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Ubuntu Linux Tips & Tricks

Linux tips, tricks, news, name it, it's probably here

Updated: 2018-03-07T16:32:06.222-05:00


User Experience Survey


Note: this is not about the Advertising team survey, which has a very different focus but was inspirational.

When your interaction with other Ubuntu users is entirely made up of developers talking about bugs they need to fix and users seeking support (IRC, forums, bug reports), your perspective changes. It's hard to get a good idea of the big picture. What portion of users are hitting problems in what areas? How do users who've reported bugs feel about the experience? How are the local community teams doing? That kind of stuff is hard to wrap your head around without metrics. Sometimes people get the impression Ubuntu Developers don't care what users think, but it's actually really hard to get a balanced view of things with just bug reports or to tell whether an upset group is a vocal minority or a vocal majority. And unfortunately, massive-scale mind-reading has not yet been perfected.

To that end, I've worked with a bunch of other members of the Ubuntu community (Alan Bell, Lyz Krumbach, Valorie Zimmerman, Joseph Price, and others) to create a survey that'll help those of us working on various parts of Ubuntu understand where we need to improve and how we can do better.

If you have an opinion on Ubuntu, please take 5 minutes to fill out the Ubuntu User-Experience survey.

I would like to repeat the survey in other languages as well, but I don't know any other languages fluently enough. If you would like to translate the survey into your language, email me translations at: maco [DOT] m [AT] ubuntu [DOT] com -- I suggest sending it as an attachment with a message like "here are the translations for $language" so GMail doesn't go "non-English text! Must be spam!"

PS: go here for translations and eventual results

Why I'm not speaking


I decided not to submit to the CFP for any LnuxFests this year. Bethlynn from Ohio LinuxFest was surprised to not see me on Southeast LinuxFest's speaker list and asked why. I told her I didn't submit anything to SELF and would not be submitting to OLF either. I'm not doing public speaking this year.

On the one hand, I'm taking a break. Coming up with new topics that I feel comfortable with is hard. Plus, I know I end up working on slides the night before and therefore missing out on the Friday night party.

On the other hand, I've spoken three times at Ohio and once at Southeast now. LinuxFests are a great environment for new speakers to get their first experience speaking in front of a few hundred people. It would get boring to end up with an "old guard" taking up a chunk of the speaking slots every year. I wanted to step back and make way for some new blood. I don't have a list of everyone who's spoken at Ohio LinuxFest and what years they did that (though that might be interesting), but I do have a list of all the women who spoke at OLF. Catherine Devlin, Dru Lavigne, and I all spoke at OLF the last two years. Dru was at SELF last year and will be speaking there again this year. I'm sure if I had a list of all the men who'd spoken there, I'd find a similar group who'd spoken repeatedly at the Eastern-US fests.

I'd really like to see some new faces applying to speak at these fests. Ohio extended their call for proposals to 1 June, so if you think you've got something to say, please submit a proposal. If you know someone who doesn't yet know they have something to say, please inform them and get them to submit a proposal. The first time I spoke at OLF I was insistent that I couldn't possibly have anything to talk about that everyone there didn't already know better. Remember: everyone is someone else's guru.

Blogging Against Disablism Day - ASL


Penelope Stowe of the Ubuntu Accessibility Team told me about Blogging Against Disablism Day. Disablism and ableism have the same meaning and are more regional than anything else. They refer to the underlying assumptions about what "everyone" can do. I live not far from Gallaudet University, the only accredited liberal arts university for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, so I actually come across people signing with some frequency.

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When I first started signing, the friend who was teaching me (whom I met through the LoCo even!) would simcomm, and I learned from that. Now she usually doesn't speak at all when I'm around. She can safely assume I'll get enough context clues to learn whatever signs she uses that I didn't already know. I'm really happy about having achieved that level of fluency.

Last year, I used simcomm to give my presentation at Ohio LinuxFest. Mel Chua (Red Hat) and Bryen Yunashko (openSUSE) were both there. One is Hard of Hearing; the other is Deaf. I used a lot of ASL that weekend, not just for my own communication, but also as an interpreter for those giving directions. A few other hearing people even came up to me and started signing, since they saw me signing with Mel.

Maybe some day I'll be a certified interpreter. Right now, I can interpret in a pinch, but it's not pretty and doesn't have very good grammar. The trouble with simcomming so much is I have very little practice with using ASL-word-order. I intend to take an actual class to try to fix that.

I'm happy to see OLF has welcomed requests for assistance from disabled* attendees and speakers. I suspect I don't see many Hard of Hearing or Deaf people at conferences because they can usually safely assume there will be no accommodations, meanwhile there are no accommodations because organisers can usually safely assume there will be no HoH/Deaf people.

