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.

Posted in technology | 31 Comments

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.

Posted in technology | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

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. ;-)

Posted in food, horticulture | Tagged | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in technology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 15 Comments

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.

Posted in Linux in Education, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in technology | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Embarrassment

This post began as a comment provoked by a troll… It thought it deserved to be on the front page.

————–

satrain18 wrote, “Your graph ALWAYS shows Linux gaining marketshare, but you NEVER show MS Windows(not “that other os” or “M$” like a childish zealot) marketshare because it’s too embarrassing.”

OK, here it is, courtesy StatCounter. Embarrased?

Thanks, that’s the highest correlation on any of my graphs of shares of page-views. Looks quadratic to me. That’s what you get when something is falling freely. The first 10 percentage points fell away in two years. The last 10 percentage points disappeared in one year. Expect a “dead-cat” bounce…

Then, there’s Ethiopia:

————–

The thing is this “share” business is a zero-sum game. What M$ loses in one part, */Linux picks up elsewhere. A lot has gone to Android/Linux which is a nice light OS for smartphones and tablets, but not so great on desktop/notebook PCs. It’s just difficult for applications designed for a tiny screen and touch to be suitable for huge screens, say 20″+, and typing and keyboards. Voice to text input is great in tight places but it’s not good enough yet for voluminous production. It would drive me nuts on this blog for instance. I can type faster than I can say, “http://gs.statcounter.com/”, particularly when I have a dozen keyboard shortcuts laid in for frequently occurring stuff.

For a producer, rather than a consumer, a desktop/notebook PC is better simply because you don’t have to plug the PC into anything to get the increased performance. It’s “always on”. GNU/Linux and X or whatever develops next has no problem with screens of any size, including an array of screens. I can leave my “aircraft-carrier”-like keyboard sitting on my desktop without worrying about the lack of portability. That keyboard has been taking a pounding all over northern Canada and in my home for a decade now. It just refuses to die and I have done my best not to destroy its fragile PS/2 connector…

No. Android/Linux can displace that other OS on small, cheap, mobile PCs but not the workstation. GNU/Linux has a huge opportunity this way. The whole world knows that */Linux works. Why not use it on the desktop/notebook PC? It’s happening in some countries faster than others but it’s happening.

Posted in technology | 5 Comments

Just Say No

I love Debian. It’s a great organization with an important mission, to deliver FLOSS to the world. Their GNU/Linux is very easy to install and to use and they have a huge repository. Unfortunately, a new init-system, systemd, has been forced upon them by RedHat and “partners”. An init-system is just supposed to start things up but systemd is a new layer of supervisor on top of Linux and everything is being made to depend on it, including the desktop environment. Only GNOME desktop environment is up to speed with Debian Testing, so that will be the new default desktop. Earlier, Debian had chosen XFCE which was popular and light enough to fit in a single CD…

Instead, GNOME, which breaks most of the traditional “desktop” meme, has returned to being the default. Newbies will need their hands held just to start something up. Single-CD installations are dead. That hammers much of the emerging “market” for GNU/Linux where CDs and even electricity and networks are in short supply. Of course, one can install XFCE4 instead of GNOME but the user has to take charge, something newbies may find intimidating.

Just say “No!”. Uncheck GNOME. Check XFCE in the “tasksel” page of the installer or use APT to install XFCE4 after you boot your system. You can do it. You have the power.
Default:A better choice:

This is what you get with that simple choice.
A simple desktop. It simply works for you. There is not a simple way to remove systemd but you can control your desktop environment. Just do it.

Posted in technology | 30 Comments

When Consumers Have M$’s Price In Their Face

Consumers and businesses have long been squeezed down M$’s cattle-chute to monopoly.“enterprises will ultimately start paying for Windows by the user on a subscription model even as Microsoft gives away the platform on smaller screens.” Speculation is that the next release of that other OS will be the last. From then on customers will be charged per user per unit of time…

That will change everything because at long last users will know the price of that other OS separately from the hardware. OEMs won’t be collecting this fee from retailers and consumers. Consumers will be seeing the bill on their credit-card statements. Chances are really good that some portion of consumers will decide to stop paying and use FLOSS and GNU/Linux instead. The bundling of an OS with PCs locked into M$’s way of doing things will be on shaky ground. “I Accept” will no longer be a click-through process. It will be a credit-card number… If consumers can see the price they will ask retailers for alternatives and retailers will supply GNU/Linux on some PCs at least. There should be no reluctance. After all Android/Linux is selling like hotcakes.

This is it folks. THE END OF MONOPOLY will be a game released to manufacturers some time in the next year or so. M$ will no doubt get some OEMs to sell the subscriptions but some consumers and retailers will jump the fence and escape to freedom. Faced with an infinite future cost, all sentient beings should ask questions rather than accept M$ as a cost of using the hardware folks own.

I recommend Debian GNU/Linux take up the slack. It’s what Ubuntu GNU/Linux is derived from but you can’t beat the original for ease of installation/use. It all comes down to a better model of IT for the user, Free Software versus yet another subscription. Just as consumers shop around for their mobile subscription they will shop around for their immobile subscription and $0 is hard to beat. The Four Freedoms certainly trump M$’s EULA. Consumers will now have a choice. They can buy the hardware and their software separately.

