ADTE Colloque 2016

Today I attended the ADTE Colloque 2016: The annual conference in Montreal (home for me) for a Quebec association with goals to promote free software in education.

Overall, the conference and its logistics were reasonably well organized; as far as the implementation of the event went, it seemed to go hitch free. Rooms that were appropriately sized were available, enough chairs were in place, there were no problems with the sign in, the microphones worked, the lunches arrived, and so on.

My interest was to see Richard Stallman, who was the keynote speaker.

Before he started his speech, I got to see his laptop almost closeup: He has a GNU sticker on it, an FSF sticker on it, and a small Trisquel sticker on it. I managed to ask him what the model was; an IBM Thinkpad X60, reconditioned, slightly upgraded, and marketed by a company called Gluglug.

Given that the conference was in French, Mr. Stallman presented what was no doubt his standard speech on free software, in French. (Let’s clear this up now: I’m a native English speaker, but Montreal is a predominantly French-speaking city; as such, since I live in Montreal, *of*course* I speak and understand French fluently.) Although I knew in advance that his French was competent enough to make his presentation in French, I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed that technically it was better than moderate in calibre, and that he could maintain it for over two hours with barely two or three requests to provide the French equivalent of a word or expression. And despite a fairly thick non-native speaker accent, it was almost surprisingly easy to follow.

His speech, although it appeared to be one of his standard speeches, went on too long in my view; 2.5 hours had been allotted for the presentation and questions, and I thought he could have accomplished the same thing in about 100 minutes, including questions.

I found that there were three downsides to his presentation:

– The “Church of Emacs” routine was off-topic or at least beyond the scope of the conference. Given what amounted to be a public audience, it was out of place. A cute parlour routine or pub talk in its own right, but out of place there.
– His comments about not having children were completely out of place, however legitimate they may be in their own right, and at best were poorly presented.
– Mr. Stallman apparently is losing his hearing, and asks people to speak a little more slowly, and clearly enunciate all their words. This is understandable, especially when those asking questions are not speaking his mother tongue; further, Quebec French and accents can be difficult even for native French speakers not accustomed to them. At one point, someone who forgot to speak extra clear and a bit more slowly elicited his ire as he either lost his temper, or whined like a child, repeating admittedly for the umpteenth time for the person to speak clearly and more slowly.

As for the rest of the conference:

The overall conference had a few quirks. The iPads at the registration desks were funny and out of place, given the topic of the conference. The glaring and blatant use of a Microsoft Windows computer on the overhead projector was a weird oversight to the point of being shocking, regardless of the fact that for all intents and purposes it ended up only being used to display the wifi network and password, and one minor demonstration during a roundtable discussion. This was addressed in the first question period by an irate participant who venomously commented on it and expressed his feeling of being insulted, to the applause of roughly at least a third if not half the participants.

For me, the first round table, before Mr. Stallman’s speech, left something to be desired. I thought that they could have been better organized instead of being just “I’m Tom Smith and this is what I do. Oh, and this is what I know about free software.”

The second round table, after Mr. Stallman’s presentation, was a bit meatier and not quite as disappointing as the first. There was an IT person who was trying to slowly provide Free Software by placing it in their pool of software available to staff at his institution, alongside other software. Another panelist provided a good and enlightening response to a question, to the order of “Try explaining *that* to a powerful teachers’ union!”

My brother said the comments then as well as elsewhere in the day felt like we were still in 2006 instead of 2016 given their nature, such as:
– “Well GNU/Linux is hard to install” (I found it easy to install in 2008, and installing other software and fixing settings is something one does on any platform);
– “LibreOffice isn’t fully compatible with MS Word” (that’s a very nuanced conversation that strictly speaking is technically correct, but mostly trivially, IMO);
– “I’m accustomed to program X”;
– “I didn’t know that you could do that using free software”.

The lunch included in the admission fee was fine albeit a bit too frou-frou for my tastes, and totally inedible for my brother’s admittedly very narrow tastes. I would have hoped that there might have been more than three or four tables in the trade show part of the conference, which was held in the large lunch room area, but that’s neither here nor there.

The two afternoon sessions I attended were on the subject of “Accessing the Moodle Community”, and the ProjectLibre software.

The first presentation on the Moodle Community seemed a bit off and probably confusing to most of the participants, being a bit obscure and technical. However, once I re-read the title in the day’s schedule, I realized that it *was* on topic (both for the conference, and, on topic for his presentation.) Disappointingly, the presenter was delayed by a good fifteen minutes, for technical reasons: He could not use his computer for his presentation, given that for some reason he was unable to plug it into the projector. He then tried to present his slides prepared in LibreOffice with a computer using MS Powerpoint, which did not like his slides. He finally had to install LibreOffice on the supplied computer which was effectively permanently connected to the projector, or the setup otherwise effectively precluded the use of his own computer. He should have been prepared with the slides saved in PDF format, but to his credit he had placed the presentation online so that he could access it easily, in addition to having brought it on his computer.