I don't know much about technological accessibility for those with hearing impairments. I do know Mel has complained that she has no way of knowing her system bell is on until her coworkers get upset at how loud it is. I know another friend complained that media players often now have the volume capped so that they are less likely to induce hearing loss but are unusable if you already have hearing loss. A Cowon D2 turned out to be loud enough for her to hear. I know videos without captions or podcasts without transcripts are a problem. I don't know what else though.

* Vocab note: A person has an impairment. Society's treatment of that impairment is what disables the person.

Key transition


I started a key transition around DebConf last year upgrading from my 1024-bit GPG key I've had about as long as I've had this blog.  At the time, Debian's requirements for new maintainers was 2048 bits, so that's what I used.  It's now 4096 bits.  I learned this as I was preparing to send an email to newmaint asking to become a DM.  So that's a bit of a waste.  I have signatures on both the old ones, so below I will include a blurb signed by each of the old keys in case one of the previous signers is willing to take that as proof enough to sign the new one. Yes, the new key is signed by both of the old ones.

  1. Old keyID: BC8D3269 - blurb signed by old key
  2. Old new keyID: 340950E8 - blurb signed by old new key
  3. New new keyID: 36535A82 - blurb signed by new key

I'll be revoking the old 1024-bit key by my birthday (1 September). The 2048 one will probably stick around at least until after the next thing I go to with lots of Debian & Ubuntu folks, to allow the new one time to get more signatures, since I hear weakening your spot in the web of trust is a bad thing.

Future uploaders


After seeing someone say on the Debian Women mailing list that she maintains 4 packages but isn't sure she's good enough for upload rights in Debian, I was had a thought again that I've had before but don't think I've ever said here. If you're a sponsor, and you think you're sponsee is ready, tell them!
Rich Johnson once told me he was uploading through sponsors for years before his sponsors finally got annoyed enough to scold him into applying for MOTU. I've also been told that Sarah Hobbse's application for core-dev was submitted by a sponsor with a note to be on IRC at a certain time for the meeting, when the sponsors decided the person was taking too long to apply. Possibly true, given the person who told me that used to be on the MOTU Council (the council that used to approve new MOTU before the Developer Membership Board came along). ScottK has corroborated that story.

Embarrassing Advertising


Want to see a prime example of advertising that is in no way going to help the goal of getting members of the other half of the population interested in Ubuntu? It's right here!

Thanks, OMGUbuntu!, for being an embarrassment. Oh, and responding to complaints about it with "Funny how companies can get away with using massive sex appeal in advertising but as soon as we try it, it's apparently 'not okay.'" takes a lot of ignorance. As if nobody complains about sexism in other advertising? Yeah, right!

The response to another complaint was "How is driving away FOSS-promoting companies that use fairly mundane sexual marketing encouraging Ubuntu's mainstream adoption?" Guess what? Driving away half the potential users doesn't exactly count as good promotion or promoting mainstream adoption.

And you know what? No, this isn't the first time that tabloid has used sexualisation and objectification to get their precious page views.

I know, most of my posts lately have been political. I'm sorry about that. Having been busy with finals, graduating, moving (twice), and starting a new job, I've not had much time to spend on thinking of topics. Sometimes, topics just throw themselves in my lap, though.

Women in Open & Collaborative Software & Technology Survey


The Ada Initiative is a new project working on the women in open source & open culture thing. It's been a number of years since FLOSSPOLS surveyed the Free Software community to see the status of women in the community at the time, so the Ada Initiative has a new survey up for men, women, and anyone in between to fill out giving their perspective on the status of women in their community, whether it be a Free Software community, hackerspace, Open Culture group, wiki, open education, barcamps, or what-have-you. It closes today, and it'll take less than 5 minutes, so go have a visit.


"Sexy" software


It has always rubbed me the wrong way when software is described as "sexy." There is something about the context that just seems off. Well, I just got around to reading a book I've been intending to read since 2006, "Female Chauvinist Pigs(image) " by Ariel Levy. It's about how pop-culture & the media have managed to convince much of society that it is "empowering" for a woman to um…objectify herself quickly, before a man does (you can probably guess by my phrasing that I do not agree with the women who buy into this, and neither does the author). Anyway, there's a paragraph in there that sums up nicely my discomfort with the use of the word "sexy" to describe, well, things that have nothing to do with, you know, sex:

Sex appeal has become a synecdoche for all appeal: People refer to a new restaurant or job as “sexy” when they mean hip or powerful. A U.S. Army general was quoted in The New Yorker regarding an air raid on the Taliban as saying “it was sexy stuff,” for instance; the New York Times ran a piece on the energy industry subheadlined “After Enron, Deregulation Is Looking Less Sexy.” For something to be noteworthy it must be “sexy.” Sexiness is no longer just about being arousing or alluring, it’s about being worthwhile.

OK, so your software is "worthwhile" then. Got it. Congratulations, I guess? But…why??? Is it faster than the alternative? Does it have a more intuitive UI? Does it colour-coordinate better than the garish purple, green, and red interface full of tags of the alternative? Does it take what is normally a complicated 15-step manual process and distill it into a simple 3-step process wherein the computer intuits many of the steps itself? If so, say that! That'd be an actual useful description!

