Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

AA1 – Getting Ready to Install Debian, Boycott antiX and Mepis

May 23, 2009

One of the things on my Memorial Day weekend to-do list is install Debian 5.01 Xfce/LXDE version. I decided to see if the Fedora LiveUSB Installer would work with other distros. It appears that it does. Here’s a shot showing it as it got rolling.

fedora-liveusb-creator-with-debian5.01-xfcelxde-2

I’ll  most likely do a basic net install when I wipe out the Linux partitions and start over with them. No time frame for that because things are a bit too hectic with work and life right now.

One footnote. I thought about installing the “Mepis Lite” spin now known as antiX on my Aspire One instead of this version of Debian. I was kind of tipped off by Caitlyn Martin’s comments at Distrowatch about this even though she didn’t get into much detail. The code names of the two most recent versions of antiX, Intifada and Vetëvendosje, conjure images of armed uprising and revolt. While both words have wider general meanings, it seems the project leader of antiX has chosen such provocative names out of his immature, demented political opinions. That’s his right, but it’s also mine to object to that.

The former (and current release) code name is often used to describe the indiscriminate homicidal terrorism movement against Israeli citizens; the latter (and previous release) code name is the name of a radical/extremist Kosovo organization which consists of many former KLA guerillas. Without getting into a drawn out history of both movements and the bloodshed they’ve either instigated or avenged (depends whose version of atrocities you believe — the ethically-sloppy “freedom fighter versus terrorist” argument doesn’t appeal to me so I can’t accept that they’re acceptable equivalents depending whose side you’re on), I’ll just say that these names make it very easy to push aside and say “no thanks” to what appears to be an otherwise decent sub-distro.

You’re known by the company you keep. It’s unfortunate these kinds of names are used under the Mepis umbrella. Open source should be about bringing people together. I think most project and code names are stupid anyway (the hyper-forking of Linux distros only adds to the stupidity with the increasingly weird names chosen for  new distros and sub-distros), but using words of provocation and names of events or  movements that have resulted in tremendous bloodshed for release names is pretty fucking sick. I just want an operating system, not something memorializing crimes against humanity and genocide.

I urge others to avoid antiX and Mepis for the same reason.

UPDATE (23 May 2009 – 2:30pm US/Central): Not a good idea to use the Fedora LiveUSB installer for other distros if you’ve already used it for Fedora since it the bootloader remains Fedora-only. Downloaded and using unetbootin now. The antiX/Mepis boycott is still on.

Make A Bottom Line Case

October 18, 2008

I’ve read an increasing number of articles and blogs suggesting that a sluggish economy is just what the open source community needs for further adoption of their software. What many fail to grasp is that no matter how “free” it may be, it isn’t without costs.

The more economically-naive look at the initial outlay and presume that’s the only investment required. They don’t look at the costs employers to retrain employees to use new software, let alone the loss of productivity that occurs while getting up to speed in a new environment.

By way of analogy, it’s a lot like companies that give away or cut prices on one item to sell you other things. Get a free cell phone, get locked into a two-year commitment. Get a free razor, spend $20 a month on blades. Get a cheaper game system, pay more for games. Your initial cost of entry may not be very high, but in the long term you may pay a lot more than if you’d paid more upfront.

Software can be like that even if it’s not offered with service deals. Especially if it’s not offered with service deals. That leaves companies in the position of sorting things out on their own. That involves manpower, that involves training, that involves loss of productivity for some period of time. Those are costs, and those costs can exceed the value of the “free” software many times over when compared to proprietary software.

Many companies have made their transition to open source where it’s seamless, like in servers. They made such transitions long before the capital crisis.

Companies don’t make radical changes during times of crisis or uncertainty. They stand pat. In a recessionary environment (and we’re technically NOT in recession) or in a sluggish economy (I’ll take 3% growth) they keep their powder dry. That’s one of the self-fulfilling prophecies or vicious circles that leads to sluggish economies and recessions. Ironically, moves made to adjust for such slow downs tend to be reactionary (rather than precautionary) and post facto.

I wish I could share the optimism of those who think negative changes in the macroeconomy will be positive for open source adoption, but I know changes of the magnitude of converting a company’s entire computing infrastructure are based — justifiably — on grounds that are more direct to their own situations (not every company is affected by the over all economy to the same degree). This is why it’s futile to get companies and individuals to participate in alternative energy without tax breaks and other incentives. One of the best and most effective ads I’ve seen in a long time along those lines is the granola tree-hugging IBM ad in which the executive quickly changes his tune about energy efficient servers when the young lady makes the point that those will save the company 40% in energy costs. Enter singing cartoon animals, the fantasyworld can be achieved in reality.

