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2011: The Year of Women in FOSS

January 30, 2011 3 comments

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In my last blog post, which dealt with an issue tied deeply to testosterone and its effect on the faces of human males who deal with FOSS, it has been brought to my attention that I had ignored a significant portion of the FOSS population; that is, those in FOSS who are not bearded and, for the most part, not male.

Oddly enough, one might think that I’m writing this item as a form of penance. Quite the contrary: To be honest, I had written this before the beard item — writing most of this as a lead-in to the beard issue. Then I thought better of it: I could have gone that route and, in the process, belittled the issue upon which this item is based. I realized while writing then thought that this issue was too important to trivialize, and could — not to mention should — stand on its own.

Funny how that happens, huh? But I digress.

There has not been an agreed-upon grand announcement that 2011 is “The Year of the $UNEQUIVOCAL_TREND” — Android and Tablets aside, with which yours truly might agree on the former, but not on the latter — though it is convincingly arguable that 2011 is shaping up to be “The Year of Women in Tech.”

Exhibit A that shows the promise that this might be shaping up to be a breakthrough year for women would be the Southern California Linux Expo SCALE 9X. Both keynote speakers — Leigh Honeywell and Jane Silber — marks the first time that two keynoters at a major expo were of the same gender where the gender in question isn’t male. Exhibit B might be the widespread adoption of a new anti-harassment policy that has been making the rounds of shows like SCALE in order to avoid incidents outlined by writerpar excellence Bruce Byfield in a recent item.

This is a good — no, a great — thing on many levels, especially as a father of a daughter who is tech oriented; this same father who now worries just a little less about what the future may hold for her, while continuting to work toward a day where Mimi and her teen counterparts grow up to be recognized as equal to the males writing programs and/or doing the things they do in the tech realm.

Is it the be-all and end-all to ending sexism in FOSS? No. Is there a significant way to go in gaining gender equality, both in attitude and practice? Yes. Do you hate it as much as I do when people answer their own questions? I hope so.

But 2011, when we look back on it later, could be the point where we say, “Yep, back then folks had enough and that’s about the time we started to move beyond it.”

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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Don’t fear the beard

January 27, 2011 9 comments

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During the 2010 baseball season, the San Francisco Giants — the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants (yours truly never tires of saying that) — had a slogan, “Fear the Beard.” Most of the pitching staff — relievers and closer Brian Wilson specifically — were bearded pitching machines mowing down opposing batters.

Historically speaking, the tech realm and beards have never been too far apart, at least for the men. As such, there are some in the FOSS realm who deserve special recognition for not only advancing free/open source software, but also for forsaking the razor and putting a hairy face forward.

This blog item deals with beards specifically, so those with FOSS’s most awesome goatees — like Red Hat’s Karsten Wade, freelance FOSS journalist Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier and Oregon State University Professor Carlos Jensen, all of whom would definitely get top honors in this category — aren’t included here. Sorry, guys. Same with moustaches: For example, Mark Terranova’s ‘stache belongs in any facial hair Hall of Fame; a piece of work that would easily get him membership in The Village People — and I mean that in a good way (however, truth be told, when he’s got a beard, Mark runs with the best of ‘em).

Here is a sampling of what I find are the best beards in FOSS, in no particular order other than to say that if anyone got a first prize, it would have to go to . . .

Jon ‘maddog’ Hall: Despite getting a lot of input from those who think Richard Stallman should get top billing, sorry, RMS: Maddog takes the prize as the FOSS advocate with historically the best beard in the realm, to which picture at right will attest. Or you could look up Father Christmas in the dictionary and, chances are, you’ll find maddog’s picture with the definition. Despite recently going for the Sean-Connery-as-Indiana-Jones’-Dad look (see next paragraph) to go along with the 70 or so pounds he dropped — a great thing, indeed — Hall’s beard has always been the standard of epic in the FOSS beard pantheon.

[Maddog, shown at left in his new closer cropped form, comments in response to an e-mail: “And for beards, I could NEVER understand why someone would want to put a very sharp instrument close to their throat when they are only partially awake. I have not shaved since 1969 . . . .” Also, to the youngsters out there, maddog has a message: “I am glad that you are twenty . . . I enjoy seeing your youthful energy and beauty, and some days when I wake up and I am stiff, I wish I was twenty again . . . but I only wish that for about fifteen minutes.” Amen to that!]

