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VSIDO: Sid for Human Beings

March 24, 2013 2 comments

Terry Ganus is a man on a mission — a vast one.

True to Free/Open Source Software paradigm — where if you find you can make something better, you make it so (in FOSS circles, that’s reduced to three words: “scratching an itch”) — the long-time CrunchBang forum moderator and CrunchBang user created a new distro taking the experience he’s garnered over the years working within the wider Debian community.

VSIDO, Terry’s distro, can clearly be declared “Mission Accomplished.”

The genesis of the VSIDO project is twofold: When CrunchBang lead developer Philip Newborough stopped offering Xfce support in CrunchBang, Terry went to work to make a Debian-based distro with the Xfce desktop; more importantly, however, Terry wanted to erase the stigma of Debian Sid as some sort of distro black magic that only the most experienced users can succesfully navigate.

I’ll let him explain. “My main goal with VSIDO is to show that a Debian Sid distro can be fun, powerful and does not break. I am sure you have heard that Debian is being pushed to remove the ridiculous label/moniker ‘unstable’ from the Sid name to something more responsible like ‘rolling’ . . . [and] I also have detailed what and why I did it here in this thread on the [VSIDO] forum (entitled, ‘What is VSIDO? Why Should I care?’).”

VSIDO started out as an Xfce-only distro, “but I got a lot of encouragement to include OpenBox because I had managed to make it look good and not just a bland shell,” Terry explained. “I know this rubs most of the minimalists fans at CrunchBang (and other places) wrong, but I did want to showcase a different view of OpenBox.”

A third option in window management — Fluxbox — is also offered with VSIDO. Terry explains: “Fluxbox became a part of it once I discovered Fluxbox, and honestly if I had known about Fluxbox before I ever used Xfce, I would have never used Xfce. It is that good. There are also very limited distros out there that use Xfce or Fluxbox, so they are both great fits.”

The program choices in VSIDO — one of the things that make the distro both unique and appealing — were just a list of what applications that Terry, as a power user, had used for years to make his desktop a powerful utility instead of just a work space. From a wide range of experiences with the programs included in VSIDO, Terry says that he has “gathered what ‘just works,’ not just for me, but for everyone else I have encouraged to use them.”

The list is filled with programs you already know, punctuated by some you — or, at least, I — may not have heard of.

For advanced users, tools like bleachbit, Disk-Manager, kernel-remover, debian apt protection tools, build essentials and a selection of debian power tools are standard features in VSIDO. For the beginner, everything for connection, multimedia, music, aliases, system panels, tint2 launcher panels and ease of use is standard. SpaceFM is the default file manager, though Thunar 1.6 with tabs is also installed. UMPlayer handles the media play.

What’s more, all of the programs used, like ceni for network management, might be new to some users, but given the fact that they’ve been tested for some time by Terry and others, it makes their addition to the mix.

Giving VSIDO a test drive

Those who regularly read this blog know I’ve mentioned this before: I don’t consider any review that is based on running a distro from a live CD/DVD/USB a legitimate review. It’s akin to sticking your finger in a bowl of cake batter, tasting it and telling us how great the cake is when it isn’t even baked yet.

That said — and bear in mind this is not a review as much as it is a test drive — VSIDO is an outstanding distro running from the USB drive that, if running the live version is any indication, is a solid new Debian-based distro.

VSIDO comes up quickly and provides easy navigation for those who have previously used the Xfce desktop environment. The Conky default in the upper left provides those who wish to monitor their systems an oustanding display of information. From the look of the desktop envirnoment — Xfce by default — it is very easily customizable and much of what you want is at your fingertips with a mere right-click anywhere on the desktop.

I threw a lot at the distro and was not disappointed — monitoring the memory use, the Debian-based distro handled everything with aplomb, never going over 500 MB in memory use (it should be noted that VSIDO is very lightweight in and of itself, coming up at around 170 MB of memory at the start).

The only possible stumbling block, albeit minor, for new users is working with unfamiliar programs. For example, I tripped over ceni since I had never seen it before, and while I picked it up pretty easily, it might be intimidating to some newer users.

