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Notes on Linux Fest Northwest

April 30, 2012 10 comments

I’m currently on the road in Oregon, heading back to the cozy confines of the redwoods of Felton, but I wanted to get a couple of notes down before posting a more comprehensive blog item at home about Linux Fest Northwest which was, in a word, outstanding.

First things first: I would venture to guess that there were more than 1,000 folks who showed up to the event, and I’ll try to dig up a more accurate number later. In fact, we had folks checking out the CrunchBang table before we had even set up around 9ish on Saturday morning. While the show, of course, had its Saturday morning tsunami of humanity followed by a more reasonable and slow-paced Sunday, it was never lacking the electricity that Linux expos usually transmit during the course of the weekend. Carl Symons and the rest of the crew at LFNW put on a great show, period.

The CrunchBang table: Bill Smith and his wife Portia did outstanding work staffing the booth, and my thanks go out to them for the help. It should be noted that Bill’s attire — a Tux vest — was great, and Portia had #! painted onto her nails. Needless to say, they were ready for the show. Many visitors to the table already knew what CrunchBang is, and some were, “What’s CrunchBang?” We gave away about 100 pieces of media and displayed on my old ThinkPad T30 and a newer ZaReason Alto 3880 how CrunchBang works across a wide range of computer hardware.

The ZaReason tablet: A last-minute request by computer-maker ZaReason had me splitting the table between CrunchBang and ZaReason, and one of the things that drew attention and cause some buzz is the tablet that ZaReason will be coming out with soon. We had one of them in the booth, and many folks thought it was pretty cool, though one person said it looked too much like an iPad (and I don’t believe that was a compliment).

Friends old and new: Seeing old friends and making new ones is one of the great things about the shows. Great as always to see Rikki Endsley, Robyn Bergeron, Deb Nicholson, Jeff Sandys, Greg DeKoenigsberg and others whose names I’ll remember between Springfield and Felton and try not to kick myself for forgetting while driving. A special shout out goes to Eric Craw, a new CrunchBang user who installed it after hearing my presentation on Saturday and immediately did some programming to submit to the distro.

I’ll get into more of the nuts-and-bolts of the show in the next blog item when I return home, like getting to start my presentation on Saturday morning with “Hello, I’m Greg DeKoenigsberg” (in my best Johnny Cash) and more details on my talk and the hands-across-the-water CrunchBang Birds of a Feather meetup. But it’s about time to get back on Interstate 5 and head south.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Ready for Linux Fest Northwest

April 24, 2012 Comments off

The disks are burned, the stickers are being printed up, and the presentation still needs tweaking, but for all intents and purposes I’m ready for Linux Fest Northwest, which takes place this weekend at Bellingham Technical College.

Next to the Southern California Linux Expo — which will turn it up to 11 at SCALE 11X in February 2013* — Linux Fest Northwest is the best show on the West Coast. Collectively and in choral harmony, I can hear all of you saying, “What about OSCON?” True, OSCON is the biggest of the West Coast shows, bringing out all the big guns, both in FOSS personalities as well as in software and hardware. There are many excellent presentations offered every year at OSCON, however with the show growing to the commercial entity that it has become, there’s a slickness to it that has a tendency to leave many visitors adrift in a vast sea of marketing.

Not so Linux Fest Northwest: It’s in its 11th year in Bellingham, Washington — essentially Microsoft’s backyard — and from the ground up it an all-community affair, completely run with a volunteer staff that puts on an outstanding show on what seems to be the Pacific Northwest’s best weekend of weather. The classrooms at Bellingham Technical College are ideal for presentations and the expo floor is big enough to be interesting but small enough not to be too overwhelming.

I’ll be presenting on Saturday morning — Greg DeKoenigsberg and I switched times so he could give his presentation on Sunday — on “An Intro to CrunchBang” in Haskell 103. Be there or be square. Also there’s a CrunchBang Birds of a Feather meetup on Sunday morning as well. The CrunchBang booth — which will also feature some ZaReason hardware — will be in the center of the room diagonally across from where the raffle will take place.

So if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you should head over to Linux Fest Northwest. You can sign up at the LFNW link above (it’s free, but you have to sign up for a badge), and head over to the show.

See you there.

*Truth in advertising: I have a vested interest in SCALE since I’m the publicity chair. But even if I wasn’t, I’d still think SCALE is the best show on the West Coast. Frankly, I think it’s the best show in the hemisphere and I’m beyond proud to be a part of it.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions  in the small business and home office environment.)

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PowerPC still lives in Fedora

April 10, 2012 6 comments

For the 0.5 percent of the folks who to which this tidbit pertains — that would be the Linux-on-PowerPC crowd . . . er, group . . . er, trio — the Fedora Project released the alpha version of its Fedora 17 PowerPC version. The release notes are here.

Many long-time readers of this blog who are not family (and even those who are) know that I’ve always had a soft spot for older Macintosh hardware, and those of you who admit to knowing me for a long time know that I’ve had several PowerPC machines running various distros, mostly Debian and Fedora, but a couple of OpenSUSE boxes, too (while it lasted, the G4 tower ran great on OpenSUSE’s PPC version before they gave it the heave-ho). I even mourned briefly against the demise of the PowerPC architecture, but I understand that if 0.5 percent of the Linux community is using a particular architecture, it’s a good idea to probably put resources elsewhere.

