Featured Comments: Week of 2011 July 24

There were two posts that got quite a few comments each, so I'll try to repost a few from each.

Review: Kongoni 2011 "Firefly"

Reader Znurre said, "Interesting review, thanks! I also agree with your view that 'easy to use' must not always mean 'newbie friendly'. A system that is easy and fast to work with, although pretty advanced as in this case, could very well be a good candidate for that term."
Commenter DarkDuck had another review linked: " Another review for those interested in Kongoni..."
Reader RavS had a slightly different, more general question: "Hi Prashanth. Quite a comprehensive review you have written! well basically I am Linux Mint user and I wanted to do a similar review on my own distro and submit on Distrowatch. Can u tell me how did u submit your entry at the distrowatch? Did u just sent them your article via mail with link of the blog in the subject?"

Review: Chakra 2011.04-r2 "Aida"

Commenter seenivasan had practically the opposite experience: "After impressed by so many positive reviews,I decided to try Chakra.It miserably failed with mulyisystem.The installer failed repeatedly at 90% of the installation process (while copying the INIRAMFS).Then I tried with copying ISO image with dd.I was able to install Chakra wihout any hiccups.But the system ceased at rebooting citing some problems in identifying partitions (depite some tweakig in grub menu). In a deperate attemt to taste the flavour of Arch linux,I installed Arch base system in my Dell inspiron as my fifth OS(along with Windows,Linux Mint, Bodhi Linux and Fedora).I could not establish the dial up connection in Arch linux.I was not able to download packages to switch to graphical environment.I sucessfully chrooted the arch base into my Linux Mint.I downloaded my favourite XFCE packages.I am having Arch linux in XFCE environment.It is fast and I love working with it. I should be grateful to Chakra, as it was instrumental in promting me to install ARCH."
An anonymous reader supported my findings: "Chakra is the best KDE distro I've tried. It seems really fast and light on resources."
Another anonymous commenter had a solution for one of my issues with Chakra: "Regarding to that rekonq issue, there's no search engine enabled by default. You can choose one from rekonq settings --> search engines."
Yet another anonymous reader said, "Chakra is for those who really like KDE, as it is absent of GTK to the point of not installing Flash. One may install GTK stuff, but all up to the user, and the default way is through bundles. That's why it has the best implementation of KDE that I've ever seen. Some options are not available on install, since it isn't a mature distro yet. Never seen any other distro make the latest realease of KDE available on the stable branch as fast as they do, and working flawlessly."

Thanks to all those who commented on this past week's posts. This coming week, I plan to have an additional 2 reviews out, along with maybe two or three other posts. Once again, if you like what I write, please keep subscribing and commenting!


Review: Chakra 2011.04-r2 "Aida"

For a while, I've been reviewing Chakra GNU/Linux using only a VM because I've been unable to create a Chakra live USB system with UnetBootin and have been unwilling to use the destructive live USB tool "dd". Recently, though, I tried doing it with MultiSystem, and it worked fine, so I'm reviewing it today.

Main Screen + Kickoff Menu
Regular readers of this blog don't need much of an introduction to Chakra. It's a formerly Arch-based rolling-release distribution (though it is drifting farther and farther away) that aims to provide a user-friendly distribution with a good, clean implementation of KDE. That said, while it does target newbies, it also targets power users, KDE lovers, and Arch fans at the same time, and it hopes that its users are active in giving back to Chakra; that could be through simple things like filing bug reports or more involved things like actually participating in the development process.

As I mentioned earlier, I tested this release of Chakra using a live USB made with MultiSystem. I also tested the installation in a VirtualBox VM with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS; this was done in a Pinguy OS 11.04 Mini live USB session. Follow the jump to see what it's like, now that I'm finally testing it on real hardware.


Review: Kongoni 2011 "Firefly"

Main Screen + Kickoff Menu
This is another review that I've wanted to do for a while now. That said, until recently, the last new version of Kongoni came out quite a while ago, so I figured that I should sit tight and wait for the new version. I did, and it's here, so I'm reviewing it now.

So what is Kongoni? It's a Slackware-based Linux distribution that uses KDE. Though it claims to also be relatively easy-to-use, its priority number one is to be a fully free software distribution, akin to Ubuntu-based Trisquel, which I have reviewed before. It also has a couple pieces of software to help it achieve the other goal of being easier to use.

