I was visiting with my parents and my father made an interesting revelation to me. He said that when he's helping people with computer things he now offers them free software solutions as a first option to solve their problems. He says that the free things are often good enough for their needs and he's not imposing a cost on them by helping. This is interesting to me because he was one of the people who argued with me about the value of FOSS. I'll probably never get him running Linux, but he gets it. Start with the free stuff unless you have a compelling business reason to do something more. That way people aren't wasting oportunities to use technology while they wait around for the funds. Later on, if you find you need things that are only provided by the commericial options then you invest; then you know what you're looking for.
Of course, I also find that most people don't choose open solutions because they don't know they exist. Often there are alternatives or methodologies that are buried in all of the tons of technical knowledge and information availble. It's hard to track all of that when you have "stuff" to do... unless, of course you're Watson. So, when I come across something that might be holding people back from making a choice, I try to share it. Today I came across an interesting article for those who are trapped in Solaris because they are used to certain tools, namely ZFS and DTrace. Slashdot pointed me to "ZFS and DTrace running on Ubuntu Linux". Who knows... maybe this will be just what someone needs to move into a more open environment.
Propriety getting in the way
I may make someone unhappy by sharing this, but it fits right in with what I'm discussing about choices. I do some technical support for a church. I've set up servers (Linux, of course) and helped to keep some things running. One of the ways that I've been able to be helpful was because I set up SSH in a way that allows me to securely tunnel into the network and do things remotely. We even set up wake-on-LAN so that I could turn workstations on and off as needed (Windows, sadly). A while back some used Cisco equipment was donated for networking. Nice stuff, but it requires some pretty specialized knowledge to work with it, knowledge that really requires training more than dinking around in forums. I don't have that. Neither did anyone else on the team. We had people who stepped in from time to time but there was always something odd about the configuration that didn't work eventually, and when it didn't work people would turn to me. My only option was to pull the Cisco stuff out of the equation.
So, recently a Cisco expert comes in and sets up a lovely multi-tiered platform with all of the devices elegantly separated into VLANs with mile high firewalls and such. It's beautiful, brings tears to the eyes. Of course, it turned off my SSH tunnel. No worries. We'll have a fancy VPN before you know it... when they get around to it. In the mean time I can no longer access the systems. I can't just take a moment out of my day to check on something. I have to schedule an appointment to physically go to the site. That's not so good for a night owl who does most of their tinkering in the dark. It's also not so good for someone who's schedule always seems to be stuffed with things to do. Recently an attempt was made to punch that SSH hole again, it's just a port forward. I know how to do it with IPTABLES. I can also do it with pretty much any Internet router on the planet, whether it's running DD-WRT
or not. For some reason this was a complicated issue on the Cisco equipment. Something was blocking something, and the time got used up so it remains undone and isolated.
My main fear is that all of this will be corrected eventually, but that something will go wrong. If our latest superhero tech is not available then it will all be a mess. It will cost time, or money or both for an organization that really should be focused on its altruistic endeavors. How many schools, charities, clubs and other organizations get into the same mess? Someone comes in with a great offering, but then things change and the offering becomes an obstacle. Going back to my dad's comments, wouldn't it make more sense to keep those things more open so that they aren't held hostage, so that they don't depend on people with the "right gifts"? Alas!
Create a working compiler
I love having a chance to play with building blocks. Yes, it's nice to have someone do the work for me and I appreciate all of the rich applications that are at my disposal. However, those don't always fit my warped way of thinking about technology or the exotic messes I can create for myself. Besides, sometimes I just get curious. The latest article that we published in the developerWorks Open Source area is one of those fun, foundational things that just might come in handy some day. It talks about how to use LLVM to create your own compiler. Does that sound like a Hurculean (or should that be Heraclean?) task? Getting started is not that bad. Check out the article, "Create a working compiler with the LLVM framework, Part 1" and find out for yourself. Don't forget to rate it and add your comments.
Magic logs with libvert and KVM
Recently I saw The Avengers, and Tony Stark did a lot of fancy work with his fancy virtual 3D intefaces-- which are becoming close to reality. Even without that we do a lot of things virtual. We have virtual meetings, virtual relationships and more and moe virtual machines. The interesting thing about doing something virtually is that you get to cheat a little. You can take advantage of the non-physical nature to do things that you normally couldn't. You might take advantage of that by doing a major business presentation webcast in your pajamas. In virtual machines we can look at things that are going on behind the scenes that would normally require some pretty fancy hardware monitoring devices and engineering.
