Faces and Masks

I was talking today with a good friend of mine about social situations. Most of us geeks are not terribly sociable, either because we’ve been tormented, because we’re not very good at it or because we quite like being alone.

But social interactions are what drive the majority of the world’s people. And when you consider how much people will change themselves in order to fit in, it made me wonder about just how much social flexibility people really have.

Is it possible for instance to make a distinction between the way you change how you act towards someone in order to be in a productive relationship and faking social interaction with a mask which it there to hide your true self? Does it all boil down to intentions, lies or perhaps the difference between bending interation and falsifying feelings.

It’s certainly interesting to me, how much of what one says and how one says it, is due to the person your talking to? Is it an inflection or can it be controlled?

Answers on an HP postcard strapped to a pallet.

I wonder if there is a social flexibility quotient. A way of saying weather someone can be flexible enough to cope with these modes, but finds these social situations difficult. In my experience this can be anything from emergency situations to parties with musicians and plenty of pot smoking. From visiting your grandmother to a reconciliation drink.

Community Center Set Back: Theft

I have some bad news for people who were following my progress in getting an Ubuntu computer lab set up for a local Boston housing project. someone broke in to the secure server room and pinched all the computers and most of the monitors.

Rather sad set of affairs really and now we only have 2 machines left (which were somewhere else for repairs) and we hadn’t even gotten the center off the ground yet. So the task force will be looking to the Boston city to see if they can get some more computers to replace the stolen ones and the police will do their best to track old city office computers.

I just have to think, what could they possibly do with computers that old anyway? They’d only just about run Ubuntu well enough to do browsing web and a couple of other things. Oh well, best to just move forwards I guess and there is a grant in the works and locals who will no doubt step forward with help, so never fear.

Update: There was yet another break in, although nothing was stolen since we moved everything that was left behind. It’s shocking that these people would have the gall to try it again.

Pirating Ubuntu

Having some fun with my new pirate penguin plushie. Unfortunately he’s taken over my computer and all my Ubuntu CDs. Seems that penguins, especially pirate varieties, think that Ubuntu is something you can make private.


I shall bravely fight this mistaken ignorance!

Systems Administration: Networking

I’m not as certain with this section of the course, so I’m putting it up early to see if I can attract some feedback from you guys (the lovely Ubuntu community). It’s basically an introduction to networking, with a ton of theory and some pointers to useful commands and some practical exercises to carry out.

Go here for the source files, or below for each of the PDFs.

This will act as the main page for this weeks course material, Wednesday’s blog will have to be something else.

Environment: Remember the 4 Rs

In order of the most important environmental actions to take with waste:

* Reduce – Stop buying so much stuff in the first place (Positive Energy Balance)
* Reuse – Stop throwing away useful stuff (Neutral Energy Balance)
* Recycle – Try and break down the core material of your stuff (Negative Energy Balance)
* Recover – Digg up all the stuff we threw away, because we realise how stupid we were (Very Negative Energy Balance)

Only us can save mankind.

Ubuntu Desktop: Contacts as Indexed Files

Some people have seen me mention some ideas about how we can effectively access data on the Ubuntu Desktop. Making it much better than even MacOSX for standard data types. My main grudge with current methods is the “hide everything in a database” pattern, which seriously stuffs up some basic user interaction and how user data is controlled by the user outside of the applications that generate it. These are some quick moc-ups of what I want from my computer:

If the controlling mechanism is the type of content i.e. contact, photo and so forth. Then it can be argued that XDG directories are the primary sorter for the first level directory structures. Each type of data is welcomed into their configured directories, or disabled if those directories do not exist.

In order to allow files to express their content in multiple places, we need to be able to mount new directories inside the XDG directories for certain dynamic collections. These would not be files but fusefs mounts, and would provide dynamic access to some data and in other cases would be cache files from hardware devices and online services and present that data in those collections.