So it became Debian who kept the flame alive, until Fedora picked it up again. Thanks, Fedora, and now I’ll try this on the eMac that’s collecting dust in the corner.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Review: “The Linux Command Line”

April 3, 2012 3 comments

A couple of months ago — my apologies to the publishers — No Starch Press sent me a copy of William E. Shotts Jr.’s “The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction” to review. I didn’t get to the review until now because, well, I just finished it.

No, I’m not a slow reader; in fact, I’m pretty fast when it comes to going cover to cover. But by “finish” the book, I mean that I am finished reading and re-reading this book, trying out some of the things I already knew and working on things that I didn’t know until I read the book.

In short, “The Linux Command Line” is more than a complete introduction — it’s a full education in 432 pages (not counting the index).

A little background: In the ways of Linux, I am primarily self-taught over the last six years. However, I have taken courses at Cabrillo College which lead to the California State University system’s Unix/Linux Administrator Certificate (I’m lacking a couple of classes — the Windows ones, to be honest). I didn’t exactly ace CIS130 Bash Scripting, but I passed. Also, I have never been afraid of the command line, though I do prefer to use text editors like Geany over things like vi (and, for the love of all things holy, keep emacs the heck away from me!) when fixing files.

That said, and to the author’s overwhelming credit, Shotts takes a topic that could drop all but the most hardcore geeks into a coma-like sleep and makes it very interesting and, at times, fun. His tight writing style and economy of words when explaining concepts are a plus here, and the asides — outlined in grey boxes throughout the book — usually come at the right time in the text, where a mental breather is probably a good idea.

My favorite example of many is this: In Chapter 15 on Storage Media, Shotts take a grey-box look at “Why unmounting is important.” Of course, it is important, but he goes into the ever important why, explaining the ins and outs of buffering and how that affects storage. To the years-of-experience Linux user who would say, “Well, duh!” it might be old news. To those of us who didn’t know such intricacies until reading this, it was a refreshing tangent that wrapped things together in the chapter.

Each of the chapters is like this, very informative — but not boringly so — punctuated with asides that contribute greatly to the chapter itself. The first 22 chapters were an enjoyable walk though many things I already knew, and some things that were a revelation. In fact, rather than a reference book, “The Linux Command Line” reads more like a story — or maybe a biographical novel — of the command line.

Then cue the ominous music: From chapters 23 to the end, which is 36, we get to where the proverbial rubber meets the road; where it’s make or break time. It’s the hard stuff.

Another aside: In “My Blue Heaven,” witness-protected Steve Martin tells FBI agent Rick Moranis at one point that he’s never used a firearm. “It doomed me to middle management,” Martin’s character says. That’s kind of where I’m at with programming — I’ve used programs, submitted bug reports and even written bash scripts, but never compiled a program.

Chapter 23 stars with compiling, which I did (whew!). Chapter 24 deals with bash scripting (which I’ve done in the past, and now have a better understanding of it) and continues on through some of the more intricate parts of command-line use, like “Starting a Project” (Chapter 25), “Top Down Design” (Chapter 26), two chapters on Flow Control (27 and 29), ending up with “Exotica” in Chapter 36. Again, with Shotts’ thorough explanations in each chapter — again, thorough but not droll — assuming the reader is of average intelligence and can understand what’s written, he or she would come away with command-line skills that could be put to immediate use.

Early on, Shotts touches on the gist of why this book — and why it’s a “complete introduction” to the command line — might be on the long side. “Learning the command line is challenging and takes real effort. It’s not that it’s so hard, but rather it’s so vast.”

No truer words were spoken.

So if you’re relatively new to Linux but can install a distro and navagate your way around the command line, even peripherally, this book will be a help to get you into an area of Linux that can be both helpful and interesting at the same time. If you’re an experienced administrator coming to Linux from another operating system, you’ll find this a valuable reference. Everyone else in between would clearly benefit from having a copy of this book as well.

One drawback, however: There’s a typo on page 51, where a sentence is missing an R. I am certain that the editors will fix that before the next printing.

But never mind: “The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction” by William E. Shotts, Jr., gets my highest recommendation for a book that educates and entertains with equal doses of practical knowledge and peripheral anecdotes.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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A tale of two fests

April 3, 2012 3 comments

There seems to be a lot of traffic on social media around some of the Linux events later in the year. Clearly, there’s no harm in getting a head start on things, but it’s probably a good idea to keep our eyes on what’s immediately in front of us.

There’s one coming up next weekend: Indiana LinuxFest in Indianapolis next weekend (meaning April 13-15, for those of you keeping score at home). ILF is in its second year, and this year it staged what I thought is a coup that they got Debian founder Ian Murdock to be one of the keynoters; the other, of course, is no slouch either: Amber Graner of Linaro. Add that to the usual suspects — exhibitors, a wide range of talks at various levels and some certification exams — and you have the recipe for a growing Linux show in the Hoosier state.

If you’re within a day’s ground travel (let alone a day’s air travel), ILF is a good show to attend.

Later this month, Linux Fest Northwest — next to SCALE, my favorite expo in North America — takes place in Bellingham, Wash., literally in Microsoft’s backyard. LFNW is part of the West Coast’s “triple crown” in Linux events, the others being the Southern California Linux Expo at the beginning of the year and OSCON in the summer, and now in its 11th year, it has been a testament to how community-based FOSS events can flourish. Plus, the Pacific Northwest is fantastic in April.

Get to either, or both, if you can.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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