See Windows 10 may be the last piece of Microsoft's cloud puzzle.

Posted in technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

ARMed And Dangerous To Monopoly

For decades personal computing and much of the rest of IT has been locked into x86 architecture.“Because of the success in scaling from 20nm SoC to 16nm FinFET, ARM and TSMC have decided to collaborate again for 10FinFET. This early pathfinding work will provide valuable learning to enable physical design IP and methodologies in support of customers to tape-out 10nm FinFET designs as early as the fourth quarter of 2015.” That changed a bit when AMD pushed AMD64 on the world, but the bulk of processors were still sold by Intel. They even paid OEMs to shun AMD. That’s now water under the bridge with ARM developing processors/components of processors that do the job better for small cheap computers and even servers and HPC computers.

It gets even better. ARM and its “partners” are drawing a bead on 10nm which will make ARMed processors even less expensive to produce/operate. This will allow even more processors to be sold for tiny gadgets, mobile gadgets, personal computers and yes, servers and HPC. Of course Intel can do this too, reclaiming some performance leads but Intel will have to go head to head on price/performance, the antithesis of monopoly.

It’s all good for consumers and other users of IT/electronics/gadgets. Now, about the operating systems to run these things…

Ah, poor Wintel. Life was easy back in the day. Now M$ and Intel will have to work for a living.

See ARM and TSMC unveil roadmap for 64-bit ARM-based processors on 10nm FinFET process.

Posted in technology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Lovely Brass

Despite cold and wind, I went out to the bush today to check out the old muzzle-loading rifle. It worked beautifully, as usual. We knew it would but wanted to make sure we had all the stuff together ready for the hunting season: ramrod, cleaning patches, thick greased patches, powder, round ball, percussion caps, cap-holders… Yes. Everything worked but our cold fingers. We cleaned and oiled the trusty tool afterwards, ready for the day. One interesting observation was that the thing fired nicely even with only two caps fired to clean out the “channel”. ATF works.

Along the way, we found where another shooter had tried out a rifle, and left a nice pile of the shiniest .308 Winchester brass I have ever seen. No kidding. This stuff looks like it was made yesterday. I snaffled it up and will reload it at some future date with medicine for deer or targets. Good brass like this can handle dozens of reloadings so it may be the last brass I ever need at my age. [Note to trolls: I am aware that a few of the cases in this picture are not new and shiny or are not .308 Win. Some are .223 Rem and some are .308 Win reloads rather aged and worn. I didn't bother to sort them out because the cleaning process will be the same for all.] The processing of the brass is fairly low-tech.

  1. I wash out the sand that’s inside with plenty of soapy hot water and let the cases dry.
  2. I will full-length size these by lubricating the outside of the case and forcing the case in and out of a die. The lubricant prevents sticking and makes the work easier. I used to use STP Oil Treatment for this but a touch of SAE90 gear oil also works. This process also removes the spent primer.
  3. I wash and dry the cases again to remove the lubricant. The lubricant catches grit, and messes other things up like the friction between case and firing chamber.
  4. I then reprime the cases with my favourite/plentiful large rifle primer from Winchester, CCI or Federal or Remington. They all work for me.
  5. I then recharge the cases with a carefully weighed charge of my favourite powder, IMR4064, for just about any bullet. We use 150 or 165 grain pointed bullets for shooting across openings or 180 grain RN for shooting in the bush. Any good bullet will shoot into a tiny group in this calibre.
  6. I seat the bullet to a standard depth known to give good accuracy with a seating die. Once these cases are fired again in our own rifles they will not need full-length sizing again, just neck-sizing, further increasing accuracy and the life of the cases.

Well, if we don’t get our deer with the muzzle-loader, we will in the following season with the .308 or 8mm Mauser. It won’t be for lack of brass if we fail.

PS: Thanks to the litterer who left us this bounty. It’s a good thing we reload our ammunition. We don’t have to buy brass or loaded ammunition and our stuff is customized to work well in our firearms at a much lower cost per round. Typically commercial hunting ammunition costs ~$1.25 per shot. We can reload for about $0.64: 40₵ for a bullet, 20₵ for powder and 4₵ for primer. The difference is the commercial stuff may or may not shoot well in our rifle but ours always does. A commercial maker of ammunition must make cases a bit undersized so that the smallest chamber of any rifle will hold the round. We make our cases fit our chambers exactly, giving about half the size of group on target and sometimes much smaller if the muzzle-velocity is adjusted by the charge to depart at a flat spot on the vibrations of the barrel… So, these cases will be given loving care and give us great performance for many years to come. I still have brass for .308 Win that I bought back in the 1970s. It still shoots as well now as it did then and I was so much younger then.

UPDATE The finished product. The necks of the cases have a pretty nasty crimp from the factory.
That will gradually be erased with use as the brass gets extruded into the neck on firing. A few trimmings to shorten the elongated cases to spec. will cut that off.

45 grains of IMR4064 under a 150 grain SP will do the job. These aren’t target-shooting rounds but deer aren’t targets. They’re food.

Posted in firearms, hunting | Tagged , | Leave a comment