Random thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots

He has risen on Easter Sunday, and no longer referring to myself in the third person I’ll get a cup of coffee and a bagel and drop off a few tidbits from the week, or weeks, past.

He likes it . . . hey, Matt! After not really taking to it in the same way, Jupiter Broadcasting’s Matt Hartley actually like GNOME enough to start using it on a regular basis, according to an item in his blog this week. “Like the KDE desktop, GNOME 3 is full of functionality if you’re willing to invest a little time configuring it the way you like it,” Matt writes. “Where I think GNOME really shines, however, is that even without additional extensions installed, it’s still a great experience in its overall flow and layout. Less clicks to gain menu access, easily locate needed applications, for me GNOME has it all.”

Am I going to try it again after reading Matt’s glowing praise? Nope. But it does speak to one of the basic tenets of FOSS: Use what works for you.

Maybe FOSS doesn’t suck after all: What I think is the most interesting race today is whether Malaysian Airlines 370 is found before data compromises from Heartbleed can be stopped. Thanks to Heartbleed — the gift that keeps on giving (or taking) and which will be months before a resolution is in place — the failure of open-source OpenSSL has been the “standard” by which all Open Source projects have been pilloried in the mainstream media and, sadly, in some of the eyeball-grabbing ought-to-know-better tech media as well.

Well, there’s no argument that the Heartbleed flaw was a monumental and historic one, however Coverity seems to think that “open source is still well ahead of proprietary software, generating fewer coding defects for every size of project,” according to an article in Network World last week. So while no thoughtful FOSS advocate has ever proclaimed invincibility, it might give one pause to recognize the old Debian adage that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Or in the words of one poster during a debate on this in social media, we need to play more defense and less offense.

Seems like I’m forgetting something: Oh yeah, Ubuntu released another adjective/animal combination starting with the letter T. Yes, it still sends your data to Amazon and eBay by default, and if you’re OK with that, go ahead and give it a shot. If you have to use it, your best bet here would be Xubuntu, judging from past experience.

Now to enjoy some Easter eggs and commune with my Peeps. Happy Easter to those who observe it.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Meanwhile, back at the blog . . .

First things first: I hate being a statistic (I’m truly sorry, Mr. President). But as of a few Fridays ago, I have become a minuscule uptick — or at least, in a very infinitesimally small way, preventing a downturn — in the U.S. unemployment rate. In short, the Santa Cruz Sentinel laid me off after 11 years of editing, which capped a 37-year run in various media, mostly in newspapers.

But never mind. Let’s just leave this at “unemployment sucks,” and move on, shall we?

I bring this up to explain my absence. What I have been doing — NSA take note and pass this on to the Labor Department — is looking for work and hatching some other diabolical schemes, not the least of which is reviving the Lindependence Project to do more events this year. Film at 11.

Now with more free time than I can eat, I can do things like write this blog once again on a regular basis. With this additional time when I’m not looking for work (hello, California Employment Development Department), I also have time to squirrel around with some hardware and software in the home lab which, as you may recall, is dubbed The Jungle Room.

Elvis fans can explain that one to you.

Anyway, while cleaning the house the other day, I found a IBM ThinkPad T60 in a box, partially disassembled, and needing a hard drive. More cleaning later, I found a hard drive for it — such is life in Casa Cafiero, because where people find change between the cushions of their couch, I usually find things like a 1 GB laptop memory chip (don’t laugh, that really happened).

In my backpack, I had a Fedora 20 disk from SCALE 12X so I assembled the T60 and after some wailing and gnashing of teeth with the newly found hard drive (I love GParted to death — honest. And I will name the rest of my children GParted, if it ever comes to that), I installed the Fedora 20 “Desktop Edition.”

Translation: “Desktop Edition” means GNOME. It has always been a mystery why they didn’t just call it Fedora $NUMBER GNOME, but they don’t. It’s Desktop Edition, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more. I’ve written about the current GNOME desktop before — in each case, I believe I hated it — but I thought I’d give it another try.

The jury has reached a verdict, your honor: It’s still not for me.

I’m not doing a swan dive onto the dogpile currently burying GNOME in the wake of its recent financial problems. On the contrary: If I can say something positive about it, setting up the desktop the way you want it seems to be easier than it was when I originally tried it years ago. Also, this may be damning by faint praise, but at least GNOME 3.x doesn’t call Amazon saying, “Hey, here’s Larry’s data” (and I think that’s because, well, “erm . . .” they don’t have root, and I trust them moreso than the U-laden distro).

So I’ll be changing this back to something with real, honest-to-$DIETY icons and a desktop environment, which will bring me to KDE or Xfce. Also, I think I’m going to start using Fedora again a little more regularly.