Feminist aside: the flipside of this is the implication that if a thing or person isn't "sexy," it's worthless.

Please chip in


Amber and Pete Graner house was struck by lightning while they were at UDS. Their kids and dog are fine, but their stuff is all burnt up. It'll be a while before insurance gets all worked out, and in the meantime, they need to be able to get things like clothes, shoes, etc. Rikki Kite setup a Chip In for the Graners for anyone who wants to give them a bit of money to get back on their feet. Consider it an early Christmas/Hanukkah/Yule/Wintereenmas gift.


This is the third one of these events where the community came together to help out after a disaster, and I find it really amazing. It's reminding me a bit of what I read about the Amish recently.

Help Bryen out


Bryen Yunashko of GNOME Accessibility had his equipment stolen. He's in Spain for the GNOME-A11y Hackfest, and on his way from Barcelona to Sevilla (where the hackfest is going on), his bags with his 17" laptop, Kindle, 1TB hard disk, and camera were stolen. He's visually impaired and deaf (so screen-readers are out), so those items were bought with that in mind. 17" so he can see the screen, Kindle because it zooms unlike paper, and a camera with many lenses because it helps him see. He picked up a cheap netbook so he can still hack while at the hackfest, but the tiny screen makes it hard to use with his vision.

A collection is being taken to replace the stolen equipment.


Introducing Gally


For my senior design project in school, I decided to design and write a program for teaching sign languages on Linux. It was in a "working prototype" stage when I presented it in school in April. I had a few more things I wanted to get right before announcing it to the whole FOSS world, but I just got confirmation from Nigel Babu that the last known bug in RC3 is fixed, so it's time to release!

Here's what it looks like (though that "France" sign video is removed since I did the sign backwards…should probably correct the text under it…oops):


Packages for version 0.5 (what I'm calling the first stable release) are in the Gally stable release PPA for Lucid, and in Universe for Maverick. It'll be uploaded to Debian Unstable soon.

This release only supports American Sign Language, but some of the lessons have been translated into French and German. On the roadmap for 1.0 is support for installing multiple sign languages (yes, places have different sign languages), hopefully through KGetHotNewStuff. Quizzing should also be in that version. That means that people who know BSL, LSF, DSL, Auslan, NZSL, or any of the others whose names I don't know are certainly wanted to start preparing lessons for that version!

I suspect a bit of an FAQ is in order:

  1. Why name it "Gally"?
    • That is the nickname for Gallaudet, which can refer either to Gallaudet University or Thomas Gallaudet, who started the first deaf school in the US. It was based on French teaching methods.
  2. What licence is it under?
    • GPLv3
  3. What's it written in?
    • PyKDE
  4. What if I use GNOME?
    • Use sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends gally to avoid pulling in half of Kubuntu
  5. Is there an IRC channel?
    • Yes, #gally on
  6. How can I help?
    • Suggest lesson topics
    • Write up a lesson plan (list of signs for a suggested lesson or one you thought of)
    • Convert a lesson plan into XML
    • Submit videos of you signing what's in a lesson plan
    • Make or find CC-BY or CC-BY-SA clipart or photos to work as "context" with the lessons (like the French flag in the screenshot)
    • Help make the GUI translatable

You will need to download the ASL lesson pack (link is to this month's snapshot) to study ASL. Use your favourite archive manager (Ark, File Roller, tar) to put the contents in either ~/.kde/share/apps/gally/ (if only you will use it) or /usr/share/kde4/apps/gally/ (for all users on the system). That means the lessons.lang ends up in ~/.kde/share/apps/gally/ASL/ or /usr/share/kde4/apps/gally/ASL/

Thanks go to the folks who've been testing and Nigel in particular for helping me roll through RCs, Paul Hummer for writing the original when I am new enough to Python to have never done this, and Karen Rustad for making a nice icon (which isn't in the screenshot, since it's an old one) based on the ASL sign for "teach."

Algorithms, Reverse Engineering, and Crochet


Sing along: One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn't belong…

Actually, not really. These things can all go together: algorithms, reverse engineering, and crochet. I've been crocheting since I was so young I don't remember not crocheting. My Mimi (what I call my grandmother) taught me. There exist crochet patterns you can buy on paper or find online, but she doesn't know how to read them. I've read one pattern. It was for a doily I made in high school. So, how did Mimi and I know what to do when crocheting the rest of our lives? Reverse engineering!

Mimi had a big clear plastic bin in her nightstand full of samples of crochet. They were usually about 10x20cm or 5x8in and done in whatever scraps of yarn she had sitting around, so it was a very colourful pile. Each one had a different pattern in it. She was always fond of the seashell patterns though. There were others that looked like little rows of pillars on a Greek building and she had one very complicated one that sort of made a starburst shape within itself. If she wanted a certain effect, she'd just dig up her sample, poke at it a bit and look really close, and then copy how it was done. Maybe she'd add a few extra stitches to make the seashells wider or something, but to her a finished example was better than written instructions. I didn't learn the term until a few years ago, but poking at things to see how they work, then using that knowledge to go make some more? That's reverse engineering.

