Category Archives: tech randomness

Macs for Me Lord ?

I am happy. Not over-the-moon happy, at least not yet.

Earlier last month, someone on the ILUGC mailing list posted news about a government tender floated on behalf of the Supreme court of India, inviting authorized vendors to supply quotes for …get this — “supply and installation of Apple Laptops for Supreme Court of India”.

Yes, that’s right, the judges at the SC apparently are Mac fanbois and think they have the right to spend public funds on eye candy laptops even when there exist Indian laptop manufactures who are capable of providing similar or even better hardware, at lower prices, to satisfy any possible requirement that an SC official might need a laptop for.

That wasn’t all though. The tender further required that the said laptops come preloaded with Microsoft Windows XP !

Now, I don’t have anything against people buying Macs or using Windows. If buying good looking expensive toys loaded with junk is your thing, surely, go right ahead and splurge, but please don’t dig into my tax money when you are doing it. Especially not when there are more affordable, open and altogether immensely more appropriate options available.

So, as expected, there was outrage expressed, on mailing lists[1], blogs[2] and a petition campaign.

As this happened, I wondered what might have led to the tender ? Did the people at the National Informatics Centre, the guys responsible for advising the government on all things IT, really believe that the ‘Honorable Me Lords’ work demanded a Mac ? …or was it something else ? Knowing a bit about how the Great Indian bureaucracy works, I came up with the following possibilities:

a. Some high up babu (or his/her favorite son/daughter/nephew/niece) knew that Macs look cool. So, carrying a mac to work, especially in front of visiting firang babus would add to their coolness. So, the babu express this desire to the presiding NIC representative whose professional cadre is a class or two lower than the babu. Wanting the impress, the submissive NIC representative creates the tender, pushes the file and the tender gets published without so much as a review by any higher ups at the NIC, because, well, you know, they are busy doing other more important IT things.

b. Some high up SC babu decides it is time that the SC gets onto this IT thing. Especially considering that the government has just pushed for a larger IT initiative and all the different bureaucracies involved have been allocated the budget. So, the babu thinks — I have this much money, and these many people, how do I spend it without having to bother what I am spending on as long as it looks IT enough ? I know, I’ll buy laptops (laptops are IT things right ?) and lets spend all our budget on that. Our presiding NIC representative should know what’s the most expensive laptop around …

c. …and this, unfortunately, is probably the most likely. Our presiding NIC representative’s brother-in-law’s-son’s-wife has a cousin who recently became an authorized Apple vendor and is looking to get his foot into some sweet government deals.

d. …the least likely though, is that, the computing needs of the ‘Honorable, Me Lords’ were evaluated and matched against the available platforms that satisfy these needs and Macs were eventually found to be the best choice.

So, returning back, why am I happy ? Well, it seems like democracy works in India. I read today that the petition filed has reached the hands of people important enough to influence the outcome:

Petition to Cancel Proprietary Tender by NIC given to CJI and DG NIC

As far as I can tell, none of the organizations protesting the tender have any thing to directly gain by doing so.

Sure, this is in no way a win. Sure, in all likely hood, ‘Me Lords’ will get their ‘Honorable’ hands on their Macs but the fact that there are people with a social conscience in our IT sector who are willing to take the effort to make their discontent known, is good enough to begin with.

Things are changing and that’s what I am happy about.

[1] http://www.ae.iitm.ac.in/pipermail/ilugc/2009-September/thread.html#51495
http://www.ae.iitm.ac.in/pipermail/ilugc/2009-September/thread.html#51527
[2] http://blog.livemint.com/play-things/2009/10/02/apple-fanboys-at-the-supreme-court-of-india/

Is Red Hat really an Open Source company ?

This question keeps cropping up every once in a while on different LUG lists where I lurk. It is a fairly established fact now in the FOSS world (or for that matter in the software world) that businesses can be both Open Source as well as commercial (ie: for profit). However, the specifics of the mechanism for doing this is still not well understood.

As an example, there was a post on the Mumbai GLUG list, questioning whether the restrictions on the distribution of Red Hat Enterprise Linux were similar to restrictions of an ELUA of proprietary software and whether copying RHEL CDs was piracy.

Well, since a few people thought it was a good explanation, I’m posting my reply(*) here:


I think there are a few basic things that you need to understand before you understand the answers to your questions:

  1. Unlike the proprietary world, FOSS does not distinguish between developer, user and distributor. Each person receiving FOSS software, has the right to assume any or all of the three roles. There is no ‘END USER’ (for an ELUA to exist). So from that perspective, you are a distributor if you share something (using a CD, online, pen-drive …or any media).
  2. Piracy is the practice of hijacking a naval vessel and plundering it. Software Piracy is a silly nonsensical term. Software related violations include things like copyright violation, trademark infringement and unfortunately patent violations …etc.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, here is a simplified (IMHO) explanation of what everybody already said:
RHEL == Linux Kernel + GPL/BSD/MIT …etc licensed Software + Red Hat trademarks (artwork etc)

Q: How must does the RHEL distro cost ?
A: 0/-

Q: How does Red Hat make money, if the cost of the RHEL distro is 0 ?
A: Subscriptions, trainings, consultancy …and maybe more.

