Tina K. Russell

October 30, 2008

Hooray for Ubuntu 8.10!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:01 am

Today is the long-awaited release of Ubuntu version 8.10, the “Intrepid Ibex”! You all know that I think Ubuntu is the best operating system ever made, a Linux distribution that is both powerful and easy to use, with lots of great packaged software. So, try it out! It’s free of charge and free like speech. You can even burn a CD of it (or request a free CD in the mail), start your computer with the CD in the try, and try it out from the CD just to make sure it all works and see if you like it. Trust me, you will!

Find out more about Ubuntu 8.10

Download it here, or request a free CD

Ubuntu respects you because it comes with all of its advanced capabilities out of the box. There’s no “professional” or “enterprise” edition, there’s just your edition. With its automated package system, it removes the common hassles of installing weird drivers and libraries you’ve never heard of. It comes with an office suite and advance image editing right on the CD, along with Firefox browsing, Evolution e-mail and scheduling, Pidgin instant messaging, F-Spot photo management, Ekiga Internet telephony, and more. You can also download everything from 3D modelling software to Web content frameworks from the Ubuntu repositories using the easy “add/remove” interface. Plus, it’s Linux, and that means powerful and stable. It rarely crashes, even when running for months or even years. It’s also secure from the ground up, so you’ll never need to worry about viruses or spyware again.

What I like most about Ubuntu is its philosophy. “Ubuntu” comes from the Zulu and Xhosa languages, a Southern African concept of humanity towards others, that your dignity comes from the dignity of those around you. Ubuntu is developed by a community all over the world, from dedicated hobbyists to paid professionals, a diverse group of programmers, artists, writers, and everyone else willing to pitch in to make the software world easier and more fun. I can say with certainty that Ubuntu brought me a dignity I haven’t had with a computer since I was very little. Ubuntu made me feel I was worth it, I was worth having all these powerful tools at my fingertips, without ever needing to pay. It made computing fun again and put me back at the cutting edge. So, try Ubuntu today! It’s wonderful!

October 1, 2008

Chicks dig custom kernels

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:52 am

Ten easy ways to attract women to your free software project
The gender inequality among developers and supporters of free software is stunning. Less than 2% of us are women, according to studies conducted for the European Commission. Why? The evidence says we’re driving them away. There are even some pretty good published guidelines on how not to drive them away. What’s missing is a practical implementation strategy: here I present ten relatively simple changes in how you run your project, to make it more attractive to would-be contributors—especially women.

These are some great pieces of advice. I think some of them really resonated with me personally: using high-level languages like Python and eliminating as many extraneous tasks as possible (no more “tweaking the tools”) has really helped me dig into a software project when otherwise I would have just given up. I’m not sure if that’s the lady-brain or the ADD, but when a programming project feels more like making adjustments to your car (or even a complete overhaul) than it does channeling the spirit of Henry Ford, founding your own institution for the study of the mechanical arts, writing a dissertation on the internal combustion engine, and then searching through man pages for hours to figure out how to start the ignition, something’s gone right. (The latter hypothetical example should be familiar to anyone who has mucked around with programming. In general, whenever I’ve tried to play with C, I’ve learned my lesson; double-checking my pointers or whatnot is not just lost time, but far more in lost concentration and lost productivity. Try to avoid a “boys and their toys” environment; if your code is low-level and convoluted for that last extra bit of performance, you’re going to have a program stuck in the past that is impossible for new contributors to improve upon.)

Lots of other examples are great! Use forums, not mailing lists! Forums are more open, and bad behavior is aired and identified quickly without draining resources from the project. Use wikis! Easy collaboration definitely appeals to us lady-folk, but it’s also where technology and, uh, the human race is headed (ask any marketer; the lone wolf is a dying breed). And for the love of all that is holy, recognize and thank your valued contributors. Men tend to be thick-skinned about getting jabs from people they’ve helped; for women, being insulted (even in jest) or ignored for your hard work tends to make us think, oh, well then, be that way. At least, that’s my experience. ….With me. Never mind.

And here, I need to toot my tranny horn. One of the grand blessings of being transsexual is that, yes, we’ve had experience living as men. We know how you work, beloved man-types! Seriously, it’s no coincidence that computer science is such a common field for the garden-variety transsexual woman (pah! like there is one); women are naturally analytical and collaborative, and nowhere better can we feed our collective problem-solving jones than in the field of computer science. (I mean, men are naturally analytical and collaborative, too, but you know, tendencies…) With our experiences under cover of faux-maleness (often for far too long), we get a tougher skin for the habits of you lovable man-folk. Since programming is an area in which us trans women have established such a strong beachhead, I hope we can use our places of power to ensure that all women, whichever side of the fence we were born on, get a chance in the bold new information economy.