Richard Stallman: Most people I’ve talked to about this have said, after they stopped laughing at the topic (“No, really, I’m writing on the BEARDS of FOSS . . .”), that RMS should have the top spot, and in lieu of Jon ‘maddog’ Hall’s change in appearance, they might be right. The bearded face that launched a thousand tools to make the Linux kernel run, and launched a free software movement to boot, has been the one most commonly associated with free-as-in-freedom software. Not only this, he also sidelines as a saint — if you’ve never seen the St. Ig-GNU-tius schtick, check it out. I first saw this several years ago when Stallman spoke at UC Berkeley, and it never gets old despite being bearded (and I mean that in a good way).

Timothy Budd: If you are now, or have been, a student of computer science at a university, there’s a chance you may have had a class with a textbook Timothy Budd had written. An associate professor of computer science at Oregon State University — Go Beavers! — Tim has written a dozen textbooks on object-oriented programming, data structures and Leda, a multi-paradigm programming language that yours truly admits to not understanding at all. Be that as it may, Tim’s advocacy for FOSS during his time at OSU — he has had me as well as others speak to his graduate classes on FOSS — and his healthy crop of hair on his chin garners him a spot on the list. Besides, since he is well known by his students for his use of the term “Administrivia,” he gets on the list by simple use of that bearded word alone.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols’ beard is one that most FOSS users and advocates are accustomed to seeing on a nearly daily basis when reading the latest developments in Free/Open Source Software news. Whenever there’s news to be delivered, the FOSS community can count on Steven being the one who brings it to us; not only this, usually Steven is first with the news, which should garner him the nickname “Scoop.” Now writing for ZDNet as well, Steven gets what is rightfully more exposure in writing news that’s important to us — and to everyone else, for that matter. Steven gets extra points for being a Asheville Tourists fan — the Tourists being one of the most unique mascot names for a baseball team in the country.

Me: In an unprecedented display of unabashed ego worthy of another Larry — the CEO of Oracle whom, incidentally, has what’s trying to be a beard on his face, but not doing a very good job of it (but I digress) — I like to think that my beard would rank up there among bearded FOSS titans, not because of any accomplishment of my own — OK, the Lindependence Project . . . maybe — but just by the mere fact that it grows, with Wolfman-like speed, on my face. Herein lies the story: I’m a werewolf. Just kidding — I grew first grew my beard after Jerry Garcia died in Jerry’s honor, but my family hated it. So I went back and forth between having it and not having it until making a pact with my family: Even-numbered years, a moustache; odd-numbered years, the beard.

I’ve missed a lot of people, which is where you come in: Who did I miss and why is should their beard be in the FOSS Hairy-Faced Hall of Fame?

[Photos of Jon “maddog” Hall, Timothy Budd and Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols used by permission. The photo of Richard Stallman was taken by Copyleft and appears here under the GPL and CC-Share-Alike licenses afforded by the photographer. I haven’t decided to give myself permission to use my photo, but it’s probably OK.]

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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Back to the future

January 16, 2011 2 comments

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More times than not, Ken Starks — who pens the Blog of Helios — nails it, and his most recent item is quite possibly Exhibit A to that rule. In his latest submission, Ken responds adequately to a critic who “said that [the HeliOS Project] had wasted a computer on kids that were far too young to either appreciate the technology or use it efficiently.”

Ken’s blog takes the argument and slices and dices it in such a way that, if it were a Ronco product, you’d find it being advertised on late-night television.

But wait, there’s more. I’ll let Ken tell the story, from his blog. Ken writes:

“Skip Guenter and I do week-long computer labs during summer vacation. The kids range from 4th to 6th grade. When I first intro the class. I walk among the seated children and then I point to one of them and I say:

” ‘You are going to be the first person to walk on Mars.’

“I point to another and state:

” ‘You are going to discover an herbal compound that cures diabetes.’

“And to a third child I point and say:

” ‘You are going to invent the nano technology that reverses blindness.’

