Tuesday, September 29, 2009

T-Shirt Designs for the FSF

or perhaps

Some might prefer this one, I suppose.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est La Même Damned Chose...

I didn't attend LinuxCon this year for a variety of reasons—chief among them being that I'd have had to go straight to Portland from Amsterdam rather than get to visit my home—so I missed out on the talk by Mark Shuttleworth. I did read about it on the geekfeminism blog, however.

Sorry, Mark: explaining this stuff to anyone is hard, not just to "girls". Here we go again, falling into the bad and distancing habit of using women as the archetype of technical non-adeptitude. I do it myself: I've worked hard to break myself of the habit of using my mom or my daughter as someone who something is "easy enough for", with incomplete success. Moshiwake gozaimasen. Ganbarimasu.

Look, it's awfully easy to say bone-headed things: I've done it (and still do it, occasionally) and so have you. What's a lot harder is being able to step back from the knee-jerk need to defend oneself and look at the situation from the point of view of the person who's complaining about it.

(Let me also note that, in fact, not every single complaint of offense may have merit: I do not, personally, feel obligated to apologize to platypus fanciers for saying that platypi are funny-looking, or to creationists who are upset that I'm somehow abridging their freedom of religion by looking askance at mythology being taught as "scientific theory". However, my bar for having offended others is pretty low, "reasonable doubt" that the person's offense might be out-of-line, rather than my own perception of "preponderance of the evidence"...)

The appropriate response at that point is not to counsel the other person that they're wrong to feel offense, but to acknowledge their feelings (which doesn't mean agreeing with them) and to apologize. Not "I'm sorry that you're feeling offended", but "I'm sorry for having offended you", ideally with some actual sincerity. At that point, one is well-advised to rethink the behavior that caused the offense, and to find some more useful substitute behavior for future use.

I've met Mark several times, and I think he's an essentially reasonable guy. I hope, and expect, that he'll respond to Skud in a reasonable way. We'll see.

On a somewhat related note, I was interested to read the minutes of the FSF's "mini-summit" on increasing the participation of women in free software, with a stated mission "to increase women's participation in the free software movement and work to make sexism in person or online unacceptable within our community". Sadly, there's no suggestion among the various "Initiatives" along the lines of "Discourage FSF leaders and representatives from telling jokes in keynotes which portray women as in need of technical assistance of an intrusive and nonconsensual sort, from the sound of things". I'm a little surprised they missed that one, frankly.

I'm likewise fascinated at the performance of Bruce Perens on LWN in the discussion on the "mini-summit" there. Bruce is pretty sure that there's no problem at all, or at least no problem for us to address. Additionally, Bruce's experience as a white-water rafting guide apparently allows him to assure us that the sort of behavior that people are finding upsetting is caused by Asperger's Syndrome, and therefore cannot possibly be fixed, and it's wrong of us to draw attention to it. Interestingly, Bruce has also only encountered one single solitary woman in all his years who knew how to use EMACS. Says Bruce, "What I meant was that there are more women who hold technical jobs than there are women who so love the technology that they will work on it whether they get paid or not. That seems to be an especially male thing." You can't make this stuff up.

I was likewise not at the Boston "Software Freedom Day", but I read on the GeekFeminism wiki that a question regarding the Gran Canaria keynote was put to Mr. Stallman there, and he responded that "The person who brought that up seems to be a troll-like enemy of the free software movement." This was, by the way, the same event at which Mr. Stallman felt it necessary to label Miguel de Icaza "a traitor to the free software movement". (Was there a loyalty oath? I missed that...)

At least I'm in decent company. Maybe Miguel and I can get t-shirts made up or something.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The 2009 Open Source in Mobile Pub Quiz!

I was at the Open Source in Mobile conference in Amsterdam last week, both to present on "Strategies for Enabling Innovation with Open Source" and to act as quizmaster for this year's 2nd Annual Pub Quiz (and having done it two years running, I think it's an official "tradition" now...)

People expressed some interest in seeing the questions and answers, and I promised to post them here. Adam Shaw of Informa, the conference's producers, worked up the first four categories this year; the last four were mine. So, without further ado:

[Well, much further ado, anyway. Sorry for the remarkably idiotic markup problems, fixed now. The quiz started its life as a MS Word document from Adam Shaw to me, and stayed that way. The amount of nonsensical horsecrap that Word throws in with a simple paste is amazing, and the editor that Blogger provides you with doesn't help...]