I've had a few people express surprise at someone being into artsy right-brain things and computery left-brain things. One was in the car on the way to Southeast LinuxFest, as I was sitting in the back crocheting. I responded by reciting the pattern of what I was doing as a bunch of nested for-loops. Hey, it's an algorithm. Here's a picture of me crocheting at the speakers dinner. I was making a pink snood based on the white one I'm wearing in the photo. I figured I'd be asked about being Amish less frequently if I had a pink one.

Dustin wrote a couple weeks ago about teaching his wife to code. She also crochets. I mentioned in his comments that reverse engineering and algorithms are a big part of crochet too. To demonstrate, today I finished crocheting a scarf. Here's the algorithm, in Python:

for i in range(20):
    print "ch",

for i in range(6):
    for j in range(2):
        print "ch",
    print "\nnext:  "
    for j in range(20):
        print "s",
    print "ch",
    for j in range(10):
        for k in range(3):
            print "ch",
        print "\nnext:  "
        for k in range(10):
            print "d ch",
    for j in range(2):
        print "ch",
    print "\nnext:  "
    for k in range(20):
        print "s",


  • ch: chain
  • d: double crochet
  • s: single crochet

Thanks to Kim Kirkland for correcting my long-hand stitch names into the standard abbreviations.

PS: the scarf is aubergine ;-)

Using ODBC with bind


I ran into this last week, and the Google was failing me, so here's the reason why you sometimes get "Required token $zone$ not found." when debugging why bind won't start with ODBC. The answer is: because the DLZ documentation is slightly wrong. It delimits "zone" and "record" with % instead of $. That is, the directions show:

{select zone from dns_records where zone = '%zone%'}

But really, it should be:

{select zone from dns_records where zone = '$zone$'}

There you go. That's where that error comes from. Now hopefully the next person who hits this will be able to find an actual useful answer when they search for the error.

Horn Tootin': Isabell Long


Isabell Long, one of the awesome people I know through Ubuntu Women, is currently being featured by the BBC for creating GovSpark, a site to aggregate energy usage statistics from different branches of the UK government and compare them. Way to go, Isabell!

Help fund free culture


Musopen is a group that's been trying to release classical music that's long been out of copyright back into the public domain. How did it leave the public domain? Each recording is considered a new work, so just because the copyright has expired on the sheet music doesn't help all us lovers of Free Culture. The recordings are still copyrighted themselves. They're using Kickstarter to get money to hire professional orchestras to record classical music for the public domain. They've done this before, and they say that based on their price quotes "every $1000 buys a complete set of Mozart violin sonatas, or all of Chopin's mazurkas, ballades, or nocturnes."

If you want to support the public domain, or just plain if you're into classical music, why not give them some dough? This is a last-minute call. It closes in a few hours.

Takoma Park Folk Festival


Yesterday the DC LoCo Team was at Takoma Park Folk Festival yet again. This is the fifth year the team has been here. One man came over the table going "ok, that's a word from my part of the world. How are you using it?" Apparently he's from Zambia! He felt obliged to take an Ubuntu CD when we told him that it was started by a South African. We also had a visit from Mike Heney, who is running for office in this area and apparently uses Gentoo (he says because the IT people where he currently works know how to use Red Hat and Ubuntu, and this keeps them from interfering). Donna Edwards, who represents Maryland in Congress came up too, and she asked what we were about. Kevin started talking about open source in government. She said she definitely thought that was a good idea and expressed an affinity for Free Culture! She also lamented a future of walled gardens. I asked her to go against Disney when they start lobbying for more copyright extensions in a few years (Mickey expires in 2023, and government moves slow, so they'll start soon), because the Public Domain needs to be protected. A teacher with a computer lab full of Edubuntu machines in need of administration and nobody to do so visited the booth. Turns out her lab is about a 10 minute walk from the restaurant where we meet up each Saturday. We said to email the mailing list, and one of us would arrange to come by and get things moving smoothly again. Lots of existing Ubuntu users came up with questions, and thanks to the magic of 3G I was able to find answers to the harder questions. There were also lots of "oh I love Ubuntu!" "Did you know there was a local group?" "I had no idea." "Here's a list of a bunch of local Linux groups." We had lots of handouts "for students", "for educators", "for businesses", "for designers", "for publishers", etc. listing Free Software they could use, thanks to the Software Freedom Day folks. This was our 6-days-early celebration. Someone forgot to bring the little thing you can hold in your hand and click for each visitor, so our count of visitors is based on us attempting to remember to tally on a piece of paper. Of course, the hardest time to remember to tally or to count is when lots of people show up! We ended up counting about 120 visitors to the booth. That's about 30 fewer than in previous years, but given the rain in the early part of the festival and the continuing threat of it from the cloudy skies, no too bad. Someone else (me) forgot to bring the stickers though, so I can't blame too much. I did have copies of Ubuntu User and Linux Pro for people to flip through. I guess one of the organisers (possibly the one at the Information Booth who looked at my OLF shirt and said "oh, you must be with Ubuntu") knew that Free Software can be a bit of a religion for some, because we were put directly across from the Presbyterians', Quakers', and Jews' tables. There was a lot of back and forth between our table and the Quaker table, due to significant overlap between the local Quaker and Free Software communities. Annalee, the clerk of Takoma Park Friends Meeting, is working on learning Perl to contribute to Dreamwidth. Another fellow at their table, John, is someone I've seen around many LUG meetings and other events. And Arthur David Olson, who dutifully remained at their table the whole day, wrote the software that makes timezones work in UNIX and Linux: tzdata (aka the Olson Database). He also took this picture: See the rest of the album.From[...]