The second presentation was a bit better as it at least was a demo of free software that can be used by educators / schools / etc. to either to manage their projects, what kind of software can be taught in schools, etc.

However, I thought that the two individual presenters I saw had two failings beyond what I mentioned earlier about the Moodle presenter:

– They only had about half an hour each; they could have done with at least another 15 minutes each. Each went over their allotted time; in any case, they should have timed things better in their presentations given that they knew of their time limitations, or should have known, given the announcements online and in the printed schedules liberally distributed during the conference.
– They should have been coached in advance with “ok, present what you want the way you want, *BUT*, please spend the first up to five minutes answering these five questions, such as a brief description of what the software / project / topic is, what its use could mean to the participants, etc. etc. etc.” In addition, I thought that each unfortunately were unprepared for people asking questions and making comments during the presentations, which could have been handled with “Could you wait until I finish my presentation, at which point I’d love to take your questions and feedback.”

Overall, however, I did love participating in the conference.

Update 27 April 2016:

Here is the link to the ADTE’s conference recap page (in French) (and here’s my archive)

In it are links to YouTube videos of Mr. Stallman’s presentation as well as a number of links to speakers’ quick resumé of what they spoke about to even sometimes slides of their presentations, again normally in French.

Oreo uses linux?

There’s an Oreo commercial with a father and son eating Oreo cookies together at son’s bedtime via the internet while Dad is on a business trip somewhere it’s morning already. I’ve seen this commercial a few times over the past I don’t know how long.

A quick glimpse at the boy’s laptop screen makes me wonder for the umpteenth time — is that a Gnome desktop with a Fedora blue?

Obviously as usual it’s a quick, oblique view of a screen whose resolution is just fuzzy enough that it’s hard to tell. The basis of my hope is, as stated, the Fedora blue background, plus the white taskbar at the top of the screen and what appears to be the Gnome menus.

Anyway, yet another entry in the “I hope I’m not disappointed again but it probably isn’t linux use” in commercials game.

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!

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.

AT&T does it again! (AKA Will I Ever Learn?)

So I just turned on my TV and here’s a commercial … family dinner … It’s Mom’s tablecloth … Back in the day my grandmother made this for me, they don’t make them like they used to anymore … pass the spaghetti … OOOPS! — NO, WAIT! Don’t do anything!

And they all naturally go to the net to look for a solution (peroxide and something else, everyone in internet cafés and schools around the world yell at their computer screens.) And what does the computer screen look like?

A vague resemblance to the Gnome desktop under Ubuntu, with the white toolbars on top and bottom with hints of brown here and there, but it’s just a touch too blurry to identify it as anything other than NOT Windows, and that it’s probably MovieOS.

I guess that every time they shoot a commercial, the geeky “I use linux at home, I’d love to have the bragging rights to *that* computer in the TV commercial” IT guy in the back is on their day off, or they don’t want to give Gnome or KDE a financial nod. Yet they want to go to the trouble of avoiding an MS or Apple desktop. Interesting.

(sigh …)

News Flash — Linux spotted in the wilds of Montreal!

This morning I did something very unusual, for me. I took the commuter train into work instead of driving my car, and I saw a Gnome desktop on someone’s laptop computer! Doing a double take, I checked, and whaddya know, it’s definitely a Gnome desktop, it’s very familiar, it isn’t brown, and yup, it was Fedora 12.

A few weeks ago my brother had posted on SlashDot asking if anyone had seen Linux in use in the wild — not data centres, of course, nor at LUG meetings or other such gatherings of Linux types where of course Linux is expected to be seen, but random, innocent spottings in places like at restaurants, café’s, university or college student halls, on the streets, on the train, etc. The responses were an underwhelming (or disappointingly overwhelming) “no”. In fact, my brother said that I was the only person he knew who used a Linux desktop besides himself, and that I’m far more pure about it than he. (In fact, he uses Windows as regularly as Linux on his personal systems, while I “only” use Windows at work, and don’t particularly care for it.) Besides seeing Linux desktops at LUGS and Linux Meetups, offhand I can only think of two people I know who say they use Linux at home as their desktops.

I started chatting with this person, and they apparently develop software for a particular industry (no, not that industry), to be used on Red Hat 5.x servers; they use Fedora because CentOS is hopelessly out of date for things like wireless support on his computer; however, unfortunately, they have been finding Fedora 12 unstable … not my experience so far.

Suffice it to say that even put aside the Fedora part, this chance meeting made my day!

Bill Kurtis yet again

In the latest Bill Kurtis AT&T 3G commercial (something to the effect of “3G Anywhere” where he’s sitting in front of a Green Screen and all sorts of backgrounds are flashed, such as a kitchen, the park, the fairgrounds, etc.), it again seems to me that there is a white line across the top of a blue screen that is similar to a Gnome desktop.

I of course have come to accept that it’s just a fake, static imitation screenshot that is put in during post-production editing, and anyway in this case, there isn’t the taskbar at the bottom of the screen to further make me hop in glee yelling “Finally! He’s really using a linux distro this time with Gnome!”

