Switching from Windows to Linux

In my earlier article I made reference to the potential benefits of using open source software as an alternative to normal commercial software. I have had an interest in Linux systems for a few years now and have always used Linux as the preferred platform for servers, but it has taken some time to take the plunge and try using Linux as a serious alternative to Windows in the desktop environment. Until recently had I played around with Linux desktop systems a few times but had gone no further. A couple of months ago a major change took place.

I decided to have a go at using Linux Mint. This is a derivative of Ubuntu, the popular Linux distribution, and lends itself well with a familiar feel to anyone used to the Windows environment. The system is downloaded from the Internet and made into a bootable DVD. On running the DVD the user is given the option to either run the system in trial mode or to install it permanently onto the computer. What I did was to disconnect the computer’s own hard drive, plug in a blank 16 or 32GB USB flash drive and boot from the Linux CD. I then installed the Linux system telling it to use the whole computer hard drive, which at that point was the plugged in USB drive. Once this was done the main hard drive could then be reconnected so that the computer would be able to run in its conventional mode. By booting from the USB drive however, one had a complete Linux system, which being a full installation would keep any new program installations or changes of user settings. User documents on the original hard drive are fully accessible by this system.

Linux provides good programs to perform all everyday tasks. Ubuntu and Mint come preinstalled with the Firefox web browser and the Thunderbird mail client. They also come with LibreOffice, which is a free open source replacement for Microsoft Office. Other common web browsers such a Chrome and Opera are available to be downloaded and installed. As it happens, all the programs I have mentioned here are available for Windows as well and I was already familiar with them all. Printers may be a concern as many come only with software for Windows and MacOS. In the case of my printer, which is an Oki laser printer, there was a configuration file for Linux available from the manufacturer. As a result it is possible to print basic pages which is all that is needed most of the time, but one loses some of the more detailed configuration options offered by the Windows driver. All is not lost however as the printer is networked and there are still WIndows computers available to perform any specialised tasks.

I finally took the plunge one day and out of total frustration with the way things are going, decided to completely replace Windows with Linux on my main personal computer. I have never looked back. The main issue however is that there are still quite a few programs that I use that need to run under Windows. Looking for and learning to use open source alternatives is a process that is simply going to take too long, and therefore a short term solution is needed.

Linux offers Wine, which is a program designed to run WIndows applications within a Linux environment. Whilst it is a really nice idea, I have never had a great deal of success with it as many programs simply will not run properly under it. There is however an alternative, namely to run Windows inside a virtual machine. This is a program that runs under the main operating system and itself emulates a complete computer, effectively running in a box. An operating system needs to be installed on the virtual machine after which programs can be installed on to that. If you install Windows on a virtual machine, it still needs to be activated, so you will still need a valid Windows licence, which is fair enough. It works well and enables all essential Windows programs to be run on what is otherwise a Linux machine. Users documents etc on the main machine can be accessed from the virtual machine, but this has to be done by network sharing as there are effectively now two computers in operation.

It’s all worth a try!!

Also please click here to see another parallel between mundane things and the Christian life.

Virtual Reality and a Greater Reality

You may be reading this article because you have followed the link at the end of my article about switching from Windows to Linux. I am now writing this to give testimony to what has recently happened in my life and to use an illustration comparing spiritual truths to the mundane things of the world.

If I were to be honest with myself, I would have to say that basically I had a very unhappy childhood. This is in spite of the fact that I came from what had the appearance of a good and stable home, but there are many complex factors involved and too much to go into right now. It has taken a long time over many years to come to the point of acknowledging this as a basic fact, but to do so has started to have a great healing effect in my life. I have over many years been troubled by specific memories from my childhood and teenage years and they have been made worse by feeling that these memories were peculiar to me and that no-one else could have possibly gone through the same thing (illogical really if you think about it!). By accepting that I had an unhappy childhood overall, it has been possible to realise that this is now not at all something peculiar to me, but rather an experience shared by millions of others.