In the Linux zone this week we have "Track KVM guests with libvirt and the Linux audit subsystem". It demonstrates how to use libvert to log events going on in you KVM systems and then use them in conjunction with your host system logs. The potential for this sort of thing is petty interesting. You might be able to track various health issues with running images, or do automated tasks such as creating additional systems based on behavior. I imagine this could be very handy for clound implementations. It's easy to explore so check it out.
Since HTML brokenness can fubar the editor here in the developerWorks Community, I'm taking a test-drive of ScribeFire, a browser plugin that provides an alternative editor for blogs. So far it seems pretty nifty, but I won't know for sure until I see if this posts.
Suping up your Android phone
Today I got a tweet from @marekw about an article called "How to make Android faster, more productive and more secure than iPhone". Whether you believe the hype in the title or not, this has some pretty useful tips. I had been using the Dolphin HD browser for some time but am really impressed with the speed and clarity of Opera Mobile. True, Opera is not open-source, but they have been solid supporters of Linux and now Android. They appear to embrace the standards well. I'm going to try it out for a while. I can always switch later on.
I'm enjoying the chance to tinker
I'm hoping to shoot a video demo here soon with the ffmpeg technique I talked about earlier. I'll probably start with creating a multi-boot USB key with Ubuntu Linux, GPartEd Live, and Clonezilla Live. To do that I really needed a USB headset. I wanted something low-profile so I could wear it in a video without looking like a 70s DJ. I settled on the Plantronics .Audio 648. It's working fine for what I wanted, though I'm missing the functions of their little buttons. At some point it would be interesting to make use of those, but they were not my reason for purchasing.
This should give me a real "hit the button and go" approach to recording demo type material. After I produce a few I'll provide a train the trainer sort of video showing exactly how I'm doing everything. Doing simple demos in Linux is really easy. Adding a little polish to them is not that much harder. Stay posted.
OK. I'm going to hit the button to post this now. Wish me luck!
Today I got a tweet from author, Uche Ogbuji, about his blog entry. I've noticed for a while that Uche is a poet as well as a technical guy. (I love it when people mix art in their life.) Here he combines a bit of both and points us to a Wikipedia report he participated in on analytics. Check it out!
World Wide offering from Russia
This week in developerWorks we are publishing our first World Wide offering with an article about IPSEC. You know the old joke: "What do you call somone who speaks many languages? A polyglot. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks just one language? American!"
I admit that I fall into this category a bit myself. I speak some French, but no one cares. I want to learn Spanish, but haven't really had the time. In general if it's not in English, I miss it. While we have a good deal of English conent on developerWorks, we have contributors world-wide, much of it in Chinese, Russian and other languages that most of us did not pick up in High School, especially if you grew up in the U.S. An effor has begun to bring some of the popular articles in other geographies into English so that they can be enjoyed by more people. This week's article, "Use of IPSEC in Linux when configuring network-to-network and point-to-point VPN connections" originally appeared on developerWorks Russia. You may find that it has a slightly different spirit and rhythm than our articles that originate in English, but I think you'll find the information useful.
IPSEC is a security protocol for doing encrypted network connections across unsecured networks. If you are using a VPN into your office, you're probably using it now. This is a great way to connect networks and systems together and the article really takes a lot of the mystery out of it.
Look for more World Wide articles like this in the future.
That sounds like a horror film with Bela Lugosi as a mad doctor who has come back for his revenge! Actually, it's the second part of our brief series introducing Riak. You might want to review Part 1. In Part 2, "Introducing Riak, Part 2: Integrating Riak as a heavy-duty caching server for web applications", you'll see how you can take a big bite out of web latency. Caching isn't always the answer, but if you can make good use of caching along with efficient applications you can make your site fast, fast, fast!
That's all for now. I hope to have that demo for you soon. I'm still tinkering with a few things to make sure the work before I start recording. You don't want me to look silly, do you?
Things have been pretty weird around here. I went and spent a week in Dallas learning about mainframes to support an upcoming project. If you've always been curious about the mainframe but not had the opportunity you're going to love it. I'll have more for you on that later... like later in the year... so you'll just have to be a little patient.
I know this makes me an old guy, but I grew up watching reruns of the original Star Trek series. I didn't watch them first run, so that makes me slightly less old, I suppose. Today, Google included a tribute to the original series.
