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Sexism and Linux 17 December, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Debian, Linux.
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A lot of people have been kicking up a stink because of a post on a Debian developer mailing list that was designed to incite anger. In and of themselves, flames are nothing new and certainly nothing to get excited about. What is, however, is that in this instance sexist humour was used, demonstrating a  deliberate intention to insult female developers in the Debian project. According to a guide to encourage women to participate in Linux development, this is the number one thing not to allow.

Sexist jokes are the number one way to drive women out of any group…

Already two developers have considered leaving the project. Discouraging developers from open source projects is a bad idea. Clearly, this is a significant issue for project leaders to face. The questions that must be asked are why does this occur; and what can be done about it?

1. Attacking others is a result of insecurity.

Josselin Mouette, the one that wrote the offensive post, has written about it on his blog. He makes a few telling statements.

While a few developers have the chance to be paid for their job on Debian, most of us are doing it on our spare time, for fun

Debian has a long history of its releases being late. The previous release, codenamed ‘etch’ was delayed for several months. This was due to a highly controversial decision made by the Debian Project Leader (DPL) of the time who created a programme to raise funds, and then pay some people so that the etch release would be on time. This backfired, as there was an objection “that by financially supporting developers, Debian would become a two-class system”. The current DPL may be in favour of introducing a similar scheme in which some developers would be paid.

The reason Joss writes his tasteless joke is possibly out of anger at the current DPL, and possibly out of fear of his own contributions not being valued. Because of this, Joss tries to draw attention to himself, and build up his own reputation. Joss’s original post contained a link to a site that counted the number of visitors. This is purely egotistical.

2. Attacking others is the result of poor guidelines.

The DPL, when “faced with a sarcastic email sent to an announcement mailing list, immediately rushed in to send a ban request to list masters”. This is the right response, but it it only reactionary. It would be better if clear policies regarding what is allowed to be posted to mailing lists were in place.

3. Attacking others is the result of poor moderation.

As well as better guidelines, we need to use better software. One article in FSM suggests that forums are the answer, as the moderation system is better. Also, a critical element of every forum is the little bar that shows how respected someone is. That way, a noob is marked out, and it is made clear that their opinion is not that of the group.

So ban the jerks and put the fun back in for everyone. Mailing list software is lousy at moderation options, so don’t use it!

Finally, I agree with Joss on one thing:

So it seems the only thing the DPL has to do, at a time when we’d rather need people to fix RC bugs, is to protect the project from seditious members

And at a time when devs like you should be doing their jobs, they are sending sarcastic and inflammatory messages designed to provoke anger and boost their ego. Did someone drop you on your head when you were a baby?

At the moment, the major distributions are Ubuntu, Fedora and Suse. If someone asked me about Linux a few years ago, I would have recommended Debian to them. Now I’d recommend Ubuntu.

Debian has never been a user friendly distribution. It has always had an elitist ideology, discouraging beginners. Ubuntu came along and created something better. Community backed, delivering reliable releases, and targeting ordinary users on the desktop, Ubuntu has achieved what Debian never accomplished. After Ubuntu stole the spotlight from Debian, a nasty and ultimately pathetic undercurrent started to appear. This doesn’t help anyone, and it is killing off the last of the project. Debian has been marginalised by Ubuntu, and will continue its slide into irrelevance if the childish antics of its developers continue.

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OpenSUSE 11 22 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Distro Wars, Linux, Suse, Ubuntu.
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Having been disappointed by Ubuntu 8.10, I moved on to Fedora. Absolute failure. Looked ok, couldn’t set up a network connection. Fro some reason, /bin and /sbin were not in root’s $PATH, so for a moment I was unable to run dhclient and ifconfig. Don’t have a clue why that was. Next, I tried the Red Hat admin GUIs. Why they are GUIs, escapes me. you have to type system-config-x, as there is stupidly system-install-packages and system-control-network, so no tab completion for you. This is exceptionally stupid, as the former is just the program pirut, and the latter is a form of system-config-network. Why there are two escapes me. On the plus side, the graphical installer (anaconda) was good, and the startup display is quite good. It also has a nice gdm setup that does away with usernames (you click on your icon then enter a password).

Next, up, OpenSUSE. This has a very nice version of the old installer, which, on newer hardware, actually runs decently. The installer is very clean with a green and silvery look. On the downside, however, it suffers from the same problems as before. Partitioning is a mess. Surprise surprise, I don’t want to wipe my disc. To get custom partitioning, you have to click on a drop box, then click on partitioning. It’s something most people would want to configure, yet is bundled with useless options in a hard to access location. No warning is given that it is going to format a disk, except for small red text, so noobs could easily just click through and not realise until it is too late that they are going to lose data. That one really should have been addressed by now. Also, even though I am installing from a DVD, it has a funny box that lists the installation media that are in use, along with a total. Looks a bit stupid. The install is extremely slow, compared to others.

Now I start to remember why I dislike Suse. First, it makes you except a EULA. I feel dirty whenever I have to do this. It also makes you accept one for Firefox, something that caused a furore in the Ubuntu crowd.

