Archive for September, 2009

The importance of saying “Hi”

// September 30th, 2009 // 21 Comments » // Free Software, Project Mayhem, Rants

Story time! (Warning: Ramblings and emo ahead)

The only white guy in the room

About two years ago, I thought that it would be a good idea to join the classes at the gym for group sessions rather than just doing all the solo stuff. I checked the available classes, and one class promised to be an extremely fun freestyling dance class (or something like that) with lots of cool music. In my head, that got translated to people doing breakdancing, there being like, a little moshpit somewhere, lots of hot sweaty girls jumping around and into everyone else… well, more like what you’d imagine in a club than at a gym :)

The next day I showed up for the class and just as it started I noticed that I was the only guy there. Besides that, the music was *very* female targeted. I think that’s the most Westlife, Boyzone, *NSYNC, etc (at least it was before Jonas Brothers were around) I ever had to hear in such a short amount of time. Also, there was nothing freestyle about it! It’s like they all knew very specific and elaborate dances and I couldn’t keep up at all and it was mostly embarrassing. Some might find it ammusing, but the most intimidated I’ve ever been was in a room full of women younger than me in (mostly) pink dancing clothes.

Quite often, I’ve been in situations where I’m at a meeting or gathering where I’m the only white person there. This might be when I visit a library in Khayelitsha to help them with their computers, or previously when I did some government work. I’ve never actually had a negative experience in cases like these, but sometimes you become a bit paranoid (and I’m not a paranoid person to begin with). Sometimes I’ve had thoughts like “I hope that comment wasn’t directed at me” and you tend to fine-comb everything that is being said.

When you’re the only one, or in a very small minority that is obviously different from everyone else there, you naturally become a little bit more sensitive. I guess it’s just human nature.

E-Mail

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, e-mail was a great way of communicating and staying in touch. I also found mailing lists quite handy and learned that because people can’s see and hear you directly, that it often happens that people read it incorrectly, and what might seem like an innocent message may be interpreted as hostile to others. I learned to keep my messages as short as possible and keep the tone as neutral as possible, especially on mailing lists and messages that are sent out to many different people. This didn’t work so well at work though. I’ve had collueges complain before that my e-mails are too formal, and that it makes them feel uncomfortable. It was even mentioned in a performance appraisal on year! I learned that some people, it seems especially extroverts (in the Myers-Briggs kind of way) are much likely to respond faster if you through in a joke or perhaps even mention something non-work related. My style of e-mail drastically changed depending on who I sent it too, and people were generally more happy with me. I drew the line when our marketing person told me that it’s become company policy to send out all e-mails in the font “Arial”. I told him that he’d have my resignation before I ever send out an e-mail in Arial which resulted in a bit of an arguement. He didn’t take it too well. While I didn’t succeed in changing the company policy (I had too many other things on my plate at the time to worry about that) regarding the Arial e-mails, we ended up at least getting permission for our team to send out our e-mails in plain-text.

For some people, receiving an e-mail with formal style and wording is perceived as a kind of passive-aggressiveness. For some people, sending out what is really just a text message in HTML (and especially with a font like Arial) is perceived as clean and proffessional, where anyone with some technical skills will dismiss it as being wasteful and stupid.

Saying Hi

I’ve often heard people (and more women than men) complain that their boss isn’t polite enough. It’s usually something like “When I used to work at Company A, our boss would always come into the office and greet everyone and once a month he’d get everyone together in the office and we’d eat some cake and he’d provide us with some motivation”. In one office space I worked in, our manager was specifically very quiet. It was sometimes so quiet in the office that it made lots of people (including myself) very uncomfortable. Most of the time it didn’t bother me so much, but in that extreme case I could understand what the other people were on about, who were more vocal about the problem. He later had some bad performance reviews from people complaining about his leadership style and he left. He actually did a really good job, his biggest failure was really not saying “Hi!” and “How are you doing?” often enough.

