Free Software, Jonathan 6 Comments »

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One Year of Independence


A little more than a year ago I wasn’t very happy, I managed to get myself stuck in a job I didn’t like working for a company I didn’t like in a city I didn’t like. It had compound effects that caused me more problems, I decided to take the plunge and start my own company, giving me the freedom to work on the things that I want to work where I want to and when it makes sense to do so. Yesterday it was exactly a year since I’ve done that when I founded Zanix, and looking back it’s been the single best decision I’ve ever made so far. I won’t deny that it was incredibly risky, but I don’t have any dependents or very big responsibilities (well, beseides perhaps my homeloan) so it turned out a good time in my life to do so. There’s been some rough spots especially with the accounting side and in some cases payments taking long to get to me, but I’ve learned a lot and it’s been a great experience so far, so far 2009 has been one of the best years I’ve ever had.

Revolution Linux

Révolution Linux

Over the next year I think things will be even better, over the last few months I’ve been talking to the nice people at Revolution Linux, and we worked out something that will allow me to run my current business and work for them almost-full-time. From my perspective I think it’s a best-of-both-worlds scenario, I don’t have to drop any of my projects and have a steady job working on things I really enjoy at the same time. My job title is literally “Ubuntu Developer/Analyst”, and I’ll be working on all kinds of Ubuntu and LTSP related things. Their head office is in Sherbrooke, QC which is close to where the LTSP hackfests happen so I’ll be spending lots of time up there. You don’t have to live long in Canada to be able to apply for a residency, so I might even go live there for a while, it will certainly make traveling around easier than on a South African passport. Sherbrooke is also driving distance from NYC so perhaps I might even go to Debconf next year. I’m not sure exactly how much time I’ll be spending everywhere yet, but I’ll know more myself once I stay there a few weeks after my work visa is approved.

Changes in involvement in CLUG and Ubuntu-ZA

I’m stepping down from the CLUG committee and also as co-leader of the Ubuntu-ZA loco team, since I’ll be traveling a lot next year and probably won’t be around that much, I’ll still be around virtually on the lists and on IRC and contribute here and there, but I’d rather leave the leadership roles to people who are active locally. Ubuntu-ZA elections are currently taking place on Launchpad and the CLUG AGM is taking place later this month where a new committee will be elected.

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Guess who’s now a Motu?

Free Software 2 Comments »

Just a few minutes ago, I finally became a MOTU! MOTU is short for Masters of The Universe (which is also the name for the old He-man comics and TV series, if you can remember that) and it’s the team that maintains the universe component packages in Ubuntu.

At the Ubuntu Developer Summit for Karmic I got renewed energy to persue my dreams to become a MOTU and had lots of encouragement. I spent some time with Stéphane Graber who showed me LTSP Cluster. It’s an impressive set of tools that he’s been working on that the company he works for develops. He said that I could maintain the LTSP Cluster tools in Ubuntu which should help a good deal towards me becoming a MOTU, I was thrilled and made it my goal to become a MOTU before Karmic was released. Little did I know that I would become a MOTU on the actual day that Karmic is released. At least I won’t forget when I became a MOTU :)

Thanks to all the MOTUs who have been helping me along the way, Stéphane and also for Jordan who taught me plenty of acronyms (not only for MOTU but also for Debian) and all the people who would answer my questions on #ubuntu-motu (especially ScottK, persia, RainCT, Soren, Hobbsee, \sh, sorry if I left someone out) and also Oli and Daniel who helped me a lot as I got started.

I’ve always had lots of plans for ‘one day’ when I become a MOTU. The timing is quite good so I hope to deliver a number of nice things in universe for Ubuntu 10.04!


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Edubuntu 9.10 is Here

Education, Free Software 4 Comments »


The Return of Edubuntu

Edubuntu 9.10 has landed! For the past few releases, it has been an add-on CD to Ubuntu. Our users have have made overwhelming requests for a full-blown installation CD again and we have listened. Edubuntu 9.10 is now a DVD that contains a full Ubuntu installation plus the Edubuntu packages and the LTSP Server packages. Read the Release Announcement to find out how you can get Edubuntu!


