There Are “Others” and Then There Are “Others”…

“Others” is a convenient category to put things in when stuff you don’t care about happens. GNU/Linux is something I care about but not Gartner. They lump GNU/Linux in with all that other stuff that’s not from M$, Apple, or Google but, hey, I can subtract.

Let’s do some maths. Usually “Others” is tiny. The biggest, “Others” I’ve seen is about 40% of PCs being shipped by other than the big five OEMs. Gartner has tabulated all the PCs of every kind shipped last year, this year and next year and “Others” in the emerging markets is huge, 520 million units this year. That’s in the operating system category. That’s more than the total number of legacy PCs. Smartphones are the biggest category. In Africa, for instance, according to StatCounter, “Series 40″ smartphones make up about 10% of page-views. Even on StatCounter, “others” is huge, about 12%. Series 40s phones are being dumped there according to one commentator, but that’s a huge number of units… Did Nokia really stockpile that many? According to Wikipedia, BlackBerry still ships a few million and left a few million as “others”. On the other hand, 520 million units is nearly 20% of all devices shipped globally… Conveniently not listing their OS is a little too convenient if you ask me. I’d like to know how many are GNU/Linux.

See Gartner Says Sales of Tablets Will Represent Less Than 10 Percent of All Devices in 2014.

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South Korea Faces The Bill For Lock-in To Wintel

Sometimes in an accident things happen in slow motion and all the mistakes it took to get to where there is no escape“the Korean government made Redmond’s software a requirement for online shopping and banking; a historically weak spot in online security.” pile up in great clarity. That’s happening in Korea where the government made a long chain of mistakes in setting up an ID-system for citizens.

The biggy is that they required the use of M$’s OS to do all kinds of on-line and financial transactions. Now most of the citizens’ unique identification numbers are the property of criminals who stole them from various businesses. This was an election issue a couple of years ago and now the mess has hit the fan. It might be instructive for Koreans to read Exhibit 465 in US DOJ v M$: “We have won platform battles before. To_make history happen again, we must make the industry embrace Internet Explorer and ActiveX:
* establish a significant installed base of users (browser share is starting point),
*sell the benefits of our platforms to the content developers,
* convince the influential webmasters to switch to our standards and promote them,
* reach the producers,
* help the traditional developers (ISVs and corporate developers) write to the ActiveX platform, so they develop the
rich base of Web applications and controls that establishes the value of the platform,
* “activate” our partners to create a supportive environment of partners – able to sell, integrate and support our solutions and 3rd party ActiveX technology.”

Yep. M$ set the trap and Korea and many others fell for it. M$’s salesmen weren’t the least bit interested in Korea’s security. Korea just got over migrating from XP to “7”. They largely skipped “8”. Now would be a good time to have a security fiasco with “7”. Everyone clearly sees that other OS as insecure. China banned it in government. It would be sweet if Korea did the same. I can see legislators considering this legislation while the phone calls and e-mails pile up.

I expect Korea will have to redo everything and get it right this time. Let’s hope they demand GNU/Linux be used for on-line/financial transactions and to protect data but failing that let’s hope they make GNU/Linux optional and the people can decide. There’s something refreshing about a whole country aroused about insecurity with that other OS on the check-list of things to fix.

See South Korea faces $1bn bill after hackers raid national ID database.

See also Presidential candidate promises to kill crypto standard locking nation into IE

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Good Karma

Karma: “Good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and future suffering.” It’s not often one hears a CEO of a huge global corporation suggest that women should accept the pay they get and trust the future will take care of itself but M$’s Nadella did just that.“it’s clear that Nadella believes that women should trust that things will work out in the long run, or he would never have said it.” He later tried to back pedal on that but most folks feel words spoken from the heart reflect the darkness therein. Continue reading

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Moodle Takes Romania

Moodle is a PHP script that helps organizations distribute information or deliver courses to students.“The vast majority (85 percent) of Romania’s 105 universities are now using Moodle, an open source e-learning platform” It’s usually run on LAMP (GNU/Linux, Apache, MySQL/MariaDB, and PHP) and is simple to set up on a server. It does take a bit of study to use as a teacher but it’s mostly self-explanatory for students. All they need is an initial URI and sometimes a password/userid.

