Any updates on FOSDEM and the newly minted Fedora EMEA non-profit will have to wait for a bit. I'm in Israel, with very limited Internet access, and a very limited computer. I can't wait to go home, actually, as I feel very out of place in this 22 degree weather (75 Fahrenheit).

This morning I woke up in another place, on another couch, in another time zone, to realize that this time, my brother is no longer single, but married in the grandest of Style. The wedding was held at the Regency in Jerusalem, overlooking the entire city, with the same sense of drama he used to have since the days he was acting in high school. We (that is my family) still took the opportunity to remind him of his childhood, by dragging out his stuffed animals from when he was a child and to tell him their stories after he left them to go to Israel. As soon as I have the pictures from the photographer, you'll see exactly what I mean.

De Rijn

When the cloud cover and rain suddenly break at 3 in the afternoon, after the weather report forcasted rain all day long, you get some of the most dramatic and beautiful skies ever. Yesterday was the sit around and chill out day, with a friend, in between all the crazy things I'm doing on this long trip. I'm staying at the small town of Wageningen in the east Netherlands, and to give you a bit of context, it's where the treaty between Holland and Germany was signed after WWII.

Apparently it's also very close to nature. When my friend and I went out, we only walked about two blocks until we were pretty much out in the country side. There's a pretty big factory near by, but surrounded by it are farms with loads of animals just milling about all day long. A little further away is the Rijn, or the Rhine, river. This spot apparently is prime hang out location in the summer here, but on a day like yesterday, it was a bit windy for most people to bother coming out. Even so, it was alot of fun to climb out onto the jetties and just stand in the win looking over the Rhine and enjoying the scenery made by the clouds as a beautiful backdrop.

The Dutch country side is a beautiful place to be, if you ever get the chance. From the great food that is really cheap to the quaint little dutch houses that dot the landscape to the musical church bells that ring every quarter hour, to the closeness you can get to nature, it's incredibly relaxing.

But for now, it's off to Israel. It's a shame I have to leave so soon.

(Notes on FOSDEM later, when I have my head together on it.)

Fosdem Part 1

For the past two days I've been at Fosdem. I really haven't had a chance to sit down and breathe, and I probably won't until sometime next month. In the meantime, you all will have to settle for a list of what I've done

  • I stood at the Fedora booth, where we got alot of attention from people who wanted to play with the OLPC model we had there. It's a good thing I've been to the OLPC office before, because I was able to answer alot of random questions.

  • I spoke to a few SuSE people about getting Smolt into the installer. I can't make any promises, but I think it's going to happen

  • I witnessed the founding of the Fedora EMEA non-profit organisation. It's a group designed to support Fedora Ambassador activity in Europe. More on that later

  • Learnt a little about SELinux from one of the developers.

  • Discussed integration of Smolt and it's capacity for explaining what hardware works with the Linux Matters Website

  • Presented my speech about Smolt and data privacy. I'll have the slides up later.

  • Had a chat with Jeroen about working with Wevisor and Revisor. More on that later too.

There is also alot more about it. I will probably go and write out a longer blog post about more of the details. Think of this as a list of what is to come.

Who ever said anything about it being easy.

On the tails of losing a debit card, I thought I had lost my Student ID card tonight as well. While it certainly isn't as important as a debit card, it certainly allows me several benefits. Namely, I need it to ride the bus for free tomorrow morning to the airport. Well, it is found. It decided to hide in a back corner of my wallet, which I couldn't see until I took everything out of it.

Thanks to a couple of tips by two people, named malcom and rehan, who I regret to not know in person, I at least have the debit card situation under control. Thanks alot!

It's off to Fosdem!

Credit Card Madness

Forgetting your debit card at the ATM somehow, bad.

Doing this two days before leaving the continent, very bad.

I now have two choices. I can fly with a fair amount of currency in pocket, and exchange it there at a notoriously exorbitant place at the airport, or find an equally questionable place run by money launderers in town. Risks are high.

The other option is to play the whole switcheroo. I can pull money from a credit card, and then make sure to pay it just before I make the withdrawal. The really tricky part, though, is figuring out how interest is calculated. Let's say the regular charge rate on the card is 15% and a cash advance is 20%. I withdraw 200 dollars, and make a payment right away of an equal value. I also have another hypothetical 500 dollar balance at the rate of 15%. How is that payment applied to the balance? Is it distributed equally in 5 parts to 2, giving me some odd number of a interest rate? Or is the bank smart enough to realize they already stripped me bare?

