Live from UDS Sevilla: Hacking in Spain

Anyway, we’re talking about a lot of things. The neatest things that I’m seeing are the stuff going into Edubuntu. We’ve got a lot of folks here who are focused on international use of GNU/Linux in educational settings. There are two of those little tiny childrens’ laptops here, both the MIT OLPC and the Intel ClassMate. They both look pretty sweet, though I favor the Intel ClassMate (sorry Tristan).
I’ve also seen some of the completely awesome progress made with Free Software Flash players. I’ve seen both gnash and swfdec, and both of them seem rather good. We watched Tickle-Me Elmo on Fire on YouTube on Gnash, and I’ve seen Tonio_ watch some videos with swfdec. It all looks really cool and it seems like a rather high priority. We really need Free Software Flash players, so this is a really nice development.
I’ve been busy as well working on some stuff as well. The two things I’ll likely be doing for 7.10/Gutsy are some improvements to Adept (possibly looking at merging in version 2.1), and a KDE4 port of kde-systemsettings. This is all very cool stuff.
For those of you reading this from Illinois, I would just like to remind you that all of this, and more, will be discussed at manchicken’s house of hack on May 19th. Don’t forget to email ubuntu-illinois-rsvpATnotsosoftDOTnet to get the address and phone number. I hope to see you all there.

Live from UDS Sevilla: Jeglagged in Spain

So you have all probably noticed that I haven’t made any posts to my blog since I mentioned that I would. Well, boy are you in for a treat today! We’ve been discussing all of the lovely things that make up Ubuntu, and how we can make them better. I, obviously, have more of a focus on Kubuntu, and boy have we been working on Kubuntu.Madrid Airport
I arrived in Spain around 13:00 (UTC+2) on the 5th of May, and it’s kinda been insane since then. On the 5th me and three other folks walked all about Sevilla for about four hours.
CathedralI’ve seen some neat sites, such as this Cathedral (left) and the royal palace of the Spanish royal family. I’ve drank more beer in the last 48 hours than I normally drink in a month. Sevilla, Spain is full of some exceedingly neat people, and I highly recommend it as a tourist destination for those who dig neat history.
John and AnthonyI’ve also met some very neat people, such as John “Riddell” Riddell (left) and Anthony “Tonio_” Mercatante (right).  These are the folks that really helped and encouraged as I got involved in Kubuntu in the first place, what a trip to actually meet them.  Riddell is from Scotsman and Tonio_ is from France, so with me being from Chicago I wasn’t certain if our paths would ever be crossed.
So far we’ve got what looks to be a very busy road-map including improvements for adept as well as systemsettings.  We’ve also been talking quite a bit about KDE4.  Nothing has been 100% decided on what we’re doing for Gutsy just yet, but I think folks will be quite pleasantly surprised with what’s going to be there.
I’ll try to get some more up here about the summit, but it’s difficult since the connection that is supposed to be in my hotel room is dropping packets left and right, preventing a DHCP lease.
Okay, I’m going to get back to trying to build Adept 2.1 now.  Check you all later.

A Very Cranky manchicken Heads to Spain

Wow, so in order to make the flight seem shorter through the magic of sleep, I’m only on three hours of sleep right now as I write this. I’m really tired, really bored, and sitting in a regional airport in Champaign, IL waiting for my flight to leave around noon. It’s raining a little, so I’m a little nervous about flight cancellations. I really don’t feel like having to fight weather.
By the way, while I love Willard Airport because they’re not crowded, comfortable, and smooth to get through, the University of Illinois has crappy wifi in the airport. I’d rather pay $2-4 for unlimited access rather than having to forward ports because UIUC blocks them.
Anyway, I make no promises, but I’m going to try to report a little bit from UDS-Sevilla with photos. This should be fun!

