Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Daily Archives / Tuesday, June 29, 2010

  • Jun 29 / 2010
  • 0
Linux in Education, technology

Rescuing Yet Another PC From That Other OS

It is the end of the school year and I am nearly done. I am waiting for some documents to finish up files for a teacher who left early. Along comes the security guard wanting a PC fixed… It’s slowing down, apparently. I talk to the end-user on the telephone and clarify symptoms and options. We decide to install GNU/Linux after backing up certain files. They have been doing dial-up but have ordered high-speed service so the modem is no issue.

After finding most surfaces clogged with dust, I take it outside for dusting and fire up SystemRescueCD. It is a newer PC from Dell, a P4 with 1.6gHz clock, 64bit processor, 1gB RAM and gigabit/s NIC. I can work with this.

  1. This is the first PC I have ever seen without a PS/2 connector. Almost all of our keyboards are PS/2 but I remember a model with USB and it works.
  2. I use tar cz files|ssh myserver "cat >> /home/backup_user_2010-6-29.tgz" to make a backup of the files in question (My Documents for two users)
  3. Debian GNU/Linux – Lenny Netinstall works like a charm.
  4. I add a selection of apps in addition to defaults that might suit the style of these users.
  5. I restore the backed-up files and test various application.
  6. Another satisfied customer.

And so it goes on. That other OS keeps messing up and I show no mercy, installing Debian GNU/Linux left, right and centre, wherever I go. I used to struggle tuning up those systems to keep them going but it was way more work than migrating. I have lost count of the kills but it must be close to 100 PCs and I will be another school year in this community. Perhaps I will run out of machines to convert.

Now, I am off for the summer planning next year’s campaign both teaching and IT. The outline of the IT plan is fairly simple: increase the number of PCs for students, inform teachers and students of resources and extend the network wired and wireless. It is actually quite doable with this year’s work as a basis.

  • Jun 29 / 2010
  • 5

Freer Trade Agreement Between Taiwan and China

This affects more than $100billion in trade annually and could increase the power of China+Taiwan in IT. Taiwan may get access to cheaper labour as well as a larger market. China may make political points as well as getting more and better IT. It is all good.

Taiwan is pretty tight with M$. Mainland China is less so. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I expect China will be a huge market for netbooks and the lower the price, the better so ARM and GNU/Linux should do well. If netbooks drop in price, perhaps smartphones will too. Demand will increase which has the opposite effect but the Chinese can rapidly increase the number of consumers at lower prices. That is, cutting prices can multiply the volume and yield larger profits if the cost is less.

I hope this reduces tension in region, too. Korea, are you listenting?

  • Jun 29 / 2010
  • 0
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Google Apps Work in Schools

There is news that hundreds of schools are adopting Google Apps with or in place of conventional local applications. This is a great advantage to schools because there is less maintenance of software required for the cloudy solution.

In my school Gmail is popular and the Google Toolbar is a wonderful local search tool. The ability to do e-mail, find stuff, create/edit/present stuff without leaving the browser is cool. The Toolbar was distributed on the disc image put on all new PCs recently. These machines will be Debian GNU/Linux terminal servers in each classroom making the Toolbar available to all students’ PCs.

The widespread acceptance of this technology is one more nail in the coffin of the monopoly. If you can do what you need with any OS, there is no need to use that other OS and GNU/Linux is as good as it gets.

  • Jun 29 / 2010
  • 18

Reflections on Bilski

Now that the matter is decided and we have slept on it… I feel that the supremes pulled a trick on us. On difficult issues before society, they tend to come down 5-4 and give society a decade or more to figure things out before the issues raise their ugly heads again. This time they came out 4-4-1 on the issue of software patents. They dodged the issue even though in the 21st century almost all business methods involve software and a lot of patents have been issued on software. Surely they knew this issue could not wait ten years.

The only way this issue can be settled promptly now is by legislation. M$ and its buddies will be lobbying fiercely to have the patent laws explicitly accept software. Unfortunately for them, all software, except perhaps in a controller where the software cannot possibly have multiple uses, is abstract. That is to say, programmes written in a high-level language do not even deal with bits let alone reality. They deal in variables and data-structures, abstractions in themselves. If the legislators allow software patents, they will have to allow patents on abstractions, something they will not do or cannot. That would throw our thoughts and all freedom under the bus. Indeed, one brief they did not reference was about freedom of speech as software. Patents cannot be allowed to restrict freedom of speech.

So the situation has changed quite a bit. As of yesterday business methods patents are still viable but the the tests of viability have shifted slightly. There is still a rule against abstraction and that cuts out almost all software as I know it. M$ and friends can try to patent “use of a computer controlled by software to do X” but they should not fool anyone. Doing X is still an abstraction. There are no patents on each of the 13245 uses of a screwdriver and there should be no patents on the billions of things we can do with a computer. Doing things may be patentable but doing them with a computer is out.

It is a dirty trick that the supremes were supposed to explain the law to us and yet could not agree amongst themselves what the law it, so they dodged the major issues by stating that previous rules were sufficient to deal with Bilski. Stevens knew that and he told us by criticizing the details of the 3 justices who concurred with Justice Kennedy. They decided Bilski was abstract without explaining how they knew that. There’s the rub. Stevens reasoned that business methods are not patentable because they are not processes.