“Then I make sure that they understand one thing. Unless they embrace and learn about the machines in front of them, none of that is likely to happen.”

Amen to that, Ken.

Also, on the issue of age, there is my own experience. I started with GNU/Linux and FOSS very late — 48 to be exact, five years ago, and I’ve told that story here ad nauseum. However, thanks to the miracle of being my offspring (it’s a miracle to me, anyway, that she’s my girl), my daughter Mimi has grown up with FOSS for pretty much her entire life.

Her introduction to computers and their use, then, has always involved a high degree of FOSS exposure, and with this exposure comes a better understanding of how software works and a clearer knowledge of how software should be available to the public. It has been interesting to watch her grow along with the Free Software and Open Source philosophies; not to mention the snapshots along the way, like learning about how to install Debian at 8 under her Dad’s watchful eye, or her enthusiasm today for GIMP and other programs that allow her to develop and expand her passion for drawing.

With her understanding of how the digital world works and inheriting her Dad’s affinity for implementing Free Software and the Open Source paradigm, Mimi can usually be found with me at various Linux expos and shows. Not only this, she can also be found with her friends — Malakai and Saskia Wade — giving talks at expos like SCALE and the Utah Open Source Conference about “Girls in FOSS.”

[As an aside: Mimi is now an Ubuntu user, in what her Fedora-using Dad hopes will be just a passing rebellious phase. Or not. But rather than rend my garment and wail skyward, “I have no daughter!” I would prefer to be proud of her beyond words for trying a variety of distros and settling on one that works for her. That’s my girl.]

Back to the art, though: Mimi has developed an artesian depth of artistic talent, and my eternal gratitude goes to Bill Kendrick and the developers of Tux Paint for planting the seed of artistic abilities with that consistently outstanding program. Tux Paint and this household, digitally speaking, go way back, and Kendrick’s and his team’s efforts on all the software they write make a huge impact on the lives of those who use it.

This same “huge impact” can be claimed by a wide range of FOSS programs as well — substitute $FOSS_PROGRAM for “Tux Paint” and there are a wide variety of FOSS programs that have made their mark on the computer-using world, all for the better.

Which brings us back to Ken and Skip and the summer computer labs: One kid in that room may be the one who first steps on Mars. One may be the one who develops the technology to allow the blind to see. But also, they may not be the ones accomplishing those feats, and that’s OK. At the very least — at the absolute least — kids learning about and using FOSS will grow up to be average adults with a better understanding of how hardware and software work and a clearer picture of how hardware and software should be made available to the public.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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The ’69 Dart of Software

January 13, 2011 1 comment

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I got to my office and it was too cold to work. So I left the frozen tundra of Redwood Digital Research for the cozy confines of The White Raven.

From the comfort of a large coffee and a view of traffic passing New Leaf Market — a solar-powered organic grocery story which has its servers running Red Hat, no thanks to me, but still — I thought about a couple of stories I’d read this past week.

The first was a blog post by an Emery Fletcher which paints Ubuntu as the be-all and end-all of Linux implementation. While I am eternally grateful for Ubuntu’s efforts in promoting Linux in the general public (even if it is to the point of putting itself first and FOSS second, but I digress) and while the blog presents an interesting point about Linux implementation, it’s hard to determine whether this blog item suffers from anything more than mere myopia.

Current versions of Debian, OpenSUSE and Fedora are all as user-friendly as the current version of Ubuntu, but that does not enter into the equation in this blog. That’s unfortunate, too, because what both Fedora and OpenSUSE — with its new Studio spin — have done consistently with each upgrade have been remarkable. Mr. Fletcher may be lacking some perspective — think about where Ubuntu would be without the contributions to kernel development (warning: that link is a PDF file, courtesy of the Linux Foundation) and desktop development without the three distros mentioned at the beginning of the previous sentence — a harrowingly depressing thought, indeed.

The second article — the one from which this blog title derives its name — comes from a comment I made on a discussion in LXer.com regarding this blog item comparing Photoshop and GIMP.

First things first: There are some unqualified truths in life. The sun will always rise in the east and set in the west. The moon controls the tides. The San Francisco Giants will win the World Series only once every half-century.

Above all of the aforementioned is this one: GIMP is not Photoshop.