As a Christian I’ve known for a long time the facts on how to deal with the past, not least the need to forgive those who have wronged us and I would like to think that I have been able to do these things to the best of my ability. We can appear to do all the right things but are we really entering fully into the freedom that God wants for each of our lives? There is a sense in which the past is a non-existent entity. The consequences of the past are still with us, since what we do one day can have a permanent and irrevocable effect on future events, but the past itself is totally gone. It is interesting that we are told that things present and things to come cannot separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38). No reference is made here to things past – they are in one sense a non-entity. Also see 1 Corinthians 3:22 for another reference to the present and future without the past.

In my technical article I talked about running Windows within a virtual machine under Linux. In this situation Windows is effectively running in its own virtual reality inside the Linux system. While using the Windows system it all appears very real, but when you come back out into Linux you realise that this is actually a greater reality. You could maybe compare this to waking up from a dream.

We are told in Scripture that when anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). New birth makes each and every one of us a brand new person and the reality is that who we are is now traceable back to the fact that we are chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and not back to our natural birth and childhood. It is now almost as if my childhood memories can be viewed as running in virtual reality while my position in Christ is the greater reality. A bit like Windows (which I now don’t like as much as Linux) running in virtual reality inside proper reality. I have found this analogy very helpful. It is very much the way we think that affects the way we are as we are told to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). Let us change our daily thinking to live increasingly in the knowledge that who we are in Christ is a far greater reality than what our past lives have made us to be.

Open Source Software

Have you ever been to an amateur concert or theatre performance and come away thinking that it was every bit as good as a professional performance? Quite possibly you have and the reason is probably quite simple, namely that the people were doing it for the sheer love of what they were doing rather than just as a job. If you are wondering why I ask this question, I will come back to it a little later.

Most of us are used to using proprietary software, namely that which has been produced by a commercial company and sold at a price. The Windows operating system is a case in point, as are many other products some of which, like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop, dominate the market and may be seen as state of the art. A commercial product will normally come with strict licensing restrictions, e.g. limiting its installation and use to a single user and/or a given number of computers.

Many of you will have heard of open source software but may not be totally familiar with the idea. Open source software is fundamentally different from commercial software. The most obvious difference is that it is free, which means free to use and free to distribute free of charge. The term “open source” indicates another important attribute, namely that the program source code is made available to the user, and the user is free to change this for his/her own requirements given the necessary skills and is free to distribute the modified version. A well known case in point is the Linux operating system. Open source software still normally comes with a licence, but with the main prohibition that the one thing that the user is not allowed to do is to sell it.

The fact that a program is free does not necessarily mean that it is lacking in quality. This is where my illustration of the amateur performance comes in. In the same way there are programmers out there, doing it for the love of what they are doing and/or serving the community at large. I am a strong supporter of the concept of open source software. Don’t get me wrong here however – I fully appreciate that by buying commercial software, one is putting money into the economy and helping to keep people in jobs. The professional environment will no doubt continue to do that, in order to enjoy the full benefit of the high end facilities of programs like Office and Photoshop.

There is however another side to all of this. In the world of computing and internet, which is becoming increasingly dominated by large corporations such as Microsoft, Goggle & Apple, open source software is all about freedom of choice to the user. For example, why should everyone have to use Windows and be forced down a route of doing things just the way that Microsoft wants? I appreciate that for the average home user, the easiest option is going to be to buy a computer off the shelf, pre-installed with Windows, but for the more serious user the things I have discussed here are definitely worth some consideration.

I will discuss in a subsequent article more about how I have put this into practice on my own computer.

As a Christian I have always found it helpful to use everyday things and situations to illustrate spiritual truths. Click here to read my follow-on article from this one about open source software.

Free Can Be Best

You may be reading this article because you have followed the link from my article about the potential benefits of using free open source software. I had the inspiration to write this as a result of watching the Christian movie “The Encounter” at around the same time as I was changing my main computer over from Windows to Linux and taking greater advantage of open source software. For me there was a clear illustration of spiritual truth in the mundane things of everyday life.

When I first watched “The Encounter” (on a previous occasion), I’ve got to admit that I had a measure of reservation at the very beginning, and wouldn’t blame you for thinking the same. This is because the film portrays Jesus in the flesh as a man within a modern 21st Century scenario. It was worth overcoming that reservation however, as the film goes on to proclaim a sound and powerful Biblical message of truth. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but basically the core message of the film is about accepting or rejecting the way of salvation.