I tested Kongoni through a live USB setup made with MultiSystem. I tested the installation in VirtualBox in a Pinguy OS 11.04 Mini live USB session with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS. Follow the jump to see what it's like. (In response to a comment asking for this information, I'll try to include this from now on: my laptop is an ASUS U30Jc, whose specs you can easily find online.)


Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Yesterday, I went to see this movie with my family. I hadn't been to a movie theater with them in a long time, so it was nice to go like that.
I have to say that as someone who read all the books and watched all the movies (I consider myself more than a casual fan but less than a die-hard fan), I was generally underwhelmed by the movie. All of the battle scenes were too short and underdone. I would say the most egregious scene in that sense was the final scene between Harry and Voldemort, because for a climax, it was totally anticlimactic, especially the way Voldemort just disintegrated; combined with the lack of a cool celebration scene at the end, I felt like the whole movie ended with a whimper instead of a bang. The two redeeming scenes were the Pensieve and limbo scenes; those were really well done, and they both brought Snape and Dumbledore out as the spectacularly done characters of the movie. Overall, I'd recommend that people watch it just for the purpose of closure, but prepare to be somewhat disappointed. Then again, my impression of Part 1 has waned as well as I've come to realize that it wasn't much more than the trio just running around in big fields trying to figure out how to find and destroy that locket.


Featured Comments: Week of 2011 July 17

There were two posts that got quite a few comments this past week, so I'll try to repost a few of those from each.

Review: Scientific Linux 6.0

An anonymous reader had this bit of support: "good review. Thanks!"
Another anonymous commenter was generally enthusiastic: "Scientific Linux is great !!! Thanks"

Review: PCLinuxOS 2011.6 KDE

Many of these comments surprised me in the way that they attacked me and the review without properly reading the review and seeing where I actually did praise PCLinuxOS; instead, they focused on the issues that I did have (and the issues that I didn't have or that I had but made clear that those were not to be blamed on PCLinuxOS) and magnified them to the level of a capital offense. Frankly, I was disappointed by the lack of understanding and comprehension among the readers, and it along with similarly savage comments on other reviews of PCLinuxOS that were not 100% positive is unfortunately enough to steer me away from reviewing PCLinuxOS in the future. Anyway, let's get on with the comments.
An anonymous reader said (later following this up with a little conversation with me in the comments), "Please correct me if I am wrong. You tested an operating system through a live environment, and then tested an install through a virtualbox session within the live environment. Is this a fair review? I wonder if you would have needed to tinker if you did a full and proper install. I do agree with you regarding the partition manager at install...it could be better. Emil" Of the rather bluntly critical comments I saw (many of which at best shared these concerns, at worst just engaged in ad hominem attacks), I felt this was the most fair, informed, and courteous of them all, and I'd like to thank this commenter for maintaining civility where other commenters had lost all such semblance.
Another anonymous commenter tried to fight back against that tide: "I use PCLINUXOS, and i am shame of this commentaries from the users. This is the kind of comments that give bad name to the community and the distro itself. Some PCLinuxOS users are know for no respect for the reviewers, this is not the first time and will not be the last! In the future do not complainin when people say that PCLinuxOS users are arrogant! Respect and be respected!"
Yet another anonymous reader had this related suggestion: "Has anyone tried iGolaware or Mageia? Both seem quite good, former is based on Ubuntu and latter fork of Mandriva, now independent. Not a troll :),just thought of asking if anyone had any experience with either."

Still another anonymous commenter said, "I've been using PClinuxOS for nearly 4 months and have found it a very good distro - my hardware is approx 2 years old - and it all works very well. The community very friendly. I think a few - and I would say it is just a few - do get defensive, but sometimes the reviews are so inaccurate I can sort of (partly) understand it. But if I can defend them for a moment, I "rarely" see them being personal in their responses, and secondly, the forum is the best by far of any of the ones I use. You only have to go the Welcome Centre to see how friendly, and helpful, they are. Thanks for reading."


Thanks to all those (yes, even the one who called me a "[living] Murphy's law", for your comment was a prime example of said ad hominem attacks) who commented on this past week's posts. This coming week, I plan to have at least three posts, two of which will be reviews again; no, I can't guarantee that either will be 100% positive, though I hope they will turn out that way. In any case, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!


