Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Posts By / Robert Pogson

  • Sep 01 / 2014
  • 0

WOW! The Feynman Lectures on Physics Available On The Web

I still have the 3-volume set in storage here somewhere. I haven’t read them in ages but they were my absolutely favourite textbooks ever.“Caltech and The Feynman Lectures Website are pleased to present this online edition of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Now, anyone with internet access and a web browser can enjoy reading a high quality up-to-date copy of Feynman’s legendary lectures.” Feynman was a great scientist and lecturer and the books were basically transcribed from audio recordings of his lectures. He was famous for some fundamental science and later for his analysis of the “Space Shuttle Disaster”, but for me he was always the guy who could make the obscure clear. You could read those books and understand what he was saying and the science behind Nature’s mysteries.

The lectures are not FLOSS. They are read-only… We wouldn’t really want to change a jot or tittle of it anyway. Caltech did use FLOSS tools to publish the work, converting LaTex to HTML.

See The Feynman Lectures on Physics.

  • Sep 01 / 2014
  • 0

Time For the GNU/Linux Desktop

Gary Newell has a thoughtful article on the relationship between the GNU/Linux desktop and that other OS.“Why does it have to be one thing or another?. For Windows to survive must Linux die and for Linux to succeed does Windows have to die? Of course not. The people who want to use Linux will and those who don’t won’t.” His facts are true but he comes to the wrong conclusion by omitting one important fact, M$ is out to get us.

Let’s not forget history:

  • 1997 – When faced with the “horror” of sub $1K PCs M$ wrote, “current PC technology is totally sufficient for most office tasks and consumer desires and that any performance bottleneck is not in today’s PCs but in today’s COM pipes. This in itself might slow down replacement cycles and life time shortening until we find true MIPS eating applications- a priority not only INTEL should subscribe to.” Ever since, M$ has continually taken actions to slow PCs down through use so consumers and businesses will continue to buy new machines with new licences. We don’t need that.
  • 1997 – Paul Maritz wrote, “The real issue deals with not losing control of the APIs on the client and not losing control of the end-user experience. For Netscape this is synonymous with winning the browser battle. That is because they don’t have Windows. We have an asset which has APIs and control the end-user experience: Windows.” In the browser war, M$ deliberately used tying to that other OS as a tool to damage a competitor. IT is supposed to be about the most efficient way of creating, finding, modifying and distributing information, not killing competition and leading users around by the nose. We don’t need that.
  • 1995 – S. McGeady wrote, “On August 2. 1995. in a meeting of Intel and Microsoft executives, Bill Gates told Intel CEO Andy Grove to shut down the Intel Architecture Labs. Gates didn’t want IAL’s 750 engineers interfering with his plans for domination of the PC industry. Gates made vague threats about support for other platforms. and on the same day he announced a major program to support Digital Equipment’s Alpha microprocessor, an Intel competitor. Gates was livid about IAL’s investments in the Internet and wanted them stopped. All of this was said in the presence of executives from both companies.” M$ set out to stifle all innovation related to basic utilities in IT by fair means or foul. We don’t need that.
  • 2004 – The European Commission finds M$ disrupted interoperability in IT. We don’t need that.

So, treating M$ as just another supplier in the IT-playground is a major omission in the argument. M$ is out to get us and is not a neutral business. Therefor we should prefer every other option before them including GNU/Linux on our desktop/notebook PCs simply because GNU/Linux is not out to get us and the authours are entirely motivated to provide good software at the lowest price and fewest burdens. That, to me, overrules all of Newell’s arguments which assume M$ is benign.

M$ has deliberately violated the laws of competition in USA and elsewhere repeatedly, systematically and with malice. They are out to get us. At first they got an exclusive deal with IBM to get their foot in the door, piggybacking on IBM’s branding with business, then they demanded exclusive deals with ISVs and manufacturers, then they punished any manufacturer who stepped out of line and installed competing products, then they created an endless chain of incompatible file-format changes and created whole industries based on the existence of overly complex secret protocols and finally forced the world to accept a closed standard as an open standard… That whole burden has served to render IT more expensive to own and to operate and much more fragile than it should be just on technical merits.

