Archive for June, 2007

Kids With Linux

I have always had the believe that I am surrounded by great people barring a few exceptions who have also been influential in my life. Some of these great people are not necessarily what most people would think about when they hear about greatness. These unrecognizable great people are still in primary school and worry about their homework and enjoy watching Camp Lazlo on Cartoon network. This is a story of 7 year olds who can boot a computer into Linux and use the computer for all intends and purposes like they are working on Windows. Granted, the much that a seven year old can do on a computer is not that much by a professional’s measure of the same but what I have noticed with these seven year olds is that they have something great in them which needs to be nurtured.

They are taught computers at school and they know of Windows and can use Microsoft Word. At home they experiment with Ubuntu Linux: given a live CD, they are able to boot a computer into Linux and shut it down as well. Their main attraction to the Ubuntu Live CD are the games contained on it. The most interesting of their game playing is the fact that they can navigate Ubuntu’s UI and they can reason about the games they are playing. While I originally thought that allowing them to work with the Live CD kept them busy and left me free to get on with the work I had at hand, I was later surprised (pleasantly so) to be in a position of receiving pointers from these youngsters about playing one particular game. I am not much of a gamer but I currently carry a grudge against Four-In-a-Row because I have never won a single game… but I digress.

One day, one of these youngsters took an Ubuntu Live CD to school but was disappointed because he could not boot his school computer into Linux. While it is unreasonable to expect him to know how to configure the BIOS of the computer in question to boot from the CD/DVD drive, it would have been useful to have a teacher who was willing to engage his curiosity and encourage the children to explore.

I am reminded of this incident because I now I have a Linux box which I intend to use to encourage these youngster to know more about computers generally but perhaps have a clue about Linux as a piece of software. While it would have been nice to engage them in the ideological dimensions of open source vs closed source, it is more important for them to have fun with computers (open source, closed source software and anything in between).

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Ditched: OS Homogeneity

I have had what could possibly qualify as the worst possible two weeks with regards to computers in the recent past. First of all before I relate the events of the previous week, let me make it clear that I don’t have any major problems with Windows Vista except perhaps some odd UI interaction situations which I am getting used to but would prefer not to deal with them (a dialog box (that requires an OK button to be clicked) pops up to inform me of a successful unplugging of a USB device … this is just stupid). Yeah, I have issues with that particular UI aspect of Vista. My primary computer runs Windows Vista and one day after what was a normal update I couldn’t access any part of Windows Vista that allows me to administer the machine, let alone use it sanely. Here is a run down of the odd problems that I had:

  • Inaccessible Computer (Windows Vista’s “My Computer”); an attempt to start my computer led to Windows Explorer hanging and as it hangs it consumes a sizeable number of processor cycles from the Dual Core process on the machine;
  • Windows Media Player & Windows Internet Explorer: simply put these particular programs never showed up anywhere whenever they were started; Luckily I didn’t have Windows IE as my primary browser so at least I had access to the web. WMP was however out of reach for a couple of days;
  • Control Panel: this would be the first place to reach in order to correct any problems that seemingly show up after an update from Microsoft. There is an option to remove an update from Windows but in my case I couldn’t do that because the Control Panel won’t start – the same problem as with “Computer” shows up and the Windows Explorer process hangs.

Initially, I thought it was a virus so I setout trying to identify it. I downloaded and installed malware detection and removal tools. All of the tools I used did not identify any virus that could possibly disable the aforementioned components. Faced with such circumstance, formatting the hard disk would be the best possible option of returning the machine to its previously usable state. That raised another issue: I needed to back up the important information and files I had on the hard disk.

I have had a clone machine lying around with a minor problem; its hard disk had information but that information had not been accessed for a while which is the same as it not being of that much importance to me at this point. There was of course the worry of getting that information out of the clone machine. The minor problem was faulty RAM chips and I needed to get new RAM chips so that to put the machine into a usable state. To save myself from the logistics of looking for RAM chips, I decided to take the machine to a computer repair shop and have them handle everything for me. I told the guy to format the desktop’s hard disk. When the machine was brought back, it had Windows XP SP2 running on it.

