Replacement vs. Reinforcement

I came across an idea about how machines interact with people while watching some TV. They were joking about Sat-Nav devices and all the silly voices they can make when it occurred to me that Sat-Nav devices are indeed replacing our natural abilities to navigate and know where we are and how to move around in our urban areas. (Most of us have long since lost our ability to know where we are and how to get around in the wild)

This is an example of a device which replaces a natural talent so well, that we find we don’t need our mental functions any more. But of course the one great evil of this is that we no longer know how to operate without them, thus Sat-Nav will always be required by people who use Sat-Nav a lot. (forgetting of course people who couldn’t operate at all until Sat-Nav came into being)

Picture showing a set of microschips on the left, a nerve cell on the left.

So what’s the alternative to technological replacement? I think one idea is technological reinforcement; the idea that the best technology improves the human operator through it’s use. Take Wikipedia; the fear is that no one will never need to remember anything and we’ll all forget to remember everything. But using Wikipedia seems to do the opposite, reinforcing information and making us more certain about some of the billions of facts we can hold in our heads. (but maybe it hasn’t been around long enough to show it’s effect)

So this got me thinking about what I would like a Sat-Nav device to do, to help me reinforce and hone my skills navigating the streets. Partly it could help by always stating the names of the roads when you’re in a local or frequently visited place. “Turn Left” is an instruction but “Turn Left at Washington Street” is educational and reinforcing if I take that route a lot. The information is certainly being presented at the right time for me to combine it with other sensory information so I can call it back up later. Another idea is to mention the absolute direction, North, South etc so we get a feel for the absolute direction we’re traveling in.

Of course none of this might work, so to test we could see how Sat-Nav devices effect people’s ability to judge medium and long distances. Most devices mention how many yards/meters it is until a junction so it’s already going into our heads and reinforcing something in there, but maybe we can’t process it because we don’t really have a sense of speed (in a car, I do on my bike of course). Maybe the brain just throws all the information away, but I find that hard to believe since brains are really good at learning to understand all sorts of data.

What do you think?

HP, Ubuntu is no more, if it ever was.

According to the blog of ever increasing entropy, HP have decided to kill off it’s FreeDesktop based Mi netbook on the same day that Microsoft Windows 7 came out.

In a way this is both surprising and not surprising to me.

It’s a surprise because I never figured Hewlett Packard for being this short sighted. Throwing away large sums of development money in order to help short term OEM deals with Microsoft? Well sure, HP might be in pain from OEM contract terms from Microsoft Windows and it might make business sense this quarter. But surely someone in HP must have a sore arse, or are they all cowering behind their “good for business” mantra which must be fairly strong to protect them from doing the right thing for their future business strength and independence.

Now I’m not surprised that the Mi with Ubuntu pre-installed has ended. Yes that’s right folks, it was Ubuntu and it was even developed by Canonical on behalf of HP. They paid a pretty penny to have their own interface and customizations put into the OS.

But look at what they did, they rejected the idea of including the Ubuntu brand with their shipments. The only mention that it was a FreeDesktop at all comes from a note about it being “Linux based” (whatever that means these days).

There is a mutually beneficial arrangement when it comes to brand marketing in the community. Dell sells machines with Ubuntu on them and both Dell and the Ubuntu community benefit from that arrangement. Instead of my LoCo group marketing Ubuntu for just old machines that came with Windows, I could safely point people at Dell and let them buy new computers complete with Ubuntu. Dell benefits because they get customers from the community advocacy and the community gets a big well known OEM to give it credibility and a partner that can ship working systems for cheap.

But HP didn’t want that, they wanted to control the branding of the OS and it’s not a surprise that they didn’t get many people from the Ubuntu community recommending their products. It’s not a surprise that every time someone said “Lets get me an Ubuntu machine” they went to Dell instead of HP.

Which is shame, because HP’s printer division is a much better collaborator. And most of my LoCo peers recommend HP printers simply because we can be almost pretty assured that no matter which one is bought, it’ll work.