Allowing that other OS to live side by side with GNU/Linux is neither essential nor desirable. The cancer that is M$ needs to be cut out of IT for good. There may be some who prefer the devil they know but the new folks and the folks who come to the light of FLOSS don’t need to leave any oxygen for M$ lest the cancer grows again.

See Linux has run out of time – I looked into the trap, Jim.

  • Sep 01 / 2014
  • 0

M$ Admits Defeat

You know how M$ likes to impose exclusive deals on “partners” to ensure monopoly is strengthened?“Microsoft has recently reduced the number of chassis suppliers for its Surface tablets and is now outsourcing all the orders to Ju Teng. Microsoft stopped placing chassis orders with its China-based supplier in August

Since Surface tablets only have limited sales, separating orders to multiple suppliers is not helping Microsoft negotiate for favorable prices.”
Well, the shoe is on the other foot now. They can’t demand lower prices from every Tom, Dick and Harry manufacturer. They are cutting back to a single supplier for “Surface” products. I guess dreams of monopoly in the mobile space have faded at last. M$ has no magic. M$ is not all-powerful. M$ cannot force the world to accept its technology. M$ cannot convince the world that it is folly to adopt other technology. M$ has lost its mojo. Good. The world of IT is better off without them.

See Microsoft reduces Surface chassis suppliers; may adopt similar strategy for other components.

  • Aug 31 / 2014
  • 9

Statistics On GNU/Linux Usage, Wherever We Can Find Them

Blush! A huge porn site has released its figures…
“The numbers for Linux based operating systems are bang-on – 1.7% of Pornhub traffic and 1.7% of desktop penetration as reported by Net Applications in July 2014.

24% of Pornhub’s Linux users are based in the United States, followed closely by 23% in India. As we discovered in a previous section, this likely explains the high search ranks of ‘Indian’ and Indian pornstar ‘Sunny Leone’. The United Kingdom and Germany both account for around 5% of Pornhub’s Linux traffic.”
Assuming Nature is global, this might be meaningful in the search for GNU/Linux usage. Key numbers are 1.7% globally and 24% or so from each of India and USA, putting the lie to the “wisdom” that GNU/Linux plays in small niches. USA is where a lot of GNU/Linux developments take place and India is a country where Dell does sell GNU/Linux SKU’s openly in huge numbers and governments use GNU/Linux.

See OS Battle – Porn by the Platform.

  • Aug 31 / 2014
  • 11

Why I Hate Non-Free Software

I read about a useful application now available on GNU/Linux as a $free beta download. A .deb package was provided and did install easily on my Debian Jessie 64-bit system.

The programme mostly worked as advertised but despite Aspell being distributed with the package, spell-checking did not work out of the box. Otherwise, the appearance, layout and documentation were all first-rate. So far so good. Then I looked around for a licence. Buried in the .deb was some HTML but this was in your face:.

The “About” tab showed this:.

The text of the licence includes the usual stuff and this: “1. Licence
Upon accepting the terms of this agreement, the Licensor grants you, the licensee, (“you”) and your family that live with you at the same address (“family members”) a non-exclusive, non-transferable limited licence to use the accompanying Scrivener Apple Mac version software, including (if applicable) electronic documentation and associated material (the “Software”) strictly in accordance with the terms and conditions of this licence agreement.
This licence agreement enables you and your family members to use the Software on your own respective computers within your household but you may not copy or transfer the Software to any other computer or hard drive. Any members of your family not residing at your address for eight months of any year or more are not family members for the purposes of this licence agreement and must purchase a separate Software licence.
Additionally, you may make one copy of the Software for back-up purposes, maintaining always the same copyright information as the original, and you may also install one copy of the Software outside of the household provided it is for personal use by you or a family member and reasonable steps are taken to ensure that no one else can use the Software.
You are taking responsibility for the actions of your family members and agree to indemnify the Licensor for any breaches of the terms of this licence agreement by you or your family members.