Round 1- Sport

  1. Q-Due to superstition, what did Bjorn Borg not do during the Wimbledon fortnight?
    1. have sex
    2. wash his hair
    3. shave
    4. wear underpants
    A- Shave

  2. Q- Nigel Mansell won the World Drivers’ Championship for which Formula 1 team?
    A- Williams

  3. Q- Who was the first unseeded man to win the Wimbledon Singles title?
    A- Boris Becker

  4. Q- Which sports playing area is 2.7 metres by 1.5 metres?
    A- Table Tennis

  5. Q- In which country will the 2014 Football World Cup be held?
    A- Brazil

  6. Q- In 1988 who became the first boxer to have won world championships in five different weight categories?
    A- Sugar Ray Leonard

  7. Q- Which piece of sporting equipment is 3 inches in diameter and weighs 6 ounces?
    A- An ice hockey puck

  8. Q- At which sport did Scotland become world champions in 2005?
    A- Elephant Polo

Round 2- Geography

  1. Q- What is the home country of Van Morrison?
    A- Northern Ireland [NB: I want to acknowledge that this answer is disputed by Mr. David Neary, who informs me that Northern Ireland is a "province", not a country, and that Mr. Morrison was, in fact, born in the country of Great Britain the United Kingdom.]
    [NB: I want to further acknowledge that I know something between "jack-shit" and "fuck-all" about the geographical vagaries of the United Kingdom. Sorry for the Inconvenience.]

  2. Q- In which country was OPEC founded?
    A- Iraq

  3. Q- Which country is the world’s largest coffee exporter?
    A- Brazil

  4. Q-If you flew due east from New York City, what would be the first country you would reach?

  5. Q- Bollywood is the nickname for the Indian film industry. The film industry of which country is known as Lollywood?
    1. Pakistan
    2. Laos
    3. Portugal
    4. Luxembourg
    A- Pakistan (Lahore)

  6. Q- Paris attracts the most visitors in France each year. Which French town attracts 5 million visitors a year and has more hotels than any other French city except Paris?
    A- Lourdes

  7. Q- At 29,029 ft Mount Everest is the tallest mountain on Earth. The tallest mountain in our solar system is Olympus Mons on Mars. Plus or minus 10,000ft, how tall is Olympus Mons?
    A- 88,600ft, it stands 27kms above the surface level

  8. Q- What Mexican cactus is tequila made from?
    A- Agave

Round 3- Wordplay

  1. Q- What kind of mixed drink takes its name from the Hindi or Sanskrit word for five?
    A- Punch, from the Hindi word Panch as punch initially had 5 ingredients, spirit, sugar, lemon, water, tea

  2. Q- If you were awarded 10 points in the UK for using it but only 1 point in Poland, what would you be doing?
    A-Playing Scrabble with the letter Z

  3. Q- Which animal does a Hippophobe fear?
    A- Horses

  4. Q- Who wrote over and over again: ‘I will not yell she’s dead during roll call’
    A- Bart Simpson

  5. Q- The Toyota MR2 had to change its name in which European country?
    A- France- MR2 sounds like Merde

  6. Q- Which five letter word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?
    A- Short

  7. Q- What is the Romanian Word for ‘Son of the Devil’ or ‘Son of the Dragon’?
    A- Dracula

  8. Q- There exists only one word in the English language that when it is capitalised has a completely different meaning. What is that word?
    A- Polish, polish

Round 4- Entertainment

  1. Q- Which TV Shows spawned the following spin offs? (1 point per correct answer)
    1. Frasier
    2. Mork and Mindy
    A- Cheers and Happy Days
  2. Q- Which singer appeared on stage at both Wembley and Philadelphia during the Live Aid concert?
    A- Phil Collins

  3. Q- How is singer Paul Hewson better known?
    A- Bono

  4. Q- If you allow for inflation what is the highest grossing movie of all time?
    A- Gone With the Wind

  5. Q- How is Annie Mae Bullock better known?
    A- Tina Turner

  6. Q- What was the name of Anthony Edwards character in Top Gun?
    A- Goose

  7. Q- Who was the boxer portrayed by Robert De Niro in Raging Bull?
    A- Jake LaMotta

  8. Q- Which three presidents does Forrest Gump meet in the film Forrest Gump? (all three needed for a point)
    A- Nixon, Kennedy, LBJ

Round 5- Open Source Trivia

  1. Q- How many children does Linus Torvalds have?
    A- Two.

  2. Q- How is “dead beef” used in a running operating system?
    A- Freed memory is frequently overwritten with this value, which is guaranteed to generate a page fault if dereferenced (in, e.g., Solaris).

