Monday, November 22, 2010

Be careful what you ask for

Remember just four years ago, when Novell entered into the now-infamous joint patent agreement with Microsoft? Remember the hue and cry that went up to boycott Novell? So that Novell would be driven out of business, and thus punished for entering into that "evil" agreement with the enemy?

Well, guess what.

It looks like all those righteous free software folks are going to get their wish. Novell entered into an agreement with Attachmate to be acquired by Attachmate for roughly $2.2 billion. And along the way it sold over 800 patents to a consortium led by Microsoft for an additional $450 million. Not bad for Novell. But not too good if you're wondering what impact this may have on Linux.

You see, earlier this year the courts established that it was Novell, not SCOG, that owned the intellectual property to Unix. For all you free software elites, let that critical fact sink into your thick skulls for just a moment. You all decided to punish the very company that literally held the keys to the kingdom. The same company, Novell, that has for years donated considerably to the overall free software ecology (far more so than Canonical). The same company that put up with the long legal battle against SCOG, that resisted Darl McBride's initial offer to work with SCOG to shake IBM down. The company that finally won over SCOG, to tepid praise at best.

Novell tried, they really did. Whether it was SLED/S (Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop/Server) or the community OpenSUSE, Novell supported and produced a good quality Linux distribution. But that wasn't good enough, especially for jerks such as Jeremy Allison who abandoned Novell over so-called objections to Novell's patent deal with Microsoft, to head to a conveniently ready job at Google.

Frankly I hope Microsoft does have Linux by the short hairs over this. If Katherine Noyes of PCWorld is finally right for once, and Microsoft is indeed looking for a new, more potent way to make Linux vendors "an offer they can't refuse", then all I can say is suck it up; you asked for it.

Sleep well tonight, all you self-righteous open source software heroes. Sleep well in the bed you've made for yourself.

A Link to my Past

Attachmate goes back a long way. It was Attachmate that purchased the remains of Digital Communications Associates in 1994, a communications gear manufacturer that got its start in Atlanta, Ga. I was hired to work for DCA in January of 1982 by Paul Matthews. I'd been working for the First National Bank of Atlanta as a CICS programmer for a security guard's salary. That's because I started to work for the bank as a security guard so I could finish up my engineering degree. When I took the bank's internal programming course in COBOL and IBM 370 assembly programming and passed with flying colors (due, in part, to the fact I had an engineering background in my back pocket), the bank's management conveniently forgot to raise my salary. It got really bad when I had to cross train computer science new hires from Georgia State who were coming in a good $10K higher salary-wise than what I was being paid at the time. I protested to my supervisor, who did nothing and said nothing until the day I walked in with my two weeks notice. At which point he said he had been working to get me a comparable raise.

For the next three years I worked first as a costumer engineer and then a software engineer. In the end I went back out into the field and opened a field support office in Orlando, Fl. What's interesting is how DCA abandoned the communications gear that got it on the map, instead purchasing other companies that allowed DCA to move into more mainstream PC products and services.

One of those products was the IRMA, the 3270 terminal emulator that lived long enough to be eventually abandoned by Attachmate in 2005. DCA purchased the company that first created it, Technical Analysis Corporation (TAC), in 1982. That deal pulled in a lot of really bright people, such as Charley Brown. It also pulled in the first and only Apple Lisa I ever saw. I learned quite a bit working for DCA. It was a magic time I hope I never forget.

Update 24 November

Well, it looks like it's not as dire as originally forecast for Linux. Looks like Attachmate will retain the Novell Unix copyrights after all. Maybe next time. Besides, orchestrating the usual anti-Groklaw smear campaign on behalf of my closest Microsoft friends is taking a bit of my time and effort.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Feed

Normally you're supposed to finish a book before you write a review of it. Well, I've just started to read Mira Grant's (a.k.a. Seanan McGuire) "Feed", and I'm only up to chapter 4. It's a zombie book. I hate zombie books. Well, maybe hate is too strong a word. More like I try to avoid them.

As I said I avoid zombie novels. It's fairly trivial to do so; I spot books with dark colored covers combined with garishly drawn zombies and/or zombie killer illustrations, and just automatically steer clear of them. But "Feed" is different. "Feed"'s cover is a dirty white, with the RSS feed symbol at the top, drawn in blood (well, printed to look like it's drawn in blood). That's what caught my attention, and then kept it. It didn't come across as your typical zombie book. The front cover alone got me curious enough to pick up the book and start reading the back cover.

