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 (here’s my archive). 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 a pdf archive of her talk I made at the time since as of at least 2020 or earlier, it disappeared.  20210425 update:  I have found a new link to Mel’s lightning talk at https://melchua.com/blog/2011/02/02/ive-followed-your-instructions-and-i-still-cant-bake-croissants/

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, since as of 2020 the link has long since been abandoned and bought by someone else), 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 recognized 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 — 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 (here’s my archive of the page).  I even have my Fedora Friend Finder (here’s my archive of the page, since the webpage disappeared) 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.

News Flash — Linux spotted in the wilds of Montreal — again!

Back in January I mentioned a chance meeting with someone on a commuter train using Fedora on their laptop. Well this afternoon, I had another such chance meeting in a pub.

At a 5 à  7 (Quebec speak for “Happy Hour”) at Hurley’s Irish Pub on Crescent Street this afternoon, I walked by someone with a laptop listening to the Irish musicians, and almost walked by, the Ubuntu icon in the corner of the screen was so familiar (despite being a die-hard Fedora user). I realized my error and exclaimed “Wow Ubuntu in the wild!

I got a quick look at Ubuntu Netbook Remix using Chrome. Dan, the user, said that though he uses Firefox at home on his desktop, he finds that Chrome is way faster at least on his netbook. He said that the machine came with another Linux distro when he bought it, which he didn’t much like, so he reformatted.

Well, Dan, you made my day!

I wonder about the new machine

I brought the “new to me” 1GHz AMD to the cottage last weekend, and funny enough it didn’t power up at all. My brother declared the power supply fried, and that that was the likely reason why I found it on the side of the road.

Today I got around to plugging it in, forlorn that a perfectly good computer was suffering from “no power”.

Go figure. I’m typing this from the PC-BSD setup.

I had tried two or three outlets and three power cords. It likely isn’t circuit overload since the current circuit it’s on is also likely overloaded, and I’m using one of the same power cords.

As for the screen, I had difficulty getting it work here too last week but am still holding off until I get a proper cable, since the “cottage test” doesn’t seem to have been valid.

Found a ‘puter, it seems useful, installed P-CBSD!

(yes, I know it’s really PC-BSD. I was trying to sing “Found a Peanut” to the tune of Clementine.)

Today I found an old computer AND a 19″ flatscreen on the street, and as per my wont I picked them up, hoping that they would be vaguely useful.

The flatscreen should hopefully prove useful, once I get myself a cable for it.

And the winner is … it’s an AMD 1.0GHz with 512megs of RAM and a hard drive that the windows install said was about 35-ish gigs; I remember the PC-BSD install seemed to only mention about 18 ish but I could be wrong, or it could have done a partition … I don’t know what I’m talking about right now, so I’ll look things up.

The point is, the computer isn’t a clunker, and I’m typing this on the PC-BSD setup (somewhat frustratedly: I’m accustomed to a French-Canadian keyboard, and despite having specified one during setup it’s still acting like an US-English keyboard — I have the same problem with Fedora, funny enough, the installation ignores the designation and even occasionally “forgets”.)

So now I have to decide what to do with it:
– Have a second server (I barely if at all need the first, it certainly does little that my desktop does beyond a few technicalities which could be resolved by switching things around, and of course generate heat);
– Offer it to my brother, but he’s already declined on the basis of claiming to not need another computer in his life at the moment;
– Bring it to the cottage — not much use since I have a laptop, although I suppose that there could always be an argument for it;
– Or, do what I’m planning: Test out various distros with it. I figure I should give each one a couple of weeks or so and try to put things through their paces. One of these days, I’m going to have to try Slackware. Just to annoy my brother, who has always worked on the warning from a friend along the lines of “steer clear of slack, it almost cost me my business.” (In 1995-ish, I should point out.)