Ubuntu and Fedora LiveCDs — Ubuntu a clear winner!

I’m trying to convince a certain group to wipe their virus infected (and no doubt with trojan horses, key loggers, and spyware) computer over to linux, and so I’ve burned the Fedora 12 Live CD and the Ubuntu 9.10 Live CD.

I don’t want to bother giving them the Fedora Live CD. The Ubuntu CD is far too slick. And, the Fedora Live CD is far too vanilla. And that’s despite my usual rivalry with Ubuntu; at first glance, the killer is the inclusion of OpenOffice.org on the Ubuntu CD, while Fedora has the lightweight (albeit otherwise capable) AbiWord. Even the brown looks bright and welcoming, as opposed to Fedora’s more conservative, dull greyish-blue.

Add to that the directory of various files introducing Ubuntu, what it’s about, and even a sample mortgage calculator, and it’s little wonder that Ubuntu gets a whole lot of first timers straight out of the gate, or that first timers settle on Ubuntu after trying a bunch of other distros. As a marketing tool (at least for the desktop), the Ubuntu CD wins hands down; I’m not even sure that fully set up via traditional means from the DVD or full set of CD’s Fedora is this flashy.

I’ve been telling people for a while that “I use Fedora, but you’ll find Ubuntu easier”. I’ve just seen the proof. Seeing the CD, I would want to start afresh with it. I won’t of course, but I was impressed.

I’m wondering, though, which is the real killer — the inclusion of OpenOffice.org, or the directory introducing Ubuntu? I bet that were Fedora to mount a similar directory, including how to expand upon the base supplied on the CD, that people might take it up a bit more. I’m thinking of things like “Accustomed to OpenOffice.org? Go here and this is what you do.” or a “top five” “what to do once you install the Fedora base (or even just the Live-CD)” based on “Common desktop tasks”, “Setting up a home file and media server”, or the usual choices found in the standard anaconda setup.

I’m even thinking that the Ubuntu Live CD is productive — and “complete” — right away with its little directory, forget having little tutorials.

I guess that I should find out about whether or not Fedora does something like this, though … 🙂

Using apps to do a “Pothole and Poop Patrol”

Setting the stage: Last June I was blown away with an insurance company’s commercial for an IPhone/Smartphone App letting people properly document a car accident in order to help simplify the claims process.

Looking through the newspaper this morning, I noticed yet another example of an otherwise mundane app for smartphones: Apparently, a bunch of American (and presumably other) cities have apps which allow local citizens to collect data including photos and location (usually by but not always gps coordinates) of potholes, and using 3G/Wi-Fi hotspots to report potholes directly to the local public works, saving money by bypassing presumably more expensive operators, field inspectors and the like, as well as saving money by directing workers directly to where work is needed instead of waiting around for the information to trickle through the system. And, essentially, putting crowd-sourcing, or the notion of “many eyes will eventually reveal bugs” to work.

Many such apps also are more general and allow people to report all sorts of things beyond potholes, such as broken lamp standards, water main breaks, and the like.

Beyond being impressed, it made me think back to 2001-2002 when I’d just gotten a gps and started playing geocaching: One of the funny stories that came about in geocaching circles (and no doubt general gps circles) when people were learning about the uses of gps with 3m-8m accuracy involved some groups of people essentially going out on “Poop Patrol”, marking the locations of where they found piles of poop left by — no, I won’t indulge in the joke that just came into my mind and perhaps yours — ok, here it is, poople, who don’t clean up after their dogs. We thought “What, don’t people have better things to do with their lives than go around looking for piles of poop and filling up their gps memory with their locations? What are they going to do with the information and all the waypoints? Chase down and tackle the offenders? What about the local council meetings that will no doubt have people being laughed at during question period when they bring their lists of waypoints?”

Funny, mulling over the “Pothole Patrol” I read about in the paper this morning, the “Poop Patrol” seemed less amusing in the ridiculous sense and more viable as a way of measuring hot spots for increased street cleaning, or identifying dog walking hot spots where perhaps municipalities might consider adding dog runs where they might not have without the “Poop Patrol” data, or adding or reinforcing secondary services such installing bag distributors for dog walkers who forgot their bags to “poop & scoop” mounted on lampposts (and of course filled by conscientious dog-walkers who can bring their excess supplies of plastic bags) as can be found in many dog run parks, or add extra garbage bins in those areas.

Again, along those lines, I’m thinking about geocaching.com, which facilitates “Benchmark Hunting” (in its most basic form, taking the coordinates of USGS benchmarks and going out to hunt them for the pleasure of it, and then logging the finds as well as the adventures along the way on the website.) I bet the USGS takes advantage of the informal “inspections” in some way.