Which leads to my next question. Did the ancient greeks, when they came up with their rational point of view on the world envision such a system where such ambiguous questions could evolve? Or are we just merely becoming the fabled 'post-human' playing at building incomprehensible worlds like the one we're evolving in?

Preparing for FOSDEM (and some German too)

Despite my American Handicap, the US government has seen it fit to allow me to purchase a ticket out of this country unchallenged. Assuming I actually make it, I will be at Fosdem 2008 this weekend.

But first some German.
Wenn Sie gern Deutsch lesen, schauen Sie kurz nach unter am Ende.

I had a look at the lineup, and it is, for a lack of a better word, intense. There are going to be so many things going on at once, that it's going to be a real challenge evangelizing Fedora upon unsuspecting people and actually being able to attend all the presentations I want to hear. It's also going to be my first time in Brussels, and I should definitely try to make the most of my trip there.

I am also going to be making a short presentation about some of the latest developments in Smolt-land. We have an exciting new privacy feature that makes it very easy to participate in the Smolt program, and remain anonymous. I'm going to discuss some of the technical tricks we use to pull it off, how it affects you, and what other developers can do with it. You don't need to be a genius to understand everything, though, so come one come all.

Also, ich weiss nicht genau was Höfflichkeit bei Fosdem wäre, aber, indem spreche ich Deutsch gern (vielleicht nicht perfekt), möchte ich meine Referrat über Smolt ins Deutsch verfügbar machen. Ich werde über Datenschutz und Smolt presentieren und wie kann mann es allgemein zu öffentliche Web-Anwendungen verwenden. Man muss nicht super ingelligent sein, also bitte machen Sie mit, wenn Sie Entwicklern oder einfache Benutzern sind. Meine Präsentation soll ins Englisch mit Deutsche Untertiteln sein. (Es ist leider noch nicht geschrieben.) Ich werde versuchen langsam und deutlich zu sprechen, mit viele verwandten Worter, und danach kann ich Fragen auf Deutsch beantworten.

It's winter

When it's 16 degrees outside, (that's -9C for you canadians and other miscellaneous), there's nothing like a warm down blanket, while you bask in the crackling glow of an aging CRT, as a big steaming pot of Fedora 8 is brewing on your sister's laptop.

b0rken laptop

Well, anyone who knows me knows how much I hate the POS gateway laptop I've had for the past year and half. This is a laptop that managed to break down literally the day after the warranty expired. Now the screen has a huge crack in it. Anyone who was with me at Red Hat orientation last summer will know exactly what I mean. (Think of the Macbook)

In order to convince people they should never buy a gateway product if they can help it, let me air some of my grievances

  • The screen was never very bright, and hard to read in direct daylight.

  • Partially due to a bug in gnome-power-manager that was simply not aware of this 'feature', the backlight could be turned off completely when given the wrong brightness setting. Having the screen 'dim' would cause the monitor to flicker annoyingly.

  • The screen would react to pressure and ripple.

  • The power connector was fragile and towards the end of its life, (and by that i mean a whole third), the connection was incredibly shaky, proving to be a real PITA to stay connected. This would cause the screen to dim, and I refer you to my previous grievance, as the flickering would make it hard to do work.

  • The battery life, advertised as a 6 cell battery that would last me a good 3 hours doing casual work would last no more than 1 hour and 40 minutes on a light load. Doing coding related work brought power lifetime down to a measly 1 hour.

  • I'm not sure if 58C is a healthy temperature for a Core 2 Duo chip at moderate load.

  • Linux friendliness was non-existent. Certain things in the bios, like on screen displays for brightness, suspend, hardware reinitialization were a joke. At least the kernel was smart enough to work around and ignore these buggy features.

  • Because of the acid in my sweat, the case picked up some rather unattractive stains that would have made resale nearly impossible.

In Gateway's favour, I have a friend who bought the tablet, the C-140, and for her needs, the laptop works like a dream. Granted she isn't running Linux, but none of these hardware issues have cropped up for her. Furthermore, the big selling point is the quality of the sound system when it comes to spatialisation of sound. When the musical artist takes the time to post process their music, certain sounds can be processed to sound like they are coming from around you. To achieve this effect, it requires a certain level of fidelity from the speakers, which both Gateway laptops excelled at.

