Tag Archives: Open Source

ResNet 2008: Last 2-3 Days

I’m not good with titles, but that really sums up what this is about.  I wrote about Friday already, now here’s Saturday through today (at least so far).

Saturday was the PDS sessions.  I learned about my DISC profile, which was a very worthwhile session.  It actually gave me some insight into what kind of person I am and what kind of manager I am.  It should help me quite a bit at work, once I go through and read the information more closely of course.  The second session wasn’t quite what I thought it would be and I wish I had signed up for the session on dealing with difficult people (since my job is 90% dealing with difficult people).  It was about balancing your life, which is something I think I do pretty well already.  While I might check my work email quite a bit at home when I’m not on vacation, it never gets in the way of enjoying my time away from the office.  So that session wasn’t really worth my time.  I was thinking it was more about balancing everything at work, which is something I could use some help with.  Maybe next year they’ll have something like that (I should suggest it).

Saturday night began the conference.  There was an opening reception with a lot of appetizers that were all really good.  There were some desserts and some really good juices, a lemonade made with some kind of mint and an iced tea with something in it that I just couldn’t figure out.  There was also a large spider, which I can’t include a pic of because I used my phone to take it and I can’t send picture messages from it up here.  During the reception, they had arranged for an Irish dance school to give us a little show.  The kids were young, but they could dance.  It was like a little Michael Flatley dancing with his people.  It was fun, but I forgot my camera and my phone camera just couldn’t cut it.

Following the reception, I went downtown with a bunch of people to a bar called Dolan’s Pub.  They had a live band called Barnacle and some pretty good local beer from Pump House in Moncton, NB.  The band played all covers, but it was a great mix of everything, including Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Great Big Sea (a Canadian band from Newfoundland), Sublime, Steve Miller, and a bunch of American 80’s music.  People were dancing.  Now there was a bachelorette party there and they wanted the bachelorette to do some crazy things.  I won’t go into details, but let’s just say there was some undergarment removal and a table dance involved… at our table.  I didn’t get back until 1:30 or so.

The next day was the keynote.  Stephen Downes gave the speech.  It was a great speech.  The guy looks just like David Crosby crossed with Arlo Guthrie.  He was a riot… at least for the first half.  He had this neat comment system on his website that he showed us.  It would display comments for 10 seconds and then move to the next one.  We had some fun with it, but some people were a little mean.  The best comment was “Did you play in a band with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash?”  The second portion of his speech was about Web 2.0.  I have already been to 2 or 3 sessions on that alone and this just wasn’t necessary for a bunch of people who are likely intimately familiar with it.  The first portion was about new ways of using the web and what young people expect of the web and internet services nowadays.

There were also 2 presentation sessions.  I attended one which was ultimately about a re-org of the department, but really hit on some good points on how to make the department great, including losing the various groups within a department and getting it to work more as a single entity than as a bunch of smaller groups.  The second one I attended was about making the Helpdesk better, but again was more about a Helpdesk re-org than what I thought it would entail, as the description mentioned a discussion of hiring and training and those were only minor points.

That was followed by the Geek Olympics.  I ended up on a team again this year and our team won (I did it last year and we came in second by just a hair)!  We had people from Stony Brook University on Long Island, Cal State in Chico, and NC State on our team.

This morning was the presentation I was working on with Sean Ward of Bowling Green State University in Ohio.  It was called “The Pros and Cons of Computer Requirements (or lack thereof)”.  It started out as a panel of 4 and ended up just being the 2 of us.  We went through our presentation in about half an hour or so, but there was a lot of discussion, which we hoped would happen.  It ended up being a pretty good presentation if you ask me.  I then went to a presentation about ConPortal, an open source web-based scheduling and time clock system originally created at Pomona College, but added to by Bucknell University.  It’s something I hope to implement, perhaps this year, though maybe next after I start requiring training (unless I require training towards the end of Winter Break).

The rest of today was left to do whatever.  I went for a walk with Sean and other guy from BGSU downtown, over a cool foot bridge that goes over the St. John river (it used to be a railroad bridge), and to a liquor store to buy some beer.  I didn’t find Péché Mortel as I had hoped, but they did have the whole Picaroons lineup.  I bought a bottle of each of the six beers they had from Picaroons and will be taking them back home with me.  The walk totaled about 7 miles, including 1.6 miles carrying the beer (I’m not going to try to put that in kilometers, even though that’s the official measurement here in Canada).