Ohio LinuxFest 2010


I'm on my way home from Ohio LinuxFest. Why'd I leave so early? Partly because my carpool wanted to, and partly because the DC LoCo is going to be at Takoma Park Folk Festival tomorrow. I told everyone I'd post my slides here, so they'll be below. Both of the talks I gave were ones I've done before. At the UbuCon, I gave the Ubuntu Development Processes talk that I gave for a local LUG a few months back with updated information. There are now 167 human members of ~ubuntu-dev, up from 147 when I gave the talk in May! Thanks goes to Alan Bell for his that let me pull down the full list of members and automatically exclude teams and duplicates. The talk I gave for the main OLF stuff was the security one from Southeast LinuxFest. It was slightly changed, but this time ran a lot shorter than last time. That's because I have neither the vocabulary nor the brainpower to go off on tangents while simcomming. Simcomm is short for "simultaneous communication." I gave the talk simultaneously in English and American Sign Language (ok, really, it was a bit of an ASL pidgin since I used English word-order—my grammar knowledge is little-to-none). I've never done that for a presentation before, just for conversations. While I did learn a bunch of new signs last week just for this (like "exploit", "vulnerability", "attack", "man in the middle attack", "internet", "infect", etc), I still needed to restrict my English vocabulary to things I could sign or for which I knew a sign that was a reasonable approximation. Because some words just plain don't have sign equivalents (at least not ones which my more-fluent-than-me friends know), I told those in the audience for which sign language is useful what signs I would be substituting, such as "horse" for "trojan" (get it?) and "fishing" for "phishing" (which really is the same concept anyway). By the way, "man in the middle attack" takes forever to sign. First assign a place in space for "you", then on the other side of your body assign a place in space for "computer" (as in the one you're trying to talk to), then sign "man" and motion that it exists somewhere in between those two places in space, then sign "attack." Because I was signing yesterday with Mel Chua of Red Hat (who I think thanked me two or three times for actually *gasp* accommodating her—she's my friend, I promised I would simcomm if she attended a fest where I was speaking), a few people came up and started signing to me. There were a surprising number of people who at least knew the manual alphabet well enough to do that. One person told me today that seeing the two of us chatting in ASL yesterday had him thinking I was deaf (so I guess I wasn't resorting to fingerspelling too much). I met a woman named Carol who used to teach at Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts university in the US (or world?) that's specifically for deaf and hard of hearing students. She says I did a good job of simcomming, so yay! As you can imagine, using two languages at once is a bit of work. Because I left early, she agreed to interpret for the questions asked of a speaker later this afternoon who is deaf, for whom I was doing a bit of interpreting yesterday. I think he had booked an interpreter of his own who then didn't show up. Mel, Carol, and I tried to convince my dad to take an ASL class since he's getting to be that age (the pitch of my voice has been lost on him for years already). We also discussed the possibility of organising an accessibility/deaf-and-hard-of-hearing track next year. Yes, my dad was there! He doesn't use Free Software at all, but I got him to[...]

Finding more women to speak at Ohio LinuxFest: success!


