Linus Torvalds and Me!

I came across this article on net, written by one of Linus Torvald’s office mates at Helsinki. I have been a user of Linux since 1993-94 period. As I was reading this article I found few interesting coincidences and I thought I would share it in my blog.

1. Use of Sinclair

Let’s go back to the spring of 1991. In January, Linus bought a PC. He’d been using a Sinclair QL before that, which, like much British computer stuff, was ingenious and almost unusably different from everything else.

Before I purchased a PC in 1986, when I was returning to India from USA after completing my PhD at University of California, Berkeley, I had been using a Timex Sinclair. It did not have a display of its own but could be connected to a TV to be used as display. I remember after buying it, I used this to create a flashing “Swagatam” in Hindi(meaning welcome) on TV and used it when few friends had joined us for dinner. They were all amazed to see this and I got my kick of excitement !

2. “Prince of Persia”

When he got up to speed with the PC, after having played enough Prince of Persia, he started learning about programming the PC.”

At one time, I was also hooked on to “Prince of Persia”. To play this game I would go out for walking in the morning and actually go to my Lab in office and play this game! While family members thought I had improved and was doing serious walking for long time 🙂

3. Not doing maths homework!

I remember once when we were being questioned about some math home work. I happened to know Linus hadn’t done it. But bold as he was even then, he claimed to have done them anyway. As luck would have it, the teacher wanted Linus to present his solution to the class. On the way to the blackboard, Linus read the problem, then stood in front of the board for a second or two, and went on to present a solution that the teacher couldn’t understand. Linus can be quite annoying like that.

When I was doing my schooling at Netarhat, we had a maths teacher Mr Manoj Kumar Dey. All of us called him “Dey Saheb” and he was known for his strict discipline and punctuality. Many stories revolved around him and some were of his anger as well.

There was some event going on in school, where all students were engaged and no one bothered to do homework and they expected Teachers would not bother to even ask about it. When we went to Maths class, we were not lucky. Dey Saheb asked if we had done homework. He asked one of our classmates to show his copy. He took it to him and he saw there was no homework done. He then started tearing off blank pages one after another and flying it in air. He said since you are not using this for any work, you might as well make kites of it and fly.

By this time whole class was shocked not knowing who would be next. I think only, Niraj Jha (Now Professor at Princeton), had done it. He used to be regular topper in my batch also. My memory if failing now but probably he showed the homework to him. I was next to grab his attention(Oh No!). He did not ask to see my homework copy but asked me to solve it on board. I looked at the problem in the book and walked to board. While walking to the board, I happened to turn the page and noticed a “hint” given for solution. That was enough for me to solve it on board and not only I got saved but whole class was saved after that as Dey Saheb’s anger came down!

4. Overwriting boot sector of hard disk!

At one point, Linus had implemented device files in /dev, and wanted to dial up the university computer and debug his terminal emulation code again. So he starts his terminal emulator program and tells it to use /dev/hda. That should have been /dev/ttyS1. Oops. Now his master boot record started with “ATDT” and the university modem pool phone number. I think he implemented permission checking the following day

I remember doing something similar when I did “cat /dev/zero > /dev/hda” and erased everything on hard disk!

Linus is considered God by many. So please forgive me for trying to make some comparison with him!


Author: Prabhat Ranjan

Prof. Prabhat Ranjan is Vice Chancellor, D Y Patil International University, Akurdi, Pune. He was heading India's Technology Think Tank, TIFAC( as its Executive Director since April 2013 to April 2018. Earlier he was Professor at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute for Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar (DA-IICT) since 2002. He was educated in Netarhat School(near Ranchi), IIT Kharagpur and Delhi University. He received his Ph D from University of California, Berkeley where he carried our research on “Nuclear Fusion” at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory during 1983-86. He immediately returned to India after this and carried out research in Nuclear Fusion area at Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Calcutta and Institute for Plasma Research(IPR), Gandhinagar. He played a major role in India’s Nuclear Fusion program and was Project Leader of the largest operational Indian Fusion Reactor, ADITYA, at Institute for Plasma Research from 1996-2002. His current interests include applications of Wireless Sensor Network to Wildlife, Planetary Exploration (Chandrayaan mission), Nuclear Fusion, Healthcare, Agriculture etc. He has received National Science Talent Search Award, IBM Faculty Innovation Grant and HP Innovate 2009 award, NPEDP-Mphasis Universal Design Award 2012, Bihar Gaurav Samman 2012 etc. In March 2022, he was also honored with EduStar India’s Most Impactful Vice Chancellor Award for 2021-22. He has been recognized by outlook among few visionaries, who can lead India towards 5 Trillion Dollar Economy. He has been also honoured with Maharashtra Ratna Gaurav Puraskar by Shalini Foundation in 2024. He is also recognized among the top “100 Great IITians : Dedicated to the Service of the Nation”.

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