If you can put a figure on something, you will do a lot to convince people that change has a reward. Then you can sell them on it.

But if you only give them the up-front cost, you’re not making a sound and financially appealing case to them. They need to know that they won’t lose any function from what they’re already using; in some cases, open source solutions meet that criterion but in too many it doesn’t. They need to know there will be no disruption in transition; they’ve already spent a lot of money training employees to use something, they’re losing that investment if it doesn’t relate 1:1 with what you’re suggesting they use instead. They need to be able to quantify where these changes will pay off, whether it’s immediately (unlikely) or down the road (possibly); they already know where they stand with what they have and most of them are happy with it.

Their licenses are already paid for. They don’t devalue — in fact, the more use they get out of each license, the more they’ve paid for themselves. That can be measured not only in the length of time they hold their licenses (I’ve seen businesses still using NT 4x and OS/2) but also in the familiarity and comfort of their employees who use it. The more comfortable their employees are using it, the more productive they are. And that’s what software means to employers.

You’re not going to win many employers over with crackpot anti-Windows hysteria that prevails among those who shout the loudest about these things. Whether they share your opinions, they’re oriented to results and not to wisecracks, cheap shots, and open source zealotry.

Consider companies who are already involved in open source, especially with their own software products. Sun has deals with Microsoft. Novell has deals with Microsoft. HP has deals with Microsoft. IBM has deals with Microsoft. For all their competitive axes to grind, they understand cooperation is essential to market share. Why then do the pro-GPL types who push cooperation on one level object to it on any other?

I think the silliest thing I read in all of these bleatings about how open source can take off in this downturn (despite strong earnings from Intel, IBM, et al) was a suggestion that Linux fanboys pass the hat and start advertising in the same way Apple and Microsoft have. I think Red Hat, Novell, and Oracle already do that. So does Canonical to some degree, and they’ve done product placement in box stores. It’s not that people don’t know Linux is available, it’s that they don’t care — they have something that works, that they understand (some really do), and they have no reason to change either on a personal level or in their companies.

It’s a lot easier to commoditize an entire product line, as Microsoft and Apple do, than bits and pieces; the fragmentation of what constitutes Linux in particular doesn’t lend itself well to advertising unless you have something to offer in the form of service (as Red Hat, Novell, Oracle, and Canonical do). And if you’re results-oriented in your advertising (think of the HP ads showing celebrities and how they use their computers), you’ll end up advertising for companies whose open source offerings allow users to get stuff done: Sun’s Open Office, Mozilla’s Firefox — which will run on closed source operating systems at least as easily (if not better) than on Linux. Face it, nobody is going to get sucked into an ad that talks about how many fucking window managers you can try out in a crazy one or two night Mountain Dew binge.

For better or worse, open source will not fare much better during a slow down than any other software. The sluggishness of the economy will cause more companies to not make radical changes if they make changes at all — aside from holding back on anything until they have a clearer picture and assurances that the sky’s not falling. Open source advocates have to be able to quantify where these kinds of choices affect bottom lines while at the same time offering assurances that changing from licensed software backed by a company with its own bottom line (the word accountability comes into play here) won’t leave users in a holding pattern. Accountability is a valuable asset.

Get to the value beyond initial costs. Companies demand to know that, they need to know that. Show comparable — no, you really have to show greater — value and measures of accountability they already have.

Do open source advocates have any clear answers yet?

Shut Up and Code

September 22, 2008

I tend to ignore political blogs, but sometimes one encounters politics when reading what are presumably non-political blogs. Sorry to those stumbling across this post which is written in response to such and, in the process, guilty of the same thing. Cut me some slack. I think this is only the second time I’ve touched on politics here.

I was looking through the abiword site to see if I could compile without libgnome* and without libfrbidi. I looked at their blog page and came across an entry by one of their programmers ranting about politics and the US economy.

There are two sides to every story. This time there’s a right one and a wrong one. Let me clear up Mr Lachowicz’ misunderstandings and biases.

1. The US economy is fundamentally sound and grew at a 3.3% clip in the previous quarter in spite of record fuel prices and a slow down in the housing market. US exports as percentage of GDP in FY2007 were the highest since 1810. WTF do you know about booming exports and continued GDP growth and what that means economically? Obviously not very much. It’s not a fucking recession. Far from it. This whole “sky is falling” nonsense reminds me of the 1992 election and the following Wednesday evening CBS News led with Dan Rather sheepishly grinning and explaining that Bill Clinton wouldn’t be inheriting such a bad economy after all. Go figure!