3. Restrictions
You and your family members are not permitted to copy the Software otherwise than for use of the Software for normal operation in accordance with this licence agreement. You shall not (save as to the extent allowed by law) disassemble, decompile or reverse engineer the Software, nor translate, adapt, modify, lease, rent, loan, redistribute, sub-lease, sub-license or create derivative works from the Software. You must ensure that the copyright notice of Licensor is duplicated as it appears in or on the Software on all authorised copies.
This licence agreement does not entitle you or your family members to use the Microsoft Windows version or any other version of the Software unless you have entered into a separate licence agreement for that version.”

Some of that is entirely reasonable but the part about having only one backup copy is just plain silly on Debian GNU/Linux. The APT package management system clearly keeps one backup on each PC on which it is installed. So, if you have N PCs in your household upon which you install the programme, you have 2N-2 violations of the licence. One can manually delete those extra backups but they want us to download to each machine rather than copying over the LAN which is so simple with GNU/Linux… Also, the typical user will run the application before seeing the licensing terms yet is considered to have accepted the terms by running the application…

I know why authours of software include such restrictions, to make sure they get paid per whatever. On the other hand, we should not have to enslave ourselves and our families in order to use a smooth, convenient application on our PCs. That’s like selling our children or self-flagellation before having any fun at all to nullify evil. It’s just evil to accept such restrictions. The licence began with “PLEASE READ THIS LICENCE AGREEMENT CAREFULLY BEFORE USING THIS SOFTWARE. IF YOU USE THIS SOFTWARE THEN YOU AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THE TERMS OF THIS LICENCE AGREEMENT.” Sweet, eh? I did not agree and purged the .deb from my system. I am not a slave. I do not agree to be bound in slavery to the authours of software. To add insult to injury, the authours presume to enslave us while we perform them the free service of testing their beta-software.

Give me FLOSS any day. I can examine, run, modify and distribute the software under a licence that comes along for the ride on a $free download. That’s freedom and the right way to do IT. Information should be $free and unencumbered by burdensome licensing terms.

I purged the files left by the programme after converting the .rtf it had created to ODT.

  • Aug 30 / 2014
  • 0

Investing In FLOSS Pays Dividends

There’s more than one way to pay for software and investing in FLOSS is hard to beat. Rather than just paying licensing fees, Walmart pays programmers to contribute to a FLOSS project for a component of their websites."every five startups using Hapi translated to the value of one full-time developer, while every 10 large companies translated to one full-time senior developer." In return for its extra work on open development, Walmart gets high-quality programming at a cost far below that of recruiting and retaining extra staff. In turn, this demonstrable return allows the company to justify further development investment because "by paying developers to work on Hapi full time, we get back twice (or more) that much in engineering value." Because other businesses do the same, Walmart gets the services of many programmers while only paying for a few. That’s good business.

When businesses realize that they can do this for their entire software stack from server to client, they can save a bundle on their entire IT expenditure and get better and more flexible software. Businesses should all invest one way or another in FLOSS. It pays.

See Walmart's investment in open source isn't cheap.

  • Aug 29 / 2014
  • 6

Geek? Want a Notebook Like RMS? Lemote Yeeloong Could Be The Answer

I guess I am a geek because I knew RMS had a notebook like this so that he could use only Free Software on his PC.“Lemote Yeeloong 8089B 8.9" opensource laptop Loongson CPU inside mini notebook computer linux pc for geek coder” It’s kind of cute and definitely small enough to carry around while travelling. I think it’s a fine example of “small cheap computers”, something minimal but functional. With 1gB of RAM, this could do a lot of browsing or word-processing. With only 160gB of storage, it’s not likely to be the centre of your universe without some auxiliary storage. The processor(Loongson 2F(800-900MHz)) is whimpy so you would have to be patient. For a geek this could be a desirable buy simply for the novelty and purity of software.