Review: PCLinuxOS 2011.6 KDE

Main Screen
The last time I tried out PCLinuxOS was at version 2010.07, and I tried the KDE version then too. I didn't particularly it then because I felt it dropped a lot of useful applications from the 2009.2 release (which I tried out before I started this blog), and because it was pretty slow on my computer. Then again, my perspectives and desires have changed a little bit since then, so don't read too much into that. Anyway, version 2011.6 has been released, and I'm reviewing it.

So what is PCLinuxOS? A long time ago in a galaxy that we are all in, PCLinuxOS was a Mandriva derivative with a custom theme, some changed default applications, and a few customization scripts. Since then, it has grown and diverged into basically its own distribution; really, the only thing it has in common with Mandriva is its package file type, and that is a particular form of RPM used in Mandriva. Other than that, it's basically entirely different, so there's no point in continuing to mention Mandriva after this. Anyway, it primarily uses KDE, though there are GNOME, Xfce, LXDE, and Enlightenment editions available as well. Its selling points include ease of use even for total newbies to Linux, stability, and a rolling-release model. Through it all, it has essentially remained a one-man project, and that man is Bill Reynolds, also known as "Texstar". How can stability be reconciled with a rolling-release model? Well, although packages are sent to the repositories when ready, "when ready" is only after a lot of time and testing. PCLinuxOS is known for its rather conservative stance on upgrading to newer pieces of software; for example, KDE 4 wasn't available for users at large until last year with the release of the PCLinuxOS 2010 series. This is a similar tack Debian-based Linux Mint will be taking by thoroughly testing all incoming Debian Testing packages and only releasing them when ready in monthly packages.

I tested the live session on a live USB made with MultiSystem. I tested the installation in VirtualBox within that live USB session with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS. Follow the jump to see what it's like.


Review: Scientific Linux 6.0 "Carbon"

Main Screen
I really wanted to do this review a while ago, but I couldn't because when I wanted to do it then, MultiSystem didn't recognize the then-newly-released Scientific Linux 6.0 live CD ISO file. Since then, there have been quite a few updates to MultiSystem, and this time I could make a Scientific Linux 6.0 live USB with MultiSystem.

So what is Scientific Linux? It's basically Red Hat Enterprise Linux, minus Red Hat branding (with Scientific Linux branding instead), plus repositories containing extra mathematical, scientific, and engineering software, plus some extra niceties. It was developed for Fermilab and CERN, so it's not really meant to be a home desktop distribution per se, but I did read a few reviews of Scientific Linux 5.X commenting favorably on its abilities in such environments, so I wanted to see if that would be true of version 6.0 as well. Plus, I have never tried more office/server-oriented relatives of Fedora, so this would be a new experience for me too.

As mentioned earlier, my main mode of testing was through a live USB made with MultiSystem. I also tested the installation in VirtualBox within the live USB session. Follow the jump to see what it's like.


Featured Comments: Week of 2011 July 10

There were a handful comments on a couple of posts this week, so I'll repost most of them.

The Future of Various Linux Mint Editions

Reader T_Beermonster said, "As Axel notes you can use PPA's with a debian testing based system. Obviously the problem with ppa's is that many of the packagers will assume you are running ubuntu offering only the opportuity to guess which ubuntu release is closest to your own system and so sometimes they will have a dependency on a package that is in the ubuntu repo's but not yet in debian testing. Your third point doesn't seem to be a point. The reason for switching the KDE base to debian seems to be exactly the same as the reason for switching the fluxbox and xfce base. Maintaining the ubuntu base was taking too much effort so they switched to a debian base that they find easier to maintain."
An anonymous commenter had this to say generally about KDE and Ubuntu: "Canonical has problems. Both Xubuntu and alternate panicked on my Athlon x4 (can't handle page fault) while Mint10 has no problems. If Canonical can't get it together soon they are due for a fall. And I'm seeing a surge in interest in XFCE and LXDE, so the KDE4 and Gnome groups should take heed or be left by the wayside."
Reader Glenn Greenfield said, "Personally, I had zero interest in Mint until the Debian based release came out and I hope to see all future efforts expended on a nice Debian based Mint with all support for Ubuntu dropped. Another thing...... It's unfortunate that we must continually explain this: Ubuntu and Debian are binary incompatible (Ubuntu's choice) There for Ubuntu ppa's are NOT compatible w/ Debian but they are a sure fire way to break your system."
Commenter Nick said, "If Mint moves from Kubuntu base to Debian base then I'll go back to Kubuntu straight away. Period. No negotiations. And another thing - even with the world's most used OS (Windows), upgrading is a last resort and a fresh install is recommended. You only upgrade on server systems where installed apps can't be installed again and user data is already in place etc. So Ubuntu forking from Debian often is actually preferred." I'm not sure I agree with that point about upgrading: just because Microsoft Windows does it doesn't make it right.