Really, this list is just recommendations for bringing more diverse thinkers into your open-source project, and that’s something that always helps. And since I’ve basically just been elbowing men in the ribs this whole post, I want to say that men are wonderful, strong and compassionate, carrying, as the hero of I My Me! Strawberry Eggs puts it, “a great love in their hearts!” More women in computing and in open source would benefit women, but it would benefit men just as much. With our complementary skills, together we can make better programs, more fun working environments, and a better world of computing for everyone.

Side note: The Canonical Store brought back the “Linux for Ladies” shirt! Hooray! (I actually sent them an e-mail requesting its return; I guess they were listening!)

June 24, 2008

On liberation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:47 pm

Q and A – Testing Linux With a Live CD – Question – NYTimes.com
Q. I am interested in putting Linux on an old computer, but not sure whether it is easy enough to use yet. I have heard you can test it without installing it. How?

A. You can give the Linux operating system a workout without actually installing it on your hard drive by running the system from what’s called a Live CD. With a Live CD, the computer boots from the CD drive instead of its own hard drive and runs the system from there.

Since you are new to Linux, you might want to try Ubuntu Linux (www.ubuntu.com), which has a familiar graphical user interface and a large amount of helpful documentation written by other users at help.ubuntu.com/community. The Ubuntu download is about 700 megabytes, so a broadband connection is helpful too, unless you sign up to have the site mail a free CD to you.

Linux is fun and free! Try it today! This is a good guide to trying it out before you make the big install. I’m sure you’ll find it to be worth it.

May 19, 2008

Pax Microsoftus

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:59 am

Microsoft Joins Effort for Laptops for Children – New York Times
After a years-long dispute, Microsoft and the computing and education project One Laptop Per Child said Thursday that they had reached an agreement to offer Windows on the organization’s computers.

“I think some people, including Walter, became much too fundamental about open source,” Mr. Negroponte said.

In an e-mail message, Mr. Bender wrote that he left the project because he decided his efforts to develop and support the Sugar open-source learning software “would have more impact from outside of O.L.P.C. than from within.”

Outside the constraints of working on a single hardware platform, like the XO laptop, his work, he wrote, should “lead to a broader base, more options, and a better set of tools for children.”

This really bothers me. I think a lot of us felt that Linux was one of the organization’s ends for legitimate reasons. I’m sure Microsoft is entirely legitimate in wanting to offer its operating system at a steep discount to developing countries, but I know that Steve Ballmer is grinning with dollar signs in his eyes at the prospect of raising the entire world on Windows and not merely the “developed” part of it.

The whole idea of this simply offering “choice” is a red herring. The whole problem of Windows is that it does not allow choice. By promoting Windows use in developing countries, they’re doing legitimate promotion of a product. However, they also want the entire country’s infrastructure, training, and education based on an operating system that you cannot easily switch away from and has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, towards any kind of interoperability. Microsoft wants you to believe that their operating system monopoly is a “natural monopoly,” that interoperability is easily achieved only by one standard OS lingua franca. This is dubious when Windows requires a proprietary end-to-end chain of OS components in order to function, and Microsoft has fought open standards for information interchange, such as OpenDocument, every step of the way. “Linux,” meanwhile, refers only to a software kernel and a set of standards that anyone can use to develop an operating system.

So, yeah, I’ve always supported OLPC because, besides the primary goal of bringing educational tools to all the world’s children, I’ve always appreciated OLPC’s bulwark against Microsoft’s quest to ensure that the rest of the world is squirming in the grip of its bloated, malformed, insecure OS. It’s not fair competition, it’s leveraging a monopoly position, and I’ll start believing that Windows offers “choice” when Microsoft fully documents the Windows API, promises to stop making vague software patent threats towards independent competitors (or sow slanderous FUD campaigns aimed at potential Linux customers), works toward supporting other filesystems on Windows (on Ubuntu, I can do anything I want to my Windows partition, but Windows won’t give my Ubuntu partition the time of day), makes the Windows installer stop eating the user’s bootloader (thus preventing competing OSes from loading), implement OpenDocument in good faith in their Office products and quit trying to lock users into a monopoly, stops promising to media companies that they will be able to have control over users’ computers that the users themselves do not have, and make its software work with competing OSes rathing than making them do all the work, then maybe I’ll believe that Microsoft believes in genuine choice. As far as I’m concerned, though, Linux was always a means and an end for One Laptop Per Child and I don’t want to see Microsoft covering the developing world in its proprietary blanket and then jacking up the prices as soon as the countries develop. With Linux, the user is in control, and can switch to other operating systems as soon as he or she wants… in fact, Linux works hard to play nicely with Windows, through support of dual-booting in installers and bootloaders, projects like Samba for fileservers, and support for binary Office formats in office programs. With Linux, you learn expertise that you can take anywhere. On Linux, you can choose the OS you want because all the components are indentifiable and interchangeable. Windows asks you for an unbroken string of Microsoft purchases to ensure compatibility, and I don’t want them to spread that poison abroad, or see OLPC abetting that.

