Tag Archives: Free/Libre/OpenSource Software

Global <-> local

In all the years that I have been interacting with the various upstream FOSS projects, reasoning and convincing various groups to have a ‘local’ view of issues that complements the global strategy has been an uphill task. Sometimes it is just that interpersonal relations have been able to overcome the curve. At other times, it has just been a constant pegging away with facts, data points and a regular representation of issues that validate the need to approach and integrate local issues within the fold of the greater goals of the project. Either way, it makes me happy to see another project realize the need to align the views and inputs of the local participants and, figure out ways and means to respect their inputs and listen to their feedback.

The Regional Groups aspect of OpenOffice.org has gone a bit unnoticed and somewhat unloved (and, it has been my fault since I do not recall talking too much on this). This would be one area where it would be good to have a few folks stand up and take ownership as a steward.

In other news of the day, I have an @gnome.org alias for myself (thanks SysAdmins). Sadly, it has the usual pain of making a botched job of my actual name and, by now, I am so used to folks chopping up my first name every way they feel that I am more amused and less bewildered at the lack of appreciation of names.

Some bytes about Fedora bits

During my trip to Kolkata last month, I’ve had a number of discussions around ‘making Fedora available to whosoever requests for it’. Ambitious as it may sound, we would have to end up doing it. Otherwise, there is simply no other way that we can lead the development of free and open source technology and content through a community of collaboration. Susmit’s blog entry has a pointer to the current problems, this is my take.

The current paths to obtaining Fedora media for folks in India are:

  1. Fedora FreeMedia Program
  2. Local Points of Contact
  3. Media produced for events

all of the above have a couple of shortcomings. So, let’s just itemize them to enable a much sweeter discussion. The underlying assumption is that we want to avoid falling into the massive media production trap – it does not return benefits. And, we would like to increase the participation at the *UG level.

  • The current issue with the FreeMedia Program is scalability. It is a fashionable term, but that’s what specifically what it is. The request queue gets so overloaded that the requests need to be clamped down within 3-5 days of being opened up. And, it would be fairly obvious as to why – last mile postal charges in India are exhorbitant and, asking folks to spend their own money to take this deluge of requests is going to take some inspiring feats of oratory and, a couple of miracles. However, that is not all. The other problems are – because the FreeMedia Program gates slam down fast, at every run there would be folks who – [i] did not make their requests in time [ii] are in the queue but we have no idea of knowing whether they did get the media. So, the second part is more important – accountability. How do we make the system a bit more accountable to ensure that the requests that did make it are getting met ? And, how do we track whether, because it is “free” (as in beer), duplicate requests are not originating ?
  • Local Points of Contact are a good way to off-set the huge and, somewhat human-absent nature of FreeMedia. This however is, “high touch”. And, currently has the same issues of accountability. That is, the system of tracking who-gives-whom-and-when/where is still not in place. And yet, at one level this is somewhat better. Because, the LPoC are not bound to give it away for gratis. They can charge (within bounds of reasonable practical reality) a certain sum to process the requests. In an awkward way, this could end up being very interesting for those who are diligent, disciplined and, want to make a little bit of money in the process. Money that can come in handy for things like broadband connections etc.
  • Media for events are done in bulk and, sent around to the event organizers so as to enable them to distribute it. We started this off from F10 and, would be doing this for F11. This is the life-blood of events and, is not going to go away, however, this does have a danger of becoming ‘yet another goodie’ and, so we need to figure what can be done to ensure that the massive doses of media being produced and sent to events does really end up going to people who need it and, the remaining media is passed around to Ambassadors or LPoCs who know how to make best use of the system.

A couple of things come to mind so as to ensure that while we do end up meeting every request, even after discounting the ‘freeloaders’ (those who request it just because it is free), we do end up making a significant impact.

  • Work out with various magazines if they want to ship Fedora media on a more regular basis. During the F10 lifecycle, we did have a significant number of media being shipped via magazines as part of their issues including spins and remixes
  • Insisting that the Ambassadors put a closer ear to the ground when it comes to local LUGs. A large number of requests initiate from the *UGs and, having Ambassadors actively looking at the lists it would be easier for us to meet the requests as well as get a first level of hand-holding in place
  • Making *UGs part of the LPoC cycle. In addition to individuals, providing the *UGs with the media so that they can distribute/sell/whatever does manage to take some pressure off the FreeMedia
  • Work on the long road to getting more mirrors. We are not breaking much new ground this year and, that is a cause for concern. The big name institutes do need to have mirrors in place. Private mirrors, if not public. A mirror that is updated regularly does provide the focus point for the *UG within the institute and, the immediate Fedora folks outside of it to ensure that the bits are at hand to re-distribute.
  • Keep on doing the “media for events” but work towards increasing the LPoC base.

So, the short summary is that we need to arrive at some protocol fast enough for us to work on:

  1. how to get media to those who request it
  2. how best to coach/guide/help those who need help to get started with Fedora
  3. how to bring down the number of ‘freeloaders’ in this cycle

and, in a small way, the second is ‘gated’ on the first.

Can OpenOffice.org Writer ‘flip’ my page ?

It has been a while since the angel talked with me, however, I haven’t ended up with a clean solution for getting OpenOffice.org Writer to flip the page when printing out. Currently, one has to do the following steps:

  1. Export to PDF the appropriate pages
  2. Use pdfjam tools (more specifically, pdfnup) to collate the 2 pages into a single page
  3. Use a tool like GIMP to make an image of that PDF
  4. Flip the image

Isn’t it possible to use the print dialog from the software to handle the above as a seamless step ?

Quirky behavior of oocalc

A quirky behavior of OpenOffice.org Calc was observed. I uploaded the sample spreadsheet here [link to .ods] .

Would be great to know if someone else can reproduce it.

The first 3 columns have three dates and cell D2 uses the DAYS function to find the difference between the dates. Since the result is accurate, we also put that in cell D4 by-hand. We repeat a similar set of actions for E2 and E4.

Having done that, we divide E2 by D2 and E4 by D4 to obtain the results in F2 and F4. The results in G2 and G4 are obtained by F2 by 15 and F4 by 15 respectively. The contents of G6 are input by-hand.

For the cells H2, H4 and H6, the data is input by hand and I2, I4 and I6 are obtained by multiplying H2, H4 and H6 by G2, G4 and G6 respectively. Check the results obtained :)

All of the above would be obvious if you check the formula bits in the spreadsheet.

The real fun of course is in the remaining rows. G8 is obtained as a result of the expression F8*15 (note: G2 was 15*F2) which is somewhat different and thus we end up with different results on I8.

Check out the spreadsheet. It is fun. The OO.o issuezilla does not seem to work for me, so shall file a bug later.

Yesterday I was reading a book by Paco Underhill regarding buying trends at malls and retail stores (more on that in a separate post). And, I was wondering when was the last time I went out and ‘bought’ software. Some brain_cpu cycles later it struck me that the last piece of software that I purchased was this one, since the preloaded version that I got saddled with had come unstuck. This was after I had bought Red Hat Linux from FreeOS.

A strange sensation really. I use and consume software or, software as a service, on a daily basis. And, if one discounts the OS pre-loading on the cell phone, I have not actually gone ahead and bought software for around 10 years now. I do my bit for various FOSS projects, chip in with money to a select few or nudge-push-poke some projects to become better. But, living a decade and functioning fully without having to commercially purchase software is something that is totally jaw droppingly awesome. The software development model of FOSS and the collective collaboration that it spawns makes it possible.

And, then we wonder, why is it difficult for more people to really ‘get it’.