On the Current US Deficit and Debt Crises

Reader Lyle had this tip: "This article from USA Today puts things in better perspective: http://usat.ly/p3sRRS"
Commenter dick had this counterpoint: "What you seem to forget is that the Republicans have been in this circumstance with the Democrats before and the result has always been that the tax increases fly through just fine but for some reason none of the spending cuts get through. What Cantor and the others opposing Obama are really saying is get the cuts done, approved and in place and then we will talk about the tax increases. You need to check your history on this one. See Reagan with Tip O'Neill, Bush I with Tip O'Neill, Bill Clinton with Tip O'Neill, Bush II with Pelosi - and that is just in the past 25 years. The Democrats will talk a compromise but the only thing that seems to happen is the tax increases, never the spending cuts. In the current situation the spending cuts are the things that really need to happen. There has to be a limit on how long the nation can keep on spending what it does not have on programs that are failing before the crisis really clicks in and that is what Cantor, Ryan and the other Republicans are talking about. Besides they have seen this president in action and he truly is not to be trusted in what he says because it does not translate into what he actually does. All presidents are like this to some extent but this one is far more so than any in my lifetime and I go back to FDR."
Reader T_Beermonster said, "Lexington in this week's economist does a good summary: http://www.economist.com/node/18958711 Points 4 and 5 are I believe the most significant. Politicians find it hard to see beyond the next election - and the next election for most of them is not the one in 2012, but the primaries (which for most means only the most partisan end of their party membership)."

Thanks to all those who commented on this past week's posts. This coming week, I can guarantee at least one Linux distribution review; hopefully that'll be two. In any case, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing, commenting, and sharing!


On the Current US Deficit and Debt Crises

It's been a long time since I've posted here about straight-up US politics (that doesn't have much to do with technology, technological freedoms, et cetera), but I felt that what's happening now deserved a post.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know that the US has a pretty big deficit and a whopping debt. The debt is so high that the US is rapidly nearing the debt limit; if it doesn't raise the debt ceiling, it will default, and the US credit rating will probably be downgraded from 'AAA' to 'AA'. Of course, this will have catastrophic consequences for the economy, which until recently I didn't really understand, but now I sort of do. Many government workers, probably including myself (in my summer internship at NIST) and someone in my direct family will be laid off at least for a while. Interest rates will shoot up. Elderly people will stop receiving Social Security and Medicare, at least until this whole thing can get straightened out again. And the reason why this hits home is because if government workers do get laid off, I may not be able to attend college again until my family has income again to pay for my education. It's a scary and saddening thought, and it's certainly not something I thought I would ever have to worry about in my four years of undergraduate education.

Just for a quick rundown of what's happened so far, President Obama has been trying to bargain and compromise with Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate in order to actually raise the debt ceiling. These negotiations stalled thanks to Republicans, especially House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, repeatedly walking out of these talks. Obama has moved steadily to the right to try to court Republicans, promising $5-6 in spending cuts, even in things like defense and entitlements that traditionally haven't been touched, for every $1 in tax increases. Recently, House Speaker John Boehner seemed to be agreeable to such deals, but that all fell apart, probably under pressure from Cantor.

Just this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came up with a last-resort plan to raise the debt ceiling, if all else failed. This would involve Congress passing a resolution against raising the debt ceiling, which Obama would veto in order to raise the debt ceiling. For the veto to stand, 1/3 of the representatives and senators would need to block attempts to override the veto. This would happen in all likelihood, and this would have the effect of Obama unilaterally raising the debt ceiling without Congress's help. This would be done in conjunction with trillions of dollars in spending cuts, and this would be repeated 2 or 3 times, once every three months. Most people in Congress have supported it as a last-resort measure, yet Cantor still opposes it, despite it coming from a Republican senator.