When you’re in a leader position, or a high profile person, people look up to you and they want guidance and reassurance. It’s why we have phenomenons like Bradgelina (the combined name for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) who some people obsess about. When you’re such a person, the slightest negative or positive thing you say can have a *huge* impact on all of those who follow you. I don’t think these people should censor themselves, but they should actively keep in mind that their word hold lots of weight, and that they should use them responsibly.

Mark and the girls

I read on Matt Zimmerman’s blog entry “Explaining to the Girls”. It’s about a comment Mark Shuttleworth gave at LinuxCon I got the video from a comment and his exact words were¬† “If we can really approach it from the perspective of saying how do we make this just awesome for users, then we’ll, uh, we’ll have have less trouble explaining to girls what we actually do”. If I personally heard it like that for the first time, I would certainly interpret it as a very sexist remark. Someone mentioned that he actually meant it as “the girlfriend” or “significant other”. After listening to it again today, I can see how he probably just meant that.

Mark reminds me of that manager I had that didn’t say hi to the other employees. It’s not that he’s a bad person, but I guess it’s kind of hard to dedicate some brain CPU cycles to consider others when you have billions of dollars in the bank to worry about, when you get to travel by personal plane, when you get to take on huge projects such as Ubuntu, etc. When you get to that stage I think you just live on an entirely different level than most other people. What might be a big deal for most becomes trivial and unimportant, the set of problems you have to deal with changes and are on a totally different scale.

I think what he said was quite insensitive, regardless of his intentions. I can imagine a young woman who might have given up a more comfortable career to risk working exclusively on free software, doing the effort to come to LinuxCon just to hear that girls are slow to understand stuff. If Mark just said “We’ll have less trouble explaining what we do to our significant others”, it would already have been a major improvement and he’d also be able to get his message accross better. In my opinion it will probably do Ubuntu some good if he at leasts makes some kind of public statement about this.

From my perspective, it comes back to saying hi, or perhaps more specifically, acknowledging people. Once you’ve done that it’s already easier to keep them in mind and not saying things that are mean and insensitive.

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Cupt

// September 22nd, 2009 // 2 Comments » // Free Software

Cupt (it sounds like someone is trying to say “Cups” with a lisp) is a very new alternative to APT. It just hit its first beta today and development started just last year. I decided to give it a spin in a Debian unstable virtual machine. First impressions is very good. It unifies all the different tools you’d traditionally use with apt, it also offers alternative solutions when they’re available like Aptitude does.

It’s features are very familiar and it didn’t take long at all to get comfortable with it. Here’s an output of it’s built-in help to give you an idea of what it does:

Actions:
 autoclean: cleans unavailable from repositories archives from binary package cache
 build-dep: satisfies build dependencies for source package(s)
 changelog: views Debian changelog(s) of binary package(s)
 clean: cleans the whole binary package cache
 config-dump: prints values of configuration variables
 copyright: views Debian copyright info of binary package(s)
 depends: prints dependencies of binary package(s)
 dist-upgrade: does a two-stage full upgrade
 full-upgrade: upgrades the system with possible removal of some packages
 help: prints a short help
 install: installs/upgrades/downgrades binary package(s)
 markauto: marks binary package(s) as automatically installed
 pkgnames: prints available package names
 policy: prints pin info for the binary package(s)
 policysrc: prints pin info for the source package(s)
 purge: removes binary package(s) along with their configuration files
 rdepends: print reverse-dependencies of binary package(s)
 remove: removes binary package(s)
 safe-upgrade: upgrades the system without removing packages
 satisfy: performs actions to make relation expressions satisfied
 screenshots: views Debian screenshot web pages for the binary package(s)
 search: searches for packages using regular expression(s)
 shell: starts an interactive package manager shell
 show: prints info about binary package(s)
 showsrc: prints info about source packages(s)
 source: fetches and unpacks source package(s)
 unmarkauto: marks binary package(s) as manually installed
 update: updates repository metadata
 version: prints versions of packages 'cupt' and 'libcupt-perl'
 why: finds a dependency path between system/package(s) and package

I tried the ‘screenshots’ option to see what it would do in a text-only terminal. It basically opens up a web page with the screenshot using sensible-browser, so it ended up opening in w3m, where you can see the entire web page except the actual screen shot, it probably wouldn’t work all that well for people getting a screenshot from a remote terminal. In my opinion it would’ve been better if cupt just pasted a URL to the image or downloaded it for you. Not a big criticism, just a minor suggestion :)

It’s installable next to APT, so you don’t have to remove any of your current APT tools. Just a note of caution, if you’re running Ubuntu, the newest version available is only 0.2.3, so you probably don’t want to install if from the Ubuntu archives just yet.

