Blog Fiasco

January 25, 2015

Introducing the “Permissive 3000″ license

Filed under: Linux,The Internet — Tags: , , , , , — bcotton @ 6:39 pm

Software licenses aren’t necessarily the easiest texts to understand. This issue is compounded when the person trying to understand the license is in a different jurisdiction or is a non-native speaker of English. A recent thread on the OSI’s license-discuss list brought this issue to light. According to the original poster, a project using the BSD 3-Clause license was used without attribution in a proprietary product. The developer lost the court case because the judge did not understand English well. The poster brought an attempt at a rewrite to the list, but it had some contradictions and other meaningful differences. So I thought I’d give it a try myself.

This weekend, I started from the original BSD 3-Clause license and excised all of the words not on the Oxford 3000™ word list (or reasonably close modifications, e.g. verb tense conjugations). I did make an exception for the word “copyright”, since it seems indispensable to a software license. In all other cases, I used synonyms and circumlocution in order to preserve the meaning while remaining within the constrained word list. This was challenging at times, since circumlocution can end up making the document more difficult to understand than an unknown word might. The difficulty is further compounded by the fact that many words have a distinct legal meaning and a synonym might not have the same weight.

I consoled myself with the fact that software warranties (where most of the real challenge was) are probably not that useful anyway. Furthermore, just because a word has a distinct meaning in American courts, that doesn’t mean that foreign legal systems have the same definitions. Trying to use largely U.S.-centric licenses written in English is a challenge for a global society, but I don’t know that a system of jurisdiction/language-specific licenses would be any better.

In any case, without further ado, I present the Permissive 3000 license. It’s highly experimental and totally unvetted by legal professionals, so nobody should use it for anything except a learning exercise. I’m looking forward to some constructive feedback and hopefully it sparks a discussion about how licenses can be simplified so that they’re more easily understood by judges, developers, and users alike.

Baseball and apple pie

Filed under: Sports — Tags: , , — bcotton @ 4:06 pm

Baseball isn’t as popular as it used to be. That’s hardly news. Some, including incoming Commissioner Rob Manfred, have argued that it’s too slow-paced for modern American society. To that end, he’s talking about some rule changes. The first is a “pitch clock”, designed to keep the game moving along. I don’t find that particularly objectionable, thought it would certainly take some getting used to.

The second, more obnoxious change, would be to ban defensive shifts. Seriously? If the idea is to generate more offense (it’s been a pitcher’s game since the end of the steroid era), my response is “who cares?” If you want to see a lot of hits, show up for batting practice. I’ll admit that I tend to be biased in favor of defense in sports. I’d much rather see a great dive and throw to first than a home run. If the shift is a problem, perhaps batters should learn to hit to the opposite field. I’m looking forward to Manfred proposing that players have to stand still until the ball hits the ground. Perhaps if he were the NFL commissioner, we’d finally see the “5-second count” rule for blitzes.

Next up for Rob Manfred: eliminating the apples from apple pie so people can eat it faster.

January 22, 2015

Using tracer to point out service restart needs

Filed under: Linux — Tags: , , , , — bcotton @ 9:04 pm

If you’re seeing this via Fedora Planet, you probably saw Miroslav Suchý’s post from a few days ago about a project called Tracer. Tracer is a friendly tool to tell you what outdated services are running. With the dnf plugin installed, you get a list at the end of the upgrade process.

For example, right after I installed the plugin and ran an upgrade, I was told that I needed to restart the Samba service. In addition, there were several programs that needed to be manually restarted (KeePassX and Spider Oak, to name two). Plus, one process required a logout, and one required a full system reboot.

I’ve found this to be pretty useful, since I don’t always realize what services need to be restarted after package updates. I have a decade of system administration experience, so it’s not too bad for me. For others, this is a great way to shine light on exactly what needs to be restarted and how.

January 20, 2015

The amateur weather website hype machine

Filed under: Musings,Weather — Tags: , , — bcotton @ 12:38 pm

Word on the street is that a certain amateur meteorology site is starting to tease about a large snowfall event a week or so out. It must be winter again!

I don’t begrudge amateur meteorology sites in general. In the Internet age, there’s a lot that you can teach yourself and plenty of access to raw model data from which to build a forecast. As in most fields, the passionate amateur can be more skillful than the trained professional. Of course, this is generally limited to a specific skill, which is why the better amateur weather sites tend do focus on a particular thing.

Focusing on hyping winter weather events a week or more out is not an area that should be focused on. This is particularly true when the hype is completely unjustified meteorologocially and ends up requiring professional meteorologists in the National Weather Service and local media to spend time telling the public not to believe the “information” that should never have been shared in the first place.

