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Another Saturday Night

August 14, 2010 1 comment

Amid the recent — and completely minor — hubbub around politics injected into Linux User Group discussions on the Berkeley LUG mailing list, it’s interesting to see how FOSS and GNU/Linux can bring people of different political stripes together.

Exhibit A: Ken Starks and me.

Ken and I put together Lindependence 2008, an effort that brought Linux and FOSS to Felton, California, through a series of miniature GNU/Linux and FOSS expos at the Felton Presbyterian Church hall in July of 2008. Various distros — Fedora, Mandriva, Ubuntu and Debian, to name four — had tables set up at Lindependence, as well as FOSS programs like OpenOffice.org. Representatives from each of the distros and programs had representatives on hand, and the idea was to convert the town to Linux and FOSS.

Ken, a Texan, is an Operation Desert Storm vet and as Rebublican as you can get; a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. Those who know me know that I’m an unapologetic lefty no longer affiliated with any political party, and many of you are already tired of hearing me tell of my Green Party candidacy for statewide office in California (for those who aren’t keeping score at home: In 2006, I was the Green candidate for Insurance Commissioner and got the most votes of any Green statewide that year — 270,218 votes, 3.2 percent).

But recently, I was looking at some clips from video that a San Francisco filmmaker, the Digital Tipping Point’s Christian Einfeldt, shot on Lindependence 2008 featuring Ken and me, and thinking about how despite our differences, those of different political views can work together for FOSS and GNU/Linux, even though each is approaching it from different directions — ranging from either from a purely libertarian (small “l” to describe the philosophy, not the capital “L” political party) perspective to from the anti-corporate, anarchist (in the true sense of the word) paradigm.

[Ken and I, of course, fall somewhere in between, far from either end, of both extremes.]

In watching some of the clips that Christian had shot at Lindepdence 2008, I found one where I said something to the effect that I would never talk to Ken if it weren’t for our shared passion for FOSS and Linux, as he would say (GNU/Linux as I would say), because of our political differences.

I’d like to publicly take that back.

Thanks to this experience, I have since been convinced that you can work across political divisions to achieve a common goal, i.e., Linux and FOSS adoption, and as a result I welcome the opportunity to work with those with whom I may not share a political philosophy.

Despite our political differences, Ken and I worked well in getting Lindependence 2008 going. Further, I’m proud to serve on the board of a project that Ken chairs, the HeliOS Project, which provides Linux-based computers to underprivileged kids in the Austin, Texas, area.

In conclusion, there’s a lesson to be learned here, for the observant.

[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: GNU, GNU/Linux, open source Tags: , , ,

It’s Friday, I’m in love

August 13, 2010 4 comments

Ah, love! The Cure’s song that carries today’s blog title bounces gently off the walls of the office while I think about the things I love about GNU/Linux (or Linux, if you’re so inclined).

Like . . .

  • A multiplicity of distros: Oh, 350-odd (and some not so odd) active Linux distributions in their wide range of uses, even though about 50 of them are relevant and regularly used by the GNU/Linux-using public. Some think that’s too many, but I would disagree: Distros are like ice cream, and you pick the flavor that suits your taste (not to mention your needs) and use it. I’d prefer to have hundreds to choose from rather than have a Baskin-Robbins limitation to 33 flavors. [Those who know me know I'm a Fedora guy, but the boxes at Redwood Digital also run Debian (especially on the Macs), Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, and a PII box with AntiX Mepis.] To appreciate the amount of choice we have, a visit to DistroWatch might be in order.
  • A variety of desktops: Who’s limited to what environment appears on our screens? We’re not. Thanks to the big daddies — GNOME and KDE (the former which I use most often and the latter which I’m growing to like more over time) — and to those desktop environments which leave the processor’s horsepower to more important digital matters — take a bow Xfce and LXDE — we have a wide range of options. Of course, if four isn’t enough, throw in IceWM and Flux and . . . .
  • The busy Beavers at Oregon State: The crew at Oregon State University deserve special mention. Chances are when you download a FOSS program or a distro, it comes to you directly from beautiful downtown Corvallis, Ore., home of the Oregon State University Open Source Lab (well, OK, perhaps OSU isn’t downtown per se, but you get the point). Kudos to OSL operations boss Jeff Sheltren and infrastructure architect Lance Albertson, as well as the rest of the OSL’s staff, for keeping the FOSS programs available. In addition, the OSL’s efforts hardly pale in comparison with the dedication and commitment to FOSS in OSU’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, which is responsible for the Oregon State Wireless Activity Learning Device (or OSWALD). A tip of the hat — a Fedora, of course — to EECS faculty professors Tim Budd and Carlos Jensen for the OSWALD, and great work, all.
  • Showtime: The various Linux/FOSS shows and expos throughout the year are great to attend — the ones I can make, like the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) and OSCON are the ones around which I plan family vacations. Throw in other shows into the mix like the Utah Open Source Conference in October and the other standards like Southeast Linux Fest, the OLFs (Ohio and Ontario Linux Fests), Calgary Open Source Systems Festival (COSSFEST), while tossing in new shows like Texas Linux Fest, and the calendar is full of opportunities to promote FOSS and learn a thing or two if you aren’t careful.
  • My peeps: You all know who you are, and don’t think for a minute I’m going to try to name all of you because I’ll forget someone and then they’ll feel bad and I’ll hate myself for forgetting for years to follow. Thank you to those who make everything work across distro, desktop and program borders — you are truly the heroes of FOSS and have my undying respect, gratitude and love.

