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Marginalia and minutiae

May 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Whew. First of all, I’m sorry I can’t make Utah Open Source Conference this weekend in Orem, but I wish I could. Here’s the thing: When you put two shows on back-to-back weekends, one of them gets the attention and the other . . . not so much. So while I’m still decompressing a bit from Linux Fest Northwest (and while my wallet smolders with burned-through credit cards), I have to pass on what is normally one of the highlights of the year for me. Sorry, guys and gals, you know I love UTOSC but I can’t make it this year.

Just to touch base on a couple of issues today while I still play catch-up after a great weekend in Bellingham:

Single-window GIMP: My prayers to the graphics program gods are answered, finally. Call me slow — I’ve been called worse — but finally GIMP 2.8 is out and, thankfully, it has the single-window that I’ve been waiting for, well, ever since I started using GIMP and would sometimes . . . OK, always . . . get hopefully lost among the multiple panels. Thank you, thank you, thank you, GIMP!

CrunchBang Waldorf right around the corner? The first CrunchBang 11 “Waldorf” development builds are now out — get them here — and it looks like Philip Newborough has produced another winner as soon as it officially leaves the starting blocks sometime soon. Currently I have it running on a ThinkPad T30 and it’s going great guns. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to give the development build a shot, download it and take a few laps.

Mark, Mark, Mark . . . tsk, tsk, tsk: I certainly hope Mark Shuttleworth has tasty shoes, because putting one foot in one’s mouth would require it; to say nothing of how unbecoming whining is, especially from someone trying to be the next Steve Jobs. In this Muktware blog item, The Mark whines about how Red Hat hampered Canonical’s participation with GNOME, which is probably just one observation on the issue, and arguably not exactly an objective one. I didn’t write it, but I wish I had — the first comment on the blog from TheWholeTruth speaks volumes to the real issue.

From Beefy Miracle to Spherical Cow: The Fedora 18 release name was voted on and the results are in: Spherical Cow. That may get the big “huh?” from a lot of folks, but to theoretical physicists and other scientists, Spherical Cow makes perfect sense. Also, it may be a quick sketch, but Juan Rodriguez has drawn an excellent adaptation of the Fedora logo to go along with it, unofficially of course.

One more thing: Happy Birthday to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Uhn! Yeah! Get on up-pah, and have a great birthday!

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software 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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All in the name

January 4, 2012 24 comments

Several days ago, I wrote a blog item on the subject of Linux distribution release names and the method to the madness behind them. One comment on the previous blog by a Bernard Swiss reminded me that I had missed the best part of the Debian naming convention: “The ‘Unstable’ branch — the one under development to become the next ‘Stable’ release — is always called ‘Sid,’ named after another ‘Toy Story’ character; the boy next door, who breaks all the toys.”

SCALE 10XIndeed. But it started me thinking that not only are the naming conventions for distro version, um, unique, but some of the names of distros themselves — and FOSS software, too — have names only a mother (and their developers) could love.

One Debian/Ubuntu-based distro I’ve always liked — Qimo — seems innocent enough, especially since it is kid-oriented. Of course, when you try to pronounce it phonetically, it comes out “chemo,” as in “chemotherapy.” Actually, that’s not the correct pronunciation for Qimo — it’s really “kim-o,” as in “eskimo,” which is the basis for the name of the this distro. I’m not making this up: The lead developer has a toddler son named Quinn, named in part because the developer Dad is a Bob Dylan fan, and hence the “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)” reference is not lost on the Dylanistas among us.

Or so I was told.

Then there’s the ongoing debate about the acronym for the GNU Image Manipulation Program, more commonly known as GIMP. My friend Ken Starks of HeliOS fame — not exactly a paragon in the defense of politically correctness (to his credit) — has a good point when he says that GIMP is insensitive to those with movement disabilities. While I hope a name change is being considered, I would like to think they’re not doing so at the moment because they’re still working on the single-window thing.

There are two distros now out — both recent additions over the past couple of years — that cry out in harmony for a name change.

The first is DouDou. This, of course, recalls the old Marketing 101 adage about being careful about what you name your product in case it goes out of the country and into a foreign culture and language — the prime example here is the Chevrolet Nova, a hard sell in Spanish-speaking countries as “no va” in Spanish means “It doesn’t go.” (Update: According to Snopes.com, this is false, though it continues to appear in Marketing class texts. Apologies.) The Debian-based DouDou, which like Qimo is aimed at kids, is an outsanding distro that teaches youngsters the finer points of free software — the Web site says, “DoudouLinux can be lent, offered, loaned, copied as often as you want. Just like they do on the school playground! This is fully legal, so DoudouLinux is really risk free from all points of view” — and is available in a wide range of languages.