2. The predicament of Lehman Brothers isn’t indicative of wider problems, but rather problems relatively limited — for now, despite the collusion between the administration and Congress — to the capital markets. And the capital markets are truly messed up, no question about it. These problems, though, aren’t tied to the state of the broader economy but rather to deranged anti-capitalist controls placed on the financial sector. Most of these controls precede the Bush administration, some relaxed during both the Clinton and Bush (41) administrations, and some novelties imposed during the Clinton administration to increase home ownership among groups traditionally not able to qualify for mortgages (i. e., subprime mortgages). These risky loans were hailed by the Clinton administration among its triumphs; I don’t know what’s so triumphant about the dual problem of cheap capital and coercing mortgage companies to underwrite loans for borrowers who traditionally wouldn’t qualify for large (or in many cases small) loans, and then waiting for the proverbial shit to hit the fan when the adjustable rates on those mortgages went up a few points as called for in those contracts so few people apparently bothered to read. You can’t take credit for forcing bullshit loan underwriting upon companies in the name of “fairness” or “economic justice” and then blame everyone else when that whole house of cards comes crashing down. Those were very risky loans, and now the people who pushed for them want the rest of us to subsidize those mortgages. We shouldn’t do that. It rewards the wrong people, it punishes the wrong people. But this is the metrosexual Amerika now where we punish success and reward stupidity (edit: I forgot that Bonnie Erbe wrote that Obama — übermetrosexual that he is — is more of a woman than Hillary Clinton).

3. I could spend a full page on employment statistics, but they’re pretty clear and easy to summarize:
The Democrats took control of Congress on 5 January 2007. The unemployment rate according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics that day was 4.6%.
After 21 months of a do-nothing Congress, with House and Senate banking committees chaired by un-distinguished members who should be answering questions about the lack of oversight AND their sweetheart mortgage deals from Countrywide and other dubious lenders rather than asking them, that rate is up 33% to 6.1%.

4. The government should be getting out of the financial industry, not getting more involved in it. Propping up home values that were artificially inflated by the ridiculous imposition by the government upon the financial industry to write more loans for those incompetent to get a standard mortgage serves the long term interests only of those whose defaulted mortgages will now be subsidized by taxpayers, the executives of companies that engaged in poor underwriting practices, and investors who will be rewarded for risks they shouldn’t have made. Those who have played by the rules and not gotten in over their heads will now have to pay to bail out those who broke the rules or couldn’t live up to their obligations.

5. Equity and other similar markets aren’t direct functions of the full economy, even if they’re occasionally influenced by the broader economy. I say that half in jest because equities (stocks), debts (bonds), and commodities are more often influenced by the Lemming Rule than by fundamental economic conditions or news. The Lemming Rule is this: As one lemming jumps, the next one jumps. IOW, there’s greater than necessary participation in market swings regardless of direction because of a herd mentality. That was never more obvious than last week — with its early sell-off of stocks and rush on gold, then vice versa later in the week. Regardless, there’s not a direct correlation between the irrationality of panicked buying or selling on Wall Street and the state of the full economy.

6. If your own investments are down, you can’t blame anyone but yourself. You should invest for whatever tolerance level you have for risk:reward, and you should vote accordingly. Let me use the same example I gave in point 3 above (taken from this GOP strategist’s site with a few more interesting points, like consumer confidence and gasoline prices):
The DJIA closed at 12,400 on 5 January 2007 when the Democrats took control of the Congress. As of today it’s fallen back near 11,000. Shall I also post the same data for pre- and post-GOP control of Congress in 1994?

The most important factor facing our economy right now isn’t the collapse of the capital markets (except to the extent taxpayers will wrongly be on the hook for a trillion dollars of bad debts plus whatever other stupid bullshit the Democrats try to stick in this bill), it’s the rising cost of energy. The Democrats haven’t done a damn thing to relieve that problem. If anything, they would exacerbate it by imposing windfall profits taxes on the energy sector — further increasing prices to consumers and possibly having the effect of reducing supplies (as happened when the same fucked up policy was attempted in the 1970s). Their presidential candidate has no energy policy except $150 billion in corporate welfare for hippie technologies that won’t make a dent in prices for the fuels we use today — just cost us taxpayers more. If you have a solar or wind-powered car or can afford $5-8/gallon gasoline until those are widely available, go ahead and vote Democrat. If you need gasoline/diesel at a cheaper price, you might want to vote GOP even if you have to hold your nose to do it.