There are so many problems with this whole thing, it's unbelievable. Leaving aside the mechanics of the actual debt and deficit reduction plans for a moment, let's just focus on the behavior of the people in DC. Obama and Boehner have been the most agreeable people here for actually seriously considering solutions to the problem, even risking disapproval from members of their respective parties. Cantor has been the No-Man here, saying no to any deal here. In fact, Cantor has had the gall to say that even choosing to negotiate with Obama and the Democrats is itself a compromise. Hello? Last time I checked, negotiation is a prerequisite for compromises to be made. If your idea of sticking by your principles is sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming, people are probably going to give up trying to reason with you. Sadly, you're endangering the economy at the same time by choosing to do absolutely nothing.

And the McConnell plan strikes me as almost as ridiculous as Cantor's stance. It's obvious this is done so that Republicans can place the full blame of raising the debt ceiling on Obama. (As if saving the economy from survival is now supposed to be a shameful act...) This is in response to Obama rightly calling out Republicans on refusing to do/going back on things like closing tax loopholes, ending subsidies for ethanol, and ending tax breaks for toys for very wealthy people. In effect, this also places the blame on Republicans should the US default due to Republican obstinacy. Yet Republicans, more focused on staying in power than actually serving their country and constituents, would rather not act to prevent the US from defaulting by putting the whole burden of raising the debt limit on Obama. I suppose it's marginally better than no plan at all, but the overtly political nature of the stunt is frankly disgusting.

(All for what? To please a guy named Grover Norquist, who has never himself been elected, and who said on The Colbert Report that grandmas should die at the hands of terrorists before taxes can be raised. Yes, he really said that, and judging from the genuinely taken-aback expression on Stephen Colbert's face upon hearing that, Norquist was serious. So really, it's Norquist holding the economy hostage so that his whims may be pleased. What's worse, people paying small portions of their income for the public good, or people losing their jobs, possibly to never get them back? It's insane, but I slightly digress...)

It's sometimes amusing to watch the antics of politicians, and to watch them act like screaming 4-year olds. It's no longer fun when the economy, my college education, and loved ones' jobs are on the line. I think I'll stop before I puke repeatedly and before I get a prescription for hypertension medications.


The Future of Various Linux Mint Editions

Today, I was reading DistroWatch when I saw an interesting tidbit about how Linux Mint's KDE Edition is moving to a Debian base, though the developers originally intended this KDE release to be based on Ubuntu as before. I think the reason why I felt as surprised as I did was because as opposed to the other editions (Xfce, Fluxbox) which were announced as moving to a Debian base without any previous statements regarding them, the developers did say the KDE edition of Linux Mint would be based on Ubuntu, and judging from the forum posts, this decision seems to have been rather abrupt, as opposed to being more carefully planned.

I think this will be a good thing for the developers and for some users. First, the developers can focus even more on the Ubuntu-based main GNOME edition, while the other editions can get the latest software with less maintenance on the part of the developers. Second, the users will be able to get the latest KDE releases thoroughly tested by the developers through the official repositories without having to resort to PPAs, as is almost always the case in Ubuntu-based releases (and even then, sometimes the latest PPAs don't support even slightly older releases of Ubuntu — for example, I couldn't test KDE 4.6 with a PPA on Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora", which is based on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx").