I’ve used Moodle many times in computer labs. It’s a great way to give prompt feedback to students and to keep a record of grades. Students tend to perform well if they know how they are doing and that their efforts get results. It’s a beautiful solution for schools because the FLOSS licence permits installation with no bureaucracy nor hits to the budget. There can be some small hitches. I just installed Moodle on Beast and I had to add one package, php5-curl, and I had to add a line in /etc/mysql/my.cnf, “binlog_format=ROW“. No biggies. Google was my friend. It’s not much different from many PHP scripts I’ve installed on servers. If an incompetent like myself (according to DrLoser) can do it, anyone can.

See Nearly all of Romania’s universities use Moodle.

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Google Tries To Kill EXT* File-systems For ChromeOS

Someone over at Google has decided to drop support for EXT* file-systems in favour of M$’s stuff…“Chromium OS is for consumer devices which should not need support for mounting external ext4 storage. In principle, we should drop unnecessary features. There was a case that an unnecessary feature was used for a security exploit.” This has ticked off GNU/Linux users who want to move files between other GNU/Linux operating systems and ChromeOS, including developers

The only justifications seem to be

  • EXT* support is unnecessary and increases security surface without justification – That’s kind of hard to swallow since EXT* has had very few problems that I know of and definitely is widely used by many people including developers. If consumers aren’t aware of EXT* then this move won’t impress them much. Forcing developers to change file-systems seems like the unnecessary thing here. I’ve had to add FAT-support to my custom kernels because folks wanted to use USB devices from that other OS and “partners”. I found that annoying and unnecessary. If I had a Chromebook, one of the first things I would change would be a limitation to FAT, either by tweaking ChromeOS or replacing it. Would replacing ChromeOS make Google happier?
  • EXT* support is extra work – Come on. The kernel boys and girls do some, and the file-system is backwards-compatible with previous versions… What extra work? Oh, you want to rename the mount-point? Give me a break. Who does that? Give them a “file-system busy” message.

Does Google want to give a fair segment of users a reason not to use ChromeOS? What were they thinking? I’ve read endless criticism of ChromeOS on TV, in this blog, and elsewhere on the web and no one has complained that it supported EXT* file-systems, not even M$… If you want to increase the “attack-surface”, drop the file-system… 8-(

See Issue 315401 – chromium – Drop support for ext2/3/4 from Files.app cros-disks.

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Things That Make Me Go Hmmm…

I was on Lenovo.com yesterday, looking for PCs with GNU/Linux. Searching every which way, I found nothing. Finally, I took advantage of an agressive/in your face popup offering to chat with a human being. I told the human being what I was seeking and was told that I could just buy any of their PCs and install GNU/Linux on it. When I replied that I didn’t want to pay for something I wasn’t going to use, M$’s OS, she responded with (paraphrasing) “that’s what everybody does”.

Lenovo may not see anything wrong with getting paid extra for selling a PC by splitting a fee for the OS with M$ but I do. It’s just wrong to demand payment for something of no value unless you’re a charity or such fundraiser. Businesses don’t get to charge me for a paint-job when I take my car in for an oil-change. Hiding the price of the OS in with the price of the hardware is wrong too. When I have the option of Engine A or Engine B buying a car, the auto-maker will tell me the difference in price. Lenovo should certainly supply no-OS PCs for people like me and let the world know what M$ is costing them. No business should get a free ride being able to charge an arbitrary amount without even disclosing the cost to the consumer. It’s not like an OS is not a user-serviceable part. Users can and do change OS. They should not be forced to pay for an OS they don’t use. I told Lenovo that. I hope they’re listening.

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Java API Copyright Goes To The Supremes

This is a biggy, right up there with software-patents, “Google told the justices in a petition this week that assigning copyright to the code—the Application Programming Interfaces that enable programs to talk to one another—sets a dangerous precedent.
The appellate court’s May ruling, Google said, allows "copyright monopolies over the basic building blocks of computer design and programming."
Google said the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s decision would have allowed the Remington typewriter maker to stop others from using the QWERTY keyboard layout.”
copyright for APIs of software. Copyright should not apply to other’s works. If you write software to work with some API, no other authour should be able to forbid that or to tax that. Yet, that’s what Oracle wants to do and they found a lower court that agreed with that despite that being an illegal extension of copyright to others’ work. Stranger still, Java is FLOSS…

