Back to the future

Unbeknown to my daughter Mimi — and being the Ubuntu user that she is, sadly I don’t think she reads what her Dad writes in this blog (and if she does, well, consider the surprise spoiled) — she’s about to inherit yet another of Dad’s hand-me-down computers.

First things first: I currently use a ZaReason Alto 3880 laptop, which is a remarkable machine that, sadly, ZaReason doesn’t make anymore — time and improvements march on, and ZaReason has advanced this laptop series to the current Alto 4330.

My daughter, though, has been using for the past few years my old ThinkPad R40, a very sturdy, utilitaran and well-traveled laptop judging by all the stickers on the cover.

Enter a new development: Steam and Valve are ramping up gaming in Linux, and the old R40 — great for her artwork and creating 8-bit music, which takes up most of her digital life — has, well, performance issues when it comes to the higher horsepower needed for games. Her interest in games goes beyond playing them, and with this in mind, I’d like for her to have the better hardware when pitching in on the projects she wants to explore.

Personally, I blame Gabe Newell for Mimi wanting newer hardware, but never mind. Also, for those of you keeping score at home, shelling out for a new ZaReason laptop is out of the question until, at least, Christmas (especially after last week’s $600 car repair which we will not discuss. Ever).

So after saving a ThinkPad T42 from recycling doom recently, I’ve put Waldorf on it — the CrunchBang-11-20121015-i686 version, which works flawlessly (with one caveat, mentioned below) — and I’ll hand down the ZaReason to Mimi.

Now, you go girl.

In the past in other blogs, I’ve said that I am a ThinkPad guy and I have always loved the form factor. That hasn’t changed, and though I’m turning over the keys to the sports car to my daughter and relegating myself to the station wagon, I feel at home with almost any model of ThinkPad.

So back to the hardware I love while looking to the future.

One more thing: There have been installation issues in the past with Waldorf — and, for some reason, it seems to be happening mostly (if not solely) on ThinkPads — where the installation will hang at the “detect disks” point. It came up again yesterday with this current install, and while there’s an extensive discussion involving solutions here, my solution was more simple and straightforward: Disable floppy in the BIOS.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research (RDR), a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment. RDR is based in Felton, California, USA.

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‘No thanks. I got Linux’

Windows 8 will be unleashed, Kraken-like, on an awaiting public on Oct. 26, which is this Friday. For US$79.99 — let’s just round that up to US$80 — one can get the latest version of the Windows operating system which, by many reports, is not ideal yet not as bad a some of the other products Redmond has forced upon the public in the past.

Fellow CrunchBanger merelyjim posted this thread on the CrunchBang Talk forum under the title, “No thanks. I got Linux” where he thinks that this $80 can be better spent elsewhere — like on your current distro or your favorite FOSS program.

I urge you to read the full text on the link above or read merelyjim’s original blog item, but I’ll let merelyjim drive here:

“It’s hard to express what Linux has done for me. I’ve learned more with Linux than I ever did with Windows. I’ve been part of dynamic communities that have engaged in passionate arguments, clever discussions, and crazy flame wars. Like family, you take the crazy (um… that would be me) with the funny. Instead of just allowing me to ‘try and make things work’ on my own, there were those who tried to nudge me along the right path, even when I didn’t want to see it. I have undying gratitude for those who were willing to share their time and experience with me, even though I never knew them in real life.

“So, on October 26th, 2012, instead of giving Microsoft $79.99 for Windows 8 upgrade, I’m going to donate the same amount to the Linux-distro I use the most.

“I invite you to join me in doing this.

“I don’t really care which distro; we’re all family. If you’d prefer, donate to a specific Open Source project, instead. As long as you give something that lets Paypal, Amazon, of Flattr know that something’s going on that day. If you can’t give monetarily, at least spread the word.

“I want the Linux community to show Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Oracle that we matter, we care for each other, and there are a lot more of us than they think. If you contribute, I hope you’ll e-mail or tweet whomever manufactured your machines so they’ll know you use their hardware running a Linux kernel.”

Amen to that, merelyjim.

There are a wide variety of projects you can donate to in the FOSS realm. Start with your distro of choice, even if it’s not CrunchBang. Use a particular FOSS program often and find it useful? Most programs have donation links. There are even some projects that are not software related that deserve special mention: REGLUE, formerly the HeliOS Project, provides Linux-based computers to underprivileged kids in the Austin, Texas, area; Partimus puts Linux-based computers in schools in the San Francisco Bay Area; and one project that I find important is Beth Lynn Eicher’s effort to bring Edubuntu-based computers to schools in Ghana.

