Daily Archives: September 29, 2012

Which Linux Do I Turn To In My Hour of Need?

RIP Ubuntu. Ubuntu was great. For years, I kept trying to get my own Linux box up and running, initially so I could relive the halcyon days of UNIX and later so I could avoid Windows. But every time I tried to get Linux working some key thing would not be configurable or would not work. Well, I’m sure it was configurable and could work but configuring it and making it work was beyond me. Those were also the days when what little support was available on the Internet was limited mostly to the sort of geeks who prefer to give answers that are harder to parse than one’s original problem. In other words, studied unhelpfulness was all that was available to the novice. Then, one day, two or three forms of Linux that were supposed to be installable and usable by the average computer-savvy person came on the scene at once, including Suse Linux, some thing called Lindows or Winlux or something, and Ubuntu. I tried the first two because they seemed to have more support, and I got results, but the results still sucked. Meanwhile, I has a computer working on downloading an install disk for this strange African thing, Ubuntu, which seemed to have a problem with their server being really slow. But, because it was South African, and at the time I was living about one fifth the time in South Africa, I thought that was cool so I stuck with it.

Eventually, I had a usable install disk for Ubuntu, I installed it, it worked. I installed it on a laptop as a dual boot system with Windows, and on a spare desktop. Within a few months, I installed it on my main desktop instead of Windows, and a few months after that, I realized that I had never booted up the Windows system on the dual boot laptop, so I reconfigured that computer to be Linux only. And that was it.

Ubuntu was based on a version of Linux called Debian. There are many Linux families out there, but the two biggies are Debian and Red Hat/Fedora. The former is very non-commercial and very free-as-in-software free Open Sourcey, while the latter is all that but also has a significant business model. People like to pay for their operating systems, so Red Hat/Fedora gave large companies and institutions the opportunity to pay for what was really free, and in so doing, they would get (paid for) support and training.

In a way, Debian is what makes Linux go around, and Fedora Linux is what makes the world (of the internet, etc.) go around. Sort of.

Debian and Fedora are two different systems in a number of fundamental ways. All Linux families use the same kernels, the underlying deep part of the system. But this kernel is associated with a bunch of other stuff that makes for a complete system. This includes the way in which software is installed, upgraded, or removed, and some other stuff. Each family has it’s own (very similar) version of the original UNIX file system, and so on. Back when I was first messing around, I did get to play with Fedora and its system a bit, and I quickly came to like Debian’s system better than Red Hat/Fedora, especially because of the software management system (apt/synaptic) which I thought worked much better than the Fedora system (yum).

As I said, Ubuntu was based on Debian, but from the very start, Ubuntu included some differences from the standard. For example, the exact configuration of the underlying file system was different. The original Debian file system was there so that software would know what to do, but everything in that file system (or almost everything) was a pointer to the Ubuntu file system. This actually made messing around under the hood difficult until, eventually, a strong Ubuntu-only community developed. You would see people refer to Ubuntu as opposed to Linux, which is a noob mistake and wrong, but over time, in fact, Ubuntu, even though it was based on Debian, became fundamentally different from both Debian and Red Hat/Fedora to the extent that it really had to be thought of as a different family of Linux.

And that was fine as long as Ubuntu was doing what most other Linux systems did, meaning, remain configurable, don’t change the work flow or how things operate too dramatically, don’t make up new ways of doing things just to make everyone upgrade to a new product, don’t try to be Windows, don’t try to be a Mac, and always follow the UNIX Philosophy, more or less. Over the last several months, though, Ubuntu has in my view, and the view of many, jumped the shark. It may well be that future new desktop users will appreciate Ubuntu as a system, and that’s great. If Ubuntu continues to bring more people into the fold, then I support the idea. I just don’t want it on my computers any more.

I have a desktop that I’ve not upgraded in way too many releases because I’ve not liked the new versions of Ubuntu. I have a laptop that I upgraded to the most current version of Ubuntu, then undid a lot of the features, and I’m using the desktop Xfce instead of Unity, the desktop that Ubuntu installs by default. And, I want to put Linux on a G5 Power PC.

So, this is the part where I ask for suggestions. I have a feeling that there will be more suggestions on Google+ when I post this there, so please be warned: I’ll transfer actual suggestions from G+ over to the original blog post comments sections, at least in the beginning of this discussion, unless a commenter tells me not to.