The desktop presented an opportunity for me to have a Linux only machine. I had used Linux in a dual boot configuration on the desktop in question so it was time to get rid of Windows from the hard disk entirely so that I can have an environment that is heterogeneous with regard to the operating systems that are running. A heterogeneous environment has a number of challenges that will expand my practical knowledge in areas such as interoperability between Linux and Windows systems; the Windows part of the setup will include Windows Vista and Windows XP. In addition to this, the Linux box will take file sharing and print services responsibility for the small network.

Ubuntu was the Linux distro I chose to set me towards the path of OS heterogeneity. Ubuntu’s installation process was remarkably straight forward and fast; and it was not just an OS installation – it includes OpenOffice and everything you need to immediately become productive after the OS installation. While the basic setup of Ubuntu is essentially useful, it is not enough for the uses I have in mind for this machine. The following are the additional packages that were installed:

  • MySQL Server – relational RDBMS
  • MySQL Query Browser
  • MySQL Administrator
  • Apache2.2 – web server
  • PHP5 – web development platform/language
  • wxDownload Fast – download manager
  • Azereus – Bittorrent Client
  • Beagle – Desktop Search
  • Sun Java 6 JDK – java development tools
  • Media Codecs – audio and video playback
  • Samba

This is just a preliminary list which will surely expand as time passes. There are a number of additional software that need to be installed. The final objective of this configuration is to ensure that I comfortable switch from my primary computer (which runs Windows Vista) to this machine that is running Ubuntu. However the Ubuntu box will likely take on more responsibilities and will be the focus of further experiments that will center around network design and setup.

After successfully setting up Ubuntu, there was a place to hold some of the important files that I had on my primary machine. The process of moving everything out of Windows Vista took sometime; at this point Vista’s backup and restore tools were not usable as well. I chose to restore Windows Vista to factory settings which took sometime. Looking back, I think it was a mistake to restore Vista to factory settings; it would have been much better to install the OS alone without all the crapware from the manufacturer. I suppose this is something that I will keep in mind the next time I reformat or configure a new machine.

The ideological difference between Windows and Linux shows in the configuration of the operating systems: immediately after the installation of Ubuntu, it was ready for basic office use for things like web surfing, word processing, spreadsheet tasks and other office relate work. On Windows however, you can surf when you are done with the installation and setup but anything beyond using Notepad is not possible until you buy and install Microsoft Office. Of course instead of MS Office you could go with OpenOffice and you are set. However the point here is the trouble you go through in setting up all these software just to get a usable computer: you go through more with Windows and less with Ubuntu.

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Irrelevant but Important: My View

One of my most recent posts dealt with a subject that I am currently dealing with and with help from my friends I am gaining a much better insight into the situation. As a mantra that I like repeating to myself as often as possible: it is NOT an Event but a PROCESS. Effectively communicating what it means to be physically challenged is something that will take time and will likely involve mistakes along the way but that is a price that must be paid in order to improve and continuously move forward.

In this post, I would like to dwell on how I deal with the subject of “Irrelevant but Important”: I don’t completely dismiss the fact that I am physically handicap and/or any of the resultant side effects that exists because of that reality. It is a complicated situation that at the moment requires a conscious decision which will eventually strike a balance between reaching for the best that my potential can support and provide, while not reaching for goals that are beyond my capacity to initiated and maintain as a physically challenged person. Perhaps one of the most important perspective I have of my physical challenges is that it is yet another fact to be considered and as such resources can be brought to bare to palliate some of the adverse effects that may result from it.

In using the available resources to improve my quality of life, it must be abundantly clear that the resources in question will result in a net positive effect on my life and those I care about; the basic point is that the resources are not used automatically to reduce any adverse effects that I come across. It is sometimes necessary to consider the long term view of an obstacle in my path; this means that I would much rather suffer any adverse in the short-to-medium term while increasing the possibility that the long term will be significantly better.

While it is important that I take into account the reality of my physical challenges, it is not understood (to me) as an automatic obstacle to any end that I have in mind. However, it is dealt with as any problem that has a particular structure and hence can be decomposed into constituent parts and solutions developed to address the smaller parts and hence solving the bigger picture. In viewing my physical challenges as a problem that needs a solution as opposed to anything that inherently defines my capabilities, I have assumed responsibility over anything that affects me as a physically challenged person.