There wasn't much information there, and I would have put the book back and continued on down the isle, except I couldn't ignore that bloody RSS feed symbol on the front cover. So I opened up to the first chapter and started reading the first paragraph.
Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot - in this case, my brother Shaun - deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.
I actually know of a few people in real life who, if they came across an actual zombie, would do something that stupid. What could I do? I had find out what happened to idiot Shaun. So I bought the book and brought it home, and started to read more of it in little bits and pieces over the weekend.

So far the book is pretty decent. Yes, it's a zombie book, but with some interesting twists; it has a lot more science to balance the horror, and the science seems a lot more plausible, contributing to what many in the science fiction field refer to as a "willing suspension of disbelief". Mira Grant weaves references to a lot of earlier zombie literature into the story; for example, the lead character, Georgia Carolyn Mason, is called "George" for short, after George Romero. And so it goes.

The book is centered around the lives of twenty-somethings living in a post apocalyptic zombie world. And they're bloggers. You find out why they're bloggers and why blogging Is So Important by the end of chapter 3. And it's a pretty plausible reason. In fact, this book's tone, character development, and pacing remind me of Cory Doctorow's novel "Little Brother". And if you haven't read that bit of horror/science fiction, they you should stop right now and read it.

By the end of chapter 3 you get a lot of information about why things are the way they are. I'm going to quote a good chunk of that section of the chapter (and hope I don't run afoul of the copyright police).
My profession owes a lot to Dr. Alexander Kellis, inventor of the misnamed "Kellis flu," and Amanda Amberlee, the first individual successfully infected with the modified filovirus that researchers dubbed "Marburg Amberlee." Before them, blogging was something people thought should be done by bored teenagers talking about how depressed they were. Some folks used it to report on politics and the news, but that application was widely viewed as reserved for conspiracy nuts and people who opinions were too vitriolic for the mainstream. The blogosphere wasn't threatening the traditional news, not even as it started having a real place on the world stage. They thought of us as "quaint." Then the zombies came, and everything changed.

The "real" media was bound by rules and regulations, while the bloggers were bound by nothing more than the speed of their typing. We were the first to report that people who'd been pronounced dead were getting up noshing on their relatives. We were the ones who stood up and said "yes, there are zombies, and yes, they're killing people" while the rest of the world was still buzzing about the amazing act of ecoterrorism that released a half-tested "cure for the common cold" into the atmosphere. We were giving tips on self-defense when everybody else was barely beginning to admit that there might be a problem.

The early network reports are preserved online, over the protests of the media conglomerates. They sue form time to time and get the reports taken down, but someone puts them up again. We're never going to forget how badly we were betrayed. People died in the streets while news anchors made jokes about people taking their zombie movies too seriously and showed footage they claimed depicted teenagers "horsing around" in latex and bad stage makeup. According to the time stamps on those reports, the first one aired the day Dr. Matras from the CDC violated national security to post details on the infection on his eleven-year-old daughter's blog. Twenty-five years after the fact his words - simple, bleak, and unforgiving against the background of happy teddy bears - still send shivers down my spine. There was a war on, and the ones whose responsibility it was to inform us wouldn't even admit that we were fighting it.

But some people knew and screamed everything they understood across the Internet. Yes, the dead were rising, said the bloggers; yes, they were attacking people; yes, it was a virus; and yes, there was a chance we might lose because by the time we understood what was going on, the whole damn world was infected. The moment Dr. Kellis's cure hit the air, we had no choice but to fight...

Things were different when the dust cleared. Some people might find it petty to say "especially where the news is concerned," but if you aske me, that's where the real change happened. People didn't trust regulated news anymore. They were confused, and scared, and they turned to the bloggers, who might be unfiltered and full of shit, but were fast, prolific, and allowed you to triangulate on the truth. Get your news form six or nine sources and you can usually tell the bullshit from the reality. If that's too much work, you can find a blogger who does your triangulation for you. You don't have to worry about another zombie invasion going unreported because someone, somewhere, is putting it online...

We're the all-purpose opiate of the new millennium; We report the news, we make the news, and we give you a way to escape when the news becomes too much to handle.
It's kind of funny reading this. There's an interesting undertone of paranoia, mixed with today's fear of terrorism, and a different type of terrorism from DMCA-style hijinks's. And if you pay attention, you'll notice that the world hasn't gone totally to hell in a hand basket. There are zombie-free zones, and places where folks actually carry on with life.