But for a few reasons, I also feel less enthusiastic about this move than I did with the development of the original Debian-based GNOME edition and the move of the Xfce and Fluxbox editions (the latter of which still hasn't been officially released yet, thanks to the developers' utter devotion to providing quality releases for users regardless of schedules, unlike another certain Linux organization I know whose name starts with a 'C' and ends with an 'anonical'). Why?
First, I and other reviewers have found the Debian-based Linux Mint editions to be a little less stable and slightly rougher around the edges than the main Linux Mint edition. This is supposed to be fixed in the next few weeks or so with the introduction of update packs, which consists of the developers thoroughly testing packages from Debian Testing (to whose repositories Debian-based Linux Mint points by default) and then releasing collections of those packages to users in one month intervals if and only if those packages are stable and don't cause conflicts or breakages. Hopefully the Debian-based KDE edition will be released around the same time as that and not before, so that stability is less of an issue.
Second, I've found that there isn't quite as much software available for Debian as there is for Ubuntu; for example, if I wanted to install the Nautilus Elementary mod, I could just use a PPA in Ubuntu, but I would need to compile the source code and manually install that in Debian. Related to that, I've found that hardware isn't quite as well supported in Debian as in Ubuntu. For example, Skype has been problematic in Debian-based Linux Mint but not at all in Ubuntu-based Linux Mint. That's a deal-breaker for me, and I'm sure it's a deal-breaker for a large number of Skype users on Linux Mint.
Third, as I briefly mentioned above, the Xfce and Fluxbox editions of Linux Mint moved to the Debian base so that the developers wouldn't have to expend as much effort to maintain them and they could focus more on the main Ubuntu-based editions. The move of the KDE edition happened for a totally different reason: the maintainer of that edition was having some small issues trying to get a fully working system (I believe the issues related to the network management program), so the fix was to move to a Debian base. I'm not really sure I get that. Was it that bad? Couldn't the KDE edition use a few more maintainers to get these sorts of things ironed out? Or is there only one maintainer due to the low take rate relative to the other editions? In that case, does it make sense to continue maintaining a separate KDE edition at all/would it be better to create a sort of customized Linux Mint KDE package available to both the Ubuntu- and Debian-based Linux Mint editions?
Or better yet (and please keep in mind that this question is coming from a nontechnical newbie), could the problem have been avoided altogether by starting from Kubuntu instead of Ubuntu? After all, as far as I can tell, the Linux Mint KDE edition is basically little more than Kubuntu with different applications and a different Plasma theme and wallpaper. This is in contrast with the main GNOME edition, which before had a different desktop layout and Linux Mint Menu in addition to the application modifications, and now diverges significantly from the Unity interface included by default in Ubuntu 11.04 "Natty Narwhal". Also, related to this, while Ubuntu continues to stray farther and farther from what users actually expect, Kubuntu is getting more and more refined, and in version 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot", it's supposed to get a new package manager called Muon to replace the aging KPackageKit (along with, if I remember right, a new update manager too); Linux Mint KDE users would benefit not just by having a wider software selection, better hardware support, and support for Ubuntu PPAs, but would also benefit from these innovations and more guaranteed stability if Kubuntu was used as the base.
Finally, there's a part of me that instinctively associate Linux Mint KDE releases with an Ubuntu base. Part of that stems from the earlier announcements that there would be a Linux Mint 11 "Katya" KDE, and part of that stems from the fact that Linux Mint actually started as a KDE distribution based on Ubuntu (it wasn't really until version 3.0 "Cassandra" that GNOME became favored over KDE, as far as I've read), so this move would constitute Linux Mint abandoning its roots. If there is to be a Debian-based KDE edition, I'd at least like to see a simultaneous effort to release Linux Mint 11 "Katya" KDE, hopefully with more developers on board. Then again, it has been a while since Linux Mint 11 "Katya" GNOME came out, and even longer since Ubuntu 11.04 "Natty Narwhal" came out, and Ubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" isn't that far away, so it's pretty late in the release cycle to release an Ubuntu-based Linux Mint KDE edition, and that's something the developers wanted to do away with entirely by moving the Xfce and Fluxbox editions to the Debian base. Maybe the problems will be ironed out in time for a Linux Mint 12 "L[...]a" KDE release soon after the release of the corresponding GNOME edition.

In short, I'm more ambivalent about a Debian-based Linux Mint KDE edition than about Debian-based Linux Mint GNOME, Xfce, and Fluxbox editions. Plus, I wonder why the LXDE edition is sticking with the Ubuntu base. I think that's because it was originally planned that the LXDE edition, like the KDE edition as originally announced, would stick with the Ubuntu base, and there were fewer problems so a live CD image could be pushed out faster. What do you think?


Featured Comments: Week of 2011 July 3

There was one post that got one comment this week.

Google+: Initial Thoughts

Reader Thrash Cardiom said, "I think Google will be pushing it out quite quickly to the public. They need to achieve a critical mass so it doesn't become a wasteland. Too few people in Google+ means few people will use it."

Thanks to that commenter for commenting on that post this past week. This coming week, I hope to have at least one review out, but that depends on the distribution actually being released this week (and me being able to test it as usual). Also, I had hoped to review PCLinuxOS 2011.6 KDE, but it refused to start X/11 in the live session, and none of the suggestions in the forums seemed to help, so I felt that it wasn't worth a review. (Yes, I've learned my lesson from SimplyMEPIS 11.) Suffice it to say that I can't recommend it if I can't get it to actually start KDE in the live session, even when I've followed the proper procedures in creating a live USB. And remember, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!