One can think of many practical examples of analogous cases which obviously don’t make sense. Because it’s software under consideration there should not be a different take. e.g. tires – if a maker of automobiles comes up with a new pattern of lugs, should makers of wheels be forbidden to make wheels for it? Nope. This is copyright, not patents. A wheel is not a derivative work of a hub.
e.g. doors – if a carpenter builds a house with a new size of door, should he be able to claim copyright exclusion on all the doors made for that size? Nope. Dimensions are not a creative work. They’re just numbers.
e.g. poetry – if I wrote a poem right here with a new structure of stanza, should I be able to exclude all other authours from using that structure for decades? Nope. Structure is not a creative work. It’s an arbitrary choice with no creativity at all. The creativity comes from finding new ways to exploit a new structure, not using the structure.
In any other field this matter would have been laughed out of court but because software is strange to lawyers and Oracle and Google are big rich corporations, it gets the time of day.

Let’s hope the Supremes do the right thing. They haven’t yet agreed to consider the case but it is vital and they do care about special cases like this where people overreach and courts get things wrong. Oracle’s response is due November 7.

See Google, Oracle Java API copyright battle lands at Supreme Court.

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What To Do With 8000 Marigold Seeds?

Last year, ladies in the family returned from some affair with a few marigold plants in small pots. I immediately planted them in two large planters by the front door. They did well. They were fruitful and multiplied. I collected the drying seed-pods and planted the seeds in various places this year with predictable results. I have a lot of seeds. They are still in the pods so I weighed a few pods and their seeds to estimate the number in the whole mass of pods as( 4 whole pods was 5.6 gr and contained 3.5gr of seed. Those pods contained about 118 seeds. The remaining mass was 377 grains, so I’m looking at 118 X 377/5.6 + 118 =) 8K seeds.

Even if only half of them grow and I plant 100 per square metre, that’s 40 square metres. I have a berm about that size. That would light it up. I was planning to plant cherries on it but these could be my “mulch”. I’ve heard they repel hares and deer with their pungent aroma but apparently that’s false.

I have about 1000 feet of borders in my yard. I could plant 4 per foot…

I could broadcast them on a square in the garden and make some kind of statement… and a question, “What do I do with millions of seeds the following year?”.

I could make happy faces in the lawn that could be seen from space…

I could save some for next year…

I could collect all their product and replace the lawn with marigolds next year. No more mowing…

They came back with chrysanthemums this year…

Decisions, decisions. Well I have most of the winter to decide. ;-)

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Google Chromebooks – Price And Performance

I may not know much about business but I can do the maths.“Starting immediately, businesses can purchase the Chromebook for Work advanced software features, management, and support through a new annual subscription option of $50 per device per year.” Compared to what I’ve read many are paying for the privilege of running a PC in business, $50 per annum is peanuts. I can see small businesses/startups lapping up Google’s offer. M$ has been costing them half of that just to plug in a PC let alone all the hand-holding that goes on. This must be the easiest rode to GNU/Linux on the planet for newbies or professionals. It’s one-stop shopping for all of the client IT. Just get all the applications residing on a server somewhere…

I’ve long been an advocate of thin clients. This is probably easier because no local server is required except the usual router/DHCP server. I imagine individuals and small organizations would love this. One annual payment taking care of IT… It can’t get any easier than this can it? If I weren’t retired and I didn’t enjoy the admin stuff I do, I could go for this. I’ll bet most businesses could get 80% of employees on such a scheme. I expect many will try a few seats at least to check this out real soon.

See Google targets businesses with Chromebooks for Work.

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It’s Official, U.S.A. Insane

Let’s see. USA wants Kurds and Free Syrian Army to fight ISIS“The key Syrian border city of Kobani will soon fall to ISIS, but that’s not a major U.S. concern, several senior U.S. administration officials said.” but they won’t lift a finger to help the Kurds defend a key city on the border with Turkey? They are insane. They could have a squadron of Warthogs stationed in Turkey, surround Kobani and cut off resupply to ISIS with a snap of their fingers. They could forge a deal between Turkey and the Kurds to deliver armour/artillery against ISIS there. There’s nothing like a crisis to open minds.

Instead USA drops a few bombs and ignores a major victory in the offing for ISIS. They could at least insert some forward observation and drop the bombs where they would count. Panetta, Clinton, Gates and others are right. Obama is an indecisive “leader”. He’s a follower.

See U.S. officials: ISIS will capture Kobani.