  3. Q- How many PhDs does Dr. Richard Stallman hold? How many are honorary?
    A- Six. All of them.

  4. Q- What is the birthday of the Linux kernel?
    A- August 21, 1991.

  5. Q- What was the first software project that Apple, Inc. released under an open source license?
    A- Rendezvous support for “zero-configuration” networking, later renamed “Bonjour”, under a BSD license.

  6. Q- What was the first “live CD” Linux distribution?
    A- Yggdrasil Linux/GNU/X (LGX), released in December 1992.

  7. Q- From where does the Jokosher project derive its name?
    A- It’s a play on the name of the project’s creator, Jono Bacon: Jo-no-bacon == jo-kosher.

  8. Q- The “Jargon File” has existed since 1975. What is it, and who maintains it?
    A- The Jargon file is a glossary of “hacker terminology”, originally created at Stanford, but great expanded at MIT. It is maintained by Eric S. Raymond.

Round 6- Geek Movies

  1. Q- What does an “oscillation overthruster” enable you to do?
    A- Drive through mountains/enter the 8th Dimension (Buckaroo Banzai)

  2. Q- How much power is required to energize a flux capacitor?
    A- 1.21 gigawatts (Back to the Future!)

  3. Q- What do the characters Elrond (from Lord of the Rings), V (from V for Vendetta) and Agent Smith (from The Matrix) have in common?
    A- All are played by Hugo Weaving

  4. Q- In what movie does a character save the day, exclaiming, “This is a UNIX system! I know this!”
    A- Jurassic Park

  5. Q- What 2001 movie featured Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, Eric S. Raymond and a host of other open source and free software luminaries?
    A- Revolution OS, directed by J.T.S. Moore

  6. Q- What was the first appearance of a laser in a motion picture?
    A- Goldfinger, 1964

  7. Q- What is the relevance of banging a radio antenna guy-wire with a hammer to the film Star Wars?
    A- Ben Burt used this sound for the blasts of the ray guns.

  8. Q- Where would you not go to buy a “phased plasma rifle in a 60-watt range”?
    A- 1984 Los Angeles (The Terminator)

Round 7- Technology Free-for-all

  1. Q- If you were to look at “NMEA data”, what would you be looking at?
    A- GPS information.

  2. Q- The third time definitely wasn’t the charm for this well-known computer company. What is this a reference to?
    A- The Apple ///, released in 1980, proved to be extremely unpopular. It’s the only computer Apple ever produced which was replaced by one with a lower model number (the Apple IIe).

  3. Q- What does “DLNA” refer to?
    A- The “Digital Living Network Alliance”, a standard used by manufacturers of consumer electronics to allow entertainment devices within the home to share their content with each other across a home network.

  4. Q- Which of the following has not been used to access the internet: carrier pigeon, semaphore, morse code, catapult?
    A- Catapult

  5. Q- ENIAC, the US Army computer which ran continuously from 1947 to 1955, was based on vacuum tubes. How many did it contain (to the nearest thousand)?
    A- 17,468

  6. Q- Smalltalk was originally designed to be run on a specific device aimed at giving children access to digital media. What was the name of that device?
    A- The “Dynabook”, designed by Alan Kay.

  7. Q- When was the notion of “hypertext” first proposed?
    A- In a 1945 Atlantic Monthly article by Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”, which described a proposed device called a “Memex”.

  8. Q- Tim Berners-Lee is credited with the development of the world-wide web. When did Berners-Lee first propose the “WorldWide Web”?
    A- In November, 1990.

Round 8- Name that Distro!

(Visual round: teams had to correctly identify the distro from its logo)

  1. Q-
    A- Xandros

  2. Q-
    A- Mepis

  3. Q-
    A- Gentoo

  4. Q-
    A- Mandriva

  5. Q-
    A- Arch

  6. Q-
    A- Knoppix

  7. Q-
    A- Kubuntu

  8. Q-
    A- Puppy Linux

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Disappearing Desktop

[This posting was originally published on the LiMo Foundation blog...]

The “desktop” has been getting all the attention for the past score of years or so, and it was a big improvement from the “command line”, which is what we had to deal with prior to that. The desktop metaphor opened up all kinds of possibilities for people who had never used computers before, and unleashed a wave of new applications development the likes of which had never been previously seen.