So to get back to Microsoft, they’ve shaped the market to make Windows more attractive than it would be on a level playing field, they’ve manipulated OEMs to such a degree that it makes a mockery of anti-competition laws. If you’ve got any doubt of the reasons why bug #1 has to be fixed, it’s because we shouldn’t have to put up with this reduction in fair competition.

If I were dictator of the world, I’d tax any desktops shipped without a FreeDesktop dual boot.

Ubuntu: Marketing Frustrations

I’ve just got home from a nice little Chinese/bar where I was unwinding and I got to chatting with someone and the conversation came to jobs and then to Ubuntu. I was attempting to explain that there are more choices than just Mac and Windows, but it seemed to just blow his mind that there could be anything more or better than windows xp or vista.

What we have in Ubuntu 9.04 and what we will have with Ubuntu 9.10 is more than good enough. It’s awesome and the general population who already use Ubuntu keep on telling us “why don’t more people know about this”. And that is also fustrating to them, they want to know where the problems are, and they assume Ubuntu has problems because no one knows about it yet.

advert-01The problem boiled down to advertising, no one I talk to has ever, ever seen so much as a sniff of tv, news paper, website, billboard or any other form of media marketing for Ubuntu. It makes the trust question very hard to answer and the only way people will listen is if you explain that it’s grass roots and not something used by huge businesses and millions and million of people all over the world.

We really need to start just getting the brand out there. Nothing spectacular. Just something that says “Ubuntu. For your Mac and IBM PC” and that it’s awesome. There isn’t a need right now to prove ourselves or over sell or use gimmicks, just getting the logo and the name in front of people and that it is a valid choice for computer use would be enough.

If we can’t have a corporate sponsor such as Canonical, IBM, Intel, Google, Linux Foundation paying for adverts, then perhaps it’s time we started doing something as a community. I’m not talking about the nascar 500 debarkle, but more of the firefox in the paper, full page spread kind of marketing. This kind of marketing would take real organisation though, lots of research and a lot of time to pull together all the people interested in making it happen. That’s probably why it’s not been done before.

Are there no community leaders interested in heading up marketing?

Server Configs: Bad Design or Delibrate Obfuscation

For two weeks I’ve been configuring an openLDAP, Kerberos, Apt-Mirror server for use in a community center. Part of the reason is to learn some of these technologies and part of it is to get some better tech to replace what they have.

Today I was reminded of a comment made at the BLU some years back, it went along the lines of “Why would a server vendor or tools developer attempt to make the tool any easier to use, when most of the time it’s installing and servicing that pays their wages.”

Put simply, because there is no money in the development task it’s self, that developers would either deliberately make services hard to exploit without massive amounts of educational investment or would simply fail to provide the best and most well designed tools to interface to their creations. That also goes for writing easy to understand documentation.

On the other hand is it just that server tool developers just aren’t very good at designing APIs and text based UI? Perhaps the culture is just that nothing needs designing and tools can be put together however which way to best suite the original developers modus.

It’s hard to think of most developers as breaking their creations deliberately, but it’s relativity easy to think about developers as not the most artistic or empathetic group. This is why I think there are so many web based gui front ends like webmin and others that spring up to fill the need and why part of what will make the Ubuntu Server distro grow in places is availability and automatic ease of use of the required toolsets.

What are your thoughts? Are you an experienced sys-admin or are you someone who has been put off from learning something new because of the complexity of the tools? Do you find official documentation lacking? Do you think some developers are making their money by making their software feature rich but hard to implement?

Ubuntu with openLDAP and Kerberos

I’ve been experimenting with some technologies that have so far been beyond me, but since I’m going to have to be writing a course on these in the coming weeks, I thought I’d better prepare. It’s also useful that I have a have lab in need of some decent user management.