The source of the name is innocent enough, too: “Doudou” is a French word that means wubby, the teddy bear or the cloth that children carry everywhere and hug very strongly in their arms before falling asleep. But combine a distro for kids with a name that’s a juvenile homonym for feces (for the English-speaking kids anyway), and it becomes a gigglesnort-fest among the youngsters.

Another distro that might consider a name change is Fuduntu. Originally Fedora-based but later forked, Fuduntu earned its name from its ambition to fit somewhere between Fedora and Ubuntu, according to its Distrowatch listing. That’s a lofty goal, and “somewhere between” could be its goal, but there seems to be more of the “untu” and less of the “fed” in this one. Anyway, the Distrowatch listing adds that it is designed to be aesthetically pleasing, and is optimized for netbook and other portable computers, as well as general-purpose desktop machines.

But with a name that begins with FUD, it starts off having to scale a high hurdle of general appeal before it even gets out of the starting blocks. With more than 300 active distros — many of them excellent in their own right — I’m not inclined to use one starting with “FUD.” So I can pass on using it, even if it’s the best, greatest and absolutely, positively the most terrific distro in the history of FOSS.

Finally, there’s a small dynamic tiling window manager for X11 called Scrotwm. Look at that one from a different angle or two, and it become a word that only urologists and others in the medical profession would be comfortable saying in public. According to the Web site, “Scrotwm tries to stay out of the way so that valuable screen real estate can be used for much more important stuff. It has sane defaults and does not require one to learn a language to do any configuration. It was written by hackers for hackers and it strives to be small, compact and fast”

(Edit: Dru Lavigne tells me that Scrotwm is an option for PC-BSD 9, for those of you keeping score.)

Sounds interesting, and since it will probably work pretty well on CrunchBang, I’ll give it a shot. But I am not sure that I’m going to be asking anyone aloud at the LUG on Saturday, “Hey, anyone want to see my Scrotwm?”

Got an interesting name for a distro or FOSS program that I missed? Pass it on.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, in the cozy confines of his home office.)

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Categories: Fuduntu, GIMP, GNU/Linux, linux, Linux, Qimo Tags: ,

A Week in Limbo, Epilogue: An outstanding machine

December 27, 2011 11 comments

Before I start, there is only one thing glaringly wrong with the ZaReason Limbo 5440: having to give back the review model to ZaReason in Berkeley (it’s on its way back to you, Earl).

SCALE 10XThe ZaReason Limbo 5440 is, in three words, an outstanding machine; a simply outstanding machine that can easily handle any work load ranging from that of the average household user who’s just surfing the Web to the constant tinkering and tweaking by the most restless Linux user (to the latter, I plead guilty). Ruggedly built and with a clean design, the desktop fits in nearly any location in the home — it spent a day or two in the “lab” (a.k.a, “The Jungle Room,” where all our computers live in the house and where I do my best work) but spent the rest of the week in the living room in an unobtrusive manner.

But enough of the interior decor talk: The attention to design, both internally and externally, is completely as functional as it is stylish. But perhaps its best physical feature — expandability — makes this model an exceptional one for those who may have an overwhelming desire to add the latest and greatest hardware features to an already exceptional desktop. (A side note: In conversation with ZaReason CTO Earl Malmrose, I was given a green light to add software and hardware to my liking. But I passed on the latter — why spoil a good thing?)

As far as performance goes, everything I threw at the desktop during the course of the week, the Limbo 5440 handled without breaking a proverbial sweat. The only time I could get any of the processors to peak at 100 percent was running folding@home on a regular basis: Using the system monitor, CPU1 (which I would assume is processor 0 in the quad-core scheme of things) ran at 100 percent while using folding@home while any of the other CPUs displayed on the program barely passed 20 percent at any time during program use. The rest of the time, even running multiple programs, I got the sense that reading the graphs on the system monitor, the lines were gentle smiles laughing at me at my attempts in vain to make the desktop work hard.

