Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Daily Archives / Thursday, June 9, 2011

  • Jun 09 / 2011
  • 0

Hope for the Indian Reserves

As some may know by reading my blog, I have often taught in remote northern communities, essentially Indian reserves. The reserve system was instituted as a way of solving the “Indian problem”, illegally confiscating the land occupied by North American aboriginal people for millenia. Deals were struck along the lines of providing agricultural assistance, money, schools and medical assistance in return for millions of square miles of land and a promise to live on the reserves.

The idea of treaties with aboriginals originated in the 18th century and was constitutional law from 1763 by royal proclamation. Aboriginal people were promised their traditional way of life would be respected, hunting and gathering and being nomadic. That was impossible with widespread agriculture and thousands of European immigrants flooding the land. The Northwest Rebellion of 1885 was the last straw. The government of Canada sent troops to kill Indians with machine-guns and artillery. The reserves, some established on the least habitable land in Canada, were a compromise solution, somewhere between genocide and giving up traditional ways of life.

Depending on times and places some reserves flourished with abundant natural resources and infrastructure and others became cesspools of poverty with 90% of inhabitants not gainfully employed. With nothing better to do reserves became over populated. Schools became large and often dysfunctional. People who had no clocks could not get to school on time. People who did not need to work for a living did not bother going to school, getting an eduction or even driving school buses. The result is that some of the most unhappy, violent, sick and suicidal people in Canada are living on reserves. The Government of Canada could do little to improve the situation they created because the leadership of reserves became fond of being the only employed people in a feudal system.

Today, there is hope that the government and the leaders of the Indians will draw up a better plan. Almost anything should be a big improvement. Priorities will be education, employment and good government. Now they are getting down to things that could help me and other teachers actually to teach. I have no idea how all the problems could be solved but they might include an actual budget for schools… ;-) Recently, the government was supplying $x per student and other silly stuff no matter the actual conditions on reserves. Some reserves don’t need buses and others do, for instance. Funding for IT was given to paternalistic external groups instead of the schools so there was no budget for IT at all, and no way to plan properly for any particular outcome. The decisions about expenditures were made by bureaucrats 7 levels removed from the front lines.

There is a plan to actually come up with a plan to put in the 2012 budget. I like deadlines. It focuses the mind and eliminated irrelevant stuff. Let’s hope it works.

see Ottawa, native leaders commit to sweeping overhaul of reserve life

  • Jun 09 / 2011
  • 0

M$ Hoisted on its Own Petard

M$ lost in the SCOTUS because they took a devious route to escaping the i4i lawsuit. Instead of trying to invalidate the patent on grounds of obviousness and prior art, they fell back on something they could not prove, that i4i had sold the product more than a year before the patent was applied for in the USA. The programme M$ suspected had the patented software no longer exists in source code so they could not prove that directly.

M$ did not want to invalidate all software patents, including their own (thousands) so they have to pay the piper. The concept of keeping data and metadata separate has been around for ages in IT and M$ could have gone after that ground for prior art but it would have defeated a bunch of their own patents. M$ could have taken the obvious path that all software is obvious given an instruction set or programming language and basic elements of IT: storage, logic and operations. Give a programmer a goal and he will write a programme to accomplish it without knowing anything about the “prior art”. That’s computer science 101. Given some prior art related to the art, the programmer will do the job sooner. How can the resulting programme be patentable?

So, M$ pays a huge settlement and the whole world of software remains burdened with frivolous lawsuits about software patents until the SCOTUS gets a case where they cannot wriggle out of it like they did for Bilski.

  • Jun 09 / 2011
  • 4

Who In Their Right Mind Would Run Stuff On That Other OS?

M$ has released a bulletin about next week’s Patch Tuesday. It is riddled with “remote code excution” and “privilege escalation”. You know, stuff disastrous to mission-critical applications. Some are for M$’s applications. Some are for the OS. There are too many of each. Who in their right mind would run stuff on that other OS?

All it takes is for some of the millions of bad guys on the planet to find one or more of these vulnerabilities first and your operation is toast, like CITIbank losing the details of hundreds of thousands of users or SONY being hacked or the Government of Canada or …

We don’t need more

  • DRM,
  • phoning home,
  • re-re-reboots,
  • ABI/APIs,
  • exclusive dealing,
  • stuff KLUDGED to the OS like mud pies, and
  • complexity.

Enough! Use GNU/Linux to be free of this burden on IT. I have been using GNU/Linux for IT almost exclusively since 2000 and I have only had a few problems, not usually involving security, in all that time whereas with that other OS people are getting rafts of problems to fix monthly like a woman’s curse.