For those who do not have money to donate — been there, done that — you can always donate time, which in many cases can be more valuable than currency. If you program, there are places where you can pitch in on distros and FOSS programs across the board. Don’t program? Don’t worry — many projects have needs beyond the 0’s and 1’s that include things like documentation (for the writers out there), design (for the artists), translation (for the multilingual) . . . the list goes on. If you have a special skill set, programming or non-programming, there’s something for you to do.

Got some ideas on where to donate? Post them in the comments.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research (RDR), a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment. RDR is based in Felton, California, USA.

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With great power . . .

. . .comes great responsibility: You’ve heard this before from a variety of sources, and if you’re observant, you’ve even seen this on a wide range of Debian installs or when logging in as root on a terminal.

With great power comes great responsibility. Although the sentence structure leaves a lot to be desired, it’s very simple concept, to be sure. Unfortunately, though, it’s a concept that seems to be lost on a few people who seem to think that the CrunchBang forums are a do-whatever-you-want, it’s-all-about-me space where anything goes.

CrunchBang has a pretty clear statement of forum etiquette which can be found here. Don’t want to go to the link? I’ll make it easy for you, because it’s only three paragraphs — not a long read.

It says:

“The PRIMARY aims of the #! forums is for users to share information and help each other with CrunchBang/Debian related issues. The Off-Topic section is provided as a courtesy for members but we expect our members to exercise some common sense when posting in there. We do not want our forums to be associated with porn, drugs, criminal activities or any other topic which may inadvertently cause offence to another forum member who reads the thread. If it is deemed to be unsuitable, then a moderator will close the thread. When a moderator closes a thread, that decision is final. The moderator will explain the reason behind closing a thread and if any members then decide to open a new thread discussing why a previous thread has been closed, then that member will face a ban.

“Our moderators give their time freely, with little or no thanks and certainly no financial reward. They perform a difficult task at times, and therefore deserve our support as they carry out their moderating duties. We do not expect them to be vilified by the community for any decisions that they make.

“We are all for free speech but at our heart we are a friendly, helpful forum community and I would like to see us stay that way. If these terms are not acceptable to you, please feel free to leave at any time.”

These are fairly simple concepts to grasp — fairly easy guidelines to follow — and especially the last paragraph emphasizes the kind of community CrunchBang strives to be. If anyone is unclear about the preceding three paragraphs, I’d be glad to explain anything that might be unclear if you want to leave a question in the comment section of the blog.

Want to drop an f-bomb? Depending on the context (and if not just for “shock value”), personally I might be OK with that, though bear in mind I am not the only moderator. Want to complain about the way we do things here? Fine, as long as it fits the guidelines. Want to put snarky signature lines in your forum posts? Go for it, if that floats your boat, and as long as it doesn’t violate any of the conditions in the Forum Etiquette post.

Compared with some of the other distro and FOSS program forums, those who post in the CrunchBang forums get a far wider latitude than they would in other forums, and users are not subjected to the draconian decisions handed down by other forums. Not only this, the CrunchBang moderators — to their credit — go above and beyond in engaging those who might have erred by intiating off-forum communications, whether these communications are acknowledged or not.

I mention the “With great power . . .” quote for an important reason. Many of those who have been involved with CrunchBang for any significant amount of time have noticed that the popularity of the distro is rapidly growing, and with the “great power” of a growing distro — and the growing community that surrounds it — comes the “great responsibility” to be excellent to each other as a community. Like a European football team promoted to a higher league*, the distro is moving in the right direction, and like an American baseball player being called up to the Major Leagues, there’s a degree of responsibility that gets ratcheted up with the promotion.

A profound majority of those participating in the CrunchBang forums and in the CrunchBang community, to use yet another sports metaphor or two, have stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park. The CrunchBang forums, thanks to the outstanding community behind it, contains a remarkably miraculous wealth of information, and the community supporting it serves as a textbook case of how helpful people can combine their talents with the talents of others to bring everyone up together.

I understand that most of you get this, and personally I’m grateful beyond words to be part of this community.

Yet this is why it’s laughable to think the moderators here are being “censors” or “fascists” or “authoritarian.” If you think they are, you might want to look up those words.

But before you do that, you might want to look up “community” and understand the concept behind that word.

* OK, to those on my side of the Atlantic, European football teams — or what we in the States would call soccer teams — graduate to a higher division, or conversely are relegated to a lower division, depending on their performance during the course of the season. Yes, I’m out of my element in using this comparison, but I’m hoping the Britons and those in Europe get this comparison.

Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research (RDR), a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment. RDR is based in Felton, California, USA.

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You can’t please everyone

I’ve never met him personally, but I’ve had the pleasure of exchanging e-mails and Google+ conversation with Dietrich Schmitz, a Free/Open Source Software advocate in New York.

Until recently, Dietrich had been using CrunchBang and saying nice things about the distro online. But because he discovered that Waldorf is not supporting the Linux kernel 3.5 seccomp-bpf sandbox, he’s moving on to another distro.