The price tag for the Limbo 5440 as tested — $969, which is up from the base price of $499 thanks to a variety of upgrades (specs are below) — might seem a little steep to some. But ZaReason’s advantage, one that clearly benefits the consumer, is the issue of value, and how the value of this outstanding machine eclipses the issue of cost. Yes, you could by a cheap box from an OEM that has Windows presinstalled, but then there are a plethora of issues around that — buying a cheaper box at a big box allows Redmond to chalk up another user and the hardware in some of the cheaper desktops are — how can I put this tactfully? — not up to par.

So buying hardware from a company dedicated to Linux has its advantages. To his credit and that of the company, Earl Malmrose and the engineering staff at ZaReason sends out 100 percent high-quality Linux-supported hardware.

Quality and value are ZaReason hallmarks,and the Limbo 5440 lives up to them. This desktop would be a keeper, if I didn’t have to give this review desktop back, and given the opportunity to purchase this machine in the (near) future, I would easily jump on the opportunity to do so.

Now to find a spare $969 . . . .

Specs as tested (the standard Limbo 5440 specs can be found here):

2nd Generation Intel Core i5 3.3 GHz
Fedora 16 GNOME with shell extensions (changed to Fedora 16 KDE at mid-week)
8 GB DDR3-1600 RAM
3 500GB Hard Drives, 7,200 RPM, RAID-5 array
One year warranty

Size of case: 7″ x 14.6″ x 13.8″ / 17.8 x 37.1 x 35.1 cm
Internal Slots: 2x PCI, 1x PCI-Express x16
Rear Ports: 4x USB 2.0 Ports; 1x PS/2 Ports (for that old keyboard/mouse); 1x VGA Port; 1x 10/100 Ethernet Port; Audio I/O Jacks
Front Ports: 2x USB Ports; Headphone Jack; Mic Jack

“A Week in Limbo Series” (for those of you keeping track)
A Week in Limbo, Day 0
A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood
A Week in Limbo, Day 2: Fedora 16
A Week in Limbo, Day 3: Fedora 16 KDE
A Week in Limbo, Day 4: On second thought . . .
A Week in Limbo, Days 5 and 6: Get with the program
A Week in Limbo, Epilogue: An oustanding machine

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started testing and developing software in his new home office, which is the development side of Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, United States.)

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A Week in Limbo, Days 5 and 6: Get with the program

December 26, 2011 2 comments

Forgive me, folks: Blame the holidays for the delay. What normally would have been a simple and easy week leading up to Christmas — the end of the week leading up to Sunday, actually — became somewhat complicated, as only the end of the week leading up to Christmas can. And we’ll leave it at that, except with an apology to anyone who was at the edge of their seat waiting for this next installment (thanks, Mom), which should have immediately followed Day 4 on, well, the actual Day 5.

SCALE 10XDuring those opportunities over the last few days when I wasn’t doubling and tripling up on my work shift thanks to vacations and when I was not taking care of holiday business at home — you know, I move that next year no one buy any gifts until after New Year’s Day — I remained transfixed behind the monitor connected to the ZaReason Limbo 5440 while putting it through its paces. Before I outline what I used, I should mention that I worked on my SCALE 10X presentation as well as the SCALE 10X UpSCALE talk that I will be doing with darling daughter Mimi (hint: It involves music and lab coats — and that’s all I’m going to say about that). So the primarly lineup involved GIMP, LibreOffice Impress and Audacity.

[As an aside on the latter, author Carla Schroder and I conspired to give Mimi a great Christmas gift: a signed copy of “The Book of Audacity.” Thank you, Carla!]

In short (which will become “in long” in later pargraphs), all three programs ran flawlessly and quickly on the desktop box that, had I enough money, would stay in the household. There’s nothing yet that I’ve thrown at this hardware that it hasn’t handled without breaking a sweat, and to be honest, after a few days I’ve truly given up on trying to trip it up.

Meanwhile, LibreOffice’s suite of software ran with aplomb — with as much aplomb as an inanimate object can run, for the nit-pickers out there — on this hardware. Switching back and forth from the LibreOffice Draw to LibreOffice Impress to LibreOffice Writer was a breeze, and the benefit of having a larger monitor to move windows around was a treat (how I made all those presentations on a laptop is a mystery).

Audacity? I’m the quintessential newb at it, though the far more Audacity-adept (does that make her Audacious?) Mimi zoomed her way around it quickly and can show the old man a thing or two. Audacity 1.3.13 beta ran and sounded perfect, though I think there could be a lot less bass in this presentation — an easy fix.