Now what’s really getting me is that they’ve obviously put a bit of time and trouble into making up unique fake, MovieOS screenshots for each of the various commercials. Sheesh, for all the trouble AND expense they’re going to, I have to wonder why they just don’t send that money to Canonical or the Fedora Foundation, or maybe the Gnome people, as a quid quo pro “thank you” contribution to avoid any licencing issues or whatever when they ask one of the techies in back “Hey you use linux, right? Well we can’t / don’t want to / find it too expensive to get a licencing deal with either MS or Apple to have one of their computers appearing in a TV commercial, and we’re gonna make a LOT of commercials with different screenshots, can we borrow your laptop with that free OS where we won’t have to pay any licencing?”

Again, I think that the guy/girl would be scampering over as fast as possible just to get the bragging rights to “Hey you know those Bill Curtis AT&T commercials? He was showing *my* computer! Cool, eh?”

Hmmm … Bill Kurtis isn’t being consistent

I just saw a new commercial in the “I’m Bill Kurtis, and I’m faster than …” ad campaign advertising the AT&T 3G internet dongle, this time with Andy Roddick.

The last one I saw, in which Bill Kurtis was in a boxing ring, I was convinced that his laptops were using Ubuntu because I saw what appeared to be a brown desktop that clearly seemed to be the Gnome desktop.

In the Andy Roddick commercial, the computers appear to be using MovieOS, it’s a greenish blueish background (somewhat reminiscent to the default background for Win98) with next to no distinguishing features.

I’m disappointed … short of the likely probability that it costs a production company less to have a few stock photoshopped MovieOS “desktops”, and that obviously it’s likely easier and cheaper to just “make a movie” (or an interactive one, so that it fits in with the script) than to make *any* OS do exactly what you want to do, the way you want to do it, exactly when you want to do it, it seems to me that the easiest thing to do when all you really want is a half second, generic screenshot is just ask the computer geeks in the back room to format a computer with Ubuntu or whatever else, and there aren’t any licensing fees.

Hmmm … unless the various backers of distros have these “commercial use” clauses in their distribution licenses that I haven’t bothered to look up.

Of course, this now reminds me of another conversation I had recently: It “started” in 2006 with the person I convinced to reformat my systems with Linux on the premise “that I just want something to believe in” — something that has bugged me over the past couple of years of being both too corny and not quite what I really meant — and that “ended” a few weeks ago with someone else covering all the basic linux topics, particularly the convoluted licenses making you cynically wonder whether or not you may use a given piece of software even for its intended purpose, concluding with me saying “I just want to use my computer” — which I realized is pretty much what I really meant to say in 2006.

Linux, the mainstream, and market penetration

Back in January, I related a story of a billboard I’d seen in October and how the software being advertised happened to be available for Windows, Mac, AND Linux.

Everyone who cares (that’s about, what, five of us) knows about “MovieOS” or “Hollywod OS” — computer sceenshots that are obviously custom shots that are in-house artwork. You know, either the animated PlaySkool shots showing people to click on the “GO” button regarding going to their store to spend lots of money on their wares, or, it’s a screenshot that “looks” like it’s a functional computer screen but doesn’t look like any computer desktop people are familiar with or any other computer desktop on the next show or movie you watch.

I’ve been noticing things on occasion in the mainstream media for a couple of years regarding computer screenshots: Not only is it not Windows or Mac, it’s not “MovieOS” either. What you see is a variant of the Gnome desktop, usually on Ubuntu (for those of you who have no clue what to look for, watch for two white lines on the screen, one on the top of the screen, and one on the bottom, and a light brown background to the rest of the screen.)

Listen up folks, here’s one of the moments that I think Mr. Shuttleworth’s little darling is doing some good.

In late 2007, there was a CBC Marketplace report on the various download speeds of the various high-speed internet suppliers across Canada. A closeup of the download progress window made it clear that each participant was downloading the Ubuntu CD of the day.

Just today on CNN I noticed in an ad for AT&T 3G USB key for highspeed mobile internet — this is the one with Bill Curtis in a boxing ring bragging about how fast he is — and the laptops appear to be running Ubuntu.

These are the two that come to mind. However, every couple of months, what do I see? An Ubuntu screen. I rather suspect that the reason for this trend as well as most instances of “MovieOS” is that it’s cheaper — including the cost of paying the computer technician in the back the time to reformat a computer, assuming that they didn’t just ask the guys in back to lend them their laptop, or of course asking the art department to make up something that looks nice — than paying any licensing fees to MS, Apple, or anyone else. Or, they didn’t get a sweet enough product placement deal from MS or Apple or whatever computer manufacturer in the advertising department’s rolodex.

I’d say that Linux — be it Linux in general, Ubuntu, any other distro, or the fact that there is a wide choice out there, in this case I don’t care — seems to be making some headway. Here’s one of the examples where I’ll concede the point that if people think Linux, they think Ubuntu, and that that’s OK.