I don't know why, but the style of writing reminds me a bit of "Zombieland". And maybe a little of "Shaun of the Dead." The only two zombie movies that are worth the time to watch.

Buy "Feed" and read it (but go read "Little Brother" first, because it's free as well as a damn good book). When I'm done I'll write a more complete review.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Life with Lucy Cat

Orlando Diary

It's been two years since Lucy (a.k.a. Gertrude) walked through our front door and settled into the place. Since then Lucy has grown quite comfortable sharing a house with three adult humans (sometimes swelling to four), two Labs, and two other cats. She has, in particular, grown fond of me, a situation that based on my past experiences with cats I thought would never ever happen. But then here she is.

I need to have a word with you...
She who must be obeyed.
Lucy has all sorts of spots around the house where she likes to hang out, during various times, and depending on her whims. One habit she's developed is coming up to me in the evening and stretching out on my chest as I'm sitting and watching TV or just reading. She looks up at me with those big eyes of hers until my hand, almost of its own accord, drops down on her head and gives her rubs. Then she purrs like a little motor and snuggles down further until I get up and head to bed.

Lucy Paw Out
Lucy sleeping on my overstuffed chair.
She knows where I sit, and when I'm not there in the evening, more often than not she'll crawl up into the corner of the big chair and sleep there for hours, usually through a good portion of the night.

Footies
Reaching out to touch Judy while she sleeps.

One thing she does, which she's been doing for some time, is reaching out to touch us while she's resting. I've been ill this weekend, so today while I was lying on the sofa, Lucy came up and settled above me on the back of the sofa, and then reached down with her paw to touch me. An example of her paw touching is above, where Lucy's touching Judy's foot while the two of them nap together.

I've read you're not supposed to anthropomorphize your pets, but I know affectionate loving behavior when I see it. Lucy's like every other creature living with us, and every other domesticated creature living in this world; all they want is to love and be loved. If we can't understand that and respond humanely, then we humans really are monsters.

Equipment Used

Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm, top two photos.
Olympus E-3 with Sigma 30mm, bottom photo.

Post-midterm

Orlando Diary

It's been a long while since my last substantive post. A lot has happened, from dropping a large wad of cash on the house for a new roof to another wad for an air-conditioner replacement, through the mid-term elections and beyond. I've been busy with work as well, largely successfully.

Re-roof

The re-roofing job came about because of the age of the house's age (25 years) and the fact that the roof was a 15 year roof that was put on when the house was originally built. In spite of it's age the roof survived the big hurricane years of 2004 and 2005, with less than a dozen shingles damaged that needed replaceing. But roofs don't last forever, and one morning when I was headed to work I just happened to look back at the house, with the sunrise hitting it the right way, and saw just about every edge on every shingle curling up. Outside of a major leak, that's a sure sign you need new roof.

I picked Fleming Brothers Roofing to replace the roof. I'd worked with them last year to fix a leak at the back of the house, between the original roof and an extension we'd had added back in 1992. They were called in by the prime contractor, Superior Aluminum, who were fixing the leak in the addition (Superior had originally built the addition). Both contractors performed excellently. I was pleased enough with Fleming to keep them in mind for the full re-roof, which, truth be told, I should have done in 2009, but didn't because financially I couldn't. This year I went on ahead and bit the bullet and had the complete roof replaced, along with a new skylight to brighten up the interior of the house and three new side vents to replace the original roof vent. We also went with a better class of shingle, architectural shingles.

Re-roofing my house at sunset
Re-roofing at sunset.

I went with the CertainTeed shingles with their 30-year warranty, wind-resistance, 10-year algae resistance, and general good looks. Again, it was a matter of finances; I could have purchased shingles with a "lifetime" warranty, but I don't expect to be in this house much beyond 10 years, one way or another, and we were really talking serious costs for the new roof with that type of shingle.

One of the problems we hit, and wound up paying a little more than expected on, was due to water damage to the roof's base plywood. Back in 1985 Florida roof construction code allowed for the use of staples to hold down both plywood and shingles. But all that changed in 1992 when Andrew cut an intense, expensive swath across the souther tip of Florida.

Detail, rotted plywood roof panels
Water damage where a staple held down the roof.