Q: How is the RHEL distro. distrubuted ?
A: The sources are available for free on redhat.com and Red Hat provides CDs/DVDs of the distro. to it’s customers (people who buy subscriptions or undertake trainings …etc)

Q: Can you ask Red Hat to send you a RHEL distro CD if you are not a Red Hat customer ?
A: No
Update: As Thomas Cameron, points out in the comments, it is possible to get the ISO images if you sign up for an evaluation at http://www.redhat.com/rhel/details/eval/.

Q: Can you download RHEL sources from Red Hat servers ?
A: Yes

Q: Can you use the downloaded sources to make a RHEL CD ?
A: Yes
Update: Another clarification, from Thomas, although you can compile the sources and create a CD, you cannot call it RHEL. It is a clone.

Q: Can you distribute (including sharing with your neighbor) the CDs you made ?
A: Yes ! IF you remove all the trademarks from the CDs (so that your neighbour is clear about the fact that what she is getting is not coming directly from Red Hat).
Update: This is exactly what CentOS does. (thanks jkanti, for pointing that out in the comments)

Q: If you have received a CD/DVD from Red Hat (because you are a customer), can you make /exact/ copies of that CD/DVD and distribute it ?
A: No ! That is trademark violation.

Q: Instead of making copies, can you use the same CD/DVD you received from Red Hat to install RHEL on more than one systems ?
A: Yes, you can..
Update: No, you cannot. Installation of RHEL on more systems than the number of subscriptions you have purchased is considered as redistribution, which implies trademark violation. Again, thanks Thomas, for the correction.

Hope that clarifies everything. If you have more questions, ask here or just contact Red Hat directly :).


(*) verbatim, except for reformatting for the purpose of this post. Thanks Raj Mathur, for the blog post suggestion ! Of the whole bunch of things need to learn about blogging …recognizing what would make a post is the most important šŸ™‚

Geek TV shows

It seems like the suits in the TV industry are latching on to the fact that the geek quotient per capita has been on the rise and it makes good business sense to capitalize on that. Case in point — The Big Bang Theory and The IT crowd.


The Big Bang Theory CBS Trailer
by SeriesBlog

On the surface it would appear like neither of these shows have anything in common, but if you are a geek or if you’ve ever known one personally, you’d see why these sitcoms would appeal to the geeks.
The first one — The Big Bang Theory, is about two physicists (one theoretical and the other experimental) sharing an apartment, which is across the hall from where a cute (stereotypical) blonde lives. The humour revolves around the social maladjustment of these geeks and awkward interactions between them (and their extended friend circle) and the blonde girl next door. What distinguishes this sitcom from the others is the accurate portrayal of geek subculture (discussions about QED, string theory, MMORPG, Comics and general lifehacks).

Each of the geeky characters in the show, right from the PITA pedant, sheldon to annoyingly smart geekgurl leslie are very well defined. This series is /good entertainment/ for geeks. I don’t know of any other comedy shows that revolved around people of science and were also accurate in culture portrayal.

(I’m serious ! I mean, besides Futurama which doesn’t count, since it is an animated sitcom set in the future, and everybody knows the future belongs to the geeks, anyways. So, if you know of any geek comedy sitcoms besides Futurama, please post in the comments).

The second one — The IT crowd, is about the IT support department in a non-IT firm. I’m sure all the geeks out there are already shuddering at the thought of it šŸ™‚ ! Well, this too has a funny and somewhat accurate description of geek subculture. However, what really gives me a chuckle or rather a warm fuzzy is the various geek backdrops that they have. For instance …the CC licensed Mao-RTFM t-shirt or the various eff.org stickers — Fair Use is has a Posse, MP3 is not a crime …or the perl camel or cthulhu forbid …the FSM ! It’s good to see that the geek memes are now creeping into pop-culture.

I hope this trend of appeasing the geeks continues because everybody knows, eventually the geek shall inherit the earth and then ALL YOUR TV ARE BELONG TO US.

RIP Erik Naggum

A facebook status update broke the news from a reddit submission about a tweet status update saying that someone named Erik Naggum died today.

Although, I never had heard that name before (or it never really had registered before), I was curious and started scouring the interwebs. Turns out that Mr. Naggum was a respected Common Lisp/Emacs hacker, a highly regarded usenet flamer, a Perl hater and a overall great geek.

Here’s some of his work, from wikiquote

  • Excuse me while I barf in Larry Wall’s general direction.
  • A novice had a problem and could not find a solution. “I know,” said the novice, “I’ll just use Perl!” The novice now had two problems.
  • This is your brain. This is Perl. This is your brain on Perl. Any questions?
  • It’s not that Perl programmers are idiots, it’s that the language rewards idiotic behavior in a way that no other language or tool has ever done.

