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One Week: Three FOSS Expos

The week after next the FOSS world will be brimming with opportunities to find out more about what’s going on in three separate shows around the country. If you are within a day’s drive of any of them — or if you are not adverse to flying — making it to one of them would be well worth the effort.

In the South, there’s All Things Open, which is being held midweek — Oct. 22-23 — in Raleigh, N.C. ATO is a conference exploring open source, open tech and the open web in the enterprise. Featuring 90 speakers and 100 sessions, ATO brings a lot of heavy hitters to the Research Triangle area. The price for admission might be considered steep by regular Linux show denizens — ranging from $25 for the Women in Tech/OS panel presentation to $229 for a two-day pass. Those who wish to check out the menu of options can go to the ATO registration page.

‘Hello World’ Indiegogo Fundraiser Reaches Goal

Sometime overnight, the Hello World educational video project, which has been trying to raise a little money through an Indiegogo campaign, reached its goal — with twelve full days still to go in the campaign. The funds will be used to purchase new equipment.

As of 11 a.m. EDT, the organization’s Indiegogo webpage is showing that it’s so far received donations totaling $2,145, nearly $100 over the goal of $2,048. The organization had chosen to take an “in for a penny, in for a pound” approach to this fundraising effort by choosing the “fixed funding” option. This means that if the goal hadn’t been met, no funds would be received and all donations would be returned to the contributors.

Christine Hall

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

Bringing Open Source to Scientific Research

I already knew that academia is behind the curve when it comes to IT, from my non-tech part time job at a local university library. For starters, there’s the overreliance on Windows. Then there’s the use of poorly designed proprietary products when perfectly acceptable GPL solutions exist — not to mention the look of scorn and fright coming from the IT people whenever the term “free and open source” is uttered within their hearing.

Although I already knew there was a problem, I didn’t know how deep the problem is until I spoke with GitHub’s Arfon Smith. It seems that academia’s inability to catch up with the twenty-first century even puts careers in jeopardy — especially in the sciences.

Github's Arfon Smith
GitHub’s Arfon Smith
“…an early career post-doctoral researcher I know has a Python package that has about 100,000 downloads per month by his peers and others,” Smith explained. “To a tenure committee at a university, none of this matters — what matters is how many papers he writes and so he’s currently running the risk of not securing a permanent job, even though the work he does is of massive value to the research community.”

In the academic world it’s still “publish or perish,” and being published online usually doesn’t count for much. The tenure committees still pretty much define “publish” as something bound in paper and sent by snail mail.

Arfon Smith is a scientist with a resume longer than both of my arms. This resume includes such bullet points as co-founding Zooniverse and building DNA sequencing pipelines at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. He’s been at GitHub since last October, where he uses his first hand knowledge of the scientific process to help research scientists leverage the organization’s resources. When I spent about an hour on the phone with him a few weeks back, he tried to bring me up to speed on some of the problems with academia, and the reality of scientific research in these postmodern times.

Christine Hall

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

‘Hello World’ Fundraising Update

A little over two weeks ago, I told you about the Brothers Nielsen, Jared and JR, who produce short educational videos which teach Linux and other tech skills to nine to thirteen-year-olds under the “Hello World” banner — a name which should be familiar to anyone who’s ever taken a “programming for dummies” course.

At the time of that article, the Nielsens were just a few days into an all-or-nothing Indiegogo fundraising campaign, hoping to raise the small amount of $2,048 to replace worn-out equipment. That’s it. They aren’t trying to raise money to cover a year’s worth of expenses; they’re not trying to get the public to finance their salaries for the next year; all they want is a little bit of cash for camera’s, lenses, lights and the like. When that article went online, they’d already raised $680, nearly a third of their target amount.

Christine Hall

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

What Linux User Groups Can Do for FOSS

On a monthly basis — on the last Saturday each month — members of the Felton Linux Users Group drag their collective butts out of bed at the crack of 9:30, or possibly earlier, and make their way from various points in the sleepy little town just northeast of Santa Cruz to the solar-powered Felton Fire Station for their meeting.

It’s a good group with core regulars hosting meetings since the Lindependence Project held three open houses to introduce the town to Linux in the summer of 2008. In those open houses, various distros like Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu and Mandriva, along with hardware maker ZaReason, and even an open-source stuffed penguin maker called Open Animals based in Phoenix, appeared to show their wares to the curious in the San Lorenzo Valley area. Around 600 people appeared over the three days and more than 300 live CDs went out the door.

Larry Cafiero

Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

Early Morning Linux Voodoo at Denny’s

Three a.m. can be an interesting time to be in a 24 hour Denny’s Restaurant. The clientèle can range from graveyard shift workers on their lunch break to people who have spent all night partying. I never did understand the “Let’s go to Denny’s” mindset after a night of drinking. Why would I want to ruin a $100.00 drinking spree with a $4.00 pancake breakfast?

Of course, the closest thing to alcohol I put in my mouth most days is mouth wash. I honestly don’t miss the hangovers. Neither do I miss the round of apologies I usually had to make the next day for the dumb stuff I had done the night before.

So, sitting at the counter at 3:20 a.m. working on my third cup of coffee, I watched an older gentleman grow more and more frustrated with the laptop in front of him. After a bit, he pulled an old flip phone from his shirt pocket and left a message when the party did not answer.

“James, this is Ed. Give me a call when you get up. This laptop is going blue screen again.”

Ken Starks

Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue

Secure Linux Systems Require Savvy Users

Linux securityPatches are available to fix the bash vulnerability known as Shellshock, along with three additional security issues recently found in the bash shell. The patches are available for all major Linux distros as well as for Solaris, with the patches being distributed through the various distros.

