But First…

An Origin Story

I remember the first time I encountered Linux in the wild.

It was a summer afternoon between my Freshman and Sophomore year in high school. I lived two blocks from a downtown shopping center, and often walked there to get out of the house. Before I got a sandwich at the barbecue place, I would stop at the bookstore and browse the magazine section. I was learning how to play guitar, and I could learn a new song by flipping through the latest issues of Guitar Player and Guitar World.

On this particular day, a computer magazine caught my eye. It had a front cover article about Linux, proclaiming it the New Hot Thing™. Most interesting to me, it came with a CD with an installation disc for Mandrake Linux. I was intrigued, so I bought the magazine and took the CD home. I don’t remember how the sandwich tasted, but that Linux CD made an impact.

That CD was my introduction to the world of open source software. In addition to being free (as in cost), it was also free (as in freedom). Let me explain. The programs that came with Mandrake Linux included the source code that compiled it. I read through a few source code files, but mainly had no idea what I was looking at. I learned some basic coding years later, but never got excited enough to pursue a career in computer engineering or computer programming.

I went home, installed it on a spare hard drive, and started down one of many paths that converge here. I’m an incorrigible tinkerer — and everything about late 1990s/early 2000s Linux appealed to me. Half of the software and hardware worked half the time, so I had plenty of problems that I had to first describe, then fix. It took months before I was comfortable enough to say that I was a Linux user. I’ve used it ever since — over 20 years!

Along the way, and without ever really trying, I learned all the skills necessary to be a competent server administrator. Inherent to open source software is the free availability of discussion boards, how-to guides, and extensive documentation for every piece of software available in that ecosystem. I wanted to set up a web server, so I learned how to install Apache. Then I added PHP into the mix. Then MySQL! Before I knew it, I was an expert at working with a LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) and my skills were in demand.

I worked for two years at my university as a server admin, despite having no formal training in software development or network administration. I simply had the knowledge necessary from years of hacking around with Linux as a hobby. I had a “side hustle” (before it was called that) offering Linux server administration services on Craigslist.

A few of my consulting projects:

  • Helped a web developer rebuild a functional web server from the hard drive ripped out of a dysfunctional machine
  • Wrote a script for nightly off-site backup of a web developer’s server
  • Set up a load-balancing web server rack in a programmer’s office
  • Add logging functionality to a VPN connection

It’s said that the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. Working with technology is the same way. You must be unafraid to experiment, ask questions, and try new things. I tried for many years to use Linux as my primary operating system, and even eliminated Windows entirely for over a year. It was a challenge, and a rewarding experience. Ultimately, the need to use proprietary software for work lead me to adopt a mix of operating systems: Windows for work and games, Linux for all secure high-demand or backend services.

Learning how to use Linux will improve your digital agility. If you can’t keep up, you’ll be left behind. It’s not too late to start, and there are plenty of resources to get moving and learn what FOSS can do for you.

Problem

Regardless of your political leaning, the coordinated action by Big Tech against former President Trump should have you worried.

In short, he was been banned from several major platforms including: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and more.

I’m not worried about Trump’s ability to reach people. As a powerful billionaire celebrity, he will be just fine. But seeing how quickly and decisively the forces of Big Tech took action gave me pause. If Big Tech has the power to silence a sitting President, what hope do I have?

There are basic first steps that you can, and should take. Homesteaders already realize the risk of relying too heavily on the supply chain, the electrical grid, the transportation network, etc. Why should your digital services be any different?

It makes no sense to rely on Google, Apple, or Microsoft for access to email, video chat, and your personal calendar.

Even worse — do they have sole custody of your photos, messages from loved ones, or passwords?

Here’s a question I’d like you to ponder:

Think of the online service you use most often. If you were banned from it today, what alternative could you use? What data, contacts, videos, pictures, etc. are stored there, and only there? Where could you move that data?

As you consider the disruptions that a Big Tech ban would have on your life, you can begin to see the reason for self-hosting these critical services.

If someone at a terminal can tap a few keys and hold your life, time, or access to communications hostage, you’re in a terrible position. You need a contingency plan.

Life is full of risks, and you cannot control everything, but this is a wake-up call to you. Get away from Big Tech. Store your data somewhere you control. Set up alternatives to “free” services now.

Solution

I am here to teach the fundamentals of Linux and Open Source Software. We will build a foundation of general usability, then branch out slowly into very important topics including:

  • Hosting web services
  • Hosting a cloud server
  • Hosting a secure message server
  • Collaborating securely with others
  • Encrypting files and making backups
  • Working on the command line
  • Using source code version control
  • Simple scripting
  • Working with services
  • Managing credentials
  • Network hardening
  • Virtual machines
  • Docker containers
  • Infrastructure as code

Build your digital castle upon a platform of self-hosting, exercise rigorous control over your data, or be a hostage.

Will you make the hard choice, anon?

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