Cross-posted on Geek Feminism. Co-authored by Moose J. Finklestein, OLF's Content Chair. Some conference organisers will say "we didn't get any submissions from women" to explain the lack of women on their stages. As of two years ago, the Ohio LinuxFest was in that category. With a little outreach effort, and embracing diversity as a core value, the Ohio LinuxFest has successfully recruited more women to share their experience at OLF. How'd we do? While last year only five of the speakers at Ohio LinuxFest were women, out of a total of 31, this year 14 of the 38 speakers are women. That's a third of the conference speaking slots! One of the two keynoters is a woman. There were 107 talk proposals for the 27 general speaking slots. Before anyone tries to suggest that we simply took them all, it should be noted that a full 48% of the proposals for talks categorised as not assuming high levels of prior knowledge (making them suitable for the most attendees) were from women. We believe that much of this success is attributed to community outreach. This year, we contacted Ubuntu Women, Debian Women, LinuxChix, DevChix, and the FSF's Women's Caucus mailing list about the call for presentations, and did it have an effect! Recognising the various concerns women speakers can face, we tried to specifically address potential issues in the email sent to women-focused mailing lists. Some of these known issues include lack of confidence in new speakers, not being clear what the intended audience is, or the "imposter syndrome," where someone doesn't recognize that they are qualified to speak on a topic. The woman to woman dialog made the difference. We wanted to make sure people weren't refraining from submitting because they lack confidence in their technical abilities (an excuse we'd heard before), so we explained the attendees' demographics, hoping to get more proposals that would fill the gap we had for user-aimed talks. Ohio LinuxFest has everything from home desktop users who started using Ubuntu a week ago (or even that day!) to seasoned system administrators who love Slackware, Gentoo, or NetBSD. Nevertheless, beginner proposals have tended toward introduction to development topics, not leaving enough for people who want to be users, not developers. We also made sure to mention that it's a great crowd who is very welcoming of first-time speakers. Women are involved with more than just speaking at the Ohio LinuxFest. Beth Lynn Eicher has been actively involved as a director for 6 years now, and the current staff, all volunteers, is about 35% female. The Ohio LinuxFest takes pains to create a weekend conference friendly to all people, not just women. The diversity statement includes gender, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and even operating system -- folks who don't use Linux are just as welcome as those who love it. There are regularly talks about or including BSDs, interoperability in heterogeneous environments, and cross platform free software. Additionally, all speakers are instructed to keep the content of their presentations clean. The Ohio LinuxFest bills itself as a family friendly conference and aims to keep it that way. As an effort to make a positive effect with the community at large, the Ohio LinuxFest will host the second annual Diveristy in Open Source Workshop on September 12, 2010. Looking at the growing trend of more female influence on the OhioLinuxFest we'd like to see it be the leader for more women to attend and become more involved with other free software interests. For those interested in pretty graphs, I've been gr[...]

Sharing a shell and monitoring the other party


Recently, I had a reason to allow someone else to use a shell on a machine for which I'm the admin, but I wanted a way to track what they're doing. You might think the history command is just fine for this, but it's possible to clear the history, and I wouldn't want that. Screen to the rescue!

I ssh'd into the machine and created a new user for my visitor. Then I switched to that user. Once logged in, I ran screen -L, which logs the shell (both input and output) to ~user/screelog.0). Then I called up the user, gave them the IP address, username, and password. They logged in, and I told them to run screen -ls to see a list of open screen sessions. The output looks like this:

There is a screen on:
 2119.pts-0.marlyn (09/01/2010 06:32:03 PM) (Attached)
1 Socket in /var/run/screen/S-maco.

The next step was for them to type screen -x 2119.pts-0.marlyn Once they did this, we could each see what the other saw in our SSH session, and it was all logged. Great! I could keep track of what they were doing as they were doing it and review the logs later for a double check.

It's not a VCS though. If you know what directory they'll be operating in, you might want to run bzr init ; bzr add ; bzr commit -m "starting point" first, so you can later run bzr diff | less to see what files changed and keep a record of what changed, since while it might all seem perfectly logical while it's happening, recalling the exact changes won't be easy. The point of watching can be to catch them in the act if they try to do something that violates your security policy or to be given a demonstration.

EDIT: After a question in comments about how you keep them from opening another non-screen'd connection, my friend Peter suggested adding screen -xR to the user's ~/.bash_profile, so it forcibly connects to the screen session. Thanks, Peter!