The move to a DVD also forms part of larger plans so that we can fit more content and software on the system, and looking forward to Lucid (10.04) we may also be shipping a Live LTSP system which has been in high demand recently.

A Big Thank You to Jordan Mantha (LaserJock)


Without Jordan, the past few releases wouldn’t have been possible. He has resigned from Edubuntu recently effective as todays release. He has been involved in every aspect of Edubuntu and has done great mentoring work to many people that has been involved (including me).  Jordan has resigned to pursue his career that has been demanding more attention recently. We’ll be having Edubuntu Council elections soon, we’ll announce the details through the usual channels (The Fridge, UWN, etc) so please stay tuned as Edubuntu Project 2.0 continues to evolve. We’re always looking for new contributors and growing our community will be a focus over the next 6 months. Feel free to join in and get involved!

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The importance of saying “Hi”

Free Software, Project Mayhem, Rants 20 Comments »

Story time! (Warning: Ramblings and emo ahead)

The only white guy in the room

About two years ago, I thought that it would be a good idea to join the classes at the gym for group sessions rather than just doing all the solo stuff. I checked the available classes, and one class promised to be an extremely fun freestyling dance class (or something like that) with lots of cool music. In my head, that got translated to people doing breakdancing, there being like, a little moshpit somewhere, lots of hot sweaty girls jumping around and into everyone else… well, more like what you’d imagine in a club than at a gym :)

The next day I showed up for the class and just as it started I noticed that I was the only guy there. Besides that, the music was *very* female targeted. I think that’s the most Westlife, Boyzone, *NSYNC, etc (at least it was before Jonas Brothers were around) I ever had to hear in such a short amount of time. Also, there was nothing freestyle about it! It’s like they all knew very specific and elaborate dances and I couldn’t keep up at all and it was mostly embarrassing. Some might find it ammusing, but the most intimidated I’ve ever been was in a room full of women younger than me in (mostly) pink dancing clothes.

Quite often, I’ve been in situations where I’m at a meeting or gathering where I’m the only white person there. This might be when I visit a library in Khayelitsha to help them with their computers, or previously when I did some government work. I’ve never actually had a negative experience in cases like these, but sometimes you become a bit paranoid (and I’m not a paranoid person to begin with). Sometimes I’ve had thoughts like “I hope that comment wasn’t directed at me” and you tend to fine-comb everything that is being said.

When you’re the only one, or in a very small minority that is obviously different from everyone else there, you naturally become a little bit more sensitive. I guess it’s just human nature.


In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, e-mail was a great way of communicating and staying in touch. I also found mailing lists quite handy and learned that because people can’s see and hear you directly, that it often happens that people read it incorrectly, and what might seem like an innocent message may be interpreted as hostile to others. I learned to keep my messages as short as possible and keep the tone as neutral as possible, especially on mailing lists and messages that are sent out to many different people. This didn’t work so well at work though. I’ve had collueges complain before that my e-mails are too formal, and that it makes them feel uncomfortable. It was even mentioned in a performance appraisal on year! I learned that some people, it seems especially extroverts (in the Myers-Briggs kind of way) are much likely to respond faster if you through in a joke or perhaps even mention something non-work related. My style of e-mail drastically changed depending on who I sent it too, and people were generally more happy with me. I drew the line when our marketing person told me that it’s become company policy to send out all e-mails in the font “Arial”. I told him that he’d have my resignation before I ever send out an e-mail in Arial which resulted in a bit of an arguement. He didn’t take it too well. While I didn’t succeed in changing the company policy (I had too many other things on my plate at the time to worry about that) regarding the Arial e-mails, we ended up at least getting permission for our team to send out our e-mails in plain-text.

For some people, receiving an e-mail with formal style and wording is perceived as a kind of passive-aggressiveness. For some people, sending out what is really just a text message in HTML (and especially with a font like Arial) is perceived as clean and proffessional, where anyone with some technical skills will dismiss it as being wasteful and stupid.

