Marcel Gagne's blog


Karmic Koala: Ubuntu Gets The "K"

Hear that clock ticking? There are only nine days left to the release of Ubuntu 9.10. It's all very exciting and that excitement was bouncing about inside my brain as I drove my son to school this morning. A little ditty was echoing in my mind along with what I might write about the big event, when suddenly it hit me. No, not another car. I was paying attention. What hit me was a fully formed vision of the future, nine days hence. Sort of like what happens on FlashForward, the series based on Robert J. Sawyer's book.


Cloudy Days On Planet *buntu

I'd like to begin by apologizing for the complete lack of controversy in today's post. I appreciate your understanding in this difficult time when I am finding it hard to really get upset about anything. But I digress.


Sex, Live, and Virtualization

Much has been made of Mark Shuttleworth's keynote speech at Linuxcon as to whether his speech was sexist, demeaning to women, and whether it was a reflection of the man. Last week, I said Mark was a cool billionaire based on my own personal definition of 'cool billionaire'.


New monthly column. New blog.

Today, I start with yet another online presence. I have a new blog over at, a companion site to the new Ubuntu User magazine by the fine people who bring you the slick, shiny LinuxPro Magazine. The second issue of the quarterly Ubuntu User magazine, in which another new column of mine appears, is on store shelves now.


FlashForward. Television SF Hits The Mainstream

Cover of Flash ForwardThis is a great time to be a fan of science fiction and fantasy. Tonight (September 24, 2009), on ABC television, a new series called FlashForward will be broadcast to a waiting world. The series is based on the 1999 novel of the same name by my great friend, Robert J. Sawyer. Here's the quick intro: for mysterious reasons (aren't they always), everyone in the entire world, all 7 billions human beings, suddenly black out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. During this blackout, they see visions of themselves and others, one year into the future. 

Of course, the blackout brings unimaginable disaster as planes crash, multi-car pileups occur, people die on the operating table, and accidents of every kind take place as everyone loses consciousness. So beings FlashForward, a series that ABC is promoting as the successor to the immensely popular, LOST. If you can't wait for FlashForward to air tonight, you can check out this 18 minute sneak peak, which contains just enough to get you totally and utterly hooked.

FlashForward is the latest of reasons why it's great to be a science fiction fan in today's world. When I was 9 years old (in 1969), shortly after my family moved to Ontario, I discovered a show that blew me away. That was Star Trek. I have to tell you, at 9, I had already started the march toward science and technology geek. To my young mind, the idea of spaceships and travelling to other worlds only made sense, having watched the march of the space program on television, but Star Trek was something else. This was entertainment that seem made for me! It was different, painting a future that I assumed was just a matter of time, probably somewhere around the time I would reach my parents' age.

From up here in the Great White North -- that would be Canada, eh! -- we watch with some bewilderment as president Barack Obama struggles to get his floundering health care reform bill passed. Truth is, Americans have an amazingly crappy health care system . . . okay, let me rephrase that . . . Americans have a health care system that could be really great were it not subject to the power of the Dark Side. Yes, I'm talking about good old fashioned corporate greed. That would be the kind of greed that tries to make sure every American pays through the nose for the privilege of surviving should some health issue arise, while the companies who insure them try to make sure they never have to pay out.

Meanwhile, the right wing (mostly) in the States is going nuts talking about Obama's plan to kill old people should they fall ill, with mysterious star chambers scattered hither and yon makind decisions as to how many babies will fall under the knife of Obama's evil plan. It's all very surreal.


The Mystical Magical Secure Shell, Part 1

by Marcel Gagné

Once upon a time, when the Earth was green, plain text communications was the norm. We used TELNET to connect to systems where we needed to get work done. From a security perspective, plain-text communications is frought with dangers. Anyone running a network sniffer program, of which there are many, can snoop on every packet sailing across your network. If you are logging in using TELNET, that person can see your user name and password plain as day.

One way around this dilemma is to use the secure shell. OpenSSH is an open-source implementation of the secure shell protocol that comes with almost every major Linux distribution. The secure shell is much more than a simple way to keep your passwords to yourself. Logging securely certainly qualifies as the basics for OpenSSH and it's certainly useful, but there are some seriously cool SSH features that should make you wonder why you would use anything else to communicate (well, almost). For instance, it's possible to tunnel ports you may not have access to (if the machine is behind a firewall) through the SSH port. SSH makes it possible to run remote graphical sessions easily. You can even securely log in without a password. SSH is a veritable Swiss Army knife of OS toys.

Yes, I'll cover all those things later. First, the basics.


Weapon? You call that a weapon?!

According to the fine people at Zellers, I own a fearsome weapon. No, not that! It's a Swiss Army knife. Now stop laughing and work with me a moment as I recount my tale of this deadly piece of Swiss engineering.

I remember getting my first jack knife when I was 7 or 8 years old. It was a very cool thing to have, with a thousand and one uses, most of them having to do with turning large pieces of wood into smaller pieces of wood. As the years passed, I graduated to a Swiss Army knife. With its collection of screwdrivers, scissors, corkscrew, and yes, knives, it was and continues to be one of the most useful tools I have ever run across. I never leave home without it. Many have joked about my insistance on carrying the classic red toolkit, but the laughs disappear when someone needs that screw tightened or just can't seem to find a corkscrew. Marcel is ready with his faithful Swiss Army knife.


Removing the dreaded 'Read More' Link

When creating stories in Drupal, or posts of any kind, you run across an annoying little default. It's the dreaded Read more link.


Thinking about keeping our various devices in sync with our Linux systems can be the source of nightmares for many. After all, asking for an open source solution that can keep millions of smart phones, cell phones, email clients, contact databases, and calendars on the same planet, never mind the same page, seems akin to asking for the moon. To which Chez Marcel would like to ask, "Would you like a nice rich Merlot with that moon?"

Excuse me, François, but what are you doing? Are you sending text messages while you should be getting ready for the restaurant to open? You aren't? Well, if you aren't texting, what are you doing hunched over that cell phone? Quoi? You have three cell phones that you are typing into. My apologies, mon ami, but now I really have no idea what you are doing. Ah, I see . . . trying to update your contact list and calendars and you can't think of a way to do that with you Linux system. But three phones? One is your BlackBerry and the other two phones belong to your aunt and your mother. Sigh . . . Tech support for the family on restaurant time, François. What am I going to do with you? Put those phones down and I'll show you a better way to synchronize all those contacts. Quickly! I can see our guests arriving even now.



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