Next, it comes without nano. This is highly annoying as nano is my primary editor.

Thirdly, it bundles a desktop search called kerry beagle. This may be usefull for some users, but this really should be opt-in, rahter than a difficult opt-out. Somewhere, there should be an explicit option to enable or disable it. It caches the user’s home directory, as well as keeping all of firefox’s web history. Also, even in KDE 3.5, it bundles the stupid ugly menu, which Novell made. Though, it is easy to go back to the getter ‘classic’ menu.

Fourth, it gave me the hostname linux-th98. Whatever the hell that is. I don’t remember a choice. Ubuntu handles this by making the domain username-laptop or somehting, which works fairly well for some.

Fifth, yast blows. Yast2 (graphical) is a pain, and the non graphical one is really difficult to work with (Imagine a UI where instead of having a mouse, you press tab.) I wanted to eliminate the beagle group, but there is no groups settings that I found, other than user 1000. The Gnome settings dialogues are more useful. Flowing from this is that files such as fstab and menu.lst are expected to be edited in a stupid GUI (even though they’re text) and so there is no clean tab format.

So. All in all not too bad, as I can’t find too many things to complain about. Most of these are my personal preference. There are other things that have good defaults, like the screensaver and kdm theme. I’ll hang onto this one for a while if I can figure out how to blast beagle off the face of the Earth.

On the black machine, Suse wins. But generally, I would say that Ubuntu wins thus far for ordinary users. Of cource, Debian is the natural choice for those in the know.

Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex Dissapoints 17 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Debian, Distro Wars, Grub, Linux, Ubuntu.
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Ubuntu has a long and sad history of disregarding the needs and wants of power users in their drive for ease for users who are unfamiliar with, and have little inclination to become familiar with Linux. To me, it’s dissapointing. More hardline flamers have become angry at Ubuntu and Canonical. This is my experience.

I have a cheap computer. An old one died, so I simply bought a few cheap components to replace the dead box, reusing some drives. The machine has integrated grpahics, because I haven’t coughed up for a real card yet. Vesa drivers work fine, but both the 2d nv and proprietary nvidia divers don’t work. Probably because the mbo only cost me ~70AUD. I’ve known about this since I’ve had the machine. I can’t be bothered to fix it, because I can use 3d apps on another machine.

Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex uses a new version of xorg. Supposedly, it has a very little configuration needed and can dun with no /etc/X11/xorg.conf. This sounds like a good idea. But, for me it means that there are problems.

After finishing the Debian installer, Ubuntu boots. No grub menu is shown, another pet peeve I have. If you do hit escape, you are confrinted with an ugly, black screen. Then you get usplash. Great for some. Then again, if you turn it off you get ugly readouts from a kernel with useless timing enabled. Ok, this is a problem in Debian too, but I compiled my own kernel. Then you get the same ugly gdm theme Ubuntu has been using since forever.

The problem is, gdm didn’t come up. Rather than dropping to a shell to let me diagnose this, there is an ugly black screen with low resolution. I try as few options, none of which work. To finish applying settings, I’m informed that the xserver will restart in one minute. Pressing ok leaves the screen pitch black. The Ubuntu developers must be fond of black.

Dropping to a shell lets me find that there is indeed an xorg.conf. Wonderful. startx works, after killing xinit. And he voila, gnome appears. In SVGA (800×600) resolution. Xrandr will only let me change this down to 640×480. Brilliant. Copying over Debian’s configuration file is no good. Somehow, the new xorg does not accept screen resolutions in the configuration file. Anyway, after trying the other trick I’ve heard of, I remove the file. This works wonders, and now, somehow, my screen size becomes 1024×768 when using startx. No such luck when starting, the xserver still refuses to start. My next move is to uninstall the nv driver. Good thinking, I hear you say. Well, now gdm will start. But somehow, my former trick doesn’t work, and I am stuck with SVGA. So what am I supposed to do? Reinstall a broken driver?

Forget it. I’m sticking with Debian. Debian has failed in interesting ways, but I have always been able to fix it. I don’t like xorg.conf, or for that matter grub’s menu.lst, or fstab. But I’ve just learned to get used to them. Sooner or later I’m going to man up and just use vim. Don’t get me wrong, making the user do less work is great. I like apt, and rarely compile anything from source. I’m not a sadist. But, I think that these ‘miracle’ fixes, like having no configuration files, are a dumb idea. Why? Because there are situations that no developer can foresee, and they will end up just not working. And what do you do then? You edit the configs. I’ve done things the hard way, and my Debian install has more or less worked ever since.

Compiling 2.6.27 13 October, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Linux.
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Compiling your own kernel is something of a rite of passage. For me, it was convenient to update to the latest kernel in order to use those wireless drivers. Well, if you didn’t know, here’s how to do it:

– Be prepared to install some development tools if you don’t already have them. Make will throw up an error if this happens.
– Download the latest kernel source. this will be about 40 MB.
– Extract
– Run ‘make menuconfig’ to configure the kernel. But you probably don’t know how to, and just want the defaults.
– ‘make’. This will take quite a long time
– ‘make modules_install’ and ‘make install’. That’s what works for me.
– If not configured already, edit /boot/grub/menu.lst. update-grub can do this automagically.