See Lemote Yeeloong 8089B 8.9" opensource laptop Loongson CPU inside mini notebook computer linux pc for geek coder.

  • Aug 28 / 2014
  • 19

Resistance to the Linux Desktop Is Futile – Get Over It

Bruce Byfield responded to news that Linus still wants the desktop by trotting out some of the usual ideas and one I know to be false:“Free-licensed desktops have been an alternative now for almost a decade, but many average computer users have no idea that they exist.”

You see, I was out in the world for more than a decade teaching in many different communities all over Canada. At first it was rare to meet anyone who had ever heard of GNU/Linux. After a few years, about 2004, if I recall correctly, I began to visit random communities where one or more people actually had used GNU/Linux. These were communities from about 1K to 4K people in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, so one person in 1K is tiny but definitely far beyond, “many average computer users have no idea that they exist”. I can promise you that all of the high school and many of the younger students in those communities did learn about it so the proportion abruptly changed to about 1 in 10.

For the past three weeks I have been attending meetings of about 7 people. These are randomly selected people (Diabetes). It turns out that 4 of those 7 (including me) knew you could use GNU/Linux on the desktop and two (including me) had worked in places where GNU/Linux was used on the desktop. That could have been a fluke but it mirrors what I was seeing out there in the world. When I went to a new community, I often asked students if anyone knew of GNU/Linux. At first no one did out of 100-300 students that I taught. A few years later there were always a few students who had used GNU/Linux in some school or other or knew someone who used GNU/Linux. Now we have Chromebooks and Ubuntu and other GNU/Linux PCs selling all over the world.

There’s just no way to put Linus and RMS’ genie back in the bottle. We have a billion people using Android/Linux for pity’s sake and they are not just Apple-like rich folks, but folks from every continent and every walk of life. I would bet that half of all humanity at least knows there are alternatives to Apple and M$’s offerings. That’s a Hell of a lot more users than “many”. There may be “many” that still don’t know but they are certainly not holding back GNU/Linux. The OEMs and retailers who still promote that other OS even though consumers largely reject it are the problem. They had better get on board the FLOSS band-wagon or they will be replaced by other OEMs and retailers as the goto suppliers of humanity.

See Resistance to the Linux Desktop.

  • Aug 28 / 2014
  • 3

Popularity (or lack of it) Of That Other OS on Servers

According to Netcraft, it’s been many years since M$’s OS was so unpopular on servers, like early on in the Age of the Web…

You have to wonder how a company with lots of salesmen, lock-in with OEMs, retailers/channels, $billions in off-shore banks and elsewhere, many thousands of programmers and advertising could be so unpopular. Yes, it’s the same company that was once 95% of OEM desktops and was prosecuted for illegal activity all over the globe. All other things being equal (?) the difference is choice. Someone with the technical savvy to put up a website or to run a webserver, has choice, knows he has choice and makes that choice for convenience, efficiency, reliability, performance or whatever. The consumers usually don’t know they have choice and OEMs and retailers are not helping them find that out. But consumers have choice. They can take a bug-ridden OS from M$ and visit or and fix the problem once and for all. Consumers can also buy a PC with GNU/Linux already installed or find a PC with no OS on which they can in stall GNU/Linux. It’s pretty easy and takes just 15 minutes to an hour or so depending on how slow your PC is. If any problem arises, one can find a solution in seconds using Google or visiting the website of the supplier. You can find many different kinds of GNU/Linux at where all the features are displayed. You can install GNU/Linux so it’s very similar to how XP used to work. BTW, that Android smartphone you love has Linux there underneath. You know that’s smooth and reliable. So is GNU/Linux on the desktop.

Advantages? Exactly the same as those folks with all the millions of servers running GNU/Linux and Apache web server:

  • lower licensing fees ($0, it doesn’t get any lower…),
  • reliability (less bloat/fluff, more substance),
  • software designed by techies for techies, not salesmen,
  • oh, and one last thing, permission to run any way you like on as many machines as you like, and you can examine, modify and distribute the software (Software Freedom).