But the desktop itself—the notion of the “computer” as a completely general-purpose device, a sort of “Swiss Army knife”, if you will—is itself an artefact of the fact that, at the time the metaphor hit the street, as it were, computers were extremely expensive devices; few people could afford to have more than one of them. However, times have changed and are still changing, in dramatic ways.

Computing power is cheaper than ever: if you compare a current cell phone (at around $400) with a desktop system of five years ago (at around $2500), they’re remarkably comparable in terms of their general specifications. In fact, the phone does more, in terms of being able to support GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi and other capabilities right out of the box; it probably has at least as much memory and, more than likely, a larger amount of mass storage. We don’t, however, tend to think of it as a “computer”.

Don Norman has observed that the more skilful we become at using a technology, the less visible the technology itself becomes, as it gets subsumed into the purpose to which it’s being put. When cars were new technology, you had to be an automobile mechanic to own one; the same was true of bicycles before that.

Open source development grew up in an environment where the desktop was the landscape in which one worked. But that’s a landscape that’s becoming increasingly less relevant. The sale of cell phones and mobile devices of increasing sophistication and capability has far outstripped the number of “desktops” being shipped each year. However, our understanding of development models and use cases hasn’t really kept pace with that.

There’s a great potential opportunity, one which we’re at the very beginning of seeing realized, for open source developers in the increasing number of Linux-based phones coming onto the market, and it’s measured in hundreds of millions of potential customers a year. Right now—and unlike the classic desktop market—there’s no entrenched “winner” in the mobile device space. There’s less likely to ever be one, since the investment people make is smaller and they’re more prone to replace a cell phone than a desktop or laptop system. People’s investment in applications for their smart phones also tends to be smaller than for their desktop systems: they tend to have fewer applications, and those applications are cheaper in cost.

Successful development for mobile devices calls for a rather higher standard of quality than we’ve typically been used to delivering in the open source world. In an environment where it was at least tacitly expected that everyone was capable of programming, the assumption developed that, if a problem wasn’t bothering me, then it wasn’t my problem; those whom it did bother could fix it if they liked. That won’t work on the mobile devices your grandfather and your teenagers use. This is an area where partnership between open source community-based efforts and the work of carriers and device manufacturers could be especially fruitful: the folks who make up the membership of organizations like the LiMo Foundation have a lot of experience here.

Another difference is the target audience and understanding the expectations of that audience. Open source development began as, in essence, a hobby: people wrote code for themselves and, eventually, for one another. But they were always writing for people who had a technical skill set and a certain level of ability with it. This made for a very different outlook than the one which is required to develop for end users and for consumers. We’ve learnt a pretty good amount about this in the community, especially over the past five years or so, but there’s still a long way to go. This is an area where collaboration with device manufacturers and carriers, who have long experience (not always good experience, admittedly) in things like usability, can really pay off.

But successful development for the mobile world requires—even more importantly—an entirely different way of thinking about how applications are used and even what applications actually are! As the various activities in our lives leave increasing online “impressions” (e.g. By our writing movie reviews, or purchasing books online, or engaging in various “social networking” activities). the ability of applications and web-based activities to interact, support and reinforce one another will enable new sorts of capabilities on the devices we use the most. I can already be notified (by a web site which tracks airplane flights) when one of my flights is delayed, and I can reschedule myself onto a different flight—all from my phone. I can take a photo of a business card, have it OCR’ed, added to my contacts, and then synchronized to a web-based server, so that it ultimately winds up on my desktop system—all from my phone. (It’s impossible for me to ever lose a contact any more: I have too much redundancy.)

This is an area that is evolving now, and evolving so rapidly, that no one has really been able to get their head around it yet. People continue to ask whether “the future” is “on the web” or “on the device”. The answer, as usual, is “yes”—and new potential applications like “augmented reality” are underscoring that—how that evolution plays out is the key area in which I expect to see organizations like LiMo working increasingly with the open source community as we discover what “computers” are going to be like as we become less and less directly aware that they are computers.

The “desktop” is increasingly going away, except for fairly specific, usually business-related uses. Outside the US, many more people are already accessing the internet from their phones rather than from a desktop system. As social networking, online shopping and content creation become even more important, the devices which will be most important to us are those which are supporting those activities, the devices we spend the most time with, the ones we carry around with us.

We used to talk about “the paperless office’, and—in some ways, anyway—it sort of happened: I don’t get a lot of paper bills and other documents as I used to anymore; now, they’re web pages of PDF files. On the other hand, my desk has vanished...