Security is big with Dietrich, and I respect that. Apparently without seccomp-bpf, Waldorf for him is a non-starter. From his missive on G+, he says:

“In this situation, I petitioned the lead developer at CrunchBang to give seccomp-bpf his consideration for a ‘backport’. After a few weeks, the developer came back with a reply to the effect that he had his hands full with development centered around CrunchBang’s ‘OpenBox’ gui environment without adding the burden of this request. He offered that Debian, the upstream provider of his CrunchBang kernel, would address routinely any and all security issues.

“Of course Debian will, and, of course, as we all well know they are like ‘Vermonters’ who get around to it ‘when I wanter’ which translates in some cases to ‘when hell freezes over’. So, I was left with the distinct impression that +Philip Newborough was taking a ‘hands-off’ approach and was non-plused by the issue, deferring to Debian to handle.”

While it’s a valid opinion, I would strongly disagree with this assessment. To say not including seccomp-bpf is a shortcoming in CrunchBang is incredibly wide open to debate. I trust Philip Newborough on this one, and I think his position in deferring to Debian on this — waiting for Debian to make that call to include it — is the best way to handle this for CrunchBang, as well as the best way for any other Debian-based distro to handle this.

While I’m sorry it doesn’t fit Dietrich’s standards for security, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to wait for Debian’s lead on this, and I’d be willing to bet they’ll get to it well before hell freezes over.

Not only this, I know several Vermonters and I haven’t met one I didn’t like. In fact, Vermont has the nation’s best senator in Washington, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and the state makes the best mass-produced ice cream.

But back to the point: Dietrich took his proverbial ball and went to another playground, and he is right to go with a distro that suits his needs. That’s what Linux and FOSS are all about. It’s not CrunchBang, but as far as I’m concerned, it deserves nothing more than a shrug and a “c’est la vie.” Choice is good: It’s a good thing that there are about 320-plus distros out there, so we all can get what we want. Fortunately, the number of distros out there affords us the luxury to be this flexible with our choices.

You can’t please everyone, and that’s fine. For me, CrunchBang is still atop my list of recommended distros.

Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research (RDR), a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment. RDR is based in Felton, California, USA.

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Throwing off the training wheels

It has been over two months since I posted — hope all of you enjoyed the quiet — and I can only plead guilty to being extremely busy over the last several weeks with various family duties, teaching my Python course for middle/high schoolers and general curveballs that life throws at one when one isn’t paying attention.

But I digress.

While Philip Newborough gets the latest version of CrunchBang up and running — and while the community tests and hacks around this upcoming version, of course — many folks have been taking a look at CrunchBang and liking what they see. Many of them who decide to take the plunge are first-time Linux users, according to their introductions in the aptly named “Introduction” forum.

Normally, I cringe when a new Linux user starts off with CrunchBang. Perhaps the cold sweat that beads on my brow comes from my own experience with trying to compile Gentoo as the third distro I tried sometime in 2006; in the six years of using Linux and FOSS, I’ve never gotten Gentoo to run (Gentoo folks, don’t flame me: Clearly it’s operator error in this case and has nothing to do with your outstanding distro. Honest). I can’t remember the fourth distro I tried, but I would be willing to bet it was a galloping retreat to something very easy to install and run.

Yet several days ago, the CrunchBang community member known to all as pvsage posted something on one introductee’s thread that changed my mind about CrunchBang being only for experienced Linux users. I can’t find pvsage’s post to quote it directly, but I can paraphrase it. It said something to the effect of, “Well, if you came to learn Linux, CrunchBang is the place to be.”

And he is absolutely right. I am taking another look at pointing new users to something more familiar to their Windows/Mac “comfort zone.” It’s very easy to point someone to Ubuntu or Linux Mint or Fedora (yes, Fedora — those who say it’s too “cutting edge” for new users haven’t used it lately) and say, “come back when your ready for CrunchBang.” But I now realize that this is very short-sighted, to say nothing of cheating the inspired new user to learn the wealth of information our Debian-based distro provides.

So I’m changing my tune, so to speak: For those who are interested in learning and growing with a distro, you’re definitely in the right place. The forums are a great place to find answers, both those that have already been answered — use that handy, dandy search field in the upper right — or those that haven’t been given yet and are waiting for the right question to be asked. Also, as an aside, it’s important “how” you ask the question, and I wrote about this a while ago here.

Besides, it’s not like we’re throwing you in to the deep end of the pool and saying to you, “now, swim.” That would be Gentoo (OK, last Gentoo joke, guys and gals. Don’t flame me).

So, again, if you’re a “newb” and you really, really like CrunchBang as your introduction to Linux, and you are inspired enough to learn how Linux works, then by all means, you’re in the right place with CrunchBang. Training wheels are not needed here.

Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.

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