From toying around with it and adding/removing some packages I couldn’t really find anything big that’s wrong about it. It even does things like “cupt install htop apache2-” correctly, it seems that they’ve worked quite hard to match most of what the apt tools do. I haven’t tried the debdelta integration yet, and I think the support for an external problem solver has some potential for making upgrades smoother. I quite like it and hope that the Cupt developers maintain the kind of momentum they have now.

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Ubuntu Community Council Elections

// September 22nd, 2009 // 5 Comments » // Free Software, Politics

Election Time

It’s Ubuntu Community Council election time!

From the voting page (You should’ve received a link if you’re an Ubuntu member):

The Council is responsible for community governance. They are the ultimate arbiter of community disputes, and they nominate candidates for leadership in key positions across the entire project. In selecting your candidates, please consider their ability to act in an independent fashion and exercise good judgement of character, values and tone. We have an enormous community now that spans many different media, regions, technologies and interests. The CC cannot include a representative of every constituency, so members of the CC need to be able to represent the interests of many different groups.

The Candidates

We have a very strong selection of candidates. They are:

How I’m Voting

I firstly read through each candidate’s wiki page. Some had quite sparse information on their wiki pages and websites, while some have either a decent wiki page or link to a page where you can find out more about them. Some of them have also added a paragraph on their wiki page explaining why they are standing for the CC. There are two candidates that I haven’t ever worked with, interacted or met before so I had to rely on their wikis/websites/launchpad-profiles more than the others.

ballot

The ballot above is what the default looks like, default values are at 12 so you have to purposely promote the candidates that you want to vote in.

I gave a “1” ranking to the candidates I absolutely wanted to see in the Community Council. A “2” for those who I’d really like to be in there, but if they’re not it will be ok, and a “3” to “6” for the rest. They’re all good candidates and I didn’t specifically want to vote against anyone. 12 Rankings feel like a bit too much for 7 candidates, especially considering that there’s just 7 candidates and that you’ll probably put some of them on the same ranking level (not sure where I got that idea, there are indeed 12 candidates). The voting statistics will be made public after the election (although all voting will remain anonymous), so I’m interested in seeing how people are going to cast their votes.

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Software Freedom Day 2009

// September 20th, 2009 // No Comments » // Free Software

Yesterday was the 6th International Annual Software Freedom Day. I attended the Cape Linux Users Group event at UCT. It was different to all the previous ones we’ve had in that it was a much more geeky event rather than just a marketing event. CLUG provided free pizza and Mark Ter Morthuizen brewed us some home-made beer. Our activities included working on the CLUG website, fixing the UCT Freedom Toaster, creating new CD toasting software from scratch in Python (called Snakewich), and doing some maintenance in the Shuttleworth Lab. It was really nice having a real CLUG event again (besides the usual CLUG talks) and it was good seeing some old familiar faces as well. We had lots of hickups though, bad wi-fi, touch-screen displays not playing along, but overall it was totally worth it.

I think our next step is to start making use of TSL for things like Ubuntu Global Jams and CLUG related workshops.

Oh yes, and it’s official, Ubuntu 10.04’s official codename is Lucid Lynx.

