run on hundreds of different types of computer hardware. This high level of portability was integral to its popularity.

But as it grew more complex, Unix (and its many Unix-like cousins) became increasingly saddled by licensing fees. Demand began to rise for a free operating system, something as powerful and flexible as Unix, that could be distributed and modified openly and freely without the encumbrance of commercial licenses.

To that end, Richard Stallman, a programmer at MIT, founded the GNU Project in 1984. Stallman and his collaborators began assembling the various pieces of a free operating system that would be compatible with Unix, strictly adhering to the idea that software should be not only be freely available, but also give its users the ability to freely experiment with its inner workings.

A few years later, the GNU team (the name is a recursive acronym for “GNU’s Not Unix”) had created several of the building blocks of an OS, but a few of the key components, including a kernel — the master control program essential to an operating system — remained incomplete. The project was stalled.

In 1991, Linus Torvalds was a student at the University of Helsinki. He had written some software that would enable his new workstation, a PC powered by a 386 processor, to access the university’s Unix servers.

Torvalds’ simple terminal emulator was based on Minix, a Unix-like operating system that worked on many different computer hardware platforms and was widely used in academia as a teaching tool. Torvalds kept tinkering, and before long he had created a working operating system kernel.

Torvalds had borrowed none of Minix’s code, but he had adopted much of its architecture, including its file system. So, he enlisted hackers from the Minix community to help him flesh out his project.

On August 25, 1991, Torvalds posted a note to the comp.os.minix Usenet group titled, “What would you like to see most in minix?“:

Hello everybody out there using minix —

I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

I’ve currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months, and I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them :-).

Linus (

PS. Yes — it’s free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have :-(.

In a follow-up post, Torvalds asserted that his operating system “probably won’t be able to do much more than minix, and much less in some respects,” and that it would be free “probably under gnu-license or similar.”

Unlike his initial announcement, Torvalds’ follow-up post contained no emoticons.

From these humble beginnings, a full operating system kernel would emerge. The first version was called Freax, a name chosen by Torvalds because it incorporated elements of “free” and “freak” — the “x” at the end is a common attribute of the names of many Unix-like systems. But when the source code files were posted to the FTP servers at the Helsinki University of Technology, the sysop renamed the kernel “Linux” in honor of its creator.

The first version of Linux, released in late 1991, was published with its own license. But since several pieces of GNU software were required to run the Linux kernel, Torvalds eventually relented and published Linux version 0.99 under the GNU Public License in December 1992. The change made Linux fully compatible with the rest of GNU’s software, and the GNU Project began integrating the kernel — the project’s biggest missing link — into its free operating system.

Linux 1.0, the first fully-baked version of the GNU Project’s operating system, was released in March of 1994. It was quickly ported to multiple platforms and was updated to include support for multiprocessor installations. By the late 1990s, Linux had grown into a major force in the server space, ending Unix’s dominance within corporations and becoming the biggest threat to Microsoft’s commercial-server-software business.

The Linux Foundation, a nonprofit group chartered with the task of promoting Linux and fostering its development, estimates the Linux ecosystem will reach the $50 billion mark by 2011, as the software continues to make inroads on PC desktops, netbooks, servers, mobile phones and embedded devices like TV set-top boxes, GPS units, and media players.

Now, the Linux kernel is kept up to date by thousands of programmers from around the world. Most of them are volunteer contributors or work under the sponsorship of corporations like IBM, HP and Intel. Torvalds himself is now sponsored by the Linux Foundation and continues to work on the Linux kernel full-time.

In other words, it’s no longer “just a hobby.”

Source: Various

Image: Linus Torvalds/GFDL. Permission of Martin Streicher, editor-in-chief,

Concert Review: Progressive Nation 2009 Tour, Burton Cummings Theatre, Winnipeg, MB, 16/8/09

As I suspected, Dream Theater opened with "A Nightmare To Remember," which has opened many of their shows on this tour as well as being the first track from their new album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings.

Dream Theater can be described as Rush meets Metallica — who sometimes meets Journey. As artsy and technical as they can be, some of their music is melodic balladry stuff that seems far removed from their biggest influence, Rush, and much closer to the corporate arena rock of Journey. Lead singer James LaBrie is not a screamer and really does sing well. Drummer and band organizer/ de facto leader Mike Portnoy works a huge drum kit, with two stools. Melodic shredding guitarist John Petrucci played flawlessly but, despite his prodigious amount of talent, doesn't seem to have his own sound unlike fellow guitar gods like Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen. Of course, hardcore fans will disagree with me. Keyboardist Jordan Rudess is the other hero-worshipped virtuoso in the band. He played a couple of "instruments" that I had not even seen before. One looked like a really small laptop screen, in which he would draw his fingers on the screen, back and forth and up and down, resulting in some fast and spacey psychedelic sounds. The other instrument was a longer and wider flat panel in which he made similar actions and produced equally fascinating sounds. At one point, he dueled with guitarist Petrucci at the front of the stage, using a keytar.

While I was a bit familiar with the new album — having played it a handful of times so far — I found myself exhausted in trying to keep up with the complexity of the tunes, many of which were instrumentals. I actually thought James LaBrie would sing more than he did, but regardless, everything the group played was met with great applause. At times, LaBrie's vocals were drowned out by the sound. And while he sang really well, he didn't appear to break much of a sweat or look like he was pouring his heart into it.