Bottom line is this. Between my router being crazy, and suffering the hiccups it has been for the past few months, and my laptop being super crazy and suffering the hiccups, belches, farts, and other expressions of sorrow, it's really discouraging to have to sit down at my computer and work. I want to point out that the same condition also applies to software in some degree. While many people reading this blog enjoy tinkering with hardware and solving problems, many people, especially non developers and engineers often times have a job to do. Creating a system that suffers such subtle problems only angers customers and users alike. It's bad for branding and quality, and it only serves to reinforce customers who hate all products with a certain name. I can safely say that both OpenWRT and Gateway, for what they may be worth are on my disencourage by all means list.

Penn Pilsner

Why, oh why, oh sweet tasty Penn Pilsner beer do you have to taste like a lager? My experiences with beer in this state has been excellence, despite Dan Onorato's plan to stop it through a 10% tax on alcohol. Quite a few of the beer's I've picked up here have been excellent, rivaling some of the beers I've had in Germany and the Netherlands. After having a Penn Weizen, which wasn't the best weizen I've ever had, but certainly had a very authentic weizen beer flavour, I was expective an authentic Bavarian style pilsner when I opened that bottle of Penn Pilsner.

What does a Bavarian 'Pils' entail? you might ask. A Pils tends to be spicy, with a clear sharp hops flavour. Some pilsners have a slight smell of skunkweed, owing to its near relative strain of marijuana for a cousin. It is a flavour meant to be sipped through a narrow thing class with a slightly tapered opening, that leaves you feeling perhaps a bit refreshed afterwards. An Edel-Pils is a variety that is aged a bit more, and has a yeastier flavour. This is my favourite lager beer.

(Some american brewers actually brew some interesting beers that are cleverly designed to taste and smell like all sorts of strains of marijuana. I highly recommend Trögenator's Nugget Nectar for this reason alone. The taste is uncanny.)

So when I poured myself myself that Penn Pilsner, The last thing I expected was something smelling and tasting like a very good pretzel. This is the hallmark of a great "Helles" beer. It is your standard bread and butter lager with a strong grain flavour that almost makes you feel like you're drinking a pretzel. It's golden colour makes you want to frolic through a field with some blond bavarian Mädel while a big oompah band plays in the background.

I'm not complaining, the beer was great. I just think someone misprinted the label.

Sorry to disappoint.

I'm sorry to disappoint all you folks with those tantalizing screenshots of Smolt reporting SELinux data. I want to clear up some of the misunderstandings involved in understanding how Smolt will work in the future. When the user installs the latest version of Smolt, a cron job is set up to run at some random time in the month. In the best case scenario we have even distribution over every minute of the first 28 days of the month. In the middle case scenario, we will have even distribution for each of the first 28 days of the month. If you are running a lab with 10,000 machines that you only turn on once a month, I ask that you please hand modify Smolt not to crash our servers. We're banking on you not actually existing.

This means, that from the day the new version of Smolt hits all the repos, it will take anywhere between 28 to 31 days for all the data to be considered 'current', assuming they all upgrade that day. I hesitate to use that term, because there will still be a number of machines that are considered 'stale' and they'll have null data for SELinux as well. In other words, ignore all percentages. The only information that you will have the actual number counts.

I apologize that I haven't had the time to fix all the ugly reporting issues we've had. Man hours aren't cheap.
So a thousand words times a thousand is a quintillion?
The future is worth a thousand words, especially when it's a picture full of words.

Smolt and Filesystems

Mike and I are planning on doing a release of Smolt soon, and I'm trying to get some of the latest features in. I've spoken about two others before, anonymous public URLs and SELinux reporting. I would like to formally announce two more things.

First of all, both the client and server will not be backwards compatible with older servers and clients. I've decided that because of the apparent privacy issues with the UUID, it would not be sane to support them. Therefore, the first feature is that there is now less code in both components.

Second of all, a file system engineer asked for some detailed reporting about file systems. I'm still refining what information is filtered out, but we will now store the following information about client machines:

  • A list of all the file systems in use, and sizes
  • The information that would be available from stat -f for each file system
  • A mapping of mount points to file systems only when the mount point is already in the file system package in Fedora (or an equivalent list provided by the distro maintainer or administrator.)
Understandably a /boot partition would not be used in the same way a /home partition would be used. We'll have full documentation of exactly what would be provided by the Smolt client to the Smoon server. There will be filtering controls available through the configuration file, so you don't have to report all those Linux machines that are secretly running on ZFS if you don't want to.