Forecasting the weather is hard. Effectively communicating the uncertainty inherent to that forecast to the public is even harder (and not done nearly enough). Posting an outlier scenario to Facebook is easy. Any site that provides forecasts for public consumption and (somehow) finds a way to get partnerships with legitimate media outlets needs to eschew the easy. Otherwise, it’s simply self-service and not public service.

January 18, 2015

On Linus Torvalds and communities

Filed under: Linux,Musings — Tags: , , , , — bcotton @ 4:06 pm

This week, the Internet was ablaze with reactions to comments made by Linus Torvalds at Linux.conf.au. Unsurprisingly, Torvalds defended the tone he employs on the Linux kernel mailing list, where he holds no punches. “I’m not a nice person, and I don’t care about you. I care about the technology and the kernel—that’s what’s important to me,” he said (as reported by Ars Technica). He later said “all that [diversity] stuff is just details and not really important.”

The reactions were mixed. Some were upset at the fact that an influential figure like Torvalds didn’t take the opportunity to address what they see as a major issue in the Linux community. Others dismissed those who were upset by pointing to the technical quality of Linux, cultural differences, etc.

I don’t subscribe to the LKML, so most of the posts I’ve seen are generally when someone is trying to point out a specific event (whether a behavior or a technical discussion), and I don’t claim to have a good sense for what that particular mailing list is like. Torvalds and the Linux community have developed a great technical product, but the community needs work.

Speaking to open source communities in general, too many people use the impersonal nature of email to mistake rudeness for directness. Direct and honest technical criticisms are a vital part of any collaborative development. Insults and viciousness are not. Some people thrive in (or at least tolerate) those kinds of environments, but they are incredibly off-putting to everyone else, particularly newcomers.

Open source communities, like any community, need to be welcoming to new members. This allows for the infusion of new ideas and new perspectives: some of which will be obnoxiously naive, some of which will be positively transformative. The naive posts of newcomers can be taxing when you’ve seen the same thing hundreds of times, but everyone has to learn somewhere. The solution is to have a team armed with pre-written responses in order to prevent frustrated emails.

Not being a jerk doesn’t just mean tolerating noobs, though. Communities should have an established code of conduct which addresses both annoying and mean actors. When the code of contact is being repeatedly breached, the violator needs to be nudged in the right direction. When a community is welcoming and actively works to remain that way, it thrives. That’s how it can get the diversity of ideas and grow the technical competency that Linus Torvalds so desires.

January 6, 2015

A lesson in ISO weeks

Filed under: Linux,The Internet — Tags: , — bcotton @ 10:26 pm

Last week, users of the Twitter client for Android experienced authentication problems. It was a long and lonely Sunday night for me without my Tweeps. When the issue was fixed, word on the street was that it was due to time travel, in a sense. Sunday started the first week of 2015 if you’re using ISO week numbering.

The next morning, I got my regular weekly email from our time tracking system at work, except it showed I had recorded zero hours in the previous week. Late December tends to be a quiet time, but not that quiet. Then I looked a little closer and noticed that the email was for week 2015-52. Oops!

I thought I’d take a look at the code for the report generator, and my hunch that it was also an ISO week issue was quickly confirmed. In the code, the current date was recorded and split into year and week values. Then the week value was decremented. This seemed silly to me. I changed it to first subtract a week before splitting into the year and week values. This seemed to fix…the glitch.

So what’s the lesson in all of this? First, make sure you do the math at the right time. Secondly, make sure you understand how time works. The year of the ISO week being ahead of the calendar year only happens on limited occasion. It’s not a scenario that one would think to test (though I expect a lot more tests will include it now).

January 5, 2015

Computer stuck at “Verifying DMI Pool Data”

Filed under: Linux — Tags: , , , , — bcotton @ 10:44 pm

I built my desktop back in 2009 and it has served me well. However, I decided that a dual-core machine with 4 GB of RAM just really wasn’t cutting it in 2015. Flush with Christmas cash, I upgraded to an eight-core CPU and 16 GB of RAM. This also meant bringing a new motherboard along for a ride. Like my old motherboard, this new one was a Gigabyte product (GA-78LMT-S2P, specifically), so I figured life would be pretty simple.