Now is time for rest and relaxation.  As we’re on our own for dinner, I’ll be headed back downtown, but my feet hurt and I need a break.

Wikis, Blogs, and Forums Oh My!

We’ve been working on a new project at work to bring more engagement from our users.  To do this, we’re jumping on the buzzword bandwagon and incorporating some Web 2.0 technologies into our department’s web presence.  Being one of the youngest and least resistant to change, I’ve been taking the lead on this.  I figured I’d post some of my experiences with some of the various tools I’ve been using.  Everything is still a work in progress, but once it’s complete, I’ll post some final thoughts.

The biggest part of the new stuff is the wiki.  If you don’t know what a wiki is, it’s basically a dynamic website editable by anyone (who has an account).  We’re using this to write up all sorts of documentation and make it easy for others to post documentation that they have.  We’re looking to build a huge knowledgebase of all the information people from various departments have.  We’re not currently limiting it to IT-related stuff because people have other questions (and we get calls about pretty much anything from the people on campus).   I started playing with MediaWiki, probably the most popular wiki software available, used by Wikipedia.  It was easy to install and get started, but configuring user accounts and doing any maintenance and configuration required playing around with MySQL commands rather than incorporating it all into a nice web-based GUI.  I gave up on that and tried TWiki.  This just didn’t work well at all and I was never able to get it up and running.  So I gave up and looked into PHPWiki.  This was just ugly and not robust enough for my needs.  I finally decided to give a tool suggested to me by the Frymaster, Deki Wiki from MindTouch.  This was a very user-friendly, easy to configure and maintain wiki.  It’s all PHP/MySQL based, and open source.  It looks nice, it doesn’t use some crazy wiki markup like MediaWiki (imagine that, actual HTML to write for the web), and we have people using it already.  If you’re just setting up a wiki and don’t know what to use, give DekiWiki a try.

The blogging software was a no-brainer.  I’m using WordPress here and it’s so simple, I just set it up for work.  I’m using the latest version with the latest version of K2 (though I edited the CSS to give it the look I want, along with a very awesome header/title image).  Not much else to report about that because I didn’t even have to think.  I’m probably going to turn this into the front page for our department site.  We’ll have news about new technology on campus, new services, security/virus alerts, and weekly random tech tips based on the calls we get.

Finally, the forum… I first played around with PunBB and while it’s nice, there’s not as much along the lines of support for it on the web and it doesn’t do everything I wanted it to (like integrate with Active Directory/LDAP) without add-ons (I like extensible software for my own purposes, but for something like this, native ability trumps extensions and plug-ins).  So I setup PhpBB3.  I found a nice theme (I can’t recall what I’m using) and played with the title and colors and it looks great.  I haven’t played with the AD integration, but it has that ability.  It has a lot more options, such as polling and better user controls.  It’s a bit big and intimidating at first, but once you get used to where everything is, it’s easy.  PunBB had a simpler administrative control panel, but you couldn’t do as much.  We’ll likely use this as a tech support forum where people ask questions and others can help answer or we can or we can point them in the right direction.  And it’ll all be archived for others to search.

So that’s about it for now.  This should all come together towards the end of the summer.  I’m hoping I get to completely replace our current website with the new stuff I’m playing with.  The fun part will be migrating stuff from my test environment to the production server.

Pidgin Forked

My favorite IM client for Windows and Linux, Pidgin, has been forked. Reading through Slashdot, I came across an article stating this. I found it quite odd that Pidgin would fork. Anyway, I actually took issue with the “feature” that caused the fork.

Upon upgrading to version 2.4.0, I found that the text input box was set at 1 line, and I could not resize it. Apparently, this is a new feature. The input box is supposed to grow automatically as you enter more text. Personally, I would find that extremely distracting. However, instead of giving in to the actual users of Pidgin, the developer, Sean Egan, simply argued why this feature is important and the good it will bring. He and only a couple others went on to explain that IM is meant for small messages, yet people who write code use it to send code back and forth quickly rather than use email (which is something I have used it for). In what could have been an easy fix with version 2.4.1 and a user-selectable option to allow resizing of the text input, the developers allowed it to be forked to FunPidgin (as of this writing, that site is also not working, so here’s a link to the project page), which is simply what my idea for 2.4.1 should be – Pidgin 2.4.0 with a re-sizable text input area.

