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ZaReason Alto 3880: The honeymoon continues

May 22, 2012 6 comments

When I reviewed the ZaReason Alto 3880 earlier this year, I liked it so much I got one, and I told Cathy and Earl Malmrose of ZaReason that I’d write my impressions of the Alto three months later.

That was in February and now it’s May — three months hence — and I have to say that I have not had one bad experience with the laptop.

To recap: Until I gave the Alto a test run, I was a dyed-in-the-wool ThinkPad guy, utilitarian to the core. All my ThinkPads — and there are several — look like NASCAR entries with their sticker-laden covers displaying the best of FOSS programs.

Since February, though, I’ve been using the Alto for hours on end on a daily basis, giving it the rigorous workout that the ThinkPads normally got when I was using them exclusively. The Alto 3880 has proved to be a very tough machine going step-for-step, measure-for-measure with the ThinkPad in all categories.

The advantage that the Alto has over the ThinkPad is that it looks good — no, it looks great — doing it.

Which of course brings me to the keyboard: As I wrote earlier, I thought the keyboard in the Alto 3880, at first touch, was a little light. With the pounding I normally give the sturdy ThinkPad keyboard, I openly worried about my heavy fingers and not-so-gentle touch on what I thought might be a less-than-sturdy keyboard. I was completely wrong about this — the keyboard is tougher than the first impression lets on, and it is one of the Alto 3880’s outstanding features. If it handles the range of tapping I give it — and it has — then it passes that test with high marks.

As I’ve written before, I’m running CrunchBang Statler on this machine and it runs flawlessly on the Alto. In the original blog, I mentioned that I had also run other distros on the Alto as well, but I choose to run CrunchBang for a variety of reasons I write about in another blog. For the unenlightened, CrunchBang — which is on the verge of releasing another version soon — is a Debian-based distro running the Openbox window manager. On the Alto, the combination of Openbox with Debian rumbling under the hood makes this laptop a digital rocket.

The ZaReason Alto 3880 is an outstanding machine that continues to earn my highest recommendation. The specs are here and, as I mentioned in the original blog item, the price is higher than you’d pay for something off the shelf at a big box like Best Buy (and, in a word, don’t!). But the Alto is worth every bit of the extra cost, and one of many features that ZaReason offers is that they provide a wide variety of distros to choose from on their hardware — though I don’t use it often, I understand Linux Mint would be a good off-the-shelf choice — and they even will install a distro at your request.

Like — oh, I don’t know — CrunchBang, if you ask for it.

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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Eliminate DRM!

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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Eliminate DRM!

Linux Fest Northwest makes its mark

May 1, 2012 1 comment

Those of us who have been to Linux shows, or especially have worked Linux shows, in the past know the drill. It’s something out of “Field of Dreams.” If you build it — the “it” here being a Linux event — they will come, and they will all seem to come right at Saturday morning at 9 sharp when the show officially starts.

They did just that at Linux Fest Northwest. Past its first decade of operation, LFNW has established itself as the premiere Linux event in the region and, as I’ve mentioned before, next to the Southern California Linux Expo, it’s the best show on the West Coast. For two days, geeks in the Northwest get to listen to top-notch presenters — as well as people like me — and visit exhibits from distros, software and hardware makers.

The Bellingham Linux Users Group and volunteers from other open source user groups in the area never fail to put on a great expo, and I think I speak for many attendees when I say that I’m deeply grateful for their efforts. About 1,200 people attended LFNW on the campus of Bellingham Technical College over the weekend. Thanks, LFNW folks.

Here’s a look at the weekend:

Not another distro . . .: Bill Smith and his wife Portia staffed the CrunchBang booth with me, and again my thanks go out to them for the help. Visitors to the booth ranged from those who knew what CrunchBang was to those who whined, “Not another distro . . .” To which I replied far too often, “Yes, another distro. This one is Debian with the OpenBox window manager,” before explaining the advantages of CrunchBang. “There’s a digital Darwinism at play here, with the good distros gathering a strong community and thriving, and others . . . not so much.” There were about 150 pieces of media burned — CDs and DVDs — all of which went out the door with prospective users. I, of course, will sit in the corner with the pointy hat because, truth be told, I forgot the banner and the “success kid” stickers made up for LFNW, but we’ll use ‘em next year.