The following table shows what I want to do. Notice the question marks. There is an advantage to having the same system on all three machines, but that is not a requirement. The desktop has two monitors, and assume I want to run a 64 bit system on it, and the laptop is a bit slow. The primary uses for all the computers are simple: Web browser and running emacs for text writing, and a handful of homemade utilities for managing graphics and files, and a bit of statistical processing with R-cran now and then.

So, what do I fill into this table?

Hardware Base System (Ubuntu, Fedora, Etc)? Desktop
Older intel dual core HP workstation ? ?
Dell laptop ? ?
Mac G4 PowerPC ? ?

I’m intentionally avoiding a lot of details. I’ll get a new graphics card for the desktop if I need it, and other adjustments can be made. Also, this workstation may well get replaced with a different computer that makes less noise than a Boeing 747 taking off during a hurricane. The point is, desktop with dual monitors running a 64 bit system.

What do you think?

The Secular Coalition of America's Big Goof

The Secular Coalition of America is a lobbying group that represents several groups, including American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, Camp Quest, the Secular Student Alliance and so on. A few months ago the SCA made news, in a bad way, by appointing a former Bush White House Staffer, Edwina Rogers, as Executive Director. Many of us did not like that and we complained, and we were essentially told a) the decision is final and b) don’t worry, everything will be OK.

But it is not. Much more recently, the SCA appointed as a co-director for one of its state groups a guy who has developed a very firm reputation as a Mens Rights Advocate and overall Sexist Misogynist Creep. Or at least, so it appears.

The individual in question is Justin Vacula, and he’s been appointed as co-chair of the executive council of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the SCA. I’ve got some information below on why this is a bad move, but I want to say right away that the SCA Executive director has already stated on a blog her answer to people’s concerns:

… the Secular Coalition for America has not “hired” anyone in any state. We have a staff of seven in DC. We are staffing state coalitions in 49 states, DC and PR. The state coalitions are made up of interested groups and individuals in the states and particupation is voluntary. We are willing to work with as many affiliated and allied groups and individuals as possible. We are seeking volunteers in the states and are thankful to those that are willing to assist. We have much work to do at the National and State level and request that all interested parties please consider joining the SCA in our mission as given to us by our member organizations. Please sign up at secular.org. Edwina Rogers

When Rogers was first hired, she made a big deal out of the fact that she’d be overseeing the development of a state chapter in every state. We are now being told that the SCA of which she is Executive Direct really has nothing to do with the state chapters. The “hired” vs. “Volunteer” distinction means nothing in relation to the present question.

Vacula published a piece on Men’s Rights Activist site “A Voice for Men” in which he attacks modern feminism and equates feminists with vampires and piles on with the attacks already underway designed to silence the Skepchicks (a group of women skeptics with whom I’ve worked for a few years) in particular Amy Roth Davis See this link for details on the attack on Amy. This act and related activities by Vacula clearly place him in the camp of anti-feminist anti-women pro-sexist activists who should not be leaders in a humanist movement which does, pretty much, have liberal and progressive political values. He has also been a regular member of the famous “slime pit” which, sadly, was a product of this very blog network (though it has been expunged).

Apparently, Vacula has been criticized for being less than smart i the arguments he’s made about various legal positions, and for showing poor leadership. The details are summarized in the writeup for the following petition which I urge you to sign:

What Apple, Microsoft and the Rest of Them Don’t Get

Apple, Microsoft, Dell, IBM, Google, all of them … the companies that make the hardware and software we use … are, it would seem, ignorant, probably willfully so, of an important thing. We use their hardware and software in our work. Many individuals are like miniature institutions or corporations. Our HR department, our payroll department, our accounting department, our R&D department, our car pool, and everything consists of a handful of machines (a car, a desktop, a mobile device, a printer) and a single person to staff them all (you, me, whatever). We do quite a bit to implement hardware and software combinations that do the things we need. We have an address book, a way to use a phone, a file storage system, we install and maintain software to produce documents, keep track of numbers do other stuff. And we use the readily available standard hardware and software to do this, thinking all along that this is a good idea.

Now, I’m going to give you two scenarios, one imagined one real, to underscore why this is a huge problem. These two scenarios have very different meanings, and I’ll let you work that out. Continue reading What Apple, Microsoft and the Rest of Them Don’t Get