I’ve used GIMP in a professional setting — namely the newspaper for which I work. Once a long time ago, the paper did not have enough Photoshop licenses to go around for all the editors, so I downloaded GIMP (not requiring a license) and used it to process photos that ended up on the newspaper’s printed page. However — and you knew that was coming — I am fairly well-versed in GIMP and had little problem adapting to its interface; had another editor who is more Photoshop oriented had to do the same thing, s/he may have had a problem or two.

GIMP is an adequate photo manipulation program, but without the army of developers behind it — as Adobe has — it will pale in comparison with Photoshop. Always. So it’s foolish to think that professionals wouldn’t use Photoshop. In other words, if you’re a professional driver qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, you’re not going to strap yourself into a ’69 Dodge Dart to get the job accomplished — you’re going to use the appropriate tool(s) for the job. Conversely, most people don’t need a turbocharged single-seat racing car to go to work and back, and to run daily errands.

Will there be a time when GIMP can rival Photoshop? Not without a huge influx of developers to match what Adobe does. Believe me, every night before I drift off to sleep, I pray to the Almighty that developers will magically appear on GIMP’s doorstep (and the rhetorical doorstep of other FOSS programs) and that Job One will be making a single window interface for GIMP. Please, Lord . . .

Also, calling GIMP a ’69 Dart is not an insult. I had one, and it was the best car I’ve ever owned, VWs included (and those who know me know my loyalties for automotive products from Wolfsburg run deep). The Dart was the most boring and utilitarian car I’ve ever owned, too, but it was still the most dependable and reliable.

Well, now that I’m a bit warmed up, I’ll head back to Redwood Digital.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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F-ing around on the Web

January 8, 2011 4 comments

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Ahem.

Now that I have your attention . . . .

Several months ago, there was a discussion in Fedora circles about the similarity between the Fedora Project logo — a very smart one that signifies a lot of different things (as outlined below) — and the Facebook “F” that is encapsulated in a rounded-off square.

This discussion started when someone related a story where a person approached the storyteller and mistook a Fedora button on a backpack for a Facebook button. I thought it was fairly innocuous at the time — yeah, they’re both F’s, but still, you have to be kind of — oh, I don’t know — lacking some basic observational skills to confuse the two.

Of course, when it happens to you, then the issue becomes a tad more clear.

Earlier in the week, I had coffee in beautiful downtown Felton at The White Raven — home of Larry’s Famous Chai (the Larry in question is not me; though as an aside, Felton could be a town that holds the distinction of having the most people named Larry, per capita, in the nation. But I digress . . . ). A woman sitting at the next table looked over at me — well, more specifically, looked over at my ThinkPad T30, which sports a Fedora F sticker next to the touchpad — and asked, “Excuse me, where did you get that Facebook sticker?

Frankly, I live for segues like this, as it gives me a chance to talk about Free/Open Source Software and Linux, upon which Facebook is based, no doubt. I explained that it was not a “Facebook” sticker, but that of the Fedora Project, and launched into a coffee conversation about Fedora, Linux and an invitation to join the Felton Linux Users Group, which conveniently was meeting that Saturday.

Herein lies the confusion.

Real Fedora Logo from the Fedora wiki This is the Fedora logo. The Fedora logo provides by design three distinct and important elements that are basic tenets to the FOSS paradigm: Voice, which is the blue background “bubble” reminiscent of voice bubbles in comic strips and the like; the “F” for freedom (or Fedora); and last, but certainly not least, the “F” for Freedom/Fedora is part of the symbol for infinity, albeit upright as opposed to horizontal. When you look at this, it conveys a lot of different — all positive — messages. I would suspect that the Fedora Project’s Design Team gets tired of me singing the seven-minute album version of their praises, but of all distros in this solar system, if not the entire galaxy, the Fedora Project’s artists are the best, period. Also, there’s a wiki page on the history of the Fedora logo which outlines its origins — it’s definitely worth a read.

[Editor’s note: Paul Frields, former Fedora Project Leader, points out in the comments below an earlier version of the logo that appeared here was not the right one. This one above comes directly from the Fedora Project’s logo wiki rather than from my ancient library. Thanks, Paul.]