After work, I yanked the old parts out and inserted the new. I booted the new machine and made sure the BIOS settings were just how I wanted them. I let it boot and…

Crap. It got stuck at “Verifying DMI Pool Data”. For a long time. I did some searching and most of the answers I found suggested that the answer was one of a bad SATA cable, a bad SATA port, or a bad disk. None of these seemed to be the case, as the RAID utility found all four drives. But wait, I have five. Two smaller drives in a RAID 1 for my OS and local files, and a 3×1 TB (software) RAID 5 for data.

Therein lies the solution: by setting SATA ports 4/5 to RAID instead of IDE mode, the computer booted right up. I leave this here as a marker for anyone else who happens to come across this problem (or myself if I repeat it in another six years). As an aside, this is the first time I’ve played with hardware in a few years. I kind of missed it a little, tiny bit.

January 2, 2015

In defense of the bazaar

Filed under: Linux,Musings,Project Management — Tags: , , — bcotton @ 9:22 pm

Earlier this week, I came across a 2012 article from Poul-Henning Kamp entitled “A generation lost in the bazaar“. This is a reference to Eric S. Raymond’s seminal The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which advocates for making the sausage, so to speak, in public. Using the Linux kernel and his own fetchmail program as examples, Raymond emphasizes the benefits of rapid, iterative development and of fostering a user community that acts as co-developers. This stands in contrast to the “cathedral” style of development where a product is worked on by a small number of people until it is ready to be revealed to the public.

Kamp’s point (and subtitle) is “quality happens only when someone is responsible for it,” which I endorse wholeheartedly. However, he is mistaken to blame Raymond’s bazaar for “a clueless generation of IT ‘professionals’ who wouldn’t recognize sound IT architecture if you hit them over the head with it.” What he observes is the democratization of programming, which is due to ever-cheaper hardware, free (as in beer) software, and the Internet. Had The Cathedral and the Bazaar never been written I doubt the world would look dramatically different, at least in this respect.

IT is in its awkward teenage years. It has been around long enough that it can do pretty cool things, but not so long that it has accumulated much wisdom. The fact that anyone can write software (or copypasta snippets from various example sites and fora) and make it available to others is simultaneously a wonderful and terrible thing. Nonetheless, that doesn’t make the bazaar style wrong.

Kamp described the end result of the bazaar as “a pile of old festering hacks,” and I’ll agree that its an apt description for a lot of software. It’s probably just as apt for a lot of software developed in the cathedral style. Raymond devotes a fair portion of his book to quality and good design, and it’s unfair to blame him for people not following that part (assuming they’re even aware of his work at all).

Raymond makes many unsubstantiated claims that the bazaar style of development leads to higher-quality software. That may or may not be the case. My own view is that the bazaar style is well-suited for open source projects. After all, open source is about more than code.

December 26, 2014

Another great SysAdvent

Filed under: Linux,The Internet — Tags: , , , , — bcotton @ 10:47 am

Once again, a group of volunteer writers and editors came together to put together 25 posts related to systems administration for the SysAdvent blog. Although I have contributed several articles over the years, I much prefer editing. All of this year’s posts are great, but I’m very proud of the posts that I had a hand in editing. As usual, the writers did most of the work, my suggestions were always minor.

December 22, 2014

It is done!

Filed under: Musings — Tags: , , , — bcotton @ 2:32 pm

About four and a half years ago, I decided to apply to graduate school. Though I had sworn I was done with school when I completed my bachelor’s degree in 2006, the idea of a master’s degree began to seem reasonable. With Purdue’s staff discount and my department’s forgivable loan scholarship, I could pay roughly a quarter of the “retail” price. In January of 2011, I began my coursework.

Since then, my wife and I have welcomed two children into the world. I have changed jobs twice, the second time leaving the university for a much more stressful and time-consuming role at a small company. For four years, I tried to balance my family, my academics, my employment, open source contributions, and (on rare occasion) my own mental and physical health.

It is the hardest thing I have done in my life, and although there is evidence to suggest that I performed well, I never felt like the balance was right. At least one area always got less than it deserved. Sadly, myself and my family were most often on the short end.

Nonetheless, my family remained unwaveringly supportive, even when I was basically non-existent for weeks at a time. My colleagues never complained (to me, at least) about my absences during odd hours of the work day. My professors praised my work, particularly the thesis which I defended in November (more on that in a later post). My Fedora contributions became effectively non-existent, but nobody seems to begrudge me for that, and I look forward to being able to contribute again.

I did not, and could not have, accomplished this on my own. I took great pleasure in having my family in attendance yesterday as I participated in a long-awaited commencement ceremony. For everyone else who provided support and encouragement along the way, no matter to what degree, I offer my most sincere thanks. We did it!

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