It's interesting to me how much I was influenced by the ideas on that early program. It provided such a positive view of how technology and society might evolve. It's amazing how close we've gotten. Here are a few things that jump out at me:
The computer had the answers to everything. It doesn't talk to me, but with the Internet there's an awful lot of information at my fingertips with more of it becoming interconnected, interactive, and intuitive.
Tricorders could tell you all kinds of information about your location and local conditions. My smart phone has a GPS and through the network can tap into lots of other information. It also has sensors that can be be used to detect magnets, measure velocity and more. (There was actually very cool program that applied several of these sensors in a mock-up of a Star Trek the Next Generation. Unfortunately CBS decided that this was an infringement on their intellectual property so it is no longer available. I will try not to digress about how this attitude is potentially stifling to people who are trying to turn science fiction into science fact.)
Everyone talked to each other through video phones. Yesterday I had a video call with an older (read retired) friend. He is unable to leave the house because of his health, but we were able to have a face-to-face conversation... me on my laptop and he on his tablet.
People had these flat panels of information that they could use to read or sign off. We have a number of options. A giant library of books can all be held in a small device.
They had massive ammounts of data stored on little plastic cards, including video. They got this wrong... it's all actually smaller.
Depending on your situation you might argue with me that we are intergrated between races and cultures. I work regularly with people from all over the world. I don't have any colleagues from other planets yet. Star Trek was the first thing I ever saw that showed this as a natural environment.
Star Trek taught me that curiosity and exploration were good things. Honor and duty mattered. You could not judge things simply by their appearance and differences were things to be worked through. Yes, there was some pretty heavy-handed storytelling and the special effects are no match for today's standards. However, Star Trek put me on the road to wanting to make a difference in the world in ways that nothing else did. It is worth celebrating.
I use a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) line as my office phone. The monopoly phone company charged me a ridiculous amount for the privilege of the line because it was business-oriented so I fired them. They still call me relentlessly to tell me they value my business and I get to fire them all over again, and tell them how stupid they are for not getting the hint. That's not what I want to talk to you about, however.
One of the services I have on this line is a "visual voice mail". All the messages that come in are translated using speech recognition technology and sent to me as an email. The technology is not perfect. Some of the translations I get are pretty amusing... except for lately. It's voting season, and I'm getting a round of robo-calls with messages about this politician and that one. Guess what! The transcription from the political messages I get are perfect. That means that somehow, the message has been optimized for text-to speech. How do they do that? Can someone train me to talk to my phone that way?
The O'Reilly OSCON is done, but not forgotten. Did you make it to OSCON? If not, there is a page of videos which may give you some taste of what you missed. Additionally, David Mertz is a correspondent who has been our eyes on the ground in the past and has some interesting interviews to share. I expect the first soon and we'll share it with you as soon as we can.
Of course, we're always open to your own experiences. Take a moment to join the Real World Open Source community and provide your own observations in the blog. This isn't just mine, it belongs to all of us. I hope you'll contribute.
Today I was hit by several pieces of information that just gave me profound sadness. First was the announcement about the football tragedy in Liverpool twenty-three years ago where the responsibility for the deaths of ninety-six fans was finally correctly placed with the authorities and planners who made a number of mistakes and miscalculations. It was made all the worse by a collective cover which made it seem as it was all unavoidable. In reality, many of those people might have been saved. You can read the Prime Minister's full statement to the House of Commons.
Secondly are the news statements about the deaths of US ambassadors in Libya. I won't get into the politics of any of this. I'll just say that all of it makes me very sad.
I am a believer in openness and technology. I see these as tools which transport people into better versions of themselves. To me, and ideal world is one in which everyone explores their curiosity and works to meet their own challenges, whatever those may be. In this world, no one is denied the opportunity to educate themselves and discovery is openly shared. We find a balance between what everyone needs, wants and provides. I know that there are major obstacles to such a world, and human nature is one of them.
All of these reminders of people at their worst do not define people as a whole. We are making progress and things are getting better. Today I'm just reminded of how much more is needed. I wish there was a way to remove the fear and greed that makes people feel the need to control each other.
I was going to add some other related things here, but I suppose that won't really be fair to them. I'll give myself a chance to reset a little and I'll give them their own place.
I suppose I should begin this one by reminding everyone that, while I am an employee of IBM, what I write here are my own thoughts and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the position of IBM on these matters.