    [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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  • Any given Thursday

    August 12, 2010 3 comments

    Linux Today has been gracious enough to post the Tuesday blog post and the responses to it on that page hit home with a topic — Linux evangelism — that needs to be discussed.

    This is very important, so pay attention.

    Important point number one: How you present FOSS is probably more important than actually promoting Linux and FOSS. Let me say that again: How you present FOSS is probably more important than actually promoting GNU/Linux and FOSS.

    [Yeah, I said it twice, but not because of the Linux-vs.-GNU/Linux thing, though that was very convenient, huh?]

    This is how we do it in Felton Farmers Market table: We essentially ask “Do you know about Linux?” If not, we explain what it is. If so, we ask them about their experience. What we stress is, in both cases, “Remember, you have a choice.” And the choice is simple — either you can have an operating system and software that you own (and is not licensed to you) or you can have an operating system and software that puts you at the mercy of those who own it (i.e., Microsoft, Apple, etc.).

    Yes, it may take a little work to get up to speed, but the trade-off is that you’re essentially free of viruses, spyware, malware, etc., and your system (especially an older one) will run faster. Also, if you need help, we let them know that the Felton Linux Users Group (for which the table is set up) can help.

    The key operating word here is choice: You give the people the choice of whether they want an operating system and software that is theirs to own, that is free (as in beer/KookAid/bottled water/whatever as well as in freedom) and that, with a little work, they can control more easily than what they might have now.

    Or they can choose not to change, and that’s completely up to them, which — another important point — is a decision that should be respected no matter how wrong we might think it is.

    Which, of course, brings us to . . .

    Important point number two: There’s no need, let alone no room, for zealotry. The zealotry that’s often masked as evangelism harms GNU/Linux and FOSS far more than it helps.

    Think about it in these terms — and this is not to cast evangelicals in a negative light, but just to use some of the more zealous, overbearing ones as an example — how effective are those Bible-thumpers you may encounter, telling you you’re going to roast like a July 4th marshmallow in the eternal fiery pits of hell’s damnation unless you embrace $RELIGION that they profess? Does that kind of pitch fill you with instant inspiration to take them up on their cause, or does it fill you with an overwhelming desire to find the nearest hose and spray them down?

    Same thing with Linux/FOSS zealots: If you horse-collar people and tell them they must use GNU/Linux and FOSS or they will die, then you’re acting no better than the misguided evangelicals mentioned in the previous paragraph.

    We have all been “filled with the Holy Spirit,” to use a Christian term for divine inspiration, at some point in our conversion to Linux/FOSS and it’s only natural to want people to know what we know, and to experience what we experience, when it comes to our operating system and software. But . . .

    Important point number three: People are people. Some people take pride in their car or house and are constantly doing work on them; whether it’s tuning up or doing repair work themselves on their car, or being on a first-name basis with the guys and gals at Lowe’s or Home Depot while making their home their personal pride and joy.

    Then again, some people have ratty cars that are driven into the ground and live in the hovel to which their mail goes — because they don’t care.

    [This is not to say that people who drive ratty cars don't care. I drive a '92 Toyota Paseo with 316,000 miles because it's all I can afford. It looks like death warmed over, but I do regular maintenance on it and it runs like a champ.]

    Some people — more than likely in the first category — are the ones who are more likely to consider their computers as more than just an appliance; the latter may not consider their computers anything more than a television screen with a keyboard.

    It’s those in the first category that realize what they have in a personal computer (i.e., more than just an appliance) that tend to want to know more of the options in the digital realm. Hence, most of those we encounter at the farmers market fall into the first category.

    Those in the second category, well, fall under the “Lead-a-horse-to-water” group. You may not be able to make them drink, and while no one really deserves the slings and arrows that befall Windows users, people have to want to get themselves out of that quagmire before they can actually get out of it. Whether they have to “hit bottom,” as they say in AA circles, is worthy of debate, but the main thrust is that they have to want to help themselves.

    So to recap: We have most, if not all, of the solutions for everyone to have a free-as-in-freedom digital experience through GNU/Linux and FOSS. It is open to everyone and anyone who wants to participate — at whatever level fits their comfort zone — and the community aspect is one that has the ability to reach far beyond merely the technical realm.

    A lot of people, to varying degrees, “get it,” and most, sooner or later, they will change from using Windows/Mac to Linux/FOSS. Some don’t, and while that’s unfortunate, it’s their choice.

    And that’s what this is about — the freedom to choose.

    If you’ve read this far, thanks for staying awake.

    [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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