Or how, in about 2001-2002, again when I was starting off with geocaching, I’d registered for an account with Natural Resources Canada to search out Gravimetric Markers, essentially the same as geographic benchmarks but whose purpose and location are related to standard measurements for gravity; I live near one, and there’s one near my cottage, so the idea of doing volunteer inspections along the lines of doing simple check lists seemed like a fun complementary activity to geocaching seemed like fun. Such checklists could contain, say, 5 items on the physical integrity, access, and so on related to the marker which any person off the street could perform on a regular, semi-regular, or sporadic basis and the results of which could be useful to the maintainers so that the responsible body could channel resources to “more important” activities as well as proritize maintenance schedules, as above.

At the same time, I also “noticed” all the Bell Canada telephone switching boxes along the way to the cottage in the same light and thought about doing volunteer inspections, which I never pursued.

Unfortunately home networking issues at the time made accessing my account with Natural Resources Canada difficult and the charm of both ideas fizzled out.

But now, the ideas from “The Poop Patrol” to volunteer inspections of Gravimetric Markers and Bell Canada switching boxes, in the light of “The Pothole Patrol” and taking into account human idiosyncracies and the human penchant for such trivial pastimes, seem less silly …

Handheld computer Apps

Here’s a blog entry I meant to post last June, 2009, but for whatever reason I never got around to it. I’m doing it now to set the scene for my next entry. 🙂

*****

I just saw a commercial for Nationwide Insurance. And I was blown away.

They have this several times mentioned “accident app” for the unnamed but clearly identifiable iPhone / iPod Touch. It brings you through the process of what you need to do if you have a car accident — take photos of the damage, the area, the other car, the street, where the cars are relative to everything, then the address, the license of the insured car, your details, the other car’s and driver’s details … of course all this just from the commercial.

And I’m thinking … that’s the kind of thing a handheld with an integrated camera is for, not just taking pictures of Fluffy, Rover or the kids every five minutes and sending them to friends, or playing some inane game. I was thinking that the Apple App Store, without having checked it out myself, was probably full of useless apps like tip calculators and calorie counters.

I used to have a Palm Pilot. I still have it, in fact, but I don’t use it. You looked all around the net for little apps, and there’d be plenty of useless ones, and you get tired when the one or two useful apps just don’t cut it anymore and in the process required so much effort to find what was (usually) a second-rate app.

Or maybe I am glimpsing at why Ubuntu is doing so well.

I think I’ve been so high on my horse about open source that I’ve missed something.

Or, maybe one of the open source drawbacks is that there isn’t an open-source Linux “App Store” out there, creating the buzz that “you need this, it’s a killer app” or “it’s a killer appliance” creating the desire for the product (and then of course the apps would follow) or whatever (March 2010: Hello Android!)

(addition in March, 2010) Now of course this of course is a really bad observation on a technical level; the Apple “App Store” is a kind of repository for the IPhone and IPod Touch, and there are plenty of linux repositories; and, despite the completely different paradigms between a desktop (and even laptop and netbook) and a handheld device, of course there are plenty of little programs that would be apps for your computer available. Despite its convenience, I wouldn’t want to use my Acer notebook to fill out all the details of my latest car crash, even though it has a web cam in it and wi-fi, and I suppose I could get a 3G dongle for it. My meaning was more along the lines of when I was responding to a survey about a tax program, which asked why I used the version I used, in my case, the web version: I said I used it because I use linux and they don’t have a linux version, and that in order to have a linux version, the best way would be to push it through the repositories or have their own repository, in order to maintain bug fixes and updates in tax laws, meaning that the afore-mentioned buzz is no longer there surrounding a computer (or more) in every house, and the fact is what makes handheld devices so buzz-worthy is the combination of small convenient size and processing power. See next.

(back to June, 2009) My brother, who has an iPod touch, says the big difference between handheld computers today and those of five and ten years ago — aside memory and processing power and the like — is the presence of wifi abilities and hotspots; the inclusion of a camera was implicit to his comments. And nowadays, gps antennas, motion detectors, and the like. Things “that could be done” five and ten years ago just weren’t there of because, well, the instant connectivity — and the integration of connectivity into the applications and related software — suddenly makes it seem like an obvious thing, not just loading the handheld into a dock and syncing it with your desktop.

It’s tax time, and the Government of Canada supports linux!

Doing a bit of research for tax-time, I went to Service Canada’s website to get some extra information needed. I finally figured out how to navigate through some pages, and whaddya know, they support two linux distributions: Fedora (they added, incorrectly, “Core”) 8 — which of course now is out of date — and Ubuntu 7.1, which I suppose was really 7.10. I suppose to some government person who doesn’t quite understand Ubuntu’s version numbering system, 7.1 and 7.10 are “about the same” — of course, were there any validity at all, it would represent the January 2007 release of Ubuntu, which never existed, as opposed to the October 2007 release. 🙂

I was pleased to see them finally picking up the slack, even if this was put in place about 2 years ago. 🙂

And of course, here’s the screenshot, with the appropriate areas highlighted.