So, I'm trying to enjoy my morning cup of tea and I come across this article from Reuters and many others talking about a new and mysterious deal that Microsoft has signed, this time with Amazon, to protect them as users of Linux. A lot of speculation went up about similar deals done with TomTom and Novell. In the case of TomTom it seems pretty certain that the issues had something to do with their use of the FAT file system. The others are more mysterious.
My preferred solution for TomTom was for them to switch to an open file system, like ext3, and then load an ext3 driver onto Windows as part of their software installation. I understand that the Windows driver may need a little work, but it would be nice to pay that money to open development rather than into Microsoft's protection plan.
I'll admit that I'm someone who is primarily curious about technology and what I can make it do. I'm probably pretty naive when it comes to matters of big law and big business. Yet I just don't understand this game that is being played about the dark secret that Microsoft has about Linux.
I envision this scene in a conference room where a group of lawyers and business executives all sit around the table. Someone speaks:
"We've examined this issue in great detail. We've had our patent lawyers search and we just don't see what the issue is with Linux in our environment. We don't see why we should sign this deal."
Another figure across the table, dressed in an elegant, yet timeless way, with piercing eyes and a face that will reveal nothing but mild amusement responds in silvery tones.
"I understand. It is a confusing and difficult matter at best."
"So you'll have to pardon us if we just don't understand the benefits of this deal. We're going to need to see exactly what you are talking about."
"But of course. That is to be expected."
The figure raises a gloved hand and snaps his fingers. A misshapen little man comes in bearing the weight of an ancient looking, ornate box and lays it gently on the table, as though he is afraid to disturb the contents. His gaze turns to the man who summoned him, his body wracked with anticipation.
A cold, soulless smile breaks across the face of the figure at the head of the table. "I think that this will make everything clear."
The little man opens the lid of the box and the conference room is bathed in a sickly green light. The executives and lawyers turn pale as each man finds his own place between utter terror and total astonishment. After a few moments the box is closed again. Each man looks at another, trying to make sense of what he has just witnessed and imagining what would happen if such a thing were unleashed against the world. The feeling slowly fades and, with resignation, men reach for their pens.
OK. That's probably a little melodramatic and reveals more than is necessary about my choices of fiction. Yet,based on the information that I've been able to determine about the so-called infringements of Linux and open source I can't throw it out completely. I followed the previous attacks on Linux and open source and they really seemed to lead nowhere.
I certainly don't think that this is the time to develop unfounded fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the future of open source. I think that many analysts and people who thrive on conflict for the sake of conflict will try to make you think that "the big one is coming." I think that many people selling something will try to convince you that you need to buy a little insurance. I would rather that you look at great examples like the Ernie Ball corporation who made the move to Linux and open source years ago and never looked back. There are other companies that have happily made the move. (Here's an incomplete list.)
Again, I'm not speaking for IBM. If you want to know the IBM position, watch for the press releases, if any. I speak to you as someone who has happily used open source software for years now. I know that it works. It gets better for me every day. It's not to be feared, but embraced and enjoyed because it really will change your use of technology forever.
(QUICK ONES are bigger than a tweet, but not much!)
Today I made a few tweaks to the blog which you might want to try as well if you use the Community tools. First, I added the features. If you've set up a custom blog template, like I did in "Using CSS Sprites in your developerWorks Community blog", then you are pretty much set up for this. Simply go into Settings, Preferences, Templates in your blog and edit the _options file. Search for the word "feature" and you'll be taken to a section like the following:
#* ***************************************************************** *# #* Optional post tag to flag featured posts. You must have a *# #* minimum 2 posts tagged for the feature widget to display. *# #* ***************************************************************** *# #set($template-featured-tag = "featured") ## NOTE: adds minimum 60k page weight #set($template-featured = 0) ## 0=show featured widget on homepage and blog entry page 1=show featured widget only on homepage
You can change the featured-tag to anything that you like. Then anything that you tag with that will be added to the features widget. Note that you must have at least two items tagged this way before the features will appear. You can also decide if the widget should appear on every page or just the home page. I'm doing every page for now, but may change that if you find it annoying.
Next, I decided that I didn't like the button that leads you to the features.
The standard button looks like the one below:
I made this image with some clip art and am releasing it into the public domain. Feel free to use it for anything you like.