It’s good to be back.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

ZaReason UltraLap 440 Review Part 1: Baptism by fire

scale12x[BLOGGER'S NOTE: Yeah, it's unconventional to do a review in two parts this way, but the timing of my receiving the ZaReason UltraLap 440 coincided by chance with the week leading up to SCALE 12X, perhaps the busiest time of my year. All of which is to say, as you'll see below, that a lot of work was thrown at this machine during the course of the week prior to SCALE 12X, during SCALE 12X itself, and immediately after SCALE 12X. The tl:dr here is that it performed flawlessly and more detail is forthcoming in Part 2].

The e-mail came as expected: ZaReason CEO Cathy Malmrose wrote me the day before asking me if she could introduce me to the new ZaReason marketing manager, Vy Nguyen. “Of course,” I said. Vy wrote me and asked me if I could review the new ZaReason laptop, the UltraLap 440, like I did with the ZaReason Alto 3880 a couple of years ago.

As if you have to twist my arm to try new hardware. Gladly, I said. However, there was a minor detail: With this request coming in February, my attention was locked laser-like on the Southern California Linux Expo and that the rigors of this show had better make this laptop a hard worker with the ability to process a lot of data for long periods of time at the touch of these unusually fat fingers.

In other words, this hardware was going to get slammed under nearly constant 12-hour-a-day-minimum use for the next few weeks.

Long story short, the UltraLap 440 worked like a champ in the weeks leading up to SCALE 12X, during SCALE 12X and immediately after SCALE 12X.

First things first: Off with Ubuntu and on with a distro on which I can get real work done. That would be Korora 20 KDE (though later on, as you’ll read in the next review, other distros were given a test run on this hardware). Copy over my home directory onto the new laptop, make a few adjustments and I am good to go.

As mentioned earlier on many occasions, I’m a ThinkPad guy at heart, so when a smaller, lighter form factor crosses my radar, skepticism rears its ugly head. “So, kid, show me what you’ve got,” was my first response taking the laptop out of the box.

This skepticism was squashed fairly quickly. This hardware is a “lightweight” in form-factor only; the UltraLap 440 did the same tough work, under the same tough conditions under which I put some of the more traditionally hard-core hardware, and it passed this test with flying colors (and, to be honest, I could be easier on hardware. But in my defense I’m not hard on hardware on purpose. I’m just an incredibly clumsy oaf with heavy fingers).

Also, battery life on this hardware deserves special mention. On more than one occasion over the course of the SCALE 12X weekend — usually when picking up the laptop and running with it under my arm, like a football, to some emergency — I had neglected to plug in the laptop. I never ran out of power, noticing at one point that I was somewhere in the 20s, percentage wise, after just over three hours of battery use under some fairly trying conditions that included, but was not limited to, a high number of file exchanges from external drives, USB sticks and SD cards, to say nothing of live streaming video monitoring during the course of the show.

The old saying is essentially correct: Good things actually do come in small packages. The 14-inch screen — the HD display is one of the strong points, despite the fact it took a little getting used to from the nearly square ThinkPad screen — did not hamper my personal work performance. There are even little things that bear big mentions, like the multi-monitor support coming in very handy during the show, or the 8GB of RAM — an optional upgrade for $59 that is well worth the expense — helping to carry a heavy load without breaking a sweat.

For the few weeks around SCALE 12X, the UltraLap 440 gets high marks for grace under pressure, and its use in non-show conditions — let’s call that normal day-to-day use — will be the topic of the next review.

Coming next, ZaReason UltraLap 440 Review Part 2: Daily life with the ZaReason UltraLap 440 that does not include the best Linux/FOSS show of the year, highlighting the upsides of this machine — and there are many — and the downside — primarily one, which is easily overcome.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Whew

scale12xDecompression can be a killer. A thousand pardons for taking so long to post about it, but the Southern California Linux Expo SCALE 12X was nothing short of fantastic on a variety of levels.

No, that’s not hyperbole.

Lawrence Lessig absolutely nailed it in the Friday night keynote. Don’t take my word for it — watch the keynote on the SCALE 12X site here. Also, Lessig is going to need a little help fixing the government, so if you’re so inclined just send an email to SCALE@lessig.org with a description of the sort of commitment/skills you can offer, and if helpful, a description of your background.

The rest was, frankly, a well-choreographed blur of 90 or so talks over three days, punctuated by two days of exhibits with around 100 exhibitors and whirlwind of volunteers who rhetorically knocked it out of the park.

If you were there and want to relate your experience, go for it in the comments.

But back to the “knocking it out of the park” thing, it inspires complete and utter awe how much this show improves every year. It all boils down to one question.