Now onto the problem of meta data, this includes tagging and other useful tid-bits. This requires a complex set of un-relational data, similar to xml but not suitable for a typical database such as mysql or sqllite. The storage of this data should be with the files themselves if possible and stored somewhere near by in a worse case scenario. Some content files don’t need much meta data as they are much of the data themselves This includes contacts and events who’s internal data is a similar structural relativeness to meta data. Recommend the use of ext meta data fields + xml caches for indexing.

We should also consider indexing, I’m not happy about Tracker, at the moment it seems to serve a very monolithic design. We can’t afford to have unindexable meta data or content from files and every field but be separable and searchable in it’s own form; this includes date ranges and other data. For this I propose I’m thinking Xapian full text searcher and indexer with heavy use of field indexing, it’s faster than lucene, better than trackerd and more flexible that most indexers.

Consider re-indexing. In fact it’s not enough to just index things periodically, this creates way too much strain the system. What is required is a more selective and progressive indexing mechanism. The modification dates of directories do not currently cascade. Unfortunately this would have provided an ideal mechanism for testing service start-up initialisation, allowing the system to create a possible list of re-indexable out of date targets.

To index progressively the changes as they happen, we should use inotify, this would then pass off the management process to the immediate computer run time. Threaded obviously.

We’ll also need a data services manager, something that can handle online authorisation, access to hardware and other data sourcing. This then passes off to fusefs drivers for data provisioning.

We also need to think about data standardisation or dealing with malformed data. Do we convert badly written vCards to something useful and save those, or do we leave that to the program? do we create a filtering system for all data types or simply allow the applications to handle them? This means the whole thing would need the following technologies:

  • Xapian Indexer / Searcher
  • iNotify Kernel FS Events
  • New XDG Directories for new data collections
  • FuseFS for Mountable Dynamic Data Sources
  • Dbus for hanging system interfaces
  • Data Source Manager (doesn’t exist)
  • Data Filtering System (doesn’t exist)

This blog post has mainly been written to get a lot of these thoughts out of my head. Feel free to poke over them.

Free and Open Works

I was asked recently to help do some graphics for an Ubuntu community friend ausimage, the job was to encourage Creative Commons, FOSS and all other free and open community creators to show their support on their blogs and web pages. The project is called “Free and Open Works” and has three different concepts…

So I helped make the following graphics to help the branding:

You support the Free and Open community and their creations. Sharing your appreciation of quality works available in the community. Your patronship and support for the ideals of the commons encourages future works and further development.

You create and improve works for the Free and Open community. Sharing your talent or expertise with the community as a whole. Your works provide others with joy as well as a foundation to others to build derivative works.

You donate or commission works in the Free and Open community. Sharing your capital resources to provide tools and payment that bring about works in the community.

The wording is still fairly new, so any input on the whole idea is still very welcome and people interested should head over to the website: http://www.ausimage.us/CreativeCommons/HomePage

I’ll be adding both creator and benefactor images to my blog, since I both create Creative Commons and GPL works and commission works from artists which are then licensed under Creative Commons.

Download the svg source files here.

Staying out of the Politics

Today I was cough up in some interesting theatrics. I’ve been called out as a technical advisor for a new computer lab that’s trying to be put together in Boston for one of the public housing projects. All was going well, until existing tensions between various groups and all their history all let loose.

It’s probable that the increase in speed with which the project was moving once I could advise them and once city computers were acquired, simply caused the natural breakdown of these relationships. Although what ever the reasons for the problems it’s probably best that I stay out of that kind of thing.

After all if we want to make Ubuntu labs possible, we need direct solid authority backed up with good solid door locks. If people are baring grudges and hurt feelings over resource use, then it’s going to put the whole thing in jeopardy. Hopefully all these issues will be worked out and my time won’t be wasted. Even so, it’s been interesting working over there and seeing some new faces.

Anyone ever been caught in such things? Best to just let it all blow over by it’s self?

Ubuntu System Admin Class: Local Computer

This evening as last week, I taught another lesson in my Systems Administration course to students at the south end technology center. I expect people to help out with correcting misinformation and filling in gaps since I wasn’t able to be totally sure everything is perfect.

Go here for the source files, or below for each of the PDFs.

Still to do to complete the course materials: translate the overview into a presentation and finish of the internals sheet.