Once I made the graphic, I had to find the code where that graphic was defined. Basically I right-clicked the existing image and found its URL. Then I went into Settings, Preferences, Templates and opened the Weblog file, which contains all the major functions. I did a search for the filename "featured-arrow.png". Lo and behold! There was a simple image statement pointing to that file. I uploaded my own version, repointed the URL and it works! While I was in there I also added an ALT and TITLE tag to help with devices that can't display graphics and so that the graphic will explain itself if you hover on it.
I imagine that you could use the CSS Sprite technique to make it a little shinier. A few tricks like this and your blog could really start to reflect you!
I know that many of you get information from your managers that makes you want to duck and cover. I don't want to upset you, but I get information from mine that show they're paying attention. For example, Tom_Helmer just pointed me to "Forrester: Hire software developers who take part in open source projects". It talks about how employers looking for technical skills are beginning to appreciate the value of open-source projects on a resumé. Now that I think about it, I wonder if he's trying to tell me something?
Seriously, open-source is an outstanding way to learn and build skills. It's true if you're wanting to learn every side of technology. As a developer, you get to spend some serious time helping to solve problems, which is good for your karma. You also get to work cooperatively with a diverse group of people using a lot of virtual technologies. Do you think that skill set might make you appealing in this global economy?
I'll say it again: If you are out of work and looking, or you want to change your skill set you need to not only be looking at open source but you need to get involved. It will keep you productive and fill in your technical gaps.
Have you ever moved from one technology to another and found that conventions in one were applied differently in the other? That can be embarrasing at least or disasterous at worst. Wouldn't it be nice if someone had walked you through those little issues? I can't do it for everyone and everything, but Arpen San is offering this for C++ developers who are beginning to work with Ruby. Read his article "Meet six misunderstood Ruby features" which is now live on developerWorks.
More encryption with graphic processors
Also featuring this week is part 2 on how to get your graphic processors to lend their number-crunching skills to encryption. "Protect your data at the speed of light with gKrypt, Part 2" is also live. I find something very appealing about this sort of hacking. I think it's beautiful when people find ways to use technology that were not originally intended. I think that sort of innovation drives the future much more powerfully than anything done by governments or companies. Ideas are typically individual inspirations which are then leveraged by the others.
Speaking of innovation
Here's a video bonus for you. This series by British documentarian, James Burke, gives a very intersting view of how Western society has innovated its way forward into the future. Some of it may seem dated (like the cold-war technologies), but it's good stuff.
QUICK ONES are bigger than a tweet... but not much!
I finally saw The Avengers this week and enjoyed the concepts of all the 3D interfaces that they use in that universe. In this article, "MIT Creates Amazing UI From Levitating Orbs", we see how MIT is exploring how 3D spacial interfaces might actually work. Grabbing space with your imagination is cool and all that, but it seems like it would be very difficult to do well. I know that in the console driving games I've always struggled with the fact that I can't feel what the car is doing. (I'd never noticed that many of my driving decisions about things like speed an braking are made based on how things feel more than how they look.) In the same way, a rich 3D experience with no tactile component is going to be harder for many people to use.
MIT's work is looking to add a physical component by letting you move around an orb that is floating in space. It's crude for the moment, but these things always are when they start. I'm very intrigued to see which what this goes. It could be very interesting.
The SCO war against Linux has quietly been waged in the legal system while the rest of us have been getting on with our lives. Finally, something that we can be pleased with. The owner of the relevant UNIX copyrights appears to be Novell, and since they are the owners of Suse Linux the aren't likely to be doing anything to take it down. In general, to my understanding, the entire anti-Linux lawsuit asserted that Linux infringed on the copyrights of SCO because of SCO UNIX, which was derived from previous editions of UNIX. The ultimate decisions says that SCO didn't own the copyrights of these items anyway, Novell did. Barring something strange in an appeal that should bring everything else toppling down like a house of cards.
I'm sure that some lawyers will do something unpleasant to make it complicated again. Lawyers seem to be amused by that sort of thing. (I am, of course, not talking to the kind and good lawyers that help me with the things that I need.) However, today, it looks like Linux can enjoy the light and all of us who felt that this whole thing was just a mess can take a breath and feel that the world makes a little more sense.
Hooray! Of course, I'm sure the games aren't over. I talk to people regularly who feel that Linux and open-source software are threats. They don't like the changes that are occurring to the technological landscape and they want to just make it all go away. There is a lot of anger and resentment there. I don't get it.
To celebrate, grab a copy of Linux and play with it today. Heck! I'm more of an Ubuntu guy, but I just may buy a copy of Suse for the heck of it to say thanks!