Saying Hi

I’ve often heard people (and more women than men) complain that their boss isn’t polite enough. It’s usually something like “When I used to work at Company A, our boss would always come into the office and greet everyone and once a month he’d get everyone together in the office and we’d eat some cake and he’d provide us with some motivation”. In one office space I worked in, our manager was specifically very quiet. It was sometimes so quiet in the office that it made lots of people (including myself) very uncomfortable. Most of the time it didn’t bother me so much, but in that extreme case I could understand what the other people were on about, who were more vocal about the problem. He later had some bad performance reviews from people complaining about his leadership style and he left. He actually did a really good job, his biggest failure was really not saying “Hi!” and “How are you doing?” often enough.

When you’re in a leader position, or a high profile person, people look up to you and they want guidance and reassurance. It’s why we have phenomenons like Bradgelina (the combined name for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) who some people obsess about. When you’re such a person, the slightest negative or positive thing you say can have a *huge* impact on all of those who follow you. I don’t think these people should censor themselves, but they should actively keep in mind that their word hold lots of weight, and that they should use them responsibly.

Mark and the girls

I read on Matt Zimmerman’s blog entry “Explaining to the Girls”. It’s about a comment Mark Shuttleworth gave at LinuxCon I got the video from a comment and his exact words were  “If we can really approach it from the perspective of saying how do we make this just awesome for users, then we’ll, uh, we’ll have have less trouble explaining to girls what we actually do”. If I personally heard it like that for the first time, I would certainly interpret it as a very sexist remark. Someone mentioned that he actually meant it as “the girlfriend” or “significant other”. After listening to it again today, I can see how he probably just meant that.

Mark reminds me of that manager I had that didn’t say hi to the other employees. It’s not that he’s a bad person, but I guess it’s kind of hard to dedicate some brain CPU cycles to consider others when you have billions of dollars in the bank to worry about, when you get to travel by personal plane, when you get to take on huge projects such as Ubuntu, etc. When you get to that stage I think you just live on an entirely different level than most other people. What might be a big deal for most becomes trivial and unimportant, the set of problems you have to deal with changes and are on a totally different scale.

I think what he said was quite insensitive, regardless of his intentions. I can imagine a young woman who might have given up a more comfortable career to risk working exclusively on free software, doing the effort to come to LinuxCon just to hear that girls are slow to understand stuff. If Mark just said “We’ll have less trouble explaining what we do to our significant others”, it would already have been a major improvement and he’d also be able to get his message accross better. In my opinion it will probably do Ubuntu some good if he at leasts makes some kind of public statement about this.

From my perspective, it comes back to saying hi, or perhaps more specifically, acknowledging people. Once you’ve done that it’s already easier to keep them in mind and not saying things that are mean and insensitive.

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Free Software 2 Comments »

Cupt (it sounds like someone is trying to say “Cups” with a lisp) is a very new alternative to APT. It just hit its first beta today and development started just last year. I decided to give it a spin in a Debian unstable virtual machine. First impressions is very good. It unifies all the different tools you’d traditionally use with apt, it also offers alternative solutions when they’re available like Aptitude does.

It’s features are very familiar and it didn’t take long at all to get comfortable with it. Here’s an output of it’s built-in help to give you an idea of what it does:

 autoclean: cleans unavailable from repositories archives from binary package cache
 build-dep: satisfies build dependencies for source package(s)
 changelog: views Debian changelog(s) of binary package(s)
 clean: cleans the whole binary package cache
 config-dump: prints values of configuration variables
 copyright: views Debian copyright info of binary package(s)
 depends: prints dependencies of binary package(s)
 dist-upgrade: does a two-stage full upgrade
 full-upgrade: upgrades the system with possible removal of some packages
 help: prints a short help
 install: installs/upgrades/downgrades binary package(s)
 markauto: marks binary package(s) as automatically installed
 pkgnames: prints available package names
 policy: prints pin info for the binary package(s)
 policysrc: prints pin info for the source package(s)
 purge: removes binary package(s) along with their configuration files
 rdepends: print reverse-dependencies of binary package(s)
 remove: removes binary package(s)
 safe-upgrade: upgrades the system without removing packages
 satisfy: performs actions to make relation expressions satisfied
 screenshots: views Debian screenshot web pages for the binary package(s)
 search: searches for packages using regular expression(s)
 shell: starts an interactive package manager shell
 show: prints info about binary package(s)
 showsrc: prints info about source packages(s)
 source: fetches and unpacks source package(s)
 unmarkauto: marks binary package(s) as manually installed
 update: updates repository metadata
 version: prints versions of packages 'cupt' and 'libcupt-perl'
 why: finds a dependency path between system/package(s) and package