The best way to determine whether VSIDO is right for you, of course, is to give it your own test drive.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that Terry is both active in his own distro while continuing to participate in the CrunchBang community, there are misconceptions that somehow VSIDO is a derivative or a descendant of CrunchBang. It’s not. Their sole relationship is that they are both Debian-based distros, despite the fact many CrunchBang users are lending a hand in VSIDO (and, conversely, vice-versa).

“I truly admire corenominal (Philip Newborough) for what he did with CrunchBang and if it were not for my passion for Sid and all it’s strengths, I would have never looked at VSIDO as an alternative,” Terry said. “My ‘following’ of smxi, tint2, xfce4, conky and lua for 18 music apps, netinstall scripts and of course GMB fans, all encouraged me to take that knowledge and experience to another level and VSIDO was born.

“More than anything to me, it is important that a user has fun, has the tools, has a vision and a strong community to rely on.”

Having used VSIDO for several days, albeit booting from the USB drive, it’s evident that Terry has taken Sid and made it the basis for a workable, and enjoyable, distro for everyone — beginner and seasoned user alike. If I had a second 64-bit machine to run it on (I only have one in an arsenal of 32-bit hardware, and VSIDO only comes in 64-bit), I wouldn’t hesitate to install it for a more in-depth look.

I will continue to use CrunchBang as my primary distro. Yet seeing and saluting the similarities between both the CrunchBang and VSIDO methods of augmenting a distro with a knowledgeable and helpful community — again, to both distros’ credit, there are many crossover personnel in both forums — I would gladly urge those who are curious to give VSIDO a try and would recommend folks who have an affinity for the Xfce desktop to use VSIDO.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software in his individual consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Bassel wins Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award

March 21, 2013 Leave a comment

[This is a reprint of a press release sent out upon Bassel Khartabil's garnering the Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award. Bassel is still imprisoned in Syria, and if you haven't yet done so, sign the letter of support at the bottom of this site.]

Palestinian-born Syrian software engineer Bassel Khartabil is the winner of this year’s Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award, sponsored by Google. Khartabil is a free internet pioneer who has spent his career advancing open source technologies. On March 15, 2012, he was illegally imprisoned in Syria. His family were given no official information about why or where he was detained but have since learnt that he is being held at the security branch of Kafer Sousa, Damascus.

Index CEO Kirsty Hughes said, “Following courageous and peaceful protests in 2011, Syria descended into violence with appalling attacks on civilians across the country – and with over 60,000 people killed over the last two years. Up until his arrest last March, Bassel Khartabil bravely continued to work for a cause he passionately believes in – an open and free internet that is available to all. In a country torn apart by violence, he is a brave advocate for peaceful change.”

Bassel’s friend Dana Trometer, who is collecting the Index award on his behalf said, “Bassel deserves to be out of jail celebrating his real freedom and digital freedom. On this Mother’s day in most of the Arab World, and as a mother myself, my heart goes out to Bassel’s Mom. Bassel is a kind and gentle friend. A loving husband and son. He did not fear being targeted as he knew his love for Syria would save him from being persecuted by the authorities. Bassel is aware of this award and he would like to thank the judges and audience for trusting him with such an honour. He would also like to pay respect to all the victims of the struggle for freedom of speech, and, especially for those non-violent youths who refused to carry arms and deserve all the credit for this award.”

Another close friend of Bassel’s, Jon Phillips, stated, “Lock-up, Lock-out fails. Locking-up Bassel, only locks-out his personal freedom. By locking-up Bassel, his Syrian captors are accidentally locking-out themselves from the future. From launching Creative Commons Syria, building the Arabic Wikipedia and bringing Internet leaders to Syria, he knew that his free participation in global web communities required concrete contributions locally. For these acts would make Syria a better place. One year later, Bassel is under harsh lock-down. Now, thousands of people that Bassel’s work helped, now help him by spreading the message #FREEBASSEL. This is what truly builds Syria and connects it to the global connected future. This award proves that his lock-up, is NOT a lock-out of his digital freedom.”

Bassel is known worldwide for his strong commitment to the open web, teaching others about technology, and contributing his experience freely to help the world. Bassel is the inventor of an open source software that powers the Open Clip Art Library. He is an original contributor to the Arabic Wikipedia and launched Creative Commons Syria. He is well known in online technical communities as a dedicated volunteer to major Internet projects like Creative Commons, Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia, Open Clip Art Library, and Fabricatorz.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software in his individual consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Hanging with the outlaws

March 20, 2013 7 comments

Sitting at my desk at the newspaper a week ago, I got a tweet from CrunchBang’s lead developer Philip Newborough: They’re talking about you on #LO.