It seems that this fork was completely unnecessary and the developers (aside from the one who forked off) are being stubborn and arrogant in telling people how they should and should not be using IM. I find it quite annoying, actually, that the developers chose to go down this path rather than simply giving in and making it an option. But the beauty of open source software is that you can easily fork off when the developers pull this kind of crap.

Anyway, here’s a link to the actual discussion (which was posted to their bug tracking system) and to the Google cache of that in case it’s still Slashdotted.

Different, but better, type of review of Ubuntu Linux

I came across this “review” of Ubuntu Linux 8.04 Hardy Heron this morning.  The reviewer doesn’t go and review it as a Linux user.  Instead, he sits his girlfriend in front of it and has her perform a series of twelve tasks.  He didn’t tweak the install at all.  He only created an account for her.  He added no software.  This is simply a base install.  Basically, he wanted to rate the usability of the new version.  The article made for a great read.

Now, the comments are split about 50-50 with half saying that this was a great read and a great experiment in the usability of the “most usable” Linux distribution.  The other half weren’t so kind.  They went on saying that if she wasn’t used to Windows, she’d be able to use it just fine or that if she wants a usable *nix, she should use MacOS X.  It’s the stuff you hear over and over from the zealots.  It’s stuff that just doesn’t need to be said.  The fact remains, however, that the vast majority of people who would care have used a computer before (very few people in the civilized world have not) and the vast majority of those came from Windows.  It’s a good test, if you ask me.  His conclusion is that it’s not ready for mainstream desktop use.  I agree with him, though I’ll take it a step farther and say that it’ll never be ready for mainstream desktop use.  That’s not a bad thing.  I like Linux for what it is and what it does, but because there are so many different distributions and so many different window managers and desktop environments, without a lot of tweaking, it’s just not for the average computer user.  Sure, distributions like Ubuntu do most of the tweaking for you, but you get only the tweaks they deem necessary.  Without a nice budget like Microsoft of Apple have, it’s not an easy task.  The best suggestion the author makes is having an initial window open up (much like in Windows and I think MacOS X) that asks you what you want to do.  It’d be a nice welcome screen that lists various tasks and helps new users find what they want.

I originally found the article on Slashdot.

MPAA Forced to Comply with GPL

In an awesome bit of irony, the MPAA was forced to comply with the GPL.  The MPAA had created a toolkit for universities to use to spy on their students.  Basically, it was a piece of spyware that the universities could install on their network.  The software allowed them to check to see if the students were illegally sharing or downloading movies.  The toolkit was based off Xubuntu, a port of Ubuntu, a distribution of Linux a free and open source operating system released under the GNU General Public License (GPL).  The GPL requires that any changes made to the source code of GPL’d software be made available along with the compiled software.  The MPAA, obviously not wanting some nosy student to figure out how their toolkit works, decided not to make the source available.

Not being happy with this, Ubuntu developer Matthew Garrett decided to contact the MPAA and ask them to remove the link to the toolkit or make the source code available to be in compliance with the GPL.  After several attempts to contact the MPAA without response, he contacted their ISP, explained the issue, and had the link removed.  The University Toolkit site now no longer displays a link for the toolkit.  Only the links for the usage guides remain.

Discussion at Boing Boing, Slashdot, and Gizmodo

Google’s Still All Over the News

Google is still popping up on the news sites. The first thing is that they’re very slowly (much slower I would assume than the IMAP rollout) rolling out a new version of the Gmail interface. The differences that I’ve read about are an improved contacts management page and more integration and improvement of Google Talk/chat. It’s also supposed to make Gmail faster. Now I don’t know how anyone will notice it since Gmail is already very responsive and smooth, but faster wouldn’t hurt.  Screenshots are here.  Official word from Gmail Blog.

The second thing they’re in the news about is about an open social networking API, which they are expected to announce tomorrow. It’s not a social network, like Facebook, Myspace, or Google’s own Orkut. Instead, it’s a set of API’s designed to make writing applications and tie-ins for the social networks more accessible using JavaScript and HTML.  It will create a single API for several social networking sites, leaving developers responsible for learning only one new language rather than several.  And since it uses JavaScript and HTML, there’s probably not a whole lot of new learning for most web developers.  It’s called OpenSocial.