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Edubuntu Karmic Alpha 6 is Real

// September 18th, 2009 // No Comments » // Education, Free Software

Yes, it’s true! There is indeed an alpha 6 image for Edubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala)! This is the first ever working installation DVD image for Edubuntu. In the beginning, Edubuntu was released on a single CD that shared 95%+ of its content with the Ubuntu CD image. To make more space available for educational packages, it was later changed to an add-on CD that simply installed on top of your choice of Ubuntu. Our users hated it, so we’ve now changed over to a DVD that should offer the best of both worlds. The only drawbacks will be a larger download, and a requirement for a DVD writer drive- not such a big deal these days.

edubuntu-desktop

I did testing for the i386 Alpha release yesterday, you can find the results here: https://lists.ubuntu.com/archives/edubuntu-devel/2009-September/003057.html

Unfortunately, I couldn’t download the AMD64 daily build in time, so there’s no Edubuntu Karmic Alpha 6 AMD64 image. I’m not sure if this means that we won’t be able to have an AMD64 release for Karmic at all, but I’ll be syncing my daily builds automatically from now on so I’ll be able to test builds quicker from now on. We’ll certainly need testers again soon for the beta release (testing 1 October) and release candidate release (testing 25 October). If you’re interested in helping out, please join our mailing list and introduce yourself.

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Haiku

// September 18th, 2009 // 9 Comments » // Free Software

BeOS and I

A little more than a decade ago, I used to love BeOS. It booted faster, was more stable and reacted much better than Windows 98, which I was using as my main OS at that time. I hoped to see it expand and take over from Windows as the dominant operating system in the world. This was before I knew about free software. I was very unhappy when Be Inc went down and sold BeOS to Palm. They managed to release some code under open source licenses before that happened, but since then BeOS was pretty much dead. It was also right about then when I started playing around with Red Hat Linux.

Enter Haiku

In 10 years things have changed quite a lot, and a group of people have been working on a complete BeOS replacement called Haiku (also previously known as OpenBeOS) that’s released under the MIT license. They announced a new alpha release today so I thought I’d give it a spin.

Haiku Installer

Haiku Installer

The Good

It boots very fast with no annoying flashes or disturbances during the boot process. I guess it would do a very good job of replacing any legacy BeOS 5 systems that are still out there already. The interface is also very responsive, and the installer isn’t too bad either, although it crashed when I only gave the virtual machine 64MB of RAM, which it runs fine on after installation, it installed fine having 128MB of RAM. BeOS is nice for very small devices. It should give you decent performance on even a Pentium II machine. My old BeOS 5 machine used to be a 75mhz Pentium with 32MB of RAM and it used to run just fine.

Haiku Desktop

Haiku Desktop

The Bad and the Ugly

Pretty much everything that happened in the last 10 years is in the rest of the world is in a horrible state in Haiku. USB support is dodgy, power management is basically non-existent… oh, and if you want Wi-Fi, it’s fine as long as you have an Atheros card and only want to connect to unsecured networks. It’s essentially useless for laptops.

Even though it’s a unixy system, it’s still a single-user system. Everything is owned and ran by user “user” and group “root”, and there are no plans yet for fixing this. The /etc/passwd file literally just contains one entry. If I run the program called “teapot”, my configuration gets stored in /etc/teapot, not in my home directory! In my opinion the time for single user desktop systems have long gone, and it might have been ok in the mid 90’s where you just had to compete with Windows 98, but these days it’s really not sufficient. People have come to expect their computers to be much more safe and secure than that.

I think BeOS was a real nice system, and in many ways ahead of its time, but it’s dead and I think it’s best if they rather just leave it that way. I can’t see the point in spending another 2-3 years to make a system that is already obsolete in design, when those efforts could rather be spent on more worthy projects. Perhaps I’m just biased since I’m a big fan of GNU/Linux, we’ll just have to see.

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Phone Choice

// September 13th, 2009 // 19 Comments » // Free Software, Gadgets

My phone contract renewal is up in about a month and I’ll be eligible for a new phone. I’m not sure I know what exactly I want yet, but I thought I’d blog about my thinking around new phones and the contenders.

I love my current phone. Probably enough that I can use it for another 2 years. It’s showing its age though, and it feels so unprogressive getting the same one again. It’s a Motorola V8 (RAZR2). What I like about it is that it works great as a phone. Many devices have so many gadgets, features and gimmicks but somehow they neglect the phone part. This phone has good sound quality and reception and I like the way I can read SMS’s on the outside display and how it reads out who send me an SMS. While there’s lots of things I like about the phone, it’s pretty much in the past soon so I’ll lay out what I want in a future one.