…and here is a succinct insight from Mr. Naggum, into the reasons why vim or emacs or the UNIX way in general still exists where other approaches have miserably failed:
from emacswiki.org:

the clumsiness of people who have to engage their brain at every step is
unbearably painful to watch, at least to me, and that's what the
novice-friendly software makes people do, because there's no elegance in them,
it's just a mass of features to be learned by rote.  however, this suits people
a hell of a lot better than setting out at age 6 to become a great ballet
dancer and achieving their goal 20 years later after every tendon and muscle
and joint has been asked to perform just a little bit more than nature ever
intended over and over and over again.  to most people, this is insanity.  but
in reality, it's art, and it's the _art_ in what we do that makes us human.

We need more hackers like him !

Erik, i’ve never known you nor your work …I just read your words and yet …I share in the grief of the people who have.

RIP Erik Naggum (1965ā€“2009)

How I helped the office chef

If you know me personally (why would you be reading this otherwise ?), it’s quite possible that you are thinking about some smart-ass remark to make in the comments after reading the title …or maybe you are just plain shocked. Well, relax, you may breathe normally now. I did not help the chef with his work. I helped him with the only thing that I am good at …well, at least kinda good at — tech stuff.

The chef at our office is a charming Pakistani chap who likes speaking in Hindi whenever he sees me (inspite of the quality of hindi he hears me speak !). So, we tend to indulge in small talk as he serves me my lunch.

Sometime last week, he asks me whether I can help him with a computer problem (don’t they all at some point šŸ™‚ !?!), and nice fella that I am, I say yes. He goes back into his kitchen (or whatever that large room that is, which is always kept closed; away from the view of the good people eating their lunches) and brings back a fairly old Compaq laptop.

Says, it doesn’t work (hmm, nice problem description). I power it up and don’t even have to ask him to elaborate. I hear the all too familiar, click-tik-tik-tik-click-tik… of the Hard disk.

So, i tell him — Aapki disk mar gayee.

Fortunately, he actually knows what I am talking about (so, he doesn’t have to suffer more tech talk in hindi). He says, he showed it to some other techies in the office and all of them said, there is nothing that can be done except for buying a new harddisk. (most of these other techies are windoze people). He was hoping I could do some magic …all he wants is to access the net, play movies and songs. He has a desktop at home, so any other job (like his son’s school work) can be done on that.

That’s when i realize (or perhaps remember ?), it is so ridiculous that an broken hard disk equates an unusable system — if you live in a proprietary software world, that is.

I tell him, I can certainly help him, if he has a USB stick and is ready to learn something new. He was all for it ! (another observation — most non-tech people don’t know nor do they care what an OS is, it is all the same to them — until of course they actually see something different, like a system boot up from a USB stick, without a hard disk attached).

So, he gives me his 4GB USB stick and offers the laptop too. I say, I don’t need it. He gives me a confused look, but I can see, he is really hoping for magic.

I won’t get into the details (since, it isn’t deep magic really, in fact people like Luke an Kushal have made it downright boring), I’ll just list the steps:

  • get the latest and greatest Fedora release (Fedora 10, right now)
  • get the liveusb-creator
  • run liveusb-creator
  • press two buttons, i’m ain’t telling you which, if you have to ask
  • boot system with new live USB install
  • configure the system for net access
  • add the repos rpmfusion-free, rpmfusion-nonfree, adobe (for flash plugin) and freshrpms (for libdvdcss)
  • install mplayer, libdvdcss, ffmpeg, vlc, audacious, gecko-mediaplayer, flash-plugin
  • (note: my aim was to give the chef a usable system)

Well, all that done, I gave the USB stick to the chef and asked him to boot his laptop using it. I could see, he was still trying to understand what was happening, especially since i was idly fiddling with the br0ke Hard Disk in my hand.

The look on his face, when he saw a login screen is indescribable ! I showed him the way around the GNOME UI. Got him connected to the wireless, got him playing movies, songs and saving files off the net. He then tells me why he has that ear to ear grin.

Apparently, the hard disk had been misbehaving for quite sometime. Random hangs followed by multiple tries to get the system booting, followed by the eventual clicking sounds. It finally stopped working about 3 months ago. He took it first to the laptop vendor, where he found out that getting a new hard disk was kinda expensive. Since his computing needs were limited, he didn’t think it wise to buy a disk here. He had planned to buy the disk the next time he visited Pakistan (since computer spares are supposed to be cheaper there) and had resigned to the fact that the laptop was dead.

However, out of sheer coincidence (I assume, it was more like running out of topics for small talk), he asked me to help since I was a techie …and I say, I can …and I do …and all in a matter of a few hours !! He just couldn’t get over the fact.

Now, he is telling everyone he is chatty with (and that’s a *lot* of people, including especially, the ‘other’ techies who had a go at the laptop) about this guy who made his laptop run without a hard disk.

Well, what can I say !?

Thanks Luke, Kushal and all the guys working on Fedora …and thanks to FOSS developers all over the world ! …it’s because of you guys, at least one guy thinks I am some sort of a magician.