In summary, this economy has proven resilient enough to grow despite problems with energy prices and a collapsing capital market. Neither problem is fatal in and of itself, but “solutions” for either or both could hurt more than help. Unfortunately, the tendency of government is to intervene too much and make things worse (never trust someone with a political science or law degree!). The best intentions of government always yield the worst results.

EDIT: Oh yeah, I’ll use abiword again when it can be compiled without libgnomethis and libgnomethat. I know, I know — these are GTK-related libraries and not part of GNOME-bloat. I don’t care; I just want to add as few things to my system as possible. Allow a more streamlined installation option so users who don’t need or want libfribidi don’t have to add a library for one application (yours) only.

Technology and Presidential Election: How Much Should a Candidate Know?

December 2, 2007

I came across the following article by Garrett Graff this morning. I don’t like writing about politics because it’s become so divisive, vitriolic, and confrontational in recent years, but Graff made a point I think is worth addressing.

Don’t Know Their Yahoo From Their YouTube – washingtonpost.com:

So why is it that we blithely allow our leaders to be ignorant of the force that, probably more than any other, will drive and define the nation’s economic success and reshape its society over the next 20 years? Is it because we’re used to our parents or grandparents struggling to program the VCR (yes, they still use VCRs) so that it doesn’t blink “12:00” all the time, or because we think it’s cute that they grew up in simpler times?

The thing that set Graff off was something Senator McCain said during a debate this past week about having a Vice President who can help him with issues like information technology. Graff suggests that candidates need to be tech savvy to be considered seriously, and gives plenty of fodder about what politicians have had to say about the Internet. Fortunately, he spared us the reminder that Al Gore invented the Internet.

I take a very different tack on these kinds of things than Graff does. I don’t expect a president, much less every candidate, to be hip enough to know the difference between whichever websites are in vogue, much less the differences between IMAP and POP or who fiddles with Ruby on Rails in his or her spare time.

The Internet is in constant flux, and who says youtube, Google, and eBay won’t eventually go the way of drkoop.com, pets.com, or excite? Many sites have proven to be fads over time, and most of them enjoy their fifteen minutes for only about that long. Remember the “new economy” and how the Internet would displace “brick and mortar”? Ahem. The Internet is here to stay, but not necessarily in the form it now is. It’s important to have ideas to drive sound policies forward, but not necessarily to be hip to the currently-popular websites.

Do we really need a president who knows more about that than energy policy, foreign policy, or who has leadership abilities? And if that’s really paramount, whom would Graff support, for example, between Senator Ted Stevens who doesn’t understand e-mail or networking and Bill Gates? Should we get the candidates to take a stand on HD-DVD versus Blu-Ray while we’re at it?

I disagree that we “blithely allow” ignorance about anything. I also disagree that it’s a problem, much less partly “simply generational.” Sure, the younger generations are more tech savvy and older generations are less comfortable with newer technology — that’s always been the case. That doesn’t mean someone who doesn’t have a myspace page isn’t fit to be president (though every candidate probably has one). After all, we’ve had leaders who’ve excelled with policies about which they had little or no experience or knowledge. Good leaders aren’t policy wonks or experts, they just surround themselves with wonks and experts. Good leaders are big picture people who don’t get bogged down in minutiae.

Graff’s not alone in having a myopic litmus test. I read something recently in New Scientist that suggested candidates should be quizzed on the scientific method and be dismissed if they’re not up on it, or on evolution or other theories. The Religious Right also has its own set of litmus tests. So do those on the Left. Every group does. That’s politics. Politics isn’t about realism, especially in the vitriolic and partisan climate we have today.

We live in a very diverse and specialized world. We cannot realistically expect a candidate to be an expert on all things, much less to have a firm grasp on nuances within every field. It’s more important to know that someone has proven success in some endeavor and is a leader who surrounds himself or herself with the kind of people who do have the nuanced expertise in all the various fields affecting national policy. Do we want a president who spends time fiddling with myspace settings or who has broader ideas that affect our quality of life, peace in the Middle East, and so on?

I’ll vote according to which candidate I think gets the big picture and doesn’t wallow in detail. As nice as it might be to have a botanist in the White House, I’m more concerned that a president can see the forest than name all the trees in it.