I tried the ’screenshots’ option to see what it would do in a text-only terminal. It basically opens up a web page with the screenshot using sensible-browser, so it ended up opening in w3m, where you can see the entire web page except the actual screen shot, it probably wouldn’t work all that well for people getting a screenshot from a remote terminal. In my opinion it would’ve been better if cupt just pasted a URL to the image or downloaded it for you. Not a big criticism, just a minor suggestion :)

It’s installable next to APT, so you don’t have to remove any of your current APT tools. Just a note of caution, if you’re running Ubuntu, the newest version available is only 0.2.3, so you probably don’t want to install if from the Ubuntu archives just yet.

From toying around with it and adding/removing some packages I couldn’t really find anything big that’s wrong about it. It even does things like “cupt install htop apache2-” correctly, it seems that they’ve worked quite hard to match most of what the apt tools do. I haven’t tried the debdelta integration yet, and I think the support for an external problem solver has some potential for making upgrades smoother. I quite like it and hope that the Cupt developers maintain the kind of momentum they have now.

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Ubuntu Community Council Elections

Free Software, Politics 5 Comments »

Election Time

It’s Ubuntu Community Council election time!

From the voting page (You should’ve received a link if you’re an Ubuntu member):

The Council is responsible for community governance. They are the ultimate arbiter of community disputes, and they nominate candidates for leadership in key positions across the entire project. In selecting your candidates, please consider their ability to act in an independent fashion and exercise good judgement of character, values and tone. We have an enormous community now that spans many different media, regions, technologies and interests. The CC cannot include a representative of every constituency, so members of the CC need to be able to represent the interests of many different groups.

The Candidates

We have a very strong selection of candidates. They are:

How I’m Voting

I firstly read through each candidate’s wiki page. Some had quite sparse information on their wiki pages and websites, while some have either a decent wiki page or link to a page where you can find out more about them. Some of them have also added a paragraph on their wiki page explaining why they are standing for the CC. There are two candidates that I haven’t ever worked with, interacted or met before so I had to rely on their wikis/websites/launchpad-profiles more than the others.


The ballot above is what the default looks like, default values are at 12 so you have to purposely promote the candidates that you want to vote in.

I gave a “1″ ranking to the candidates I absolutely wanted to see in the Community Council. A “2″ for those who I’d really like to be in there, but if they’re not it will be ok, and a “3″ to “6″ for the rest. They’re all good candidates and I didn’t specifically want to vote against anyone. 12 Rankings feel like a bit too much for 7 candidates, especially considering that there’s just 7 candidates and that you’ll probably put some of them on the same ranking level (not sure where I got that idea, there are indeed 12 candidates). The voting statistics will be made public after the election (although all voting will remain anonymous), so I’m interested in seeing how people are going to cast their votes.

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Software Freedom Day 2009

Free Software No Comments »

Yesterday was the 6th International Annual Software Freedom Day. I attended the Cape Linux Users Group event at UCT. It was different to all the previous ones we’ve had in that it was a much more geeky event rather than just a marketing event. CLUG provided free pizza and Mark Ter Morthuizen brewed us some home-made beer. Our activities included working on the CLUG website, fixing the UCT Freedom Toaster, creating new CD toasting software from scratch in Python (called Snakewich), and doing some maintenance in the Shuttleworth Lab. It was really nice having a real CLUG event again (besides the usual CLUG talks) and it was good seeing some old familiar faces as well. We had lots of hickups though, bad wi-fi, touch-screen displays not playing along, but overall it was totally worth it.

I think our next step is to start making use of TSL for things like Ubuntu Global Jams and CLUG related workshops.

Oh yes, and it’s official, Ubuntu 10.04’s official codename is Lucid Lynx.

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