What makes a great show like SCALE 12X?

Everyone: The volunteers, the staff, the speakers, the exhibitors and the sponsors. But most importantly, the attendees tie the ribbon on a fantastic expo, making it the complete and wonderful package it is.

The final tally: There was an uptick of roughly 10 percent in registrations for SCALE 12X, with a new record number of people enjoying three days of presentations, workshops and exhibits.

It was great to see old friends and to meet those I have talked to on numerous occasions but finally got to meet in person: Leslie Hawthorn, whose outstanding keynote was SRO, and Steven Rosenberg of the L.A. Daily News, who gave us a pre-show story in the Daily News’ constellation of Southern California publications.

[Yes, I compared SCALE 12X to the Daytona 500 in that article -- an afterthought that the press picked up (shame on me -- I should know better). But the comparison is a valid one: Like NASCAR holding its biggest race first, so FOSS also holds its most important event at the beginning of the year.]

As the publicity chair, the Publicity Team fired on all cylinders for the entire weekend: Hannah Anderson, who handled social media and floor interview duties as if she was born to do these things, kept everyone informed, and a team of photographers and videographers — Dennis Rex, Michelle Klein-Hass, Sam Is, and Sean McCabe — kept the photos and videos flowing throughout the show.

Graphics: Mike Hamanaka and Josh Adler did a fantastic job in the graphics department — Mike with the signage, badges and stickers, and Josh with the publications and T-shirt design. I got a lot of comments on these during the course of the show and it bears special mention.

Again, I would stress that if anyone has any of their own tales of SCALE 12X they’d like to share, please post them in the comments. As for me, I was stuck marshalling the media forces in the press room for a better part of the show and I got most news second- and third-hand, so some first-hand accounts would be appreciated.

One more thing: As I mentioned in a previous item, ZaReason gave me an UltraLap 440 to review right around the time SCALE 12X was happening, so the laptop got a baptism by fire, sort of, at the show. I am still in the process of giving it a month-long, long-term road test, so to speak, and I should point out that at the show, the laptop performed flawlessly as my main machine. More on this will be detailed in an upcoming review.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

One more week

scale12xOK, I could pun it up here: “I was weighed down by SCALE,” or some other eye-rolling line to explain why I haven’t written all week. The fact of the matter is that I have been swamped with work on what may end up being the best show yet for the Southern California Linux Expo SCALE 12X.

No, that’s not hyperbole. And as scary as this prospect might be, I really need more than one of me to do the press work for SCALE 12X, which starts next week.

I’m going to need a bigger boat.

Why? Lawrence Lessig is coming to speak in the Friday night keynote. That’s right: A Friday night keynote to augment the Saturday morning kenote by Brendan Gregg and the Sunday morning keynote by Leslie Hawthorn. There aren’t three speakers who are better suited for a FOSS gathering than that trio.

That alone doesn’t address the great range of speakers throughout the course of the three days.

So I’ve been a little busy stoking the publicity fires for SCALE this year. You need to come — three days, more than 90 speakers, more than 100 exhibitors. All that equals one great event.

Also, this will be a test show this year as well. ZaReason has sent me an UltraLap 440 and I am going to put it through its paces for the show, writing about it here from time to time. I’ve already replaced Ubuntu 13.10 — what a surprise — on the UltraLap with Korora 20 KDE Peach. There’s a good chance CrunchBang will happen upon the UltraLap soon as well. Heck, my daughter Mimi will probably purloin the laptop somewhere along the line and install the latest Linux Mint Cinnamon version, which is her favorite flavor.

[Insert Neil Young joke here: She is my Cinnamon Girl -- I could be happy the rest of my life with a Cinnamon Girl. OK, I was just leaving.]

All of which is to say that while I have sort of been absent last week, expect for me to make up for it going forward with reports from SCALE.

You have been warned.

See you at SCALE 12X.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Falling far from the tree

scale12xThis week, on the 30th anniversary of the unleashing of the Macintosh to the world, I’m going to go far afield and talk about Macs and how I got to Linux through them.

A little history (OK, a lot of history): My exposure to Apple goes back to the early 1980s. While working as a copywriter for Spillis Candela and Partners in Coral Gables, Fla., I worked on a Lisa to produce federal documents for public projects.

Later — and many have already heard this story, so forgive me in advance — I plopped down nearly $3,000 for an “on-sale” package of an Apple //c (not IIc) and a Brother daisy-wheel printer. I’ll let that sink in for a minute — $3,000 buys how much tech these days? — while I compose myself and wipe away the tears.