At the end of the show, which finished at 12:10 am, Dream Theater made their way to the front of the stage to shake hands with the lucky few who were standing at the front. Apparently, security were only letting those sitting in the first row to stand up front. Given the number of people standing, though, I'd say it was more like the first three rows. Zappa Plays Zappa had also reached out to shake hands following their set, and Dweezil Zappa made a point of shaking hands with the very first person who left his seat for the front of the stage. It's always nice to see bands take a moment to acknowledge the fans, and there was plenty of that.

Not every band who plays the MTS Centre bothers to have big video screens so that the fans can get a great view from every seat. It's even less common to have them in the Burton Cummings Theater, but Dream Theater brought one which featured plenty of three-dimensional computer animation interspersed with live footage of the band. Some of the animation featured a cartoon version of keyboardist Rudess, complete with wizard hat, playing in unison and then even dueling together. When you consider that many of the fans in attendance are musicians and instrument fanatics, it made sense that there were close up shots of each member soloing on the big screen.

There's no doubt that Dream Theater's show will become the stuff of legend among the local community of their fans and progressive-rock fans who know of them (and I bet your average Rush fan doesn't have any DT music). The Zappa crowd was also treated to an abbreviated but dizzying display of music prowess. I do wonder, however, how long Zappa Plays Zappa can tour by playing only Frank's music. Dweezil Zappa is a composer and guitar virtuoso in his own right and I would like to see him play some of this solo material.

Dream Theater's setlist:

A Nightmare To Remember
Constant Motion
Beyond This Life
Hollow Years
The Count Of Tuscany
Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle
The Sleeper

Concert Review: AC/DC, CanadInns Stadium, Winnipeg, MB, 8/22/09

I was as close to the stage as you could be, but the band still appeared as ants.

Thankfully, there were three giant video screens. The band's arrival on stage was preceded by short animated film of lead guitarist Angus Young and singer Brian Johnson on a train with some young, naughty women who attempt to cause it to crash — as well as several visual references to fellatio.

There were many people who, if you had to guess, didn't look anything like hard rock fans. In fact, the ordinary-looking folks greatly outnumbered the long-haired, headbanger ones.

AC/DC kicked off the show with the first single from their Black Ice album, "Rock 'N' Roll Train," which featured a smoke-belching locomotive on the stage's backdrop. Later on, the locomotive would spew flames. The band wasted no time in giving fans what they really wanted to hear, though — classic material — beginning with "Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be" and "Back In Black," both of which were every bit as powerful and spirited as you would expect from a band who relies heavily on signature tunes. Even still, it was a tad louder than I had hoped.

photo by David Lipnowski/ Winnipeg Free Press

Age-defying Angus Young strutted and ran around like he's always done while his brother, guitarist Malcolm Young along with bassist Cliff Williams, and drummer Phil Rudd stayed in the background, taking no solos. Both Angus and Johnson made good use of a catwalk that extended from the center of the stage to about the middle of the field, ending at the sound booth. At one point, Angus disappeared into the booth and then reappeared on its roof to much acclaim. When the platform that he was playing on rose nearly six feet into the air, the crowd went nuts. I probably spent most of the time watching the action on the videos screens, in order to take in every facial contortion and close-ups of Angus' fingers firing out endless blues rock riffs.

Johnson still has enormous stage presence though his vocals became a little bit worn out by the time they played "You Shook Me All Night Long." He still seemed quite fit, however, especially when he ran down the catwalk from the center of the field towards the stage, jumped into the air, and swung from the rope attached the giant bell that descended for "Hell's Bells."

AC/DC are exciting when they are playing songs that I want to hear and not so good when they are playing other stuff. They played five songs from the new album, most of which were not all that memorable. Several songs were accompanied by animated videos that made them a bit more bearable, however. "War Machine" doesn't do much for me, but the video of a red-horned WWII bomber dropping guitars and sexy paratroopers (who danced on tanks with a hulking, 100-ft tall metallic Angus lumbering in the background) was fun to watch.

Several Bon Scott-era songs were played. For "Whole Lot of Rosie," a massive, inflatable hooker with giant breasts appeared on the stage. During some of the songs, the video cameras would shift from the band to attractive women in the audience. Upon seeing themselves, some smiled while others jumped; and at least one looked away in shyness.

At the beginning of the evening's final song, "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)," twelve cannons appeared, six in the center and three on either side. (When I saw AC/DC back in the '80s, I seem to recall there being only one cannon.) They weren't as loud as I expected, but they did fire several times and produced a fair bit of smoke. This was the final song of the evening and the band stretched it out with Angus churning out solo after solo, tearing up the track with his perpetually full tank of gas.

As I was exiting, the fireworks began. There would be no "Big Balls," "Moneytalks," "Jailbreak" or "Who Made Who," but AC/DC more than delivered a larger-than-life concert spectacle.

Ireland's The Answer — fronted by a Robert Plant lookalike — performed a set of '70s-sounding hard rock, but I wasn't paying too much attention to them as I made way through the innards of the stadium while on the hunt for a t-shirt and a drink.

My rating for this show is 4/5.

1. Rock N' Roll Train
2. Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be
3. Back in Black
4. Big Jack
5. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
6. Shot Down in Flames
7. Thunderstruck
8. Black Ice
9. The Jack
10. Hells Bells
11. Shoot to Thrill
12. War Machine
13. Dog Eat Dog
14. Anything Goes
15. You Shook Me All Night Long
16. T.N.T.
17. Whole Lotta Rosie
18. Let There Be Rock
19. Highway to Hell
20. For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)

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