Hmmm. It’s not the first time I’ve been talked about, and thanks to the heads-up from Philip, I got to sit in on a taping of Linux Outlaws No. 302, which is now out in the wider world here. The quote that gave me worldwide renown, at least on Linux Outlaws, was from a recent blog about Ubuntu: “The gravity with which Canonical pulls Ubuntu further from its original FOSS orbit is nothing short of tragic.”

Linux Outlaws, according to their page, talks about anything that runs on Linux, about open source software on other platforms and many other things. Dan Lynch and Fabian Scherschel are the hosts of Linux Outlaws, and the pair go into great detail on the news and other happenings in the Linux/FOSS world. As described on the site, listening to the show is very much like listening to two friends sitting in a pub, having fun and talking about things they find interesting — and thanks to the modern miracle of podcasts, it’s like you’re there with them, pint in hand.

There is gratuitous swearing and neither Dan nor Fabian pull any punches when describing shortcomings or stupidity, intentional or not, and calling people out for it. Ranting seems to be par for the course — again, in a good way, and Dan tends to be low-key and methodical in his analysis while Fabian positions himself on opposite side of that spectrum, sometimes redlining the needle on the rant tachometer. It’s all thought-provoking and informative, punctuated with humor and hilarity.

Of course, while Linux Outlaws is not for the faint of heart, it’s still clearly worth a listen.

I haven’t had a chance to listen to the edited podcast yet, and as I write this, they’re doing the live taping of Episode 303 — and I find myself having to explain to my colleagues what I’m laughing at (long story). However, the live broadcast for 302 was incredibly entertaining, and they have earned a regular fan here.

Keep up the great work, guys!

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software in his individual consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Free Bassel, Mr. Ambassador

March 14, 2013 Leave a comment

A few days ago, when talk started about activities around observing the first anniversary tomorrow (March 15) of Bassel Khartabil’s imprisonment in Syria, I thought about what more could be done. First, let me be clear about this. I am not saying that the tireless work people have put in around the world has come up short. On the contrary: Clearly bringing Bassel’s plight to the forefront has gained momentum as an increasingly successful endeavor, which will become fully successful once he is given his freedom.

But I wondered if there wasn’t more that could be done.

Thinking back to my days as a peace activist in decades past (several decades past), I recalled petitioning various members of the U.S. Congress to advocate for our positions. The drill was simple: A “delegation” — the fancy term for a group of people representing a group or even themselves — would ask for time with a member of Congress and, in every case, end up speaking with an aide, and we would present a letter and a short outline of why we were there and ask for action to be taken.

So it occurred to me: Why not take the same steps with the Syrian embassy? Oh wait: The United States doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Syria, so there are no embassies or consulates to visit. However, which country is Syria’s most powerful ally which has diplomatic relations with the U.S.? That would be the Russian Federation which, conveniently for me, has a consulate in San Francisco.

As such, I’ve taken up the hospitality of the Mozilla Foundation in using Etherpad to draft a letter/talk to give to consuls and diplomats, should I or anyone else choose to meet with them. Meanwhile, I am looking for folks in the San Francisco area to join me in visiting the Russian Federation consulate sometime soon and present a letter seeking their help in urging the Syrian government to release Bassel.

Please help me write it: The etherpad is here and you’re welcome to submit your input.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software in his individual consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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What’s really important

March 13, 2013 5 comments

So . . . I had written a blog post addressing the remote hope that I’d at least get a postcard from the vacation from reality that Canonical’s self-appointed hubris-monger Mark Shuttleworth has recently taken, while urging those in the various *buntu communities do some soul searching when your project leader says, “If you’ve done what you want for Ubuntu, then move on.”