Finally, this popped up on Slashdot as I was writing this.  The GooglePhone has long been rumored to be in the making.  Google has said it isn’t, others have said they’re lying and there is one.  Apparently, it’s not actually a phone, but a mobile operating system for a phone.  This, unfortunately, does not tie together with their interest in the 700 MHz spectrum.  However, there is now talk of Google talking to Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile about providing phones that run their mobile operating system.  This would give Google a large established customer base.

GIMP 2.4 Released

After 3  years, a new version of the GIMP was released.  As I’ve said before, it’s my favorite image/photo editor.  All the images I made for this site (the header images and a few of the little banner/buttons on the right sidebar) were created using the GIMP.  Along with the new version, they also redesigned their website (which I really like by the way).  I can’t wait for version 3 to be released.  Visit the GIMP website for more info, read the release notes to see the changes, and download it.  You won’t regret it.

OpenOffice.org Wants to Compete with MS Outlook

There was a heated discussion on Slashdot regarding OpenOffice.org including Mozilla Thunderbird with the Lighting plugin in OpenOffice.org 3.0. They are looking to compete with Microsoft Outlook with their own PIM. As a user of both Thunderbird and Outlook user, I can say for certain that unless Microsoft opens up the proprietary protocols that Exchange uses with Outlook, this will never come close to replacing Outlook. It might make for a nice PIM, but it will not make a suitable Outlook replacement.

I have used Lightning, and everytime I tried loading it, it would cause Thunderbird to crash on me. It was so annoying that I gave up and stopped using it. I was looking to do just this and replace Outlook with Thunderbird as I do prefer free and open source software. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. I will admit that this was using Thunderbird 1.5 about a year ago. The problems I experienced might have been resolved by now. However, Mozilla seems to be dropping Thunderbird to concentrate solely on Firefox. It leaves me to worry that Thunderbird might get lost and rarely updated. I am also not completely happy that the only way to turn Thunderbird into a full featured PIM is through plugins and extensions.

To fully explain myself, there are features of Outlook when using Exchange that Thunderbird just won’t be able to do, such as syncing the calendar and contact list with the server so that you have all entries automatically in Outlook and on Outlook Web Access. It won’t allow for sharing of calendars or contacts unless the user sends the event or contact to others. I love Thunderbird, but the functionality I get from Outlook when using Exchange is too great to switch back to Thunderbird, at least for work. For home, I just use Gmail and occasionally Thunderbird (though I rarely open Thunderbird).

Flame away, but nothing will sway me on this one. The only arguments I saw on Slashdot about the possibility of this being possible were those people who either did not use Exchange or did not use it for everything that it offered. Yes, I am saying their opinion didn’t matter because they didn’t have all their facts right.

GIMP 2 for Photographers

Being a GIMP user and an aspiring amateur photographer (just for fun in my spare time), I found this book review pretty nice. The book is called, obviously, GIMP 2 for Photographers. While most photographers, professional and amateur alike, use Adobe Photoshop and most photography magazines and books refer to Photoshop, GIMP provides a nice alternative with almost all the features for 100% less than the cost of Photoshop (which costs more than most digital cameras, even some digital SLR’s). Yes, GIMP is free software. It’s available for Windows, MacOS X, and Linux, giving you nice cross-platform availability. It’s my photo/image editor of choice (I gave up on pirated copies of software when I was had the money to buy them or found free and open source software to replace them, GIMP is one of them). GIMP is released under the Gnu Public License, meaning you can download the source code and edit it if you want, so long as you include the source code if you ever distribute your custom coded GIMP. I may have to go find myself a copy of this book (which includes the GIMP software). It’s about $20 at Amazon (a lot cheaper than the cost of Photoshop, which starts at $100 for the cut back Photoshop Elements and goes to $650 for Photoshop CS3).

GIMP UI Redesign

My favorite image editor, GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program), is going through a redesign of the UI. The UI Redesign team has posted a blog where users can submit images of how they think the GIMP UI should look.

I will admit to not being a huge fan of the current UI, but I’m also not a huge fan of the Photoshop UI. I would like something that’s a cross between the 2 interfaces. I like that GIMP image windows are all separate, but I hate that it always spawns new windows when opening various tools. I end up with like 10 windows open when I’m messing around with a couple images at the same time (usually moving parts of one to another).

Anyways, if you have any interest in image manipulation and don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on Photoshop, I strongly recommend GIMP. Once you learn to use it, it’s quite the powerful little program… and it’s free and open source as well. For the record, all the images I have created or edited for my sites were created using GIMP.

Discussion at Slashdot