Hello, I’m Greg DeKoenigsberg: The printed program had it right, as did the Web site. But the large poster on the wall on the Haskell classroom building on Saturday morning had Greg’s presentation on the schedule where I was giving the Intro to CrunchBang talk. With LFNW’s permission, Greg and I had switched presentation times more than a week prior to the event, since he was getting in late. But the poster outside the wall had the old schedule. Try as I might — which, of course, was not very hard — I could not convince the folks that I was the Eucalyptus VP. After an announcement that if you were there for Greg’s talk, it would be tomorrow, only a couple of people bailed out. As for my talk, it went as well as my talks usually go — no one was injured and law enforcement officials were nowhere to be found — and Scott Dowdle videotaped it, so as soon as that gets posted, I’ll let you know.

The (two) big thing(s): The big thing at Linux Fest Northwest — not including OpenSUSE rep Bryen Yunashko’s hat — was the Pogo Linux’s booth, which featured a full-fledged, sit-behind-the-wheel racing game with three large-screen monitors, where drivers navigated a course and prizes were given for the fastest laps. No, my racing days are far behind me, but from what I was told by someone who raced cars and turned the second fastest lap on Saturday, it was very realistic. Another big thing — bigger to the Android crowd, apparently, and arguably just as fast as the racing game — was the ZaReason tablet, which many folks tried out at our booth (ZaReason shared the CrunchBang booth at LFNW). Keep an eye on that, since this full-fledged Android tablet will be coming out very soon.

Hands across the water: It was a grand experiment, though operator error by yours truly may have kept it from being a huge success. But during the CrunchBang Birds of a Feather meetup on Sunday morning, we used a Google+ Hangout to raise CrunchBang lead developer Philip Newborough. Sort of. Despite getting dropped a couple of times — once because I hit the wrong key — we got to talk about the show, about what’s coming up for CrunchBang and things along those lines, and it was very informative for those in attendance. Thanks, Philip, and Rebecca Newborough as well, who in her capacity as the CrunchBang Community Leader also participated from the Lincoln side of things.

Bon mots: I’m still apologizing to Deb Nicholson for forgetting her surname in introducing her to Philip Newborough at the BoF on Sunday morning. You know you work with someone in FOSS circles for years and something like this happens . . . . A shout-out goes to Eric Craw, a new CrunchBang user from Washington who converted at Linux Fest Northwest. Not only did he start using CrunchBang, but he already started contributing code back to the project, showing that this is what FOSS is all about . . . . David Whitman of Hacker Public Radio gave me a few minutes of interview time at the end of Linux Fest Northwest, so all that thumping and loading in the background may or may not be audible once the interview is broadcast . . . . I drove 962 miles each way to attend LFNW, but this show is so great that I would have walked 962 miles to get to Bellingham. Again, kudos to the LFNW crew.

Start rumors: In my capacity as publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo, I finally got to sit down with my good friends Warren Sanders and Scott Dowdle, and two folks from the Big Sky Country that I hadn’t met — Rocky Mountain College’s Andrew Niemantsverdreit and Gary Bummer, who is Scott’s colleague at Montana State University — and the five of us discussed bringing an event to their area. So be on the lookout for Montana Linux Fest, or something like it, in 2013.

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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Eliminate DRM!

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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Eliminate DRM!

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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Eliminate DRM!

How we do things here

March 22, 2012 2 comments

This is how things are done in these parts: I don’t want to speak for him because I know my friend Don Parris has his own explanation for it (which he outlines on his blog here), but it appears that while building up his bash scripting skills, he noticed a certain finality to deleting filed in bash. So he wrote a script to keep the files around in case there’s an “oops-I-needed-that-file-after-all” moment.

So Don did what we do in these parts, this paradigm known as FOSS: He wrote his own script. Not only this, he put it under the GPL and put it out for the benefit of the wide world to use.

Is it something that will be widely adopted and catapult Don to a nomination for the Nobel? Probably not. But for those of us who would use it, it’s a pretty nifty tool, and my hat is off to Don and the Bash Trashman (which you can get at the link two paragraphs up, and note to Don: I sort of like Brash myself, but snicker uncontrollably at the thought of calling it Bashmaster, a la Bassmaster).