On the other hand . . .

200pixel facebook iconOn the other hand, this is the Facebook F, which as you can see is a stylized F on a blue square with rounded corners, tastefully and tactfully shadowed and reflected to provide an almost 3-D look. It’s clean and attractive — very attractive in fact — and I’m sure that the folks at Facebook may have paid a handsome sum for the design of this logo. But when you put the two together to compare and contrast, you can tell that there is a huge difference between them, with the letter “F” and the color blue being where the similarities end.

Though its roots go further back, the Fedora Project was initiated in the fall of 2003. Mark Zuckerberg was still in his dorm at Harvard kicking off Facebook on campus a year after that. I bring this up because I have been unable to ascertain which logo came first, but I am fairly certain the Fedora logo came first. If anyone can shed some light on this, I’d be grateful.

Now, is the fact that the two logos are sometimes confused at a fleeting glance a problem for folks at Fedora? Some in the aforementioned discussion at the outset of this blog thought so, to the point where they opined that perhaps Fedora should change its logo. On the contrary: It’s a great opportunity opening a door for people who are asked about the “Facebook” sticker/button to talk about Linux, FOSS and Fedora.

[Making the lawyers happy: The Fedora Project and Facebook symbols represented above are registered trademarks belonging to their respective owners.]

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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Categories: Facebook, Fedora Tags: , , ,

May the force be with you

January 6, 2011 2 comments

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There are a lot of people around the planet who talk the Free/Open Source Software talk and walk the Free/Open Source Software walk. Fortunately for us here in the Silicon Valley — and those of us “over the hill” from the valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains — many of them live within driving distance of yours truly.

Mark Terranova is one of those FOSS activists in the San Francisco Bay Area who puts me to shame. Between Gidget Kitchen and the variety of distros he advocates, Mark is one of the people you want on your team if you want to get things done.

Mark wrote a blog item here equating some of the characters in “Star Wars” to some of the, ahem, “characters” in the FOSS galaxy.

Mark honored me with being the Yoda in this constellation. About halfway down the blog item, I’m teamed up with Quaid Gon-Jin, also known as Red Hat’s Community Gardener Karsten Wade. Mark’s mashup can be found here.

As long as I don’t have to talk in disjointed sentences — disjointed sentences I will not talk in, hmmm? — I’d gladly say that I am both grateful and humbled by Mark’s designation, and I hope I can live up to it. Thanks, MarkDude.

[Although one thing, Mark: I find it hard to believe that the mashup of Jono Bacon, as Han Jono, looks any different than Jono in his usual daily garb. But never mind.]

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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Fedora keeps the PowerPC faith

January 5, 2011 5 comments

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Yes, it only comprises a half of a percent — that’s 0.5 percent, if you’re keeping score at home — of all the Linux users. Yes, that translates to a microcosm of Linux users within a microcosm of overall computer users. So I understand if Linux on PowerPC does not apply to you.

But it might.

Regular readers of this blog know I have a soft spot for PowerPC architecture. I was a Mac guy before I was a Linux guy, and I became a Linux guy using Linux on PPC architecture before I finally — finally — warmed up to Intel, AMD and others. You’ve probably read here how well this processor works, and how fondly I remember Steve Jobs doing the Adobe Photoshop demonstration during every Macworld keynote while the PPC processor kicked Intel’s sorry butt time and time again.

While major distros have been making a bee line away from developing for the PowerPC architecture since Apple dumped the processor for the Intel one now in newer Macs, Fedora skipped its development of a PowerPC version of it’s current release, Fedora 14. They joined OpenSUSE in recently saying a hasty “adios” to an architecture that, sadly, is being used less in the hardware world.

[Currently, I have two iMacs at Redwood Digital — a flavored G3 333MHz and an iMac G4 “desk lamp,” both running Debian. Of all distros, Debian has remained consistent in its commitment to updating its PowerPC version of their distro. They also remain committed to developing for Commodore 64 and Atari architectures as well, while we’re at it, but I digress.]

But there is good news for those who use the PowerPC: Fedora will be back in the PowerPC fold with Fedora 15, scheduled for release in May.

On behalf of the microcosm within the microcosm, thank you Fedora.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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