The Importance of BitTorrent in Free Software

Howdy folks. So now I’m going to open my mouth and stick my foot into it with respect to Free Software, and seeding Free Software over bittorrent. Enjoy.
So, just a show of hands: how many of you were frustrated when the new version of $YOUR_FAVORITE_DISTRO came out, and the download sites and mirrors were all inundated with massive amounts of traffic, resulting in slow download speeds and HTTP timeouts? Most of you, that’s what I thought.
Well, lucky for us there’s this glorious technology called “BitTorrent.” For those in the class who have seen this around for a while, be patient while I explain briefly for the rest of the class what I’m talking about.
BitTorrent is a technology where everybody downloads a relatively small .torrent file. This file has information such as a “tracker”, the number of “pieces”, a description of the file(s) being downloaded, the size of the file, and a bunch of binary data which I’m assuming is being used to break it up into chunks. I’m sure there’s more detail online somewhere. Using all of this information, a BitTorrent client can contact the tracker and find other peers who are “seeding” the file(s). So essentially, if you open ktorrent (my favorite bittorrent program, there are several out there) with a .torrent file for the latest version of $PROGRAM, it’ll contact the tracker using HTTP to retrieve information on peers, and what chunks are available from the peers. Then it will download different chunks from potentially different peers.
What’s the benefit you ask? Well, it has the potential of faster downloads (not always the case), but it takes some serious load off of the servers. This way you can get your copy of $DISTRO, everybody else can get their copy of $DISTRO, and we can all get our copies of $DISTRO faster without making the lives of sysops harder.
Why is BitTorrent so well qualified for Free Software? Glad you asked.
Free Software has always had interesting means of distribution. There are so many different ways to obtain a copy of GNU Emacs it’s crazy. There’s mail order, there’s FTP, HTTP, CVS, rsync, copying from a friend, and now there’s bittorrent. The problem is that all of those means of distribution tend to have a single point of failure. If GNU released a new version of Emacs it is likely that you would get slower download speeds from GNU and their mirrors due to the volume of users wanting to upgrade, and new users wanting to try it out.
BitTorrent allows us to share the load. I download a copy of Emacs using BitTorrent, and once it’s done downloading, I can “seed” the file to the tracker and other people can download pieces from me. So I have a little mini server on my machine. This enables better sharing, greater availability, and it makes me feel good because I’m participating in the distribution of a great piece of Free Software.
There are also music sites (such as that let you download music with listener-friendly licenses using BitTorrent clients as well. Once you’re done downloading, you can listen to your music and seed it back to their trackers. This allows them to reduce the costs of distribution so that they can use their money to support artists and promote their listener-friendly licensed content.
I recommend that all of you lovely readers consider seeding your favorite distro(s), and consider checking out a listener-friendly music site. Here are the distributions I’m currently seeding and links to where you can download the torrents:
kubuntu desktop 7.04 (i386 and amd64) CDROM
ubuntu desktop and server7.04 (i386 and amd64) CDROM
gNewSense desktop with GNOME (i386) CDROM
gNewSense desktop with KDE (i386) CDROM
I encourage you to put your favorite distro’s torrent links in comments.
Please note, however, that all links to non-free software (except for device drivers) will be removed.