Service Canada Supports Linux!

Cool (or mundane) computer trick impresses co-worker

I managed to impress someone at the office this week with a cool (read mundane) computer trick.

I got a call from the secretary, who is a few seconds’ walk from my desk, asking for a scanned version of my hand-written signature. I replied that on my computer at home I have it, and I could easily get it within a few minutes; she replies that it would be faster for her to just walk over with a piece of paper for me to sign, which she would then scan and play around with.

And this is where I began to impress her: By the time she got to my desk with said sheet of paper, I had already VNC’d into my home server’s desktop and was in the process of doing the same from the server to my main computer’s desktop (gotta finish the process of giving it a static IP and setting it up so that I don’t have to go through my home server. 🙂 ) I finished logging into my desktop, and looked in the likely directory, and voilà! I fired up my home email client, and within a couple of minutes, she’d received my scanned signature.

Beyond the fact that the Gnome desktop is set up standard to do VNC — and the fact that I installed TigerVNC instead of using the standard Gnome Remote Desktop Viewer — too bad that I can’t really claim that this is a cool Linux trick, since my computer at work is Windows, and you can set up Windows boxes to “pick up the phone” too ….

She was still impressed, though. And it took about as much time as the whole process of signing a piece of paper, scanning it, cropping it, etc.

Canola oil instead of petroleum oil car treatments and ethanol blends

I was impressed the other day when I finally got around to rustproofing my car at Antirouille Métropolitain, a chain of rustproofing businesses in Quebec. My car is 13-14 years old and has virtually no rust, although I have to repaint the running board on the driver side yet again, I let things go too long over the past few months so the rust is starting up, but it’s not bad at all. Yet.

They asked me “do you want the traditional oil based treatment or the “bio” treatment? It’s dripless and made of canola oil.”

Apparently the selling point with most people was that it’s dripless, vs. their traditional oil treatment, for which the optimum formula is necessarily drippy. For me the selling point was that it’s canola oil, and the dripless part was just a secondary bonus. This doesn’t affect their usual performance guarantees.

After I’d paid and while the technician is prepping my car and even starting the treatment, I asked the man behind the counter “Aren’t you going to tell your technician to use the canola oil treatment?” To my surprise, he replied that their default policy is to treat cars with the canola oil unless the customer expressly asks for the traditional oil treatment, in which case he would then inform the technician to use “the old treatment”.

The story works out that it took three years to develop the product so that its effects would be equivalent to the traditional oil treatment they developed, and they spent the more two years doing road tests before widespread commercialization of the treatment. They started commercializing the treatment in early 2009. Apparently, the canola oil treatment is the overwhelming choice at this location, as well as business wide to varying degrees — no doubt due to some clever marketing and a highly refined counter-level sales pitch that had me sold hook, line and sinker — to the point that it they sell perhaps one or two traditional oil treatment per week, if that; apparently the principal selling point, as mentioned earlier, is that it’s dripless. In urban centres such as Montreal and Quebec City, this is a big selling point because people don’t like having oil drip marks in their driveways and on their garage floors. In somewhat less urban centres such as Sherbrooke, the adoption rate of the canola oil treatment is down to 40% to 60% apparently because the market, having a larger rural clientele, isn’t as likely to have asphalt driveways or concrete garage floors that would be stained by the dripping oil from their rustproofing purchase, and/or seem slower in changing old habits, such as from the “old” mentality (and old sales pitch) that it being drippy is a necessary side-effect of the formulation so that it can have its maximum effect.

So I was quite impressed that the market is slowly shifting away from some “old fashioned” treatments. Now let’s hope that the rest of the formulation doesn’t outweigh the benefits of replacing the petroleum components.

Note that for the past few months I’ve also been making a point of buying gas from Sonic since they seem to be the only mainstream chain of gas stations in Quebec, or at least in the Montreal area, that sells ethanol blends (6%-10%); they also sell biodiesel blends. Sometimes I go really out of my way or plan routes to pass near a Sonic, but usually not much since there happens to be a Sonic minutes away from home. The other Sonic I occasionally frequent is near Drummondville when I happen to be driving that way. There is another along the way west towards the end of the island. Apparently there are a few other gas stations — I presume independents — who also sell methanol blends in my area, although I have yet to locate them.

This part about the gas has been quite the reverse culture shock from Ottawa, where it’s (or was about 12 years ago when I worked there) the unusual case that a gas station either doesn’t sell ethanol blends or at least isn’t within a couple of blocks of one that does; it’s taken me over 12 years to finally get back to making a point of using the ethanol blends.

Now only if the ethanol blends were more available, and the blends were higher; however, a quick check on Wikipedia suggests that most cars with standard gasoline engines can only tolerate up to about 10% ethanol without some kind of adjustment.