I like clamshell phones (no need to lock keypads). I have a friend with a very fancy looking smartphone where he has to press more than 5 buttons just to enter a number to call. That sucks. Good sound quality and a good (GSM) radio is important. That was where it started, some basic requirements for a simple phone that does the job well. However, playing with my friends’ iPhones, Android devices and Blackberries, I’ve realised that I might actually have some use for a decent smart phone.

Nokia E71

200px-Nokiae71

I had a Nokia E61 previously and didn’t like it. The sound quality was horrible and I found Symbian to be incredibly annoying. A while back I played around with a friend’s Nokia E71. It’s a major improvement. It’s not as clunky or plasticky as the E61 was. It’s actually a very solid phone, and it has a beautiful big display for the size of the phone, which is just slightly larger than my RAZR2. Its metal finishes are great and I’d daresay that it’s the best built Nokia phone I’ve ever handled. Symbian is also being open sourced, so hopefully many of the old annoyances would also be cleared out. It also has a nice (although slightly gimmicky) feature where it remembers where you parked your car using its integrated GPS. This was the phone I was thinking of buying a few months back when I first started looking at phones. I can’t say that I have very strong feelings for or against this phone otherwise.

iPhone

281px-Iphone2g3g3gson

The iPhone has been revolutionary and has made a big impact on how we think about smart phones. They’re also readily available and quite cheap. It has a massively wide variety and amount of applications available for it. It’s not the proprietary system that it runs that bothers me so much, it’s more the freedom hating nature of Apple’s products. I’ve heard of someone from the UK visiting South Africa and plugging in their iPhone just to get it charged, and it changed the country settings automatically not allowing the person to access any of the apps they downloaded in the UK. While the iPhone seems like a nice device, I can’t say that I’m particularly interested. I have an iPod and have used OSX quite a bit to see what all the fuss is about, and I’ve found it quite underwhelming.

Palm Pre

250px-Palm_Pre

I enjoyed reading Matthew Garrett’s thoughts on the Palm Pre, it seems like a nice little device. What I particularly like about it is that it seems to stick to typical Linux stuff for doing things, instead of writing it’s own weird things from scratch that some devices do. It uses things like Upstart, Pulseaudio and GStreamer. I can’t say that I particularly like what the phone looks like.

HTC Hero

200px-Htc_hero2

I played with a friend’s HTC android phone last week. There’s already a large selection of apps available and the phone is very responsive and fast (unlike any other HTC phone I’ve ever used). Android seems to have come a very long way in such a very short time. The HTC Hero isn’t available locally yet, but if it is available shortly it’s certainly a strong contender. There’s lots of Android development tools available, and with increasingly more manufacturers adopting it, it would be easier to share my applications than it would on something like a Palm Pre.

Motorola Cliq

moto-cliq

The Cliq is another currently unavailable Android phone. Even though Android isn’t a “typical” Linux system, I’ve really warmed up to it. I’m currently downloading the Motorola DEVSTUDIO tools to see what it’s like, handset emulators is also available that makes it possible to try out the device’s interface. It’s display resolution is a bit underwhelming, and I think the phone is a bit ugly, the Motorola logo seems badly placed.

Nokia N900

n900

I’ve tried out Nokia N800s and N810s before. They’re great devices, even though they lack GSM radios. Nokia is soon releasing the N900, and it seems to be a gorgeous device. It has a 800×480 display, which I can imagine being useful for many many things. It runs Maemo, yet another Linux based system. Perhaps Webkit would’ve been a better choice for the device than Gecko, but besides relatively small things like that the device seems like pretty much the best device in my list. I also like that it’s Debianish and that I can very easily install things like lighttpd or irssi with just a few keystrokes.

Conclusion

Meh, I really don’t know. The N900 will probably take a while to get here and will probably be out of range for my simple phone contract. I’ll probably end up going for a HTC Android phone.

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