Well, there you go. Now you’re a *real* Linux user. Can you feel the power flowing through your veins?

Stay Away From Grub2 30 September, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Debian, Grub, Linux, Ubuntu.
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I strongly recommend that you don’t try upgrading to grub2, and developers don’t implement it in new releases. I have a multiboot setup like most users, and bad things happened to me.

Having read about ‘new features’ in the next version of the GNU Grand Unified Bootloader, grub2, I decided to upgrade.

At first, the grub2 installer kept grub ‘legacy’, which could chainload into grub2, with the first entry in grub being:

title        Chainload into GRUB 2
root        (hd0,2)
kernel        /boot/grub/core.img

Unfortunately, I then removed grub legacy, replacing it entirely with grub2.  This left me booting into a screen with only Debian entries. This is no good; I have other distros on my laptop, like most users would have other OSes such as Windows.

So, next, I decide to edit the configuration file. I am used to editing menu.lst. Grub2 does not use menu.lst, it uses a file called grub.cfg (easy to confuse with grub.conf, which in my CentOS install menu.lst is a link to).

Let me digress and talk about the differences between grub.cfg and menu.lst.

Here’s menu.lst; with a familiar header:

# menu.lst - See: grub(8), info grub, update-grub(8)
#            grub-install(8), grub-floppy(8),
#            grub-md5-crypt, /usr/share/doc/grub
#            and /usr/share/doc/grub-doc/.

As well as being full of comments that help users to understand and edit the file, as well as ‘examples’ of Linux and Windows entries. Then there are the entries themselves, using a familiar, clean tabbed format that is default in Debian.

title        Debian GNU/Linux, kernel 2.6.26-1-686
root        (hd0,2)
kernel        /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.26-1-686 root=/dev/sda3 ro
initrd        /boot/initrd.img-2.6.26-1-686

title           Ubuntu /dev/sda1
root            (hd0,0)
kernel          /vmlinuz root=/dev/sda1
initrd          /initrd.img
savedefault
boot

As well, I have a list of kernels that Ubuntu populated using update-grub, and that can be loaded using ‘configfile’

title        >Ubuntu List
root        (hd0,0)
configfile    /boot/grub/menu.lst

But to edit grub.cfg, first we get this friendly welcome:

# DO NOT EDIT THIS FILE

Then we get these nice, easy, simpler list entries:

menuentry "Debian GNU/Linux, linux 2.6.26-1-686" {
linux    /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.26-1-686 root=UUID=124b49d6-a3eb-4eae-9e5d-e0000b5efda3 ro
initrd    /boot/initrd.img-2.6.26-1-686
}

The problem is, they aren’t. After users have struggled for a long time to edit menu.lst in order to make their computers boot properly, they will now need to learn a complicated, obscure format. It seems difficult if not impossible to convert boot entries in menu.lst files to grub.cfg files, with time being wasted adding unnecessary brackets and quotes, whereas they were not needed before.

Back to what happened. So, wanting to add in an Ubuntu entry I take menu.lst, and use find and replace to change ‘title’ to ‘menuentry’, ‘root’ to ‘set root=’ and ‘kernel’ to ‘linux’. Makes perfect sense. So I enter the following entry based on menu.lst

menuentry    "Ubuntu /dev/sda1" {
root=(hd0,0)
linux              /vmlinuz root=/dev/sda1
initrd          /initrd.img
}

The problem is, after ignoring  the ominous “DO NOT EDIT THIS FILE”, grub2 then refused to boot anything, throwing up an error that I need to boot the kernel first. Before what?  Luckily, I had a version of grub legacy on my usb stick, and only wasted about 10 minutes installing grub back onto the hard disk. Now my laptop works fine, and is able to boot into Ubuntu, Debian and CentOS.

I have a feeling that this problem arises with the difference in partitions, since grub2 seems to use variables that remain set for a section, rather than having a ‘root’ line in each entry. This probably makes sense in some applications. It sounds like a good idea for USB sticks, where the stick will change position in relation to other disks on different computers (but the UUID won’t change). If you want to edit your grub.cfg, probably edit the ‘custom’ section, rather than adding an entry in the ‘linux’ section

So, for me grub2 could only boot up Debian or nothing at all. There is very little documentation on how to edit the confusing grub.cfg, compared to menu.lst, where there is much community support. Whatever the benefits of grub2 are, I don’t think that they are worth the damage it could cause. Developers should steer clear of using the code, as it will only mean grief for the end user.

Near full wipe, reinstall 6 August, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Debian, Linux, Suse, Ubuntu, Windows.
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Well, I have to say that I respect what this guy has to say. But I am a little offended at the notion that you need windows to come in and save you when things go wrong. Anyway, with the power of suse, I completely removed the extended partition, and repartitioned with four primary ext3 partitions. A new extended partiton houses only one swap partition. No need for windows here. One other good thing; Suse seems to be able to suspend to disc just fine.