Bi-Weekly Learning Update (46!)

My poor laptop is starting to show its age. I’d purchase it secondhand, so it’s not much of a surprise. My wireless adaptor in particular needed an upgrade and the easy solution was to get a USB adaptor, but because I use Ubuntu as my primary operating system what could’ve been resolved in 10 minutes with a couple clicks and a transaction that would barely qualify for free shipping, became a two-day learning experience

I did a small amount of research before deciding to buy an adaptor from a physical store, reasoning that would probably be easier to return than one purchased online if things didn’t work out. Now I remember why I do online shopping…

In online reviews [Amazon] I’d read that the adapter I’d purchased worked for at least a few people running Ubuntu and there were even links to the drivers they had to install. They made me think it will be fast. Painless. Easy. They lied.

The most important piece of information compatibility with a new piece of hardware is the kernel, and its version number. The kernel is at the center of the operating system, and it what allocates system resources.

I’ve started thinking of the kernel as the engine in a car. Bear in mind I don’t drive, so my analogy is a little glossy. Any number of Ford vehicle models will have a Ford engine model [version] x. Some other makes of cars might even use a Ford motor [I’ve been reading that Android uses a Linux kernel, for example.] They can use the same motor in a lot of different models of vehicles, so the model of the vehicle isn’t the same as model of the engine, but the vehicle is built to work with that engine. Operating systems might have upgrades, and seem to be developed more frequently than kernels, so you can have tons of different operating systems and versions that all use the same kernel and version. The usb adapter that I bought was a one-size-fits-all kind of model- universal! Back to the car analogy, it was a standard size piece of hardware, but a little like buying something that uses imperial sizing, when my engine is metric. I needed a driver to make the two work together, so my system could make use of the upgrade. The real issue with drivers is that there are so many, to correspond with all the intricacies of each kernel version, that you need to know exactly which version you have so the driver will work with both the device, and the kernel. When I wrongly downloaded the first driver that I saw, it was like trying to join my engine and my fancy new upgrade using an adapter that was just too big. It might join the metric and imperial, but it was still the wrong side on one end, so it would never work- unless I wanted to do a lot of tinkering myself [maybe one day, but that seems a lofty goal right now!] In the end I managed to figure out exactly what version my kernel is, and found the perfect driver, so now I can enjoy all the wifis!

As frustrating as it was at first, not knowing exactly what I had to do, I’m glad that persevered and learned a little from the experience!


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