Sometimes it’s the things right under your nose that are the hardest things to see. This is my desktop at home [uncharacteristically uncluttered]. Pretty much standard fare with a couple of 27" monitors connected to a big Windows 10 computer under the desk. But there are some anomalies. Why the two keyboards? and the two mice? And what’s with that little screen on the tripod?
The screen, keyboard, and mouse on the right belong to a Raspberry Pi, a little $35 computer that runs Raspbian [a variant of the Linux Operating system – which is free], has a full range of software packages [which are free], can be programmed using the Python Language [which is downloaded free], and has a hardware interface to the outside for hackers to prototype all kind of stuff [like robots]. There’s a Raspberry Pi on the space station overhead. The Android OS that runs your phone is a variant of Linux, and the Apache software that runs almost every web server usually runs under Linux.
In the 1980s, when the personal computer burst onto the scene, you could buy programs for your computer, but they were compiled – meaning that you couldn’t see the code and you couldn’t change anything about them. The software producers essentially had a monopoly. The Open Source Movement arose on multiple fronts throughout the next few decades and is too complex to detail here, but the core idea is simple. If you buy a piece of Open Source Software, you get the compiled program AND the source code. You can do with it what you please. There are many variants but that’s the nuts and bolts of it. Linus Torvolds, a Finnish student wrote a UNIX-like operating system [Linux] and released it Open Source [which put this movement on the map]. Netscape did the same thing. The idea is huge – that it’s fine to be able to sell your work [programs], but it’s not fine to keep the computer code under lock and key.
Before I retired, computers and programming were my hobbies, and the source of a lot of fun. I didn’t need either of them for my work [psychoanalytic psychotherapy] – they were for play. I gradually moved everything to the Linux system and Open Source. But when I retired, my first project involved georegistering old maps and projecting them onto modern topographc maps, and the only software available ran under Windows. And then with this blog, I couldn’t find an Open Source graphics program that did what I wanted. So I’ve run Windows machines now for over a decade. But I just got this little Raspberry Pi running, and I can already see that I’m getting my hobby back. If it’s not intuitive what this has to do with Randomized Clinical Trials or the Academic Medical Literature, I’ll spell it out here in a bit. But for right now – here’s Linus: