Canada Day and my beer

I’m just about finished cleaning and sorting all the beer bottles from yesterday’s big Canada Day festivities in Montreal West, Quebec.

For the past 14 years I’ve held what I believe to be the most critical job — certainly when it comes to efficiency, productivity, and morale — to the success of the event. Hence, with all due respect to the following people, as well as Paula and Joan and all the other critical volunteers without whom I wouldn’t be able hold such a prestigious position:

It’s more important that the Parade Marshall’s job. They just have to dress up, wave a big stick, and walk at the front of the parade.

It’s more important than the Mayor’s job. They just have to make a speech and lead everyone in singing “O Canada”.

It’s more important than the job of the nice guys who set up and light the fireworks. Hey, it’s the fireworks themselves that do the real job there, anyway.

It’s certainly on par with the fantastic people who run the beer tent (Hi Wayne and Sam!)

With this last we’re getting into the critical area: The fantastic people who run the barbecues cooking all the food for the public to come and consume. I’m one of this group. But, my job is more important that cooking burgers, hot dogs, buns, or cutting up all the tomatoes and onions and the like in preparation of the evening.

I serve the beer to, and only to, this fine crew of people who run the barbecues. Heck, I even get to serve the Mayor. (Glad you liked my beer, Mr. Masella!)

Every year for the past 22 years, with about five exceptions, I’ve been involved one way or another at the Montreal West Canada celebrations volunteering to make the event happen. For the past 18 years (plus the first year), I’ve been involved with the barbecues. For the past 14 years, I’ve held the above-mentioned prestigious position.

I love it. I love serving people. I love the accolades. I love the attention. I love bragging in the admittedly deluded way that I am right now that I hold the most important position of the day. And, for the past four years, I love all the extra compliments I get about supplying my own beer. The best part? This year I had three varieties of beer, instead of one variety the first year, and two in the intervening years. And, it seems from the roughly equal distribution of how much beer I have left from each variety, that all three were roughly as popular as each other.

This year I had 33 x 1.14L bottles of my beer, plus of course the corresponding extra regular sized bottles to go along with it. Overall I made about 75L of beer with Canada Day in mind, knowing that I’d have plenty left over of course. That I served the 33 bottles plus another 24 regular bottles says something about how large and thirsty my group is, considering that I also serve wine, water, soft drinks and the like.

One of the things I also found out last night, contrary to my experience last year with only about 20 such bottles, serving out of these 1.1L bottles is a charm instead of having to bottle that amount of beer in regular bottles and then cap them all, and then serve them individually. Although admittedly this last part is actually not necessarily the hardest part. But serving 3-4 beers out of a single bottle proved to be easy and convenient. And keeping track was easy: The big cooler had bottles that either had no elastic around the neck, or did. The third cooler had the third kind of beer. Keeping track, in practice, was quite easy.

And here’s the other part of what has me hyped about this post: The numbers.

33 x 1.14L bottles of beer served — about 37.6L
34 x 341mL bottles of beer served — about 8.2L more served
total of 45.8L of beer served just to the BBQ crew

This is the equivalent of about 130 beers served, if you take out the one 1.14L bottle that didn’t carbonate and was served to the grass. This is pretty strong — if there’s a downpour, I usually serve in the area of 80 beers. If it’s nice like it was yesterday, I usually serve about 100 to 120 beers; one year, I figure I served as much as 160 beers.

Now of that, I had made, as I said earlier, about 75L of beer for the event. So that’s about 61% of the beer I made for the occasion.

And more numbers:

After having collected all sorts of beer bottles off the side of the road, in bushes, and just about anywhere else that my travels take me, today I’ll be returning about 161 SURPLUS empty beer bottles that I’ve collected over the past year. That doesn’t include the 90 that are still full, but then again last year at this time I made a similar bottle return and kept to the order of 80 to 90 such bottles that were either full or empty — in order, of course, to be able to have enough bottles for the following batch of beer.

And of course, the above-mentioned 33 x 1.14L bottles won’t be returned; I’ll be keeping them for next year’s Canada Day beer!

My participation at FUDCon Tempe 2011

(I know, I’m a month late on this.)

I went to FUDCon for the first time this year; it was the first large gathering of Linux/Fedora/Computer people I’d attended, and I’m glad I went. I was also pleased to finally see so many Fedora desktops — over time I’ve become mildly frustrated being the only Fedora / Red Hat person in the room, often in a sea of Ubuntu.

One of the more difficult things was figuring out in advance how the nuances of how things would work: Not ever having been to a BarCamp style event, I had no clue how or whether a presentation I had prepared would be accepted, let alone inserted into the schedule.

My participation:

Friday

After a day of touristy stuff in downtown Phoenix, I showed up about 5:30pm ish to the courtesy room at the Courtyard in Tempe. After helping stuff nametags into plastic nametag holders on neckstraps, I actually managed to regale people with my stories about crossing the Canada/US border and get plenty of belly laughs. Harish and I managed to exchange a quip to the order of “Oooh, I get to meet the myth!” — first by my stating amazement at finally meeting someone who had once actually installed SLS Linux, and in turn being on the receiving end from Harish when I confirmed that I’m one of the Trekkie myths. In between, the two of us held court on the subject of rotary phones, much to the amazement of Ryan — a university student under 20 — at the anachronism. In the meantime, opensource.com was celebrating its first birthday and supplied pizza, beer and cake.

Saturday:

BarCamp pitches, voting, and State of Fedora Address

The pitches were an interesting experience — Of the 170 or so actual participants, it seemed as though at least a third if not half the room got up to pitch their presentation! During the voting process, near the end, I was quite pleased to note that approximately 30-40 people had voted for my presentation. Afterwards, Jared from Red Hat give his “State of Fedora” address, the audio of which can be found here. His main messages dealt with growth and working together; Fedora is strong, not just because of the bits on the CD but because of the people. His ultimate message was that “Fedora will be stronger tomorrow because of the work today.”

Presentations:

Open Source Anthropology / Diana Harrelson

This was one of the more interesting presentations I attended. Diana did some research for her master’s degree on online communities, and chose the Fedora community as her test subjects. Some of the things that we as linux users — both Fedora and the greater Linux community — know about ourselves were confirmed. One such point that she underlined was the

Future Fedora and Reducing Bureaucracy / Max Spevack and the Fedora Board

This was an “interesting” session — perhaps not the best for me. What I found most interesting was how bureaucratic the meeting felt, and not just because of the subject being discussed. Of course it discussed how frustrated people are with how to get others involved in the Fedora project.

Fedora Security Lab and Securing Linux / Joerg Simon and Donald Buchan

Joerg’s presentation was interesting — he talked about one of Fedora’s spins, tailored to include a bunch of tools on how to test system security by measuring all sorts of parameters — open ports, security holes, and the like. I’ve downloaded it and plan on taking a look at how it operates.

My presentation worked out ok; people seemed (at least politely) receptive to my talk, the subject, and my suggestions. The most contentious issues? Root access, root passwords vs. keys, and su vs. sudo.

Juicy Software Repo Management with Pulp / Jason Connor and Jay Dobies

Even though it would have gone over my head as much as software repo management did, I wish I had have gone to Jeff Darcy’s Cloud Filesystem presentation since he’d been telling me about it on Friday evening. Unfortunately I don’t think I got anything out of this presentation, however well it was presented.

I Want to Keep on Hacking but my Hands Hurt / Mel Chua and Sebastian Dziallas

This was a fun presentation — Mel and Sebastien brought a bunch of ergonomic toys related to relieving and avoiding stresses related to using a computer. There were a lot of defacto visual gags as a result of people using the toys or assuming less harmful positions and ways to use your computer better.

FUDPub

Well as usual I showed off how horrible I am at games by agreeing to be beaten by, er play against Clint at ping pong. Food was great; burrito night! There also was plenty of liquid refreshment. I got to meet a computer science professor from Seneca College in Toronto, and thank him for the wiki he’d put up for his students’ participation in FUDCon, which can be found here (here’s my archive). Although I only found it the day before I left home, this was invaluable for framing and gelling all the little details about my participation.

Sunday

Designing UI mockups in Inkscape / Máirín Duffy

This presentation was a bit more amusing for me; at least it wasn’t over my head. 🙂 Máirín proved to be a true mistress when it comes to Inkscape, even though I suspect that for her and most Inkscape users what she was doing was basic stuff to be expected by anyone in graphic design. The coolest thing about her presentation? Her hot dog wallpaper! hotdog here too

IP Law for Hackers / Pam Chestek and Richard Fontana

This was an interesting, two hour session on how Red Hat lawyers have to deal with open licenses such as the GPL, and trademark issues related to the Fedora project. One of the main things I remember is to “keep the name of your project simple, memorable, and generic, ie. unrelated to your product.”

Lightning Talks!

Covered in another area, the lightning talks were apparently a new entry into the FUDCon format. I think that there should be a couple of such sessions, given a sufficient number of presentations. The most interesting talk? Mel talking about baking (here’s my archive). Seriously.

I did not attend the hackfests per se but I spoke with Simon about OLPC. I found his recounting of the successes of the OLPC in Bolivia (?) interestubg: The response to “we should be sending food and textbooks, not computers” criticisms is “Getting textbooks out is hard, but teachers can easily distribute educational resources with OLPC. And, the kids’ parents come back to the school in the evening to use the internet, and learn reading skills while also finding out the true price of their crops instead of being taken advantage of by unscrupulous purchasers hoping that uneducated, uninformed farmers won’t know any better.” As for having a static base (such as Fedora 7) creating a security risk, Simon reminded me that the likelier security risk is to the order of “Give me your computer, you little (censored)!”

I helped with clean up; after that I made an impromptu organization for a group of us to go to Gordon Biersch’s, a local brewpub. The whitbeer was good, and the chicken parmesan was good too. And a bunch of us organized a road trip for the next morning.

Monday

During the little road trip and on the topic of Fedora and Red Hat, I remember Brian (thank you for the driving!), a Red Hat employee, telling me about working at Red Hat and the RHEL sales model. It felt like tactics similar to a competing product.

After returning from the road trip, the hackfests on Monday were what I would consider “boring” — definitely not my thing.

The bright light for me was unfortunately at the expense of people who were stranded in Phoenix due to winter storms keeping their flights from leaving Phoenix — the Monday night party in the hotel lobby was quite a lot of fun, and even on Tuesday evening there were a few people still waiting around. I on the other hand had planned to stay sveral days later, so of course I was supposed to be there.

My thanks go to Jared, Robyn, Ryan, Southern Gentleman, Simon, Harish, Joerg, Ian, Clint, Chris, Máirín, Mel, and everyone else.

FUDCon 2011 — lightning talks

Today at the lightning talks at FUDCon 2011, the one that caught my attention was called “The Dreyfus Model: how do novices think differently from experts?” The subtitle was along the lines of “Why won’t anyone help me, I have documentation!” Here is Mel’s rough transcript of the talk.(and a pdf archive)

The gist of how Mel presented the subject was that someone is looking for a bread recipe on the internet and comes up with:

Croissants

flour
butter
other stuff
bake

She explained the various cryptic parts of this “recipe” and how obvious it may seem to an experienced baker, but to a newbie, even figuring out that Croissants is a type of bread, let alone what the “other stuff” is can be difficult to grasp, or the concepts of “oh you have to buy those ingredients first — how much? And what’s this? You need an oven? Now, when they say bake, how long? And how will I know it’s ready? Oh yeah, you need to let the bread rise first …

She went on to say how installing certain bits of software and using them may seem trivial to an experienced user, but knowing how to draw in a tarball, extract it, get all the dependencies, compile it, and all the various steps required was not easy for a newbie, especially in a culture that takes several things for granted and literally may skip steps between major milestones.

Ultimately her message lay in the importance of clear, concise, complete documentation.

When I started learning linux, I had to relearn things too, and found things challenging. I quickly learned that things were not as obvious to myself and that when someone said “oh just do this” what they were really saying was “do this 10-15 item list as root under the following circumstances using the proper switches” — not always an obvious task when you say “install package X” while omitting all the necessary parts before and after.

FUDCon Friend Finders

On the FUDCon 2011 Wiki page, suggested optional equipment is a Fedora Friend Finder (here’s my archive), which is an extension cord with multiple sockets. I brought one, which has a 30′ extension cord, and it has typically had 2 to 3 plugs, including my own. Right now, I’m in the Lightning Talks, and I’m impressed: My FFF is plugged into another full FFF, and mine is full. Further, I’ve had two plug-in requests to which I’ve had to say, “sorry, I’m filled up”.

Now, I’m just looking for my profits. 🙂

On another note, today I went to get an extra-large pizza at Slice’s Pizzeria around the corner. I made friends quick. 🙂 One person who joined us after the pizza ran out was a local community college professor who saw my security presentation yesterday, and enjoyed it. So much so that he asked if I’d grant permission for him to use it in one of his classes, which I happily granted.

FUDCon 2011 — after my presentation

So I’ve just given my presentation at FUDCon on some basic security strategies to install on your system.

People seemed receptive. A couple of the ideas that came up was the use of denyhosts before I mentioned it, and a bit of controversy over the root user. People were suggesting the use of keys instead of passwords for the root user, and using sudo instead of allowing direct access to root.

The pairing with someone else worked ok for me — I started at 14:30 and got through all my slides in 20 minutes, including a few questions and comments; I did have to go a mile a minute though. The other person, who did an exposé on the Fedora Security Labs spin, however, had to skip a few of the things he wanted to do and talk about. His presentation was nonetheless interesting.

As I said people were generally receptive and respectful, and people generally recognised that my presentation covers basic security that anyone and everyone should do, and that it’s not necessarily intended to cover all cases or massive networks.

FUDCon 2011

Here I am at FUDCon in Tempe, Arizona.

First off, on a side note, I knew that Arizona was warm. But I left late January and came to early September. I’m blown away that I don’t even need a light jacket let alone a parka. This is the kind of weather that would be nice all year long, but I hear that Phoenix is a bit too warm, certainly for me, in the summer … 🙂

Currently I’m in a Fedora Board Meeting or whatever where things along the line of discussing the future of Fedora and how people can get more involved. Jared, the current Fedora leader, has 15 “short list” goals up on the screen, basically discussing general lines of how people can contribute and how the project can get the right people to the right job, as well as “how to get there”.

This morning I attended a talk given by an anthropologist who studied the Fedora community, such as through a previous FUDCon, and discussed her findings and how people were involved, why, and all sorts of interesting stats.

During the next session I’ll be giving my presentation on Strategies to Secure a linux system, but given the number of talks, the BarCamp style voting, and the available time & rooms, I’ve been paired with another presenter who will be discussing general security practices; his presentation is supposed to be general in nature, while mine is technical and a specific list of things to do, so perhaps this will work out nicely since he’ll presumably talk about “you should allow this and disallow that” while I discuss “go here and do this, and here are the menus to click or the command line how”. The person seems quite nice and we’ve agreed to speed up our presentation speeds and divide the time more or less equally amongst ourselves.

To be followed.

FUDCon 2011: Almost here!

So I’m quite excited about my upcoming attendance at FUDCon.

I also have some (sort of, depending on your perspective) answers to my questions, gleaned from a couple of discussions on IRC:

– People are available on IRC — Freenode at #fedora-fudcon. However, over the past week it has seemed quiet, but people are there and do answer questions and will chat.
– A list of the available restaurants was provided to me. It includes restaurants, take out (I’ve heard of Five Guys, Burgers and Fries, I’ll have to try them out), delivery places (heavy on pizza — let’s hope they can make it right, pizza outside of Quebec is a strange beast, even the good stuff), and at least one brewpub, which is in walking distance of the conference. The list will be provided in the information package given out to everyone upon registration/check in. Which means that, as I pretty much expected, people are on their own for food the whole time, just as I will be during the rest of my vacation in the area. Nice to know, though. Hopefully any further information different from that will be communicated, as I’m sure it will be.
– Yes, a projector will be available.
– And for the fun part, the presentations will be judged/refereed along the lines of “On Saturday morning, there will be sign up sheets for the various presentations. Those with the fewest sign-ups will be dropped or combined with other similar presentations according to the number of presentations and the available space.”

Also, I still have to figure out how to either not freeze on the way to the airport in Montreal, and then back home, or not boil to death with my parka when I arrive in Phoenix. Around here in Montreal this time of the year, “warm” is about -10C to -25C, without the wind chill. Phoenix area, “cool” is around +4C; “warm” is about +17C. Sheesh, to me that sounds like mid to late September, not late January. 🙂

FUDCon, Tempe, Phoenix, and the Grand Canyon, watch out, here I come. I’m a LUzer bay-bai, so why don’t you flame me? 🙂

FUDCon 2011 — Tempe, Arizona

Well, here I am, I finally did it. I’m going to FUDCon 2011 in Tempe, Arizona.

After months of saying to myself and friends “Oh I think I’d like to go do this” and asking my brother if he’s interested, and telling all sorts of people “Yep I’m doing it, I’m thinking about doing it, I’m still in the talking about it stage; I just haven’t committed to it yet”, I bought my airline tickets a couple of weeks ago to go to Phoenix, Arizona, and made reservations at the hotel. (Yes, the nice people at the hotel, months after the block was “closed”, graciously gave me the Red Hat Group rate for 6 out of 7 nights — quite the savings!)

So I’ve been working for the past few weeks at translating, updating, revising, rationalizing, etc. a presentation on System Security I presented at my local LUG a couple of years ago. (Of course it’s not in English, silly, why do you think I’ve had to work on translating it?) I’ve also been following the wiki page for the event. I even have my Fedora Friend Finder ready to bring with me.

But … apart from a few blog posts here and there, and of course the availability of the administrative notices / minutes from the planning meetings, I haven’t found what appears to be, let’s say, an online forum where FUDCon is being discussed. (Yes, I know, there’s Planet Fedora — however, it seems to discuss pretty much everything under the Red Hat sun.) The kind of place where people discuss what they’re doing outside of the formal event structure, when they’re arriving, asking questions of participants of previous such events, and so on. Basically, chatter.

I’m wondering a few things, and hope that perhaps this post will help me out in at least finding a nudge in the right direction:

– Is there a forum where people are virtually gathering and discussing the plans and attendance and logistics and so on surrounding going to FUDCon? You know, chatter?
– Assuming that my presentation isn’t tossed for being too long, too technical, too boring, out in left field, or targeted to the wrong audience (it’s sysadmin stuff, not development), will there be a projector available? Will I need my laptop — which I’ll of course have anyway — or just a USB memory stick with the presentation on it? (OO.o format, or PDF? Of course I’ll be ready for all of these circumstances.)
– Regarding my presentation, will someone be wanting it to be submitted in advance for the part about “Refereeing for technical sessions”? Or will “in advance”, in keeping with the “so do not worry about competition” part, mean half an hour before the “Orientation, BarCamp pitches and scheduling” at 9:00am Saturday?
– I signed up after the 140 cut-off mark for food and swag. I don’t have a problem with the basic concept per se: you snooze, you lose, you should have signed up earlier. However, I’m just wondering what the real implications to this are — to what food is being referred? Breakfast, lunch, and supper throughout all the event? Snacks in the hospitality suite — no green stamp on your name tag, no food? A few chits for free meals, given to the first 140 people, at the Student Union cafeteria where a lot of people presumably will eat during the breaks? Food during the FUDPub, at which Red Hat “will be treating everyone to food”? (Or just the first 140 — everyone else with a differently-marked name tag will have to pull out their wallets?) I’m just trying to figure out logistics, that’s all; I’m trying to find the ad for the advertised food, so that I know what’s being discussed. Money isn’t the issue; I’m just looking for some kind of indication, that’s all.

Well, that’s off my chest.

In other directions, I guess I now have to prepare my laptop for going through customs:
– set up an automatic login (a warning against which is in my presentation);
– do a bit of a system cleanup (a suggestion about which is in my presentation);
– remove some privileged information and make sure that it’s really wiped;
– realize that US Customs probably won’t care about my computer, and that the only people who might will be the airline — and hopefully only be amused at the XRay area when they see the square, plastic bucket I carry it in (but hopefully not say that’s it’s oversized, which it shouldn’t be. The primary airline’s limits are 23 cm x 40 cm x 55 cm; the secondary airline’s limits are 23cm x 35cm x 56 cm. I’ve just checked, and it fits.)

Free PDF splitters, and other crippleware

Yesterday I downloaded a PDF splitter to use on my MS computer at work. And I got bitten, hard. I wouldn’t exactly call it crippleware; most people expect even crippleware to be minimally useful. This piece was not.

I shall quote the message that I sent to their support email addy:

I am writing to let you know that your free trial download for the PDF splitter is not a useful piece of software at all, for the simple reason that it intentionally and flagrantly renders the split documents useless by inserting the “watermark” — a large message spanning the diagonal of the page, in cherry red characters, saying “in order to remove this message please visit our website” — across every page of the document.

Were it to put a far more discreet message along the top or bottom, this might be tolerable however ugly it would be; however, it is hardly of any value to anyone wishing to take advantage of the “15 free uses” or somesuch in order to evaluate the software before deciding to purchase it; in fact, I expect that most people downloading the evaluation copies are immediately turned off by this malfunction.

Obviously, I don’t expect a response from them, at least not a useful response. Obviously, I would never have bought the software to begin with were I to have had a good experience using the software — I admit it, I’m cheap.

And sure, I should have thought things through a bit better and (as I mention below) install Ghostscript to do the job. Sure, I was in a bind and embarrassed myself and my employer in front of the client.

So of course, the following reactions come to mind:

– What, the programmer(s) wanted to show off their skill at insering “watermarks”, and that are ugly to boot?
– Or did the programmer or company put more thought into the dollar signs floating in front of their eyes than, oh, I don’t know, producing a piece of software that someone may actually wish to buy?
– Or did the Marketing Department convince the programmer’s supervisor that the watermark had to be put in?

And on a personal level:

– I should install ghostscript and run:
“gswin32c -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -dNOPAUSE -dQUIET -dBATCH -dFirstPage=m -dLastPage=n -sOutputFile=out.pdf in.pdf”
– I should stop trying to delude myself that there won’t be an ever increasing number of useless PDF tools out there that require you to buy the product before getting a true evaluation copy;
– When using my work computer, stop using a Windows mentality, and apply a thing or two that I know how to do under linux.

Of course in the short term, what I did was speak with the secretary very nicely, who has Adobe Professional to split the file, and she did.

My point should be clear: If you want to sell your software, go right ahead; I won’t be buying it anyway. And if you want to give away a trial period during which people can, well, try the software, go right ahead; I may try your product during the trial period. But why give a free trial period (in the case above, 15 operations) that reflects poorly on the company and actually annoys your potential customers?

Powersurge is a hit!

A few months ago I found a computer on the sidewalk and installed PC-BSD on it. Once I got over the novelty of having done an install, installed something sufficiently “different” from that to which I’m accustomed, etc. etc. etc., the computer languished on my floor beside my home server with no purpose. I never bothered trying other linux distros (partly due to what proved to be the spaghetti wiring inside making my original install seem like a fluke, as it turned out, since I subsequently had trouble booting in and getting the CD players to work), and finally offered it to my brother, who said it’s been a while since he’s had a home server.

To recap, it’s an AMD 1000MHz with 512megs of memory, and to my surprise, an 80gig hard drive (I seem to recall having gotten about 36Gigs out of it with the PC-BSD setup.)

Last weekend we installed Fedora 13 on it after figuring out the spaghetti wiring inside. He brought it home from the cottage, did the updates and started doing his custom setup. Since it’s been a little while since he’s used Fedora — using CentOS on his production servers and having converted to Ubuntu on his desktop, he was impressed at how peppy the Gnome desktop is, and how polished and stable overall the distro is.

And finally, it seems that the problem of it not booting up a few months ago at the cottage has been solved: it seems that it was a defective power cord. The machine worked everywhere else, and when we went through my set of power cords, one didn’t work, so we figured out that any possibility that the previous owner thought it had been fried in a power surge — hence the name of the computer — was due to a faulty wire, that probably came with the computer on the side of the street.