Finally, processing photos on GIMP was also a snap. Before I start, let me stike a Tebow-like pose and pray to all diety that will listen to my begging for the the single-window GIMP (2.7, I think) to come soon. Amen. With the multiple windows, using GIMP 2.6 was also a breeze and with the larger screen on the desktop monitor, multitasking was a lot easier than the same exercise — performed by yours truly for years on this old ThinkPad T30 — has been.

Note to self: Do more stuff on the desktops you have.

Before we go off to the next installment which wraps up this series, I should say that for the entire week, I have never had a negative “aha!” moment, nor have I uttered a brow-furrowing “hmmm” over the ZaReason Limbo 5440’s performance. Some software hiccups which were clearly the result of PEBCAK errors ocurred, but these were few and far between (of course) and were not a reflection on the machine’s abilities or performance. But we’ll leave the rest of that for the next installment, coming to you tomorrow.

Tomorrow wraps up the series with A Week in Limbo, Epilogue: The final review

“A Week in Limbo Series” (for those of you keeping track)
A Week in Limbo, Day 0
A Week in Limbo, Day 1: Under the hood
A Week in Limbo, Day 2: Fedora 16
A Week in Limbo, Day 3: Fedora 16 KDE
A Week in Limbo, Day 4: On second thought . . .
A Week in Limbo, Days 5 and 6: Get with the program

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started testing and developing software in his new home office, which is the development side of Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, United States.)

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A ‘window’ I’d like to see

September 6, 2011 2 comments

OK, it’s crunch time. At the end of the week, you should be in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio Linux Fest — if you’re going to a Linux show before the year’s out, make it this one. This is the last big show on the North American continent until SCALE in January. At OLF, Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

When it comes to windows, this is one window I’ve been expecting for quite some time, and it looks like it’s almost here.

GIMP 2.7.3 adds the long awaited single-window mode, according to an article by Michael Reed in Linux Journal today.

At the moment, GIMP 2.7 is part of the development branch, so the feature won’t hit most distro repositories for a couple of months, according to the article. For the brave souls out there who want to try it now, this means that you’ll have to build it yourself (he says, backing away slowly).

“It’s a shame, in a way, because the new window mode might be viewed as a ease of use feature that less advanced users would appreciate,” Reed writes in his article.

Not to worry, Michael: I can wait until this single-window version is released for the mere mortals among us. According to Reed, a link in his article points to a page that has GIMP version 2.8 arriving sometime around November.

So, this is one window I can truly embrace. Thanks, GIMP folks.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software 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.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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Somebody give me a cheeseburger

June 12, 2011 5 comments


OSCON 2011
Next up: OSCON.

During my campaign for Insurance Commissioner of California in 2006 — where I just missed being elected to state office by a mere 46.5 percent of the vote — one of my campaign fundraising materials was a handout with a sandwich on it. It said, in effect, that if you give up one of these a week and send the money — $5 per week, in this case — to the campaign, you could have proper representation in Sacramento.

[It should be noted that, as a Green Party candidate, I did not take corporate campaign donations — not that any were forthcoming — so I needed a lot of sandwiches to mount an effective campaign. Thank goodness for FOSS, since I didn’t have to buy any software, but that’s another story.]

Yesterday’s blog item about the Ubuntu earrings that are being used as a fundraiser for Partimus started me thinking about how some people shy away from donating to groups or, in our case, FOSS projects because they think it takes a lot up front.

Nope, it doesn’t have to. It takes one sandwich at a time. Or coffee. Or dessert. Giving up one of these just once a week, multiplied by a significant number of people, can put some well-deserved projects in some pretty good financial shape.

It’s very simple — instead of having that grande iced mochajavafrappamacchiato at Starbucks today, send the money via PayPal to a FOSS project that you use regularly, as a way of saying, “Thanks.”

Give to Partimus, the project that is putting Linux-based computer labs in low-income schools in Northern California (or buy a pair of earrings). Or the HeliOS Project, since “a child’s exposure to technology should never be predicated on the ability to afford it.”

Like GIMP? Give to them here. Don’t like it? Give to Inkscape instead.

The possibilities only end at the number of FOSS programs that are taking donations. Go to the programs that you use and look for a “donate” button.

Then give ‘em a sandwich.

[Extra points to whomever can identify which song the title of this blog comes from. No Googling.]

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software 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.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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The ’69 Dart of Software

January 13, 2011 1 comment

Registration is now open for SCALE 9X — register now by clicking on the winking penguin.

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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