Google+: Initial Thoughts

A couple days ago, my Google+ invite finally started working again, so I immediately signed up for the service.
If you want to know what it looks like and what functions/features it has in depth, I would suggest that you read somewhere else, because these are just my initial thoughts about it.
For the couple days that I have used it, I really like it on the whole. It's very similar to Facebook in terms of its interface, which has certainly made the transition easier. Plus, it has a much simpler privacy policy that's not likely to change much over time, along with privacy tools and options that are much easier to find and modify.
There are only two big issues that I have right now. The first is that not all my contacts on Facebook are using Google+ yet, but that'll probably happen in time once Google+ becomes available to the public, so that's not a really huge issue. The second is that when I decided to enable video chatting on Google+, I had to download a new Google Talk browser plugin and install that. This also overwrote the existing installed plugin; the unfortunate side effect has been that although my webcam and mic capture my video and audio fine, my speakers have suddenly started rendering sounds from the conversation as if both myself and the other person had inhaled helium. I haven't tried this with headphones yet, so I can't say for sure if this is truly a problem with the plugin, and I haven't tried this on other Linux distributions yet (aside from Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora"), so again I can't say if this is truly a problem with the plugin, but in any case, it's a problem, and it's also present in GChat.
Otherwise, I have high hopes for Google+, and I hope to use it just as much as Facebook once it becomes available to the public.


Featured Comments: Week of 2011 June 26

There was one post that got a few comments, so I'll try to repost most of those.

Facebook, Google+, and Centralized Proprietary Monocultures

Reader tracyanne said, "quote:: No matter who you are, if you plan on uploading pictures to these "cloud" sites, don't delete them from physical storage at home. Always keep backups on hard drives, etc. Because if you put all your eggs in one basket and that basket falls into a black hole, you're sunk. ::quote That advice pretty much applies to anything "in the cloud". You leave yourself vulnerable to pretty much anything "they" want to do, and anything that can go wrong, and run the risk of losing YOUR data when you rely on such "services". The only way you can ensure that your data (photographs, images, writing etc) is safe is to keep a copy on your own computers and keep backups of that."
Commenter Sandeep said, "Even with diaspora, there are not many people who are actually going to buy and maintain their own server. They will outsource to someone else who has a pod- which leads to the same issues of information gathering, privacy, backups, etc. I am not a diaspora user, so please say if these concerns are nonexistent."
An anonymous reader countered, "Google is not Facebook. Every company has its own motivations and its own people leading them. Google will screw up in completely different ways than Facebook and in different ways than open source projects. None are perfect."
But then commenter Scio gave another vote of confidence to "Diaspora. You can host your own node while keeping your connections with friends over the internet, without giving up your data. It's all encrypted using PGP keys. I think there's a false dichotomy between utilizing the web for data while losing your privacy and keeping everything on a stale hard drive with no flexibility while keeping your privacy. I think it's essential that we reflect on solutions like Amahi, ownCloud, SparkleShare, etc. to make sure that private data owned on the person's own hardware has a place among the services of companies."

Thanks to all those who commented on that post from this past week. I don't have anything planned for this coming week, but I'm sure I'll be able to write about something. Remember, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing, commenting, and sharing!


Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Rape Accusations

About one and half months ago, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the (now former) head of the International Monetary Fund, was accused of rape by a Guinean maid in New York. According to the maid, she was in the hotel room in New York where Strauss-Kahn was staying when he approached her, tried to force her to have sex, and then raped her.

Now, it looks like there are serious questions about the validity of the charges. It seems to me that the consensus is that the rape never happened (though we'll never know for sure, one way or another), because the maid was the only witness to this alleged crime, and she seems to have credibility issues. Specifically, she has admitted to lying to the grand jury about the events before, during, and after the rape, having issues with her asylum papers, and being involved in a money-laundering scheme involving accusing Strauss-Kahn of rape. Basically, the prosecution's case has fallen apart.

The issue here is that in reaction to the centuries of men getting away with rape without consequence, American society is such that accusers victimized of rape are automatically believed and accused rapists' names are blackened forever in the eyes of society, whether the rape accusation is true or not (i.e. society automatically makes assumptions regardless of the veracity of the claim). So do we need to find a middle ground?