I believe in personal responsibility and over the years it has seemed pointless to seek to assign blame to anybody for my physical challenges but instead take responsibility for it. As a matter of principle, ONLY I hold the right to make any decision that will negatively impact me as a physically challenged person: this decision cannot be shared, neither can it be delegated at any point in time. The probability that this assertion is false is abysmally miniscule (only to allow for human error).

I recently had a memorable experience with a friend of mine; we were arranging to get together and as with such things (at least in my experience), there is need to agree on a suitable date, time and of course the venue. I decided to propose the date and time and leave the venue for my friend to decide. She decided to take sometime in thinking of the venue of our get together (yeah, I like organizing for things before hand). To cut to the chase, she picked out a place and sent me a text message and the message is what actually impressed me: she pointed out that there would be stair cases and hence it was up to me to agree to meet at this venue or not. That small narrative demonstrate that she suggested a nice place to meet and let me know of any potential difficulty that I might have at the venue which is considerate of her. Having the information about stair cases allowed me to prepare mentally to deal with a stair case but at the same time also prepare for any eventuality in which the staircase proves to be unmanageable; plan A was developed, a plan B and C were worked out and all resources necessary to realize all three plans are comfortably accounted for.

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Irrelevant but Important

The most personal aspect of my life is perhaps my physical challenge which until this point I have a pretty good understanding of it: I can work with it and live a life with it but it has been quite obvious that I need to improve my efforts in communicate what this physical challenge means. While I understand and respect that not everybody would want to know about my physical challenge, it ultimately affects the manner which in I interact with people. The balance between telling those who are interested or at least should be interested and not bothering those who don’t want to know has been a challenge. In this regards, I think my interaction with kids has been the most inspiring examples I can point to: I have come across a number of kids who would just ask a question straight out and I will have no choice but to answer them within the context of their question.

What I haven’t figured out still is how to tell someone that my physical challenge is fundamentally irrelevant to the meaning of my life but it is something that cannot (I won’t allow it) be overlooked: it is fundamentally irrelevant to the definition of my life but it is irrevocably part of my life. Yes, it does sound totally contradicting but there is a distinct differentiation between these two statements. It is fundamentally irrelevant to the definition of my life in that it does not preclude me from participating in living but at the same time it also defines and/or affect the manner in which I participate in living. That is as simply as I can possibly put it but that difference I have not explained to anybody yet. Of course this is further complicated by the fact that there are those who are close to me who have an intrinsic appreciation for this difference while others are seemingly oblivious this fact.

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Beta Updates From Microsoft

This week Microsoft released three beta software: Windows Live Writer, Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Messenger. These software are useful and so far work well despite being in better. The Windows Live Writer update (which I am using to write this post) is considerably better compared to its immediate predecessor. It has additional features which I can’t list at the moment but I am particularly intrigued by the layout of the UI. It is less clumsy better organized; finally there is support for Windows Vista’s Aero UI.

The previous installation of Windows Live Mail on Windows Vista did not work. There was an error with the initialization of a DLL (mail.dll to be exact, whatever that is); a couple hours of Googling turned up nothing useful. I was the using the earlier releases of Windows Live Mail running on Windows XP and I though this particular mail client was powerful though I used it to manage my Hotmail email account. I don’t know many people who use Hotmail as their primary email service but that Hotmail account was the first web email I got. Enough digression, this is about mail clients. As I explored Windows Live Mail, I discovered it had a nice interface for reading RSS feeds and I created a large number of these feeds and would just go through them. This weeks release of Windows Live Mail runs on my Windows Vista installation though there are some mail account configuration issues to sort out. I can’t connect and download messages from a Gmail account; the connection times out for most part of it. It is worthwhile to notice that Windows Live Mail is currently being billed as the replacement for Outlook Express that has been the default mail client for Windows installation.

Windows Live Messenger Beta was the other beta release. I like this release of Windows Live Messenger though compared to other free web emails (like Gmail and Yahoo) Windows Live Hotmail is lagging way behind. Gmail has had a chat feature for sometime and the Yahoo Mail Beta team is rolling out theirs. The continued evolution of Windows Live Messenger is great but its integration with its free online mail counterpart is still an open question at this point as far as I can tell.

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