ZaReason Terra HD


Jono wrote about his new ZaReason Strata, and Rich wrote about his new ZaReason something-else, so I figured I'd let you all know about the ZaReason Terra HD I said I wanted to order, now that I've had it about a month. Typing has turned out not to be a problem. This makes sense, if you compare the size of the keyboard to the one on my other ZaReason laptop, a 13" they sold in 2008 under the moniker "UltraLap," but which I call Betty. The only diffrence in width is the extra column of home/pgup/pgdn/end keys, which are Fn keys on this keyboard, and I got used to the gaps between keys. What's confusing me the most is that this has the Ctrl on the far left of the bottom row and Fn to the right of it, while on my old Gateway (Ada) and Betty have Fn on the corner and Ctrl to the right of it. I use Marlyn (the Terra, named after Marlyn Meltzer, another ENIAC programmer) a lot when on the bus to/from work, though, so it's actually on the other laptops that I screw up a lot. Oh, can you guess which thumb I use to type space? "Why do you use it on the bus to/from work?" you may ask. Well, it has a 3G modem built in! So, within an hour of taking it out of the box, I found myself at the T-Mobile store signing up for a SIM card. Some people say "eww, T-Mobile," but they're charging $40/mo for 5GB bandwidth that when exceeded just gets slower, while AT&T wants $35/mo for 2GB followed by overage fees or $60 for 5GB followed by overage fees. Easy choice there! Oh, and the other night when CopyNight was held at Teaism in Penn Quarter (yummy food, recommended!), I was the only one with reception in the basement. That's where I was when I posted the last blog post, actually. I like being able to IRC from the bus! This will be very handy when I'm at a family reunion next weekend with no wifi and Ohio LinuxFest (where I am speaking) the weekend after that, since the conference center always wants to gouge OLF for Internet access by charging thousands of dollars more than the con can afford to pay to provide access to attendees (resulting in wifi being unavailable). The one little thing bugging me is the MacBook-like lid. That is, it can't be laid out all the way flat like my other laptops' lids can. MacBooks always make me worry that someone is going to throw a shmooball or other projectile, hit the screen, and either A) snap it off or B) knock the laptop over. I hope B is more likely than A. I got it with Kubuntu Netbook Edition pre-installed, though I have since upgraded to Maverick which doesn't differentiate between plasma-netbook and plasma-desktop at install-time (meaning I have both interfaces available and can press a button to switch). As far as I know, ZaReason is the only company pre-installing Kubuntu or really any KDE-based distro. When I ordered it, I told Jonathan Riddell (Canonical's Kubuntu hacker), and his first question was "what OS is it coming with?" I said "Kubuntu Netbook," and he boggled and requested confirmation that I was serious. Not sure what else there is to say about it. With Firefox running and so refusing to let my SSD sleep (for some reason, Firefox writes to disk every few seconds) or give my CPU a break (yeah, don't get that one either), I get about 5 hours of battery life. I really wish Firefox wasn't such a resource hog. I may have mentioned before that they had a suspend/resume bug to fix before release. I actually ordered a red one and told them to send it unfixed, but the timing on red parts being shipped to the ZaReason shop was perfect for Canonical to inform them t[...]

Is packaging new software hard?


EDIT 1: Sorry Planet readers. I tried adding a "read more" thing to shorten it, but apparently that doesn't change the RSS feed, just the blog's front page. And yes, I will fix up the Ubuntu Wiki later. A common answer to my question about why people aren't packaging is that packaging is hard and the wiki is kind of lacking. Debhelper 7 and Source Version 3.0 (the new Debian packaging format) make things a lot easier. So is it hard? In the common case, no. EDIT 2:Switched from "native" to "quilt" since as pointed out in comments, it makes for a smaller upload and debuild can deal with directly-applied patches in the case that you don't know how to use quilt. Assuming the software you want to package uses something like Python distutils ( python build && sudo python install) or Autotools (./configure && make && sudo make install), Debhelper 7 makes things really straightforward. Backing up, there are 4 files necessary in the debian/ directory: rules control copyright changelog There are two more files you can include that act as a sort of metadata for what sort of package you're making: compat source/format Assuming you want to make a Source Version 3.0 quilt package with Debhelper 7 (this is pretty normal these days): Rename the original source tarball to have the form _.orig.tar.gz Unpack the source and change into the unpacked directory: tar xf foo_bar.orig.tar.gz && cd foo Make a debian directory and enter it: mkdir debian && cd debian/ Now it's time for those files EDIT TO ADD Generation Good news: The version of dh-make in Debian SVN appears to support Debhelper 7. Bad news It doesn't parse command line arguments properly. In the meantime, you can use the old one to generate everything but the debian/rules file. If only a single deb will be produced, and it's under the GPLv3, that'd be dh_make -c gpl3 -s Then you'll just delete files not listed above and the debian/rules file and instead put in a debian/rules containing what I'm about to tell you below. PS: I'm told dh_make is a pretty unclean way to do things. It's probably best if you just copy and paste the examples, then modify. debian/rules The boilerplate debian/rules file for standard build systems when you don't need to pass special configure options is: #!/usr/bin/make -f %: dh $@ Note that that is a tab, not a bunch of spaces, before the "dh". This used to be the most difficult file to write, which is why I used to use dh_make to generate it. Debhelper 7 made it so much easier! debian/control This one is long, but it's pretty easy to fill in the blanks. It's the only file of the bunch for which you might continue to need a reference. Here's how the control file should look: Source: foo Section: bar Priority: optional Maintainer: Foo Build-Depends: eeny-dev, meeny-dev, miney, moe, debhelper (>= 7) Standards-Version: 3.9.1 Homepage: Package: foo Architecture: all Depends: eeny, meeny, miney, moe Description: does stuff Foo does stuff blah blah blah blah to make things easier for users to do whatever they need to do. Long description here. Source package stanza Source: Put the source package's name. This should be the same as the package name on the orig.tar.gz. Section: For the list of valid Sections, see the Debian Policy Manual section on this. In Debian, you will put something like "non-free/kde" while in Ubuntu only the subsection (kde) is liste[...]