Well, that would be nice, but I think (and I'm about as far as you can get from a legal scholar here) an easier idea might be to use libel law effectively. In the US, compared to other countries, libel law practically doesn't exist, thanks to a very strong First Amendment. As far as I remember/understand, if a prosecutor wants to have any chance of winning a libel/slander suit, the prosecutor has to show that the defendant put out knowingly false information about the prosecutor with malicious intent. Only then can a case have any chance of proceeding. That's why so many libel/slander lawsuits in the UK, such as the one an association of chiropractors put out against author Simon Singh regarding him calling them a bunch of quacks, would have no chance of going through in the US; those cases are really just the defendant engaging in trivial name-calling or telling hard truths that the prosecutor doesn't like to hear/see. But in this case, a rape accusation is really serious, and here, the maid seems to have accused Strauss-Kahn of rape knowing that accusation was false and did so with malicious intentions, so I think a libel/slander suit would hold more weight in this case.

A very similar case happened in Maryland a couple years ago where a few girls who didn't like their male teacher (I think for correctly giving them bad grades because they did poorly on assignments and tests) falsely accused him of raping/sexually assaulting them. Though the accusations were found to be false and the teacher was acquitted, the damage had been done, as the teacher lost the trust of family and close friends and couldn't find a decent job in a nice place for a very long time (because he was known as a sex offender). At the same time, the girls who did this knowingly with malice got away without any punishment at all for ruining an honest man's life.

So I think in both cases, the accused rapists could and should press libel/slander charges against the accusers for ruining their lives and careers knowingly and maliciously. Rape is terrible, horrible, atrocious thing. False accusations of rape are nearly just as bad.

(UPDATE: I just read an article about an author who accused Strauss-Kahn in 2002 of sexually assaulting her. It appears that the case has come back into the public eye again, and Strauss-Kahn is denying the charges and is planning to sue her for slander. That said, I don't know if that's going to work out here, because there aren't any big questions about the accuser's credibility here (yet).)


Facebook, Google+, and Centralized Proprietary Monocultures

This week, Google released Google+, which is basically a social network that's a lot like Facebook, but run by Google instead of Facebook. The big deal here is that it's a lot easier to modify privacy settings and configure what information to post to which group(s) ("Circle(s)" in Google+-speak) of contacts. This shows that Google, at least on the surface, takes privacy a lot more seriously than Facebook. I say this because whenever a controversial privacy settings change occurs on Facebook, it's usually in the direction of less privacy, and only when the users get outraged does Facebook do anything at all (and it's usually insignificant), because the truth is that Facebook's business is built upon selling users' data to companies for marketing, advertising, etc. I've also gotten annoyed with Facebook's chat and constant UI changes that occur for no good reason, so I'm a little more drawn in that sense to Google+ because it integrates Google Chat (which I know works), and all of Google's applications have kept pretty much constant, simple UIs over the years. Please note that I haven't actually used Google+, though I have an invitation (it seems like Google can't process that invitation right now); any statements that make it seem like I've used it are actually just my hopes and expectations.

But at the same time, I'm a bit wary of joining yet another centralized, proprietary social network. Why? Because they could screw me over at any time, and that's pretty much what happened to many Facebook users on Linux. You see, this week, Facebook not only blocked KDE applications from uploading pictures to the site (which was among the selling points for KDE 4.6), but it also deleted all pictures that had previously been uploaded that way. That's outrageous! And worse yet, when prominent free software reporters and proponents complained to Facebook, they got a rather cold response, which indicated both that Facebook didn't really care about the KDE users and more third-party uploaders could be blocked soon. Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case, as about a day later, all the KDE applications were allowed to upload to Facebook again, and all the deleted photos were reinstated. It all turned out to be a big mistake/misunderstanding. Whatever.

So the issue is that whether I join Google+ or just stick with Facebook, in either case I'm at the mercy of the company managing that service. No matter who you are, if you plan on uploading pictures to these "cloud" sites, don't delete them from physical storage at home. Always keep backups on hard drives, etc. Because if you put all your eggs in one basket and that basket falls into a black hole, you're sunk. And until Diaspora actually gets going and starts draining users from Facebook (which unfortunately doesn't look likely at all, considering that I haven't heard anything new about the project for a year or so), although I will certainly use Google+ with an open mind, I will continue to remain wary and vigilant.