I remember a time or two when I was in charge of a mess of machines running that other OS. Once, a notice like this came down the pipes, but because Redmond WA is in a different time zone, I could not do the updates for many hours because the system was in use. I skipped lunch to do the servers over lunch. Some failed to re-re-reboot. I had to hook keyboard, monitor and mouse to them to find a driver issue had hung the thing up. Some failed to take the update from WSUS. I had to get the last few servers after school. I then found a half-dozen client machines had not taken their updates during the day. So, it tooks hours out of my day when I could be doing useful work, volunteering to be a slave of M$. It left dozens of machine-hours of exposure to malware that I could do nothing about. It was a couple days before WSUS reported that all was well.

I have no hesitation to recommend GNU/Linux to people just for peace of mind. In the past month we have had major players off the air or seriously compromised because malware/bad guys took over their systems. IT should not be this hard. The hundreds of millions of users of PCs have no defence against the malware thanks to M$. They cannot keep systems fixed that M$ has broken years ago. They cannot pile on the layers of security needed to protect that fragile OS. There should be a law against running that OS on the network, just as there are laws against driving clunkers or building fire-trap schools or storing tons of volatile chemicals in residential areas. That other OS is just too dangerous.

  • Jun 09 / 2011
  • 11

Diversity in IT

Recently, several estimates of lower PC production have been published. The latest was by Mark Moskowitz of JP Morgan. He is predicting tiny growth in 2011 over 2010 shipments. A blog post by Ray Tieman, PCs, Tablets: JP Morgan Cuts Estimates, Again reports,
“On the PC side, Moskowitz now expects 360.75 million units to ship this year, growth of 2.8% versus 2010, down from a prior estimate of 375.3 million units, which would have been growth of 7%. For 2012, he also cut his number, to 397 million units, or 10% unit growth, down from a prior 418.5 million units, which would have been 11.5% growth.

Consumer PC purchases continue to be weak, he writes, and in fact, although he thinks consumer PC units will decline 0.2% this year, that drop could actually be worse, he thinks. The problem is that smartphones and tablets are delaying consumer purchases:

We think that the useful lives of PCs are lengthening to 5-6 years versus 4-5 years historically. Alongside the increasing effects of smartphones and tablets deferring PC purchases, we think that the macro and useful life challenges set the stage for a tough 2011 in PCs on the consumer front.”

If one adds to 360million “PCs” the expected 50 million tablets and 472 million smart phones, the picture is not bleak but warm and fuzzy. This situation means the monopoly is stalled, at an inflection point, and has nowhere to go but down. The future for Linux in all its forms and ARM in PCs of all kinds seems very bright. Android/Linux is not taking 100% of tablets, smart phones or PCs but it will have a healthy share in a diverse market, something we have not seen thanks to exclusive dealing by the monopoly for more than a decade. The world is not waiting for Intel to reduce power consumption nor M$ to release “8″. IT is finally getting true diversity in hardware and software plaforms, something long overdue.

Moskowitz and others are predicting “PCs” to grow about 10% in shipments next year but there is no basis for that. It’s wishful thinking that things will return to normal. Normal used to be people buying another PC every three years. Normal is people wanting small cheap computers and keeping old machines until they die, something people can expect using Linux and ARM. By the time Wintel gets into the mobile market they will be playing catch-up. More personal computing devices, including smart thingies, will ship with Linux aboard than that other OS. More personal computing devices will ship with ARM than x86/amd64. 2011 is going to be a great year.

  • Jun 09 / 2011
  • 25
Linux in Education, technology

Understatement of the Year by Linus Torvalds

Here many commentators tell me that thin clients will never fly and that desktop PCs must have that other OS but refuse to believe that my GNU/Linux terminal servers and thin clients are much less expensive and have better performance than thick clients with that other OS. In an interview, Linus Torvalds said, “A lot of people end up spending a lot of time waiting for that traditional rotational media”

Yep. That’s the secret. Linux file systems cache stuff that every user needs to log in, open popular apps, open the next window, etc. and Linux, being a multi-user OS, shares executables so well that the next user can open stuff much faster than the first user. It’s an amazing difference. On a thick client, folks are just getting close to that performance when they use an SSD. My students and teachers have experienced this for years even when hard drives were smaller. They see things happen 2 to 5 times faster with GNU/Linux when tons of files are cached in RAM. On that other OS, when you boot or log in your expensive 6-core RAMed-out system is no faster than your hard drives… and that other OS makes you wait, please wait before you can actually use that desktop on your screen. Side by side demonstrations are convincing to end users.

Chuckle. I so much enjoy it when people actually see that other OS is holding them back from doing what they want. Some compensate by going for coffee or signing in but they still see the result every time they click on something…

Use Debian GNU/Linux and experience what a real OS has been doing for people for more than a decade while you have been waiting.