Then I sat on the blog post for a few days, wondering if it was too incendiary. I took walks. I had coffee with friends. I bounced the theme of what I was writing off a few people. I embarrassingly lost a huge Tetris smackdown to my darling daughter at the arcade at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

In that particular item, comparisons were made: The Mark’s emulation of Steve Jobs speaks volumes about the danger that lies ahead for freedom and real progress in that particular community; to say nothing of Shuttleworth’s detatchment from reality — what Jobs observers used to call his “reality distortion field.” This fantasy world tries so hard to be branded as “innovative” when echoed by the zombies populating the Ubuntu Apocalypse but, in all reality, it’s just regressive. Additionally, the prevailing attitude displayed by the Ubuntu/Canonical leadership raises the arguable point that those in its community could very well be — if they aren’t already — the FOSS equivalent of battered spouses who need to get out of that relationship with all speed.

Canonical is rapidly becoming Canonisoft: Realize that and you know what you need to do, Ubunteros.

But late last night, I decided not to post it. I deleted it to replace it with what you’re reading now because there are far more important things going on in the world at this moment; things that need immediate attention because lives are at stake.

Let’s take a look at Syria, for example: Bassel Khartabil, who some of you may know as Bassel Safadi, will have been imprisoned in Syria for exactly a year on Friday. Bassel, 31, specializes in open source software development, and is known worldwide for his strong commitment to the open web, teaching others about technology, and contributing his experience freely to help the world. Bassel is the project leader for an open source web software called Aiki Framework, and he is a dedicated volunteer to major Internet projects like Creative Commons, Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia, Open Clip Art Library, Fabricatorz, and Sharism.

Find out more about Bassel here and watch the video on that page — it’s short but informative. Then read more about his plight on this page, and sign the letter to support freeing him as soon as possible.

Also, there are various actions taking place on Friday — the anniversary of Bassel’s detention — and there are things you can do either by your physical or digital presence, which are listed here. To post information about any action or ideas you might have, go here.

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know I’ve written about this before. I’ll keep writing about it, just as I keep fasting on Fridays until Bassel is free.

But the fact remains: What’s really important here — in the wider world — is not stroking the ego of a self-important, self-appointed “leader” who laughably claims to be an innovator, but saving the life of an important contributor to the FOSS paradigm locked away in a Syrian prison, nearly for a year so far without charge.

Now, if you’ll excuse me for a few moments, I need to go back to the arcade and practice Tetris for the rematch.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software in his individual consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Nothing to add here

March 7, 2013 16 comments

As hard as it may be to believe, there are times when even I am speechless.

I keep the goings-on of Canonical and the Ubuntu community at an arm’s length — the real reason is to keep my blood pressure down. But actually, the gravity with which Canonical pulls Ubuntu further from its original FOSS orbit is nothing short of tragic, and it’s something that weighs heavily on any FOSS advocate.

Two influential Ubunteros — Martin Owens and Elizabeth Krumbach — weighed in on the situation recently and both of their recent blog posts deserve a good reading.

Martin writes in his most recent blog item:

“But I have to be honest, there isn’t an Ubuntu community any more. There’s a Canonical community, an ubuntu-users gaggle and maybe an enthusiasts posse. But no community that makes decisions, builds a consensus, advocates or educates. It’s dead now, it’s been that way for a while.”

What’s interesting is the discussion in the comments in Martin’s blog, especially the observations made by Jef Spaleta, who has always maintained an even keel in pointing out that the emperor had no clothes.

In my opinion, Elizabeth’s detailed blog post goes into great depth around the current situation, and it sheds a lot of light on it. But I think she’s unnecessarily hard on herself when she wraps up her blog with this:

“As a Community Council member I do feel like I’ve let the community down for not realizing what was happening to the community sooner. The duo of optimism and trust is not always a strength, it blinded me to some serious truths about how things have changed and our responsibility in this new community dynamic.”

Frankly, I am hoping that this works itself out, but I don’t hold out much hope. So I really have nothing to add to the two blog posts above, other than for those who are in this position to think carefully about the future.

POSTSCRIPT: There has been talk — some of it coming from the higher, orbital echelons of Canonical — that this potential schism is just about the rolling release or some other superficial issue. Let’s put aside for now how dangerous and counterproductive this misperception is, on a leadership level. Rather, let’s take a look at one example, outlined very eloquently by Aaron Seigo on a Google+ post here (I had read this earlier, but did not realize until now there was a link available to it). I’m sorry I am unable to comment on Aaron’s post since the comments are closed, but I would completely agree with his assessment. Oh, and one more thing: What does it say to a community when the project leader turns off comments in a blog post, as Mark Shuttleworth did in today’s offering?