I make reference to one particular scene in the film in which there is a dialogue between Jesus and a high flying businessman. Jesus is offering for free, the same product upon which the man has successfully built his own business empire. I can’t remember his exact words but the businessman asks a question something like “Can it really be any good if it is free?”. This got me thinking.

When I shop for a particular product, there are many times when I would be wary of the cheapest option as there is a good chance that it may not be as good as something a little more expensive. Often you will “get what you pay for” and this is a perfectly reasonable common-sense way of thinking when conducting one’s daily affairs. As I have learnt from using open source software however, there is another side of the coin so to speak, namely that it is possible for something to be both free and good.

Something free can certainly be good, but it is necessary to go a step further and say that what is FREE can even be the BEST. The most wonderful example of this is undoubtedly God’s free gift of salvation. We were all sinners in the sight of God and deserving of His eternal judgement, but He has offered his free (yes – completely free) gift of salvation and eternal life to all those who put their faith in Christ Jesus. Yes it is free and it is the very best thing that any person can ever receive in life.

I might just try and push the analogy with free software a little further, though I don’t want to detract from the previous paragraph. My switch from Windows to Linux (which will feature in more detail in another article) came out of my total frustration with the way things are going and the increasing domination of the computing scene by major corporations. Since making the change I have enjoyed greater freedom, almost as if I have been released from some sort of slavery or bondage. The Christian life is just like that – on receiving the free gift we are set free from bondage, in this case the bondage of sin. We become free to allow God to change each one of us into the unique person that He wants us to be.

One Race

We hear a lot talked about racism in today’s world because sadly much hatred has grown up over the centuries between different ethnic groups. But why? It would be true to say that evolution has had a significant part to play in the process. Evolutionists have suggested that certain groups of human beings (e.g. the Australian Aborigines) are less advanced than most of us, in other words, less descended from the apes! Such theories can only give way to racist attitudes, because they detract from the fact that there is only one human race.

If we are all one family descended from Adam and Eve, then how do we account for the differences between the various ethnic groups? Take for example the matter of skin colour. The differences occur because of a single substance called melanin which produces skin pigmentation. Different human beings have this in different quantities giving rise to varying skin colour. Only an extremely small percentage of human genes are responsible for differences between the ethnic groups, and these are no more significant than other differences between human beings.

The section on Adam and Eve explains how variety was introduced into the human race. Adam and Eve probably had mid-brown skin as they carried the genes for producing both fair and dark skin.

So why do we find that people of a certain appearance are native to a given part of the world? There are biological reasons why it is advantageous to have dark skin in a hot climate and fair skin in a cool climate, and quite simply, natural selection will have taken place! Natural selection can realistically operate in this way even though it can never result in the evolution of one life form from another.

Don’t forget that everyone, whatever their ethnic group, is your blood relative!

Adam and Eve

Is it reasonable to believe that the whole human race is descended from Adam and Eve? Their story is generally dismissed as mere myth and there are even sincere Christians who would claim that God created a ‘race’; of humans rather than just two individual persons. Let us therefore have a look in a bit more detail.

Every human being has two full sets of genes, one inherited from each parent. Adam and Eve would therefore have had four full sets of genes between them (albeit not inherited if they were created by God). The complexity of human genes and the way that they interact is such that it is scientifically feasible for four full sets of genes to be able to provide the massive variety of characteristics seen across the human race.

The Genesis account names three sons of Adam and Eve, namely Cain, Abel and Seth, and it is recorded that Cain and Seth both produced offspring. But where did they get their wives from if God did not create any other human beings? It is inevitable that Adam and Eve will have produced a large number of children and so Cain and Seth will quite simply have married their sisters! This may come as a surprise as the law of Moses strictly forbade sexual relations between close relatives and such laws still exist in our modern society. Close inter-breeding is considered to be unsafe because of the increased risk of producing defective offspring. So why was it OK at the time of Adam and Eve?

Genetically the human race was created to absolute perfection, and so at first there would have been absolutely no risk involved in inter-breeding between close relatives. As imperfection was introduced things would have changed. The changes resulting from the Flood would have caused the levels of radiation in the environment to have increased, and this would produce an increased risk of genetic mutations. As described in the section on genetics, mutations will normally be ineffectual at the very best and more often detrimental.