I had a Mac in the mid-’80s. I’ve had several Macs. Having a Mac in the ’80s was not the status toy it is today. Having a Mac was a statement, like the woman in the 1984 ad throwing the sledgehammer into the telescreen. It was pretty much a middle finger extended to both IBM and Microsoft long before Linux and BSD were available at all, let alone long before it was available to the average user.

It was a different Apple then, too, and not in the best way. Steve Jobs had been booted. John Sculley and Gil Amelio and about 40 different versions of the Macintosh existed with about 10 different setups for each. It was mind boggling.

There were good parts of it, too. For the longest time, Macs could handle CMYK, making it a standard in printing (giving rise to Aldus, now Adobe, and its print-related suite of software) while Microsoft scurried to catch up. Computer maker Power Computing sent their booth staff to Macworld in fatigues ready to fight the good fight. MacMarines, of which I was one in the ’90s, also embraced the same passion as Mac evangelists of all stripes fought for the forces of digital good while Apple circled the wagons with a consistently minuscule, and dropping, user base percentage.

I could go on for days about this. The nouveau Apple users have no idea. No clue whatsoever. You truly had to be there.

Then Power Computing and Umax, making hardware using MacOS, had their licensing agreement yanked when Steve Jobs returned to the helm. This was pretty much the beginning of the end for what Apple was then, and the beginning of what it is now for the hardware-trendsetting juggernaut. Kicked off by a $150 million gift from Microsoft, and with the killing of the Newton (bad move — I still have a MessagePad 120), Jobs immediately put his mark on the company, drove it in the direction he wanted it, and made it what it is today.

I’m not criticizing or laying blame — Jobs did what he did and it is what it is. By Wall Street standards, Apple is a huge success story. However, I clearly don’t agree with the direction Apple took, especially on locking down hardware and software and praying at the altar of the almighty bottom line, but that’s the way it goes.

In a lot of ways, Apple’s odyssey reminds me of the Gentle Giant album, “The Power and the Glory.” Most of you probably don’t know this group — a progressive rock band in the mid-’70s and a contemporary of King Crimson, as a point of reference — but the gist of the album is a series of songs telling the story of someone saying the system must change while finally concluding at the end of the album that the system must not change.

But what does this have to do with Linux or FOSS? For me personally, I started with Linux using Macs.

Back story, maestro: In 2006 I ran for Insurance Commissioner as the Green Party candidate. Putting aside the inside baseball as to why I ran (and won’t do it again), I asked the IT guy for the Green Party if he had any suggestions about software to use for the campaign. He introduced me to Free/Open Source Software, how it worked, and the paradigm behind it. The next day, I was running an iMac on the PowerPC version of Debian.

Since then, I have never used anything but FOSS on all the hardware I’ve owned. For years after I started using Linux, I still used PowerPC Macs because in most cases, the hardware was of a high quality (iMac G5 notwithstanding — what a dog!); at least until I learned to love the IBM ThinkPad.

As for my conversion to FOSS, I may not have been such a strong believer in FOSS if I had not been a Mac user back in the day.

The Apple of today bears absolutely no resemblance of the Apple of the 1980s and 1990s. None. In this case, the fruit has fallen far — very far — from the tree.

See you here next week.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Weighing in on SCALE

This time of the year has me preoccupied, occupied, and post-occupied with SCALE 12X, the Southern California Linux Expo, which runs from Feb. 21-23 at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel. Mention my name and get a good price (though, to be honest, it’s a good price whether you mention my name or not).

SCALE is unique in a lot of ways, but perhaps the biggest way that makes SCALE stand out is that it’s an event that easily stands with some of the larger FOSS shows in North America but — wait for it — it’s entirely community run. With an even dozen shows coming up next month, it’s the largest community-run show on the North American continent.

No small feat.

Truth in advertising: As the publicity chairperson for the event, it’s in my best interest to say nice things about SCALE 12X. Yet even if I wasn’t part of the expo, I’d still say nice things because, for the most part, the SCALE Team shows what people from divergent backgrounds — and with different, wide-ranging abilities and talents — can do when focused on one goal: in this case, providing a great vehicle for promoting Free/Open Source Software and hardware to kick off the year in the U.S.

Leslie Hawthorn and Brendan Gregg are keynoting. There are probably 90-something presentations spread out over the three days, with about 100 exhibitors. The range of presentations and tracks runs the gamut from easy-to-grasp for beginners to the most intricate technical sessions for the most seasoned IT veterans. The schedule, which is still being finalized and should be posted soon, will provide a road map to the cornucopia of information that will benefit everyone in attendance.

A lot happens at SCALE — in a good way, of course — and it’s something you should see at least once (at least). SCALE 12X would be a good time, if you haven’t been already, and for those of you who have been before, this year will again be great.

I’ll be there. Will you?

See you here next week.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.