Because that’s how things are done here.

There’s a flip side to this coin, too: It’s when someone visits to a distro or a project and tells the community “Hey, you can do things better. Let me tell you how.”

I bring this up in the wake of a thread in the CrunchBang forums around what might — might — constitute improvements in that particular distribution. That’s reason number one. The second reason is that I’m guilty of this, too, and learned my lesson years ago.

While there is always room for improvement in anything, the changes the original poster suggests are things that are already found commonly in other distros and, arguably (as noted in the thread) CrunchBang’s strengths lie in what it “lacks” in the way of digital creature comforts as much as it lies in the great job Philip Newborough has done in putting together an Openbox-based distro that’s fast on old hardware and lightning quick on the newer stuff.

You’ve heard me say this before, mantra-like, and I’m going to have this etched on my tombstone: Use whatever distro/FOSS program works for you. This is one of those basic truths, like the inevitability of death and taxes and the inability to comprehend how gravity works, understanding the Wankel engine or the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” To go to one community set in their ways and say, “You know, you’d be a lot more popular if $LIST_OF_REASONS” doesn’t fly because, in the constellation of the 320-something distros in the Linux/BSD universe, there’s a distro out there that will do exactly what you want it to do. As it should be. And if this one doesn’t do it for you and you’re not using one that does work for you — opting to try to change it to your tastes instead of changing yours to fit the distro — you’re falling into the trap outlined in that popular Southern expression: “Never teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.”

To his credit (and I’m assuming the original poster is a he), the original poster has stuck with CrunchBang and he seems to be working out some of the bugs he’s finding. Also, one of the things I hope he’s finding is that there is a wealth of knowledge and education a question away in the CrunchBang forums, which is a huge and positive testament to that particular community.

As an aside, I use CrunchBang regularly as my primary distro because a.) I like it and b.) it does what I need it to do across a wide range of hardware which, say it with me, means it suits my needs. The fact that it’s a community with a wide range of smart people is a perk.

Which is as it should be.

(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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Eliminate DRM!

Welcome to the pre-Post-PC era

March 9, 2012 21 comments

Joe Brockmeier wrote an insightful piece on ReadWrite entitled “What We Lose in a Post-PC World” that starts off with this: “Tim Cook, Ray Ozzie, and a host of others have proclaimed that we’re in a “post-PC world.” Well, not quite yet, but you can see it from here.”

You can see it all right, with the Hubble. It’s that far off in the distance.

I agree with most of that Joe writes, incidentally. In fact, I agree with all of what Joe writes, except for the “see it from here” thing (I’m assuming he didn’t use a telescope, space-borne or otherwise). There are things that you can do with your post-PC apparatus, like surf the web, watch videos and all those important digital experiences. But bear in mind that you’re not going to be using Blender on your Android tablet anytime soon.

So while we wait for Hallmark to make up cards heralding the Post-PC era, allow me an introduction of a new placeholder era: the pre-Post-PC era. In the pre-Post-PC era, discussions we’re now having involve the how and what you can — and can’t — do with new technology like tablets and smartphones, followed by heated discussion about the same, punctuated by name-calling, general flaming and hurt feelings around issues of disagreement at which time parties go to neutral corners and take a 10-count before coming back into the proverbial ring and discussing the issue with cooler heads.

Meanwhile, technology marches on and as evening falls on the pre-Post-PC era — which might be called the post-pre-Post-PC era by purists, opening another argumentative can of worms as a sideshow — Blender developers will actually get an Android version for tablets up and running, just proving the point that you can do it, but ignoring the important question around why you would make software to run on something that’s not built for the job.

“Because they can,” they might say, and that’s a valid answer.

One more prognostication: Sailing through the Post-PC era, there will be a post-Post-PC era, after the advent of the pre-post-Post-PC era, where people will start thinking, “You know, I had a laptop (or desktop . . . or both) once where I didn’t have to strain my eyes on such a small screen, and where I actually got stuff done rather than just wasting time.” Or something like that.

At that time, the post-Post-PC era will allow everyone to realize what most of us already know: That what’s nebulously referred to as post-PC hardware works in tandem with, not as a substitute to, the hardware like laptops and desktops that already exist.

(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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Eliminate DRM!

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