So tonight I found out the following things about setting up these techs:

  • Brush up on Bind9, your going to need to configure your dns server.
  • Don’t be sorry if Kerberos segfaults in hardy, it’s supposed to do that (not really, check the configs)
  • The configuration files for everything were designed by evil beings intent on darkening men’s souls.
  • The server guide documentation doesn’t always apply, unless your using the exact version mentioned.
  • The default nsswitch for hosts is broken on jaunty, mdns4? DELETE!
  • You may or may not be able to work out what ldap does as you add entries to it, depends on how much cake you eat and if you own a pet snake called Sammy.
  • Face palm and face desk emotes are your friends, use them often and they will treat you to splitting headaches.
  • Ldap has two client configurations that should be the same file, so just symlink them and hope for the best.
  • Always, always check the permission of your database files, make sure the service can write and/or read them.
  • Don’t bother with SSL until you’ve got something, anything working first. You can worry about Ubuntu’s broken SSL tools later.
  • Don’t configure your dhcp server so it has an ip-address within your dhcp range. Bad voo-doo-foo.
  • Keep a terminal with syslog tailing constantly, it’ll save you a lot of time.

I’m going to get some sleep and hopefully I can tackle some of the problems that are left, such as the segfaulting kerberos. Which is just wierd as I wouldn’t expect something that handles user authorisation to be that flaky code wise.

If anyone has any good guides, or can lend a hand teaching me some of the basics as I get through this, your time will be well spent as it’ll go into the community systems administration course materials. And I’d be MUCH obliged too.

Understanding FOSS, Now with Extra Freedom

I was thinking about a recent post by Benjamin Mako Hill where he puts the case for stronger communication of the principles of Free Software as the reason and driver for adoption and community participation, and that the Open Source technicalities are just how we go about achieving these social-political ideals.

hatI realised that the guide I had written a few months ago to communicate effectively the mechanics and rationales of the Free and Open Source community was defective and lacking in any coverage of the principles at stake. I feel it’s important to not only discuss the merits and soundness of the method but also the very reason for seeking alternative software production and distribution methods in the first place.

So with that in mind, I’ve attempted to rectify the short fall and re-draft the guide. It is now at revision 23 with an extra page and some other edits. I ask the community to kindly lend me it’s critical eye once more and to look over this revision. I need to make sure it’s a good draft to present to people who know nothing about what we do, how we do it and most importantly, why we bother to do it at all:

Download PDF here

Download SVGs here

Update: Thanks to Popey, Denotes and Alvin, I’ve published revision 25.

Tuesday in Massachusetts

It’s Tuesday evening in Boston and like always we have our teaching session were we teach fresh faced non-technical users off the street what Ubuntu is and how it works on the Desktop.

SETCToday was different though, we’re putting in a PXE server and a host of other upgrades for the community center where we conduct our classes. This is to allow us to teach effectively and manage the technology that we teach with. I put out a call to arms onto our Local Community mailing list in hope that some more faces would appear and take on some of the teaching tasks since it was going to be a busy evening just with the new tech.

Nine LoCo people came to help (including me) and I’d just like to shout out how grateful I am for all their help, these are some of the Massachusett’s Local Community Heros:

  • Daniel Hollocher
  • Danny Piccirillo
  • James Gray
  • Mike Rushton
  • Mike Terry
  • Nicolas Valcarcel
  • Sara Abbot
  • Yuriy Kozlov

We have such an awesome community spirit and despite some teething trouble with the new server, it doesn’t diminish the dedication of our local community members. We managed to also discuss some great new things we can be doing to increase publicity and do more events, something that having a large number of members present really helps with.

Tomorrow I will hopefully post the sys-admin video, sorry about the delay fokes, post-production issues with propritary Apple software (Final Cut Pro bleh) which I don’t use, but my producer/wife does. I may end up doing it in blender but howtos have been light on finer details about video editing in blender.

But besides the video, the physical teaching session will go ahead as planned and hand out sheets and presentation materials are all written, hopefully I’ll get into the swing of course writing as the weeks roll by.

Ubuntu Massachusetts, over and out.