From that point forward one of the building code changes was the banning of staples for roof construction. After replacing 15 panels, the crew replaced every single staple with nails. When the shingles went down they used 5 nails/shingle. The roof was strengthened and brought up to current spec. The crew spent a complete day from sunup to sundown, and part of the following morning because they'd had to replace all the panels from the first day. By the time they'd finished, the whole house looked 110% better.

Air Conditioner

The air conditioner contractor, Dennis from Howard's Repair Service, came in right after the roofers and replaced the air conditioning system, inside and out. We've had the outer compressor replaced several times over the years, but the interior portion has remain essentially unchanged since the day it was originally put in the house. This time we got a SEER 15 Rheem system. Since putting it in, along with the new roof (with its efficient roof venting), heating and cooling have dropped dramatically. Part of it is due to the cooling of the weather, but the power bill dropped by nearly 50% between last month and this month. I'm waiting to see how the power bill settles out after this, but I expect it to continue to be dramatically lower.

Mid-term Elections

I'll get this out of the way; I'm a Florida Democrat, and the mid-terms were not good to us as a party. In spite of that I noticed a tremendous interest in the mid-terms, far greater than I've every remembered.

Dedicated mom and voter
Mother voting with her child.


I voted early at a local library. According to folks who were manning it they were seeing, on average, 800 voters/day since it had opened October 18th. When I went, which was the Friday before election Tuesday, I had to wait about 45 minutes in various lines from start to finish. But that's certainly no imposition, especially to exercise the most important blessing a democracy can give you, the right to vote.

It's going to be interesting how the promises made by many of the winners will be fullfilled. Our governor elect, Rick Scott, promised 700,000 new jobs over the next seven years, which is a kind of interesting promise to make. It's a rather pathetic promise to make in the face of Florida's unemployment numbers for September; unemployment stood at 11.9%, which equates to 1.1 million out of work in a workforce of 9.2 million. Yes, the next two to four years are going to be interesting times, not just for Florida, but for the nation as a whole.

Equipment Used

Olympus E-P2, M.Zuiko 14-42mm kit lens first two photos, M.Zuiko 17mm last photo.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

At Work with Linux: VirtualBox 3.2.10 and Fedora 14

As part of my duties as the unofficial lab manager and general lab rat, I took a little time to update an installation of VirtualBox from 3.2.8 to 3.2.10. I've been busy and I haven't had the time to keep on top of every little thing. Besides, if it works, leave it alone. Unfortunately, I ran into an issue installing Fedora 14 (more below) that motivated me to install the latest VirtualBox (VB).

And that's when I hit my second, far greater problem. It appears that VB 3.2.10 kernel modules will not install properly on the host version of Linux I run; RHEL 5.4 Workstation. Up to this point I've had no problems installing VB on RHEL (5.4 or 5.5), and the VMs created with VB have run with little or no problems. But this time I ran into problems when I attempted to start one of my VMs under the latest version of VB.

A "guru meditation" problem.

And this is what showed up in the syslog
!!Assertion Failed!!
Expression: RT_SUCCESS_NP(rc)
Location : /home/vbox/vbox-3.2.10/src/VBox/VMM/VMMAll/PGMAllPool.cpp(2337) int pgmPoolMonitorInsert(PGMPOOL*, PGMPOOLPAGE*)
PGMHandlerPhysicalRegisterEx 00000002094d2000 failed with -1701
I tried this twice (installing VB 3.2.10, the second time paying close attention to see if I did anything stupid). Turns out that during the RPM installation that there was a problem installing the kernel module.

Oh well. So I re-installed VB 3.2.8 and went on my merry way.

Fedora 14

The reason I decided to install VB 3.2.10 is because, under 2.6.8, not all of the VB features work with Fedora 14, specifically the seamless and infinitely resizable screen on the host desktop. Everything else works just fine.

I won't go into any boring details except to say that this version of Fedora was the most trouble free to install for quite some time. In fact, it seems to have some of the VB kernel goodness already baked in, because it at least knew about seamless mouse movement (where you can move between the VM and the host desktop without having to hit the right shift key) without having to install any of the VirtualBox extensions.

The only nit I have with the distribution so far is that it came with Firefox 3.6.10. I need to update to 3.6.12 due to a security issue.

Other than that, Fedora 14 runs just fine, without any drama. And that's the way it should be.