Continuous Learning and Innovation

It’s amazing how one thing leads to another. Recently I was finally annoyed enough by my laptops not automatically synchronizing Firefox bookmarks that I had to do something about it. I regularly use two Linux Mint laptops, a Windows 7 laptop, and a WinXP laptop, and was manually synchronizing bookmarks periodically, but what I really wanted was something automatic, real-time, secure and painless. My Google fu told me the Firefox SyncPlaces plug-in might be just what I needed, and I liked that it used my server for storing its synchronisation data.

First, I configured SyncPlaces to use ftp for uploading bookmark data to my server (which is good, because my day job’s firewall only allows http and ftp access). I happened to be at a McDonald’s having lunch, where WiFi is free but ssh is not allowed. However, I have Webmin installed and was able to start the ftp daemon with a quick “/etc/rc.d/ftpd onestart” using the Webmin’s Command Shell module. Once that was done, I cleaned up the bookmarks on the Linux Mint T61 ThinkPad I was using and uploaded them, later synchronising Firefox on my Win7 HP dv9000. So far so good. Now, why didn’t I do this sooner?

This morning, thinking I had better enable ftpd in rc.conf before the system was rebooted  and I had to troubleshoot why ftp no longer worked. I tried using Webmin’s File Manager module to edit rc.conf but instead of seeing my server’s file system I only saw the error “This module requires Java to function, but your browser does not support Java”.  What?!? Firefox doesn’t support Java?!?

Turning again to Google, I found Ubuntu (on which Linux Mint is based) had recently removed Java and the Java Firefox plugin from its repositories and had switched to OpenJDK and the IcedTea browser plugin. The problem was that out-of-the box Linux Mint didn’t include IcedTea! After installing “IcedTea-Web Plugin” using Linux Mint’s Software Manager, the Webmin File Manager module again worked and I was able to add ftpd to rc.conf. Whew!

Why do I put myself through this? It’s because the learning experiences provided help me to stay current with changes in technology. Abstracting a problem and its solution may aid the the growth of a new technology, but abstraction also makes it easy to lose connection with underlying technical aspects. When that happens, the ability to innovate is lost – along with any opportunity to add real value.

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