What are the barriers to walking the MOTU/Developer path?


I asked this on Ubuntu.StackExchange but only got 3 answers so far, so I wanted to put this a bit more publicly too. What keeps you from packaging, patching, etc? If you do those things, what keeps you from applying for upload rights?

About 150 people are members of lp:~ubuntu-dev right now. There are also a handful of people who haven't yet become MOTU or joined another developer team but do good work. More hands are always needed, so what's keeping the rest of you folks away from this area of contribution?

For reference, 150 is a pretty small number given about 30,000 packages. Debian has more like 1000 developers.

Feel free to answer here in the comments or on U.SE.

Kubuntu & Kubuntu Netbook 10.04.1 now available


The first point-release for Kubuntu and Kubuntu Netbook 10.04 is now available. If you've been putting off installing because of the number of updates you'll have to download, the good news is all updates, bug fixes, and security patches that have been released for these two versions of Kubuntu have been rolled into the new 10.04.1 disc images, saving you from spending hours on updates. Yay! Just visit the Get Kubuntu page on the new Kubuntu website to get yours.

If you're already running 10.04 and have been keeping up with your updates, you don't need to do anything. You're there!

Yes, there's updated Ubuntu ISOs too.

The Next HOPE


Last weekend was The Next HOPE (following from The Last HOPE) in New York City. HOPE stands for Hackers on Planet Earth and is a biennial conference put on by 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. The Wikileaks guy may or may not have shown up. Some online say he didn't. Someone else told me "oh yeah, he was sitting behind the Tesla stage drinking Club Mate all day Friday," so who knows. Apparently his keynote timeslot resulted in everything being timeshifted by one hour though. The physical security folks said he ran long. Though maybe it was a substitute who did so? I don't know. Kaminsky had another of the keynote slots, talking about SQL injection and the difference between programmer ways of thinking ("I'll just concatenate these strings here…") and programming-language-developer thinking ("We'll parameterize these, so they don't break anything…"). He made the very good point that the reason programmers ignore that parameterization stuff is that it's a pain in the neck to have to jump all around as you try to read the code figuring out "ok now insert first parameter…back up to code…second parameter…wait which one's the seventh parameter?" and outlined some ideas he has to make syntax programmers won't hate that can still fix the problem. And yeah, let's face it. Trying to escape every bad character is total Whack-A-Mole. A group of librarians were here talking about how to get FOSS into libraries. They had a very important tip: brush your teeth. If you show up looking like a caricature of a hacker, it's a bit hard for the librarians to take you seriously. So, look like you've bathed since last Tuesday and know what a toothbrush is. Yes, they mentioned Evergreen. Deb "freedeb" Nicholson from the Free Software Foundation spoke about why diversity is important to the growth of Free Software (hint: more diversity = more people!) and how to get there. In a similar vein, Nikki Neulist had a talk called "Hey, Don't Call That Guy A Noob: Toward a More Welcoming Hacker Community." She was talking about how new people provide new perspectives and if you're willing to just be helpful early on, they can end up really useful later. I think this is something we've tried to exemplify in the Ubuntu world, though I do still occasionally see some unwelcoming behaviour on IRC. Unfortunately, during her talk's Q&A, some guy thought it made sense to say tough cookies, this is our hacker culture and if your skin's not thick enough, you don't belong here. C4BL3FL4M3 and I started yelling at him from opposite sides of the room. How on Earth could "if you don't like our bad attitude, GTFO" fit in in a conversation about being welcoming? Why did he even attend if that's his attitude? Troll! The Vintage Computing talk ended in me dragging a 14 year old I was showing around to the Borders across the street to buy her a copy of Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution to give her more context about things like the Altair and the PDP-11. There were talks on "Color, Light, and Perception" and "Cooking for Geeks." In the former, I learned that magenta does not exist as part of the white light spectrum. You will not find it with a prism. It's not a single wavelength of light but rather a trick in our brains when red and blue wavelengths overlap. I also learned about additive colours, which is what the RGB colour model we use for defining colours on a computer screen is based[...]

Ubuntu Women t-shirt design + wallpaper


Probably a year or so ago, I made this design and submitted it as a possible Ubuntu Women t-shirt:

(image) (download SVG source—you'll need the old Ubuntu Title font to render the SVG properly)

Today I requested SVGs of the new logos popping up around the *buntusphere, and Martin Owens had them all so went and modified my design. I think it's beautiful!

(image) (download the SVG source —you'll need the new beta Ubuntu font to render the SVG properly)

He added flower petals around the logos, now that they're all perfect circles, and he even added a FLOSS flower to it! Love it! Lyz is looking into getting t-shirts made with this on it and how the Ubuntu trademark stuff factors in. Finally, Martin turned this into a really nice wallpaper:


All of the above is CC-BY-SA, but it's still subject to Canonical's Ubuntu trademark rules thanks to the Ubuntu logo in there.