And I’m not even a Richard Stallman purist or anything like that. I happen to find his views as of late repulsive. I simply believe that Windows fails the test of a sustainable operating system, that it will probably be dead or dying in ten years, and I don’t want a new generation of children around the globe have their skillsets fixed in one company’s OS the way it is here. Sure, Microsoft is giving away the OS for cheap, but what about when they decide to stop doing that? What about when you need support or maintenance? Sorry, because Windows is closed-source, there’s only one company that can do any of that. There’s no community around enhancing Windows or making it better. Windows’s outdated programming model has made it slow, bloated, and insecure. It’s not because Microsoft is a bad company, it’s because their model of an OS produced entirely on one corporate campus, with no outside input, is an aging dinosaur with no place in modern computing. The sad collapse of Vista shows just how incapable Microsoft is at polishing their own product through iteration, and with its closed-source model, if Microsoft does not act on security glitches or outdated technology, you are well and truly screwed.

Linux, by its very philosophy, encourages users to take control and make the OS their own. It’s easy to program on a Linux machine because highlighted text editors, compilers, interpreters, and often introductory learning material are all right there. You usually get an office suite and high-quality graphics software for free just for entry. I can’t tell you just how empowering it was to try Ubuntu and find just how much of it was rooted in an implicit trust of me and giving me the tools to make stuff, to make my own world, to impose my will on my computer. After years and years of using Windows, which seemed to have a mind of its own and would always try to guess what I want (“it looks like you’re…”) this empowerment was nothing short of a revelation. After years of falling behind in the world of computer science, my childhood excitement for computers withered away by years of cryptic error messages and unhelpful OS design, I was finally back on the cutting edge. It’s the feeling that’s lasted all the way until now, one that sparks upward with each six-month Ubuntu release, each right on time, faster, more efficient, and filled with more features and programs than before. I want to spread that feeling to children all over the world, I want to show them that they are in control, I want to give them an OS that gives them the power rather than selling it to them piece by piece.

I have no problem with commercial software, I’m just upset at the tendency for vendors like Microsoft to convince people through intimidation that if they’re not using Windows, they’re being left behind. To the contrary, if you’re using Windows, you’re spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars just to get to the level of basic functionality present in your average Linux distribution’s default setup. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that most people don’t percieve Windows as an individual purchase, they merely recieve it with their computers, paid for half by a “Microsoft tax” on each computer purchase (about $50), and half by subsidization through “bloatware,” the aggravating trial software that your computer is installed with, slowing it down and bombarding you with intrusive ad messages.

Linux is simply an OS, a family of OSes, developed in good faith. That’s why I want to spread it to the world, and why I wish it were still OLPC’s exclusive platform. This is for entirely pragmatic reasons, okay? I couldn’t care less about Stallman’s rants about how evil proprietary software is or whatever. I simply think Microsoft is acting in bad faith in the moment, and we should get kids started on an OS that provides choice rather than one that restricts it, and one that will teach the valuable IT skills–yes, Linux is the lingua franca of computer science, and that’s great because Linux is an OS that gives you freedom, is developed to standards, and lets you switch whenever you like–rather than the ones everybody already has.

Okay? Sheesh.

April 13, 2008

A better option

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:44 pm

Protecting Our Privacy Online – New York Times

The last time I checked, it was illegal to invade my privacy by tapping my telephone, or for that matter, to jam communication lines. This is exactly what is happening when my Internet communications are monitored, or someone jams an unwanted message or virus into my computer.

Why aren’t these activities treated as crimes? Furthermore, why do we tolerate software on our computers that allows this sort of thing to happen?

The next mega-billionaire will be the person who invents a computer operating system that is immune to these kinds of intrusions and gives control back to the user.

Ron Sheppe
Rochester, N.H., April 5, 2008

I heartily recommend an operating system that is immune to these kinds of intrusions and gives control back to the user. Enjoy!

(Yeah, I shouldn’t be so snarky. I’m just a little annoyed that there are so many users who would like to know of alternatives to Windows and do not because there’s too little reporting on the subject. Tell your friends! Ubuntu and Linux are great!)

(And it’s funny: Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu, was already a mega-billionaire when he started.)

(So, please! Try Ubuntu! It’s much fun!)

March 31, 2008

A Winner is U

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:19 pm

TippingPoint | DVLabs | PWN to OWN: Final Day (and another winner!)

Ubuntu, that is! From the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter:

CanSecWest PWN2OWN 2008 contest had laptops with various operating systems: VAIO VGN-TZ37CN running Ubuntu 7.10, Fujitsu U810 running Vista Ultimate SP1, and a MacBook Air running OSX 10.5.2. All in typical client configurations with typical user configurations. Anyone who could expose vulnerabilities on one of the machines, could keep it.

At the end of the last day of the contest, only the Sony VAIO laptop running Ubuntu was left standing, and unhacked.

Ubuntu is not only secure, it is easy-to-use, powerful, and generally awesome. And I’m pimping it, so you know it’s good. http://www.ubuntu.com/

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