Dinosaurs

There is little doubt that dinosaurs once roamed the earth. The fossil record gives clear evidence of their existence. Many theories have been put forward to explain their disappearance, but not even the evolutionists have come up with any agreed authoritative conclusion.

Dinosaurs would have gone into the Ark with Noah because we are told that all varieties of animals were included. The earth underwent major environmental changes as a result of the flood, and it is very likely that many animals (including dinosaurs) could not cope with the new environment and eventually became extinct as a result.

The Behemoth and Leviathan, both referred to in the Old Testament, may well have been varieties of dinosaurs.

Fossils

A major global catastrophe took place when the earth was flooded at the time of Noah, and geological evidence suggests that the continents and oceans underwent massive movements. The large amounts of mud and moving sediment would have provided ideal conditions for fossilisation. Places have been found in the world where large numbers of dinosaur fossils are gathered together in a localised area, suggesting that they got caught up in some sort of sudden global catastrophe. Also there is no certain method of dating fossils (see section on radioactive dating).

According to geologists, the newer life forms are fossilised in the higher and supposedly newer layers of rocks. Look at it another way – in the event of the flood, the mammals would have been more able to run to the mountain tops than the more sluggish reptiles, and the fish would not have climbed the mountains at all!

We are told in Genesis Chapter 1 that God created all living things according to their kinds. This view agrees fully with the fossil record. Billions of fossils have been found and virtually all without exception relate to specific categories of life forms (e.g. fish, reptiles, mammals); even the odd ones that could feasibly belong to an intermediate form can still be categorised one way or another. According to concept of evolution however, life gradually progressed from one form to another. If this were true then we would expect to find plenty of intermediate life forms in the fossil record, and yet this is simply just not the case.

Radioactive Dating

Geologists use radioactive dating techniques to estimate the age of rocks and fossils. These are based on the concept that the rocks contain a small concentration of a radioactive substance which decays at a fixed rate. As it decays, the concentration of radioactive atoms decreases, with a corresponding proportional decrease in the level of emitted radiation. The level of radiation in a rock or fossil will therefore (supposedly) provide a measure of its age.

I remember being taught about radioactive dating by my physics teacher at school, long before I had ever considered questions of creation versus evolution. Even at that time I asked myself the question as to how could one possibly know how much radioactivity was in the substance to start with.

A living organism (plant or animal) is constantly interacting with its environment and one can reasonably assume that the level of radioactivity in the organism will be dictated by the corresponding levels in its surroundings. On fossilisation, this interaction with the environment will be frozen and an observable decay process will then set in. If we know the levels of radiation in the environment at the outset, then theoretically we can determine the age of a rock or fossil.

It has to be stressed however that such techniques are based on the fundamental assumption that the levels of radioactivity in the environment have always been the same. Can we really be sure that this is the case?

If for any reason, radiation levels were once lower than they are today, then rocks and fossils would appear to be older than they really are. This fits in with the Biblical account of creation and can be explained by the fact that major ecological changes would have taken place at the time of the Flood.

Genetics

Genetic information in all living things is stored in a substance known as DNA (deoxy-ribonucleic acid). This is a giant molecular structure built up of four small basic building blocks. The patterns created by the sequence of these building blocks define the actual genetic information. The DNA is organised into genes, each one defining a given attribute of the living organism. Genes are highly complex and interact with each other in a highly complex manner.

The Theory of Evolution relies of the concepts of genetic mutations (random changes to the structure of genes) and natural selection (survival of the fittest). For this to work the mutations would have to be of a constructive nature. In other words they would have to create new information in order to produce an increasing complexity of life forms. It is known that in practice almost any genetic mutation will be ineffective or even destructive (i.e. produce harmful results). Supporters of evolution argue that the process has succeeded merely because it has had such a vast amount of time to take place. Realistically, the laws of statistical probability are quite simply against it.

Consider an organ as complicated as an eye or an ear (let alone a human brain!). Such would take many thousands of separate genetic mutations to become perfected. For evolution to be successfully accomplished, every single step would have to survive and be favoured by the natural selection process. This is simply not going to be the case in practice.

Looking at the complexity of life on earth, it can surely only be the work of a super-intelligent creator!