On Ubuntu…

Okay… so we’ve had this discussion going on for a long time. In the BadVista mailing lists Ubuntu has taken quite a beating due to its default inclusion of non-free hardware drivers. Well, that and the use of the words “open source” where the words “free software” are more appropriate.
Well, I’ve been a Kubuntu hacker since December of 2006, and I am not tickling Mark Shuttleworth’s brain, or reading the minds of the management at Canonical. But I do know that everything I’ve received as a developer on the Kubuntu project leads me to believe that Ubuntu does have some very serious love for free software, but there’s a lot of “open source” to be found there as well.
So I’ll rant on two ideas I have on how Ubuntu could really solve some of the ethical concerns from the community, and how the community should reconsider its position on Ubuntu. Before folks call me inconsistent on this point–I have argued both sides several times–let’s remember that we’re all still learning here, and we’re all still figuring out what strategy will make us more free and meet our own needs. You can call my inconsistent or a hypocrite, and you’d be right, so I’ll just go ahead and get that out of the way.
First, let’s talk non-free drivers. I know this is a powder-keg, and it seems as though everybody’s got a very strong opinion it. Let me ask you though… is it Ubuntu’s fault that these drivers are not free software? Did Ubuntu or Canonical insist on licensing them as non-free software? I doubt it. Actually, I think Ubuntu would be ecstatic if nVidia, ATI, and Broadcom (to name a few) called them up tomorrow and offered to give them specs or free software drivers. I sincerely believe that.
So then, what is Ubuntu guilty of in this situation? Including the drivers, right? Well, why do you think they included the drivers? Do you think they’re making money from ATI or nVidia to include these drivers? I don’t. I think they’re actually catching a lot of crap for including them, but that in the best interest of the users who bought hardware that does not allow for a fully free system they’re accommodating a large audience of previously non-free people who can now be more free. There’s the argument of freedom of choice and all that, yadda yadda yadda. Whatever.
If you know that nVidia is non-free, and you buy it anyway, then you are supporting a company that is against your freedom. End of story on hat one. But if you’re Mr. Smith who bought this sweet laptop, and later found out that he could have more freedom with his computer, and then after the fact realizes that it has a non-free graphics card in it, that’s not his fault. He didn’t know anything about software freedom before, and he doesn’t have the cash to upgrade to a machine that does support a fully-free environment. Have you looked at the prices of a tweaked out lappy these days? They’re certainly not free, and you can’t just swap out the video card. Besides, nVidia already made their money, so it’s no further support to them by using it.
All this to say that it is nVidia’s fault and ATI’s fault and Broadcom’s fault that these drivers are non-free. Mr. Smith will know not to buy from fascists later, but this time around he’s pretty much screwed. Let’s not blame Ubuntu for nVidia’s crimes. But there is something that I feel Ubuntu could do to help things out a little bit.
Offer a choice. I know that it’s simple to just not activate the non-free modules or to purge them, but I don’t even want that rubbish on my computer to start with because I do not agree with their license agreement. So what choice would I like to see? I’m glad you asked. I’d like to see two ISOs for every Ubuntu flavor. One that meets Mr. Smith’s needs with his non-free hardware, and one that meets my needs as a user who wants a completely free system.
I know that there’s talk of a GNUbuntu or FSF-approved flavor of Ubuntu, but I don’t even think Canonical should waste the marketing money on that. I think we should just have “Kubuntu-free,” “Ubuntu-free,” “Edubuntu-free,” and “Xubuntu-free.” In a perfect world, the free versions would be the default ISOs (e.g. Ubuntu and Ubuntu-nonfree rather than Ubuntu and Ubuntu-free), but I’ll take what I can get.
All that said, I am 100% the Ubuntu fanboy. I’ve been using Kubuntu for the better half of a year and there’s not much in the way of going back for me. Ubuntu is an excellent distribution, and Kubuntu does some insanely cool things to further KDE. There are plenty of folks criticizing Ubuntu because they want to see it fail and something else succeed. I criticize Ubuntu because I think it’s a great project, and there is always room for improvement.
Okay, I’m done ranting for now. Feel free to disagree.

Don't forget about the 19th of May!

Don’t forget all you Ubuntu-lovin’ folks in Illinois! May 19th is the first “official” meeting of Ubuntu-Illinois, at manchicken’s house of hack. There will be UDS debriefing, talks of possible sprints, perhaps a mini hackathon, food, and of course beer. I’ll see if I can pick up a single-malt as well, but I make no promises.
Remember to RSVP by emailing me at «ubuntu-illinois-rsvp *AT* notsosoft *DOT* net» for directions, address, and phone number. I really do hope to see you all there.
Sorry about that folks, I forgot to actually make sure the email address was there. This even it out of south-west Champaign, IL (about 2.5 hours south of Chicago, close to the University of Illinois campus).