Interview with Roderick W. Smith, Author of “Advanced Linux Networking”

Roderick W. Smith is a professional computer book author who has extensive experience writing handbooks for users. A Linux and networking expert, he has several books to his name, including: Broadband Internet Connections, Linux: Networking for Your Office, The Multi-Boot Configuration Handbook, Linux Samba Server Administration and Advanced Linux Networking. Roderick has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Tufts University. On the personal side, he enjoys science fiction, computers, and an occasional binge of photography.

How long have you been working with Linux, and how did you get interested in it?

I first started using Linux in 1994, because I was curious about Linux and wanted to learn more about UNIX-like systems generally. I spent several hours downloading an early Slackware via a 28.8Kbps modem (or maybe even 14.4Kbps), then later bought an InfoMagic CD set.

You’ve written several books – out of all of your writing ideas how do you decide which ones to develop further?

Part of it’s a matter of finding a publisher; some books just don’t fly with the publishers. The rest of it’s a matter of what I find interesting — what sort of book would enable me to stretch a bit in learning, to consolidate what I know and extend my knowledge and skills, while doing the same for the reader. Usually, I learn more about a subject in the process of writing about it than I can put in the book. That helps me evaluate what’s most important to include in the book.

What was it like writing Advanced Linux Networking? Any major difficulties?

I moved about mid-way through writing, which of course was disruptive, and then a month and a half later was 9/11/01. I didn’t know anybody who was killed or directly affected by the attacks, but it was still quite disturbing. Thus, the book was a difficult one to write because of what was happening in my life and to the world as I was writing it.

In terms of content, the trickiest part of this book was its multi-distribution coverage. Linux isn’t really a single OS; it’s a group of related OSs, so explicitly covering seven Linux distributions was tricky. I had to have them all installed on various systems, and check details like file locations from one to another. Half the distributions had been updated between the time I wrote the early chapters and the time I submitted revisions, so I had to re-check everything. That’s really a lot of work, but I think it’s worthwhile. Certainly I’ve been frustrated many times by reading documentation that makes assumptions that aren’t correct in whatever distribution I’m using, and I hope that _Advanced Linux Networking_ can contribute to reducing such frustrations.

You cover various Linux distributions in the book, which one(s) do you use on a daily basis?

That rotates. At the moment, I’ve got Caldera on my main server and Libranet on my main workstation, with SuSE and Debian installed on an iMac and notebook, respectively. I’ve also used Mandrake, Red Hat, and assorted others as my primary distributions at various times. In fact, I’ve got a Web page that briefly describes my experiences with many of these distributions.

What’s the most careless act in system administration you’ve ever seen?

It wasn’t really system administration, but I was once in the room when somebody (who shall remain nameless) put a hard disk ON an opened computer case without mounting it IN the case in order to transfer some files off of the drive. Unfortunately, the way the drive was placed on the computer case caused a short on the drive’s circuit board when it was powered up, which completely fried the drive, rendering it useless. Fortunately, there was an earlier backup, so it wasn’t a complete loss, but some files were lost forever, not to mention use of the hard disk.

In terms of software, I’m sure I’ve trashed an MBR or two while repartitioning a drive, but I can’t think of any specific case that really qualifies as “most careless.” There are so many careless things that can happen. Personally, I try to be very deliberate when working as root — I usually type a command, pause with my hands off the keyboard, and only when I’ve reviewed the command a couple of times do I press the Enter key.

What are your plans for the future? Any exciting new projects?

I’ve got a book on FreeBSD that’s mostly finished and will be coming out from Osborne/McGraw-Hill before too long. A book I co-authored with Vicki Stanfield, _Linux System Administration_, has just gone into its second edition. I’ve got proposals out for a couple of future projects, but I’ve heard nothing definite yet about those.