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David Kramer’s high-entropy blog

Using And Making Open Source Software

I’ve been using Linux/UNIX for about 20 years.  I am also Assistant Director of the Boston Linux and UNIX Group, and have contributed to several open source products.  In general, I find open source software more flexible, more transparent (no security through obscurity), and more focused on what’s needed instead of what marketing says would be cool.  I like that open source software is usually developed modularly, with separate components each doing what they do well, each designed to be combined with other component, each with its inputs and outputs documented for fitting Tab A into Slot B.    Open source’s community support model (with a sufficiently large community) is often far superior to calling tech support.  All that said, I still believe very strongly in “the right tool for the job”.  Sometimes open source is not the answer.

Just like commercial software, it’s important to evaluate not only how well the software suits your need, but the “health” of the product and its creators.  Just because it’s still available doesn’t mean it’s still supported, updated, and in common use.  That may not be a deal-breaker for you, but it does need to be factored in to the decision.

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Give Me Liberty And Give Me Bugs

“Give Me Liberty And Give Me Bugs” is a quote by Martin Owens, leader of Ubuntu Massachusetts and fellow BLU (Boston Linux and UNIX Group) member.  You see, it all started innocently enough with a thread on the BLU list about the iPad.  The flames hadn’t actually reached the second floor yet, so I decided to squirt some napalm on it by mentioning that (1) I just bought an iPhone to replace my dead-end Windows Mobile phone, and (2) I have given up on trying to sync music and PDA data with Linux, and am now using an old beater Windows XP laptop just for syncing and backing up my phone.  You see, I’m a PDA geek.  I track lots of metadata about my calendar events, contact data, tasks, etc.  Since the PDA as a separate device is pretty much dead at this point (s0b) I rely on finding third party software for my phone.

But back to the argument.  There were two dominant camps.

  1. Those that see any vendor lock-in techniques, DRM, planned obsolescence, and anything that prevent you from doing whatever you want with something you own, as an affront to nature, and should be illegal.  They would rather have Open Source/unencumbered products that didn’t quite work right than locked-down commercial products that work very well, but only in the One True Way as determined by the vendor.
  2. Those that see companies as entities that will generally focus on their own goals, charging as much as they can get away with for as little as they can get away with, targeting their products towards the target audience they choose.  They feel to expect otherwise is being idealistic.  One should act accordingly, and not act shocked when Apple releases a new version five months after you buy one.

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Event: Boston Linux and UNIX Meeting: Rooftop Mesh Networks

I’m an officer in the Boston Linux and UNIX group, and have been a member for over a decade.  Here are the details of the Wednesday, 06/17 meeting:

Date and Time: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm

Location: MIT Building E51, Room 315

Presenters: Kurt Keville, SDC Coordinator, MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (kkeville alum mit edu) and Brian DeLacey, (bdelacey gmail com)

Kurt Keville, Brian DeLacey and others discuss the 802.11s (Mesh) standard and what it means for embedded Linux distros such as OpenWRT and Robix, the distros of choice for the upcoming local Muniwireless rollouts. Kurt gave earlier talks on Muniwireless at our February 2008 and August 2006 meetings

Note that Brian and Kurt will be holding an all-afternoon pre-meeting, beginning at noon in E51-063. This afternoon session will build a multi-node solar-powered super computer as a clustered web-server using fast flash and Marvell’s SheevaPlugs. Rabeeh Khoury of Marvell will be onsite for lots of Linux and SheevaPlug Q&A. Sage Radachowsky will be showcasing his latest solar circuitry. The working SWARM system will be demonstrated at the main meeting, but anyone is welcome to drop by and pick up a soldering iron or keyboard to work with earlier in the day.

Also, this month is BLU’s 15-year anniversary, and we will be celebrating with a cake at 7:00 PM.

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Event: 05/30/09 Linux InstallFest XXXIII

I’m Assistant Director of the Boston Linux and UNIX group.  A few times a year, we have an event at MIT where people come down with their computer and we help them install Linux, or just answer their questions.  The event is free (though we do ask for a donation, since we’re not-for-profit), and we’re there all day.

Date and Time: Saturday, May 30, 2009 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Location: MIT Building E51, Room 061

Summary: A periodic get-together where volunteers from our group help people with Linux installation and other hands-on issues.We invite you to become a member of the Boston area Linux community and offer our assistance in getting Linux installed on your computer.

We hold our InstallFests several times each year; we meet on a weekend at a location where people can bring in their computers and we can help them install Linux or other Unix variants. It’s also a great way to get together and share our collective experience with each other in a hands-on learning environment, in the grand tradition of the UNIX community.

For more information, check out the page on the BLU website.

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