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(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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Tipping the SCALE

March 3, 2013 1 comment

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, and certainly I am not. Honest. But one of the problems with working on a show like Southern California Linux Expo and this year’s SCALE 11X leaves me little time to do anything but the wood-chopping and water-carrying that goes with being the publicity chair for the show. Let me be clear: This is not a complaint, but rather an explanation about why you’re not going to get a comprehensive report about the event.

Others are doing that for me, and it was as great as they say it is; possibly moreso.

scale11x-125x125aThe reason SCALE achieves an annual uptick in greatness — and SCALE 11X is no exception — lies squarely with the volunteers who make this work. I have it easy chairing publicity and I’m not referring to what I do so much as the stellar work the Publicity Team does — Hannah Anderson, Dennis Rex, Michelle Klein-Hass, Sam Lee, and Scott Ruecker (remotely — we’ll see you next year, Scott!) all put in a herculean effort to get the word, and photos, out before and during the show. Words can’t describe the effort of those who set up the rooms, those who set up and make sure the AV works, those who make sure the tsunami of humanity coming to register and attend have their badges and swag bags ready, and those who keep the digital infrastructure running to the best of its ability under trying conditions and uncooperative attendees or exhibitors — all these folks get my undying gratitude and they deserve everyone’s deepest thanks. All you guys make it work.

Also, the show doesn’t work without the speakers who provide deeply informative talks on a wide range of topics. One of the telling factors in the success of SCALE 11X is that standing room only was the course of the day for many of the presentations, including the last group of sessions at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon. It’s a testament to the quality of the speakers and their topics, and

And . . . it doesn’t work without the folks who attend — so a big thanks go out to each of the 2,304 attendees at this year’s SCALE 11X. It would have been 2,305 if the pass for Elvis Presley, who had been comped for the show (the King of Rock and Roll should go to the event that goes to 11!), had been picked up, thankyouverymuch.

But a few things bear mentioning:

Tap, tap . . . is this thing on?
I got to speak twice at SCALE, once to the Linux Beginners class at SCALE 11X, where I talked mostly about how not to be intimidated about joining a distro community (“just tell them if they’re not nice to you, I’ll come and make their lives miserable” . . . OK, just kidding). I also held a Birds of a Feather event for CrunchBang, which was attended by about 20 people and my short presentation was followed by a pretty lively discussion.

Pleased to meet you, hope you’ve guessed my name: I have carried on online conversations for years with people and have never met them in person, but occasionally shows like SCALE 11X allows us to meet face to face. I finally got to meet Patrick Stewart’s BFF and Red Hat guy Thomas Cameron, which didn’t go as smoothly as it could have. “Hi, Thomas,” I said, shaking his hand. “How’s it going?” he said. Cue awkward silence. “OK, so let me draw my beard on my face so I look like my Facebook photo . . . ” Hilarity ensued. Apparently I don’t look enough like my former Facebook photo, and thanks to Ruth Suehle for taking my photo with Raspberry Pi on my face — yes, the little motherboard — I now look more like, well, me on Facebook. Whether that’s a good thing or not . . .

Conversely . . .
: Because I have to keep the SCALE media humming, I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with the people I do see somewhat frequently at shows like SCALE. Apologies to Clint Savage, Scott Williams, Scott Dowdle, Christer Edwards, Jeremy Sands, Trevor Sharpe, Deb Nicholson and many others for just saying “hi” and “bye” in the hallways during the course of the show. Of course, a -1 to Mother Nature for keeping Rikki Endsley home in Lawrence, Kan., thanks to a heaping helping of snow.

Thank you, Fedora: For years, I’ve always wanted a Fedora cap. Let me rephrase that: I’ve always wanted a Fedora Project cap, and finally this year the Fedora Project had them in the booth. They also had the Spherical Cow, a.k.a. Fedora 18, in the booth, and one of the perks about making a quick run to the show floor was picking it up. I gave it a quick run, live DVD style, and I think it was worth the wait. I’ll install it and put it through its paces later.

In fact, maybe I’ll just sign off and do that now. See you in Bellingham, Wash., for Linux Fest Northwest at the end of April.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(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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