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STEM

All over North America, improving education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is a hot topic. It was not surprising to read that the Province of Manitoba included this in a recent press-release:
“working with all deans of education to strengthen teacher training, looking at entrance prerequisites, course composition, practicum supports, teacher certification requirements and new initiatives to encourage more math and science graduates to enter the teaching profession.”

Hey, I’ve been there. I was part of the Maths/Science Push back in the 1970s. They encouraged we geeks to enlist. I did. I was not widely accepted in educational circles. “Professional” educators looked down upon us as not being professional enough. Why, instead of following the latest educational fads we taught the basics well and challenged students to excel rather than scrape by. I used to ask my maths students if they felt comfortable flying with a pilot who made 50% of his landings… I relished in the Western Canadian Protocol initiative which included teaching mathematics the way it was actually used in the real world with calculators and computers and databases… My “professional” cohorts demanded retraining… I obtained as many Computers For Schools PCs to pack into my classroom as I could. My “professional” cohorts thought even 1 PC per classroom was distracting. Eventually, I switched to being a computer teacher because at least no one objected to me having a room full of PCs. I did magic with those providing better IT than most schools running that other OS by bringing in GNU/Linux which worked for us rather than holding us back. I taught students to use IT for everything possible from writing books to making music to maths to networking… while my “professional” cohorts were using some minimal interpretation of obsolete curriculums.

No. Injecting knowledgeable people into education won’t fix the problem. Turning them loose to teach might. Trying to mould them into the kind of people who aren’t doing the job now won’t.

I’ll recount a few more stories, besides the raw number and kind of PCs in the classrooms…

I was at one high school where I figured out how to get students extra credits by running courses in parallel. It was a bit more work for me but the students got to learn faster and have actual usable skills in programming when they were done. I learned that my “professional” cohorts were teaching snippets of programming over 2 or 3 years claiming they were doing their jobs. The curriculum explicitly encourages teaching different aspects of programming in parallel because it made sense. You couldn’t actually write much of a programme these days without considering subroutines, I/O, data-structures and the like. Why bore the students with 3 years of courses before they could write “Hello World!” with style? Nope. The principal sat in on a class and pronounced the work too hard. In 3 weeks, I had students indexing the bible, solving Tic-Tac-To by multiple methods, searching, sorting and generally keep track of problems that took them ages by paper and pencil. Students were awake and participating in my classes but that mattered not. The employer wanted to cut my pay by $5K per annum. They cut others’ pay too claiming teachers were a year or two back on the pay-scale for no good reason. I was teaching elsewhere in two months. The others were limited in job-prospects and stayed. The guy they replaced me with left at the end of the semester and so did that principal… Is an educational system so messed up going to be fixed by injecting knowledgeable people into the lower levels? I doubt it.

At another place, I discovered local politicians were providing housing to a drug-dealer on campus. My students were getting stoned at night instead of organizing their learnings every night. I wrote a memo suggesting some steps we as a professional staff could take to reduce the harm to students, simple things like contacting the police and monitoring exits during school hours to make sure students didn’t get high in class. I was fired with no notice the next day. 10 days later I was working in another place because my skills were in demand. Not many teachers knew how to set up a computer lab in those days let alone keep IT humming in remote communities. How would injecting knowledgeable teachers into such situations improve education if they can be stifled by arrogant politicians?

How are governments going to get knowledgeable people to stick it out in such chaotic systems when they can get better pay and working conditions elsewhere? I eventually retired a bit early just because it was easier to stay home, hunting and shooting, gardening, blogging and landscaping than putting up with the nonsense in the educational system. There are lots of things that need to be fixed in education before injecting knowledgeable people into it will do any good. In the meantime, the dead wood accumulates. By that I mean people so “professional” that they feel the profession, as sick as it is, needs to be protected rather than forced to evolve in a sane way.

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Another German Town Comes Out Of The Closet

No, they’re not gay! They’re using GNU/Linux on ~90% of their PCs.“The administration now uses 300 thin client PCs, with desktop and applications retreived a SuSE Linux Terminal Server cluster of six servers. The desktop environment is Mate. The city staffers use the LibreOffice suite of office productivity tools and the Open-Xchange suite of email, instant messaging, calendaring and online collaboration tools. It works for them because they don’t have to buy new hardware to get a new OS. They converted to thin clients and saved a bundle. They also reduced staffing because there’s so little work to do. I wonder how many more there are just like it.

Some departments use Wollmux, an open source tool for managing forms and document templates developed by the German city of Munich.”

See Gummersbach completes switch to open source.

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