People often wonder what nerds do during their down time, you know, to relax, or to wind down. Allow me to provide you with some insight.
Back in my early teenage years, computer operating systems (read: Windows) would age and deteriorate with use. No, this wasn’t some time-limited DRM or SaaS strategy. Just poor engineering. So, 2-3 times a year, I would make it a point to do a “fresh” reinstall of the operating system to keep things humming along optimally.
If you’ve got everything in place, I discovered that performing a reinstall can be a very rewarding therapeutic zone-out activity. All you’ve got to do is step through a long sequence of actions, and stare at the screen in between. If you follow it correctly, you’re rewarded with a brand spanking new computational canvas upon which you etch out your digital life, all over again.
Kinda like how some people like to sort their wardrobe by wavelength, or rake tiny pebble around in a zen garden. Except, you get a faster computer at the end of it!
I’m not sure what got into me back then, but I was doing this reinstall thing so often (probably because I’d always find a new way to ruin the system) that I perfected the process of getting my computer from bare metal to a functioning Windows NT 4 workstation in under 15 mins. Yes, you read right – in less that a quarter of an hour, I could drop a blank hard drive into the system, install the operating system with drivers, and be surfing the ‘net on Internet Explorer 5.5.
That was what I did for fun.
Fast forward to yesterday, I’d recently commissioned a brand new VPS to run some of my clients’ websites, and it was 1999 all over again for me. Selecting and rebuilding the server with a CentOS 5 image, updating and hardening the machine. Setting up BIND, and Apache, and MySQL. Meddling with Postfix, ssh, iptables, etc. Did someone say multiple versions of PHP over FastCGI?
Every time I go over the steps again, I try to take the “advanced” route for a component or two. I’d attempt to perform manually something that was previously done automatically through a pretty GUI. This time, it was setting up mail forwarding. It used to be all point-and-click through a cPanel Reseller account, but I spent a good few hours tweaking it by hand, and understanding a little more how email plumbing works.
Fascinating, and incredibly satisfying.
Maybe next time, I’ll try and roll out a Gentoo or FreeBSD box.