Yes, Victoria, you can enjoy all that your PC can be just like the geeks on the web with their powerful servers.

  • Aug 26 / 2014
  • 8

GNU/Linux Traction On The Desktop

Christine Hall is a wise woman. She wrote, “With the success of Chromebooks, it’s only a matter of time before the OEMs start pushing well designed laptops and desktops with customized versions of Linux installed. It’s bound to happen. Computer makers pay a fortune to Microsoft every year for the privilege of installing Windows. But Windows’ luster as a brand has faded, making this is no longer money well spent.”

I saw that years ago when I worked in schools. We could afford a lot more IT because we used GNU/Linux and the vast majority of users had no problems with it at all. GNU/Linux needs OEMs to offer this desktop to retailers in bulk ASAP. They can make more money through higher margins and the retailers can make more money through higher volumes. It does no one any good to stick with Wintel when it doesn’t sell well at all. OTOH, Android/Linux and ChromeOS are selling like hotcakes and GNU/Linux could offer something more than both on the desktop, all native code.

See Don't Fret Linus, Desktop Linux Will Slowly Gain Traction.

  • Aug 25 / 2014
  • 5

The Magic Of USB Flash Drives

Soon I will go to a meeting where I might have to install Debian GNU/Linux without an Internet connection. To do the job, I made up a USB drive with everything I will need:

To test out this rig, I created a virtual machine and booted it from the USB drive. The default installation was routine, hardly different from any other. When I booted the minimal system, though, the repository in the CD would not work for me and debpartial-mirror didn’t have Debian’s signing keys… so I just used dpkg to install what I wanted.

The local repository I created on the USB drive had all the .deb’s on a single level so dpkg -i debian/pool/*/*/*/*.deb got everything there. It worked very well except that it thought three packages were broken. One was a discrepancy between versions on the CD and in the repository. Another was irrelevant because the package wasn’t likely to be used. One was a missing package. We missed one. Then I started up the GUI and saw this, in all its glory:

So, it’s not exactly like XP. It’s configurable and it fit in 4.3gB on the virtual hard drive. ;-) This is a lightweight setup which should give new life to an old notebook sagging under Vista.

One problem was that I had left out gksu to run synaptic, so I had to download the packages to put in a directory on the USB drive. If I want to offer remote support, I can get openssh-server off the CD. I can mount the CD on a local directory to get at the .deb’s there: mount whatever.iso some_dir/ -o loop,ro.

The entire configuration for debpartial-mirror?
cat /etc/debpartial-mirror.conf
;; debpartial-mirror configuration file.

;; Show debug information?
;debug = DEBUG
;; Mirror destination directory
mirror_dir = /home/pogson/debpartial-mirror/
;; Which architectures should I download?
architectures = i386
;; What should I look for, by default?
components = main
distributions = wheezy
;; What should I get?
get_suggests = true
get_recommends = true
get_provides = true
get_sources = false
get_packages = true
;; Here is our first backend. It mirrors a subset of packages from the
;; Debian official repositories.
;; Where do we get the packages from?
server =
;; Since we specify components and distributions in this section, what we
;; specify here overrides the settings in [DEFAULT].
components = main contrib non-free
distributions = wheezy
;; Only get a subset of the packages in this source.
filter = name:xorg|xfce4|wifi-radar|wicd|iceweasel|libreoffice-writer|libreoffice-calc|gnumeric|vlc|gimp|xfce4-weather-plugin|lightdm|xfwm4|xserver-xorg-|xpdf|ristretto|aptitude|synaptic|gufw|xfburn|net-tools|glib-networking-services|python-numpy|gnome-icon-theme|dconf-service|liblapack3|gksu|openssh-server
;;resolve_deps_using = wheezy
;; And get the source packages as well for this backend.
get_sources = false

Yes, gksu, and openssh-server are in there. I must have messed up my versions as I converged on a solution…(I do need a secretary but can’t afford to pay one)… debpartial-mirror is wonderful because a short list like that pulls in the dependencies too. I can concentrate on what the user needs rather than ~1000 details.