After the patch is applied, there are a couple of commands that can be run from a terminal to ascertain that a system is no longer vulnerable. For details, see the article Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has written for ZDNet. As yet, there is no patch available for OS X, although Apple says that one is on the way, while assuring its users that Mac systems aren’t vulnerable except for the most advanced users.

The good news about all this is that it demonstrates how quickly the Linux community can get the word out and then rally to engineer a solution when a security problem is discovered. The bad news is that not all Linux users listen. Too many users believe that the security features that are baked into Linux offer complete protection, no matter what. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It never was, nor can it ever be.

My friend Andrew Wyatt, who spent time some years back as the founder and lead developer of the Fuduntu Linux distro, attempted to address this fact recently in a comment to an article on FOSS Force:

Christine Hall

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

Bullies in the Machine or Pick On Someone Your Own Size

Decency…it’s what’s for dinner forums.

It wasn’t but a few days ago that I approached the KDE community in Google Plus to ask a question. In asking that question, I included a screenshot to present a graphical representation of my problem. Three community members responded right away. The first two responses were legitimate queries: questions seeking to gather information needed to calculate an effective attack vector. The third response was…well, not so much.

“Stop, I can’t. My eyes are bleeding. x_x “

The remark about “eyes bleeding” was obviously a reaction to a perceived lack of aesthetics in the screenshot. And yeah, it pissed me off. I didn’t seek a critique on my icon set or color scheme. I was asking how to fix my friggin’ frappin’ problem.

Linux forums 01With my verbal weapons cache set to full snark, I proceeded to dress the commenter down for the misplaced and unhelpful comment. I trimmed and honed every word so that my obvious displeasure at the opinion would not be mistaken for anything else.

There are specific and discrete techniques that can help you call someone a jerk. I used a method designed so that the target momentarily believes that you are a nice guy, while everyone else in proximity is checking their clothing for blood spatter. I have become a master of this technique. Whether that’s good or bad, I dunno. It is what it is.

That wasn’t the end of it, however.

Ken Starks

Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue

Only FOSSers ‘Get’ FOSS

Back on the first of September I wrote an article about Android, in which I pointed out that Google’s mobile operating system seems to be primarily designed to help sell things. This eventually led to a discussion thread on a subreddit devoted to Android. Needless to say, the fanbois and fangrrls over on Reddit didn’t cotton to my criticism and they devoted a lot of space complaining about how the article was poorly written.

They had me there; admittedly it wasn’t one of my better efforts.

The one comment that caught my attention, however, wasn’t complaining about me or my obviously misguided opinion. This commenter said something about how my article came from a FOSS site and made some snarky remark about how as open as Android is, it would never be open enough for those whiny FOSS people. This is the kind of remark we see all the time from tech people, user and developer alike, who think OSS is as free as it gets and don’t understand the distinction between open source and free and open source.

In other words, sometimes it’s the people who’re the closest to us in opinion who become our biggest ideological detractors.

Christine Hall

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

Seigo Throws Flame, Office Suite Kumbaya & OS Face Off

FOSS Week in Review

Flamethrowers and a kumbaya that will probably never happen: Yep, that’s the kind of week it was this week in the land of free/open source software.

Wearing your fireproof underwear? KDE’s Aaron Seigo – never one to shy away from saying what he thinks – lit into community managers in a Google+ post on Monday, calling the community manager role in free/open source software projects “a fraud and a farce.”

Aaron Seigo KDE
Aaron Seigo, shown here in 2011, is never one to shy away from a good discussion or debate.
Credit: Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 8038433@N06’s photostream
“Communities (real ones) have facilitators and leaders of various forms and stripes,” Seigo writes. “It’s OK if they get paid so they are able to spend the time and energy facilitating and leading, but they damn sure are not ‘managers of the community.’ They are accountable to the community, selected by the community, derive their influence from community consensus and can be replaced by the community at the community’s behest.

Larry Cafiero

Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

Redefining the Public Library Using Open Source Ideas

When I read that the Takoma Park Maryland Library has 28 workstations running Linux, I literally couldn’t believe it. Really? A library offering the public Linux? Whenever I go to a library, all I ever see are Windows machines or maybe a Mac or two. When I mention Linux as an alternative, and I sometimes do, I’m usually met with blank stares and the staff begins to think I’m nuts.

To check into this, I contacted Phil Shapiro, the library’s Public Geek. Yup. That’s right, he told me. They are running Linux. The decision was made by his supervisor, Rebecca Brown, some time ago.

“This town is quite diverse, with 92 nationalities, so we needed to find a good multilingual solution,” Shapiro explained. “Rebecca chose a Canandian Linux solutions provider, Userful, whose commercial product is built on top of Fedora Linux. Userful does multilingual very well.”

Phil Shapiro Open Source Library
Phil Shapiro, Takoma Park Maryland Library’s “Public Geek”
The Takoma Park Library takes advantage of the multiseat feature built into Fedora, which allows multiple monitors, keyboards and mice to be operated from a single desktop box. Shapiro has been so impressed with how well this set-up works that he’s made a YouTube video demonstrating Fedora’s implementation of multiseat running on an “obsolete” laptop with low specs.

Interestingly, the move to Linux was met with little push back from the patrons using the machines.

“The patrons are quite happy using Linux to get their work done,” Shapiro said. “Very few of them have any clue they’re not using Windows. They surf the web using Firefox and Chrome and use LibreOffice to compose and edit their word processing documents. In the nine years I’ve worked at this library, only one or two people have ever told me, ‘Hey, this isn’t Windows.'”

So much for the learning curve we read so much about — not surprising to those of us who use Linux. Nor are we surprised to hear that running Linux instead of Windows makes things easier on the library’s IT crew.

Christine Hall

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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