Anyway, Debian GNU/Linux is a powerful operating system with powerful tools to use whether on or off the web and with or without a CD-drive. M$, eat your heart out.

UPDATE At the meeting, the lady had not brought her laptop but we did exchange e-mail address for follow-up. She often travels near my neighbourhood. Interestingly, another participant of the meeting, an active teacher, reported that her school’s secretary uses GNU/Linux on her desktop. Amazing. Usually school secretaries are the most difficult to convert because they have a huge inventory of documents and don’t want to risk upsetting the flow of information.

I even found there is at least one person in that town who does GNU/Linux but he does not provide training, just setup and networking support, exactly the backup we might need. I can provide training if e-mail is working.

UPDATE I redid the filter for debpartial-mirror to include the things I missed before and flashplugin-nonfree too.
"/media/usb1/debian/pool# ls */*/*/*.deb|grep "gksu\|ssh\|flash"
All in all there are 1050 packages drawn in. Not bad for a few minutes of my time and 25 minutes downloading automatically with dependencies. Great. It makes for a speedy installation of a very usable system.

"filter = name:xorg|xfce4|wifi-radar|wicd|iceweasel|libreoffice-writer|libreoffice-calc|gnumeric|vlc|gimp|xfce4-weather-plugin|lightdm|xfwm4|xserver-xorg-|xpdf|ristretto|aptitude|synaptic|gufw|xfburn|net-tools|glib-networking-services|python-numpy|gnome-icon-theme|dconf-service|liblapack3|gksu|openssh-server|flashplugin-nonfree"

I hope she drops by so I can try this out “in the wild” so to speak. I have no idea what hardware she has except it’s a notebook with Vista and running at a snail’s pace…

  • Aug 25 / 2014
  • 6

Start Talking About the GNU/Linux Desktop

Linus just mentioned that he thinks GNU/Linux could succeed on the desktop and folks come out of the woodwork dumping on the idea…“The briefest glance at market share data suggests that I’m not alone, either. While hundreds of millions of people want Linux powering their smartphones, and millions of businesses are content to let Linux run their servers, virtually no one wants Linux running their laptops and desktops.” The quotation to the right is from an article wherein the authour in a circular fashion argues that GNU/Linux on the business-desktop won’t succeed because of consumers’ needs… That’s laughable. Business is all about work, after all.

Further, business has no need of “consumery” things to use GNU/Linux for servers. Neither do Google, Munich, Largo, India, Spain,… You get the picture. These folks are assuming nothing is happening with GNU/Linux desktops despite things happening. That puts their entire thesis in the garbage.

If you look at global web-stats for GNU/Linux desktops, you see steady growth in a declining or stagnant market for legacy PCs. That means GNU/Linux is becoming accepted on the desktop by many more than just we geeks. Dell and Canonical have actual salesmen delivering it in China and India. OLPC is delivering it to schools in emerging markets around the world. Governments in Europe are adopting it at a great rate. And yes, even businesses are seeing that GNU/Linux works for them on desktop as well as server.

Shortly, I will be going to a meeting where one participant has asked me for help with GNU/Linux on a notebook. She doesn’t like what M$ does for her there. I’ve made up a bootable USB-drive with the Debian installer and a repository of stuff the typical desktop user will need, including Synaptic and gksu so she can customize her notebook when she gets home. I will start her off with a basic installation of Debian GNU/Linux and add the XFCE4 desktop environment with a selection of a few typical applications: FireFox browser, VLC media player, GIMP image editor, and Ristretto image viewer. XFCE4 is similar to what she liked from M$: XP. If M$ won’t give her what she wants, I and the FLOSS community will. When random people you meet are interested in desktop GNU/Linux, this is no time to abandon this thriving technology. It works for ordinary people.

Nope. If you haven’t already started talking about GNU/Linux on desktops, get going.

See (Or Not) Can we please stop talking about the Linux desktop?.