Welcome! You've arrived at award-winning author Marcel Gagné's personal Website. I am the author of the "Moving to Linux" series of books, a regular columnist for several tech magazines, a public speaker, radio and television personality, and a well known voice in the Linux and open source universe. I created the famous (perhaps infamous) Cooking With Linux which ran for ten years in the Linux Journal. I'm also a published science fiction author and editor, a onetime Editor in Chief, a pilot, a former Top 40 disc jockey, and I fold a mean origami T-Rex.  This site is home to my insights, opinions, gripes, brags, tech stuff, and whatever else comes to mind when I have the time or the inclination to publish it. 

14
Feb

The True Meaning of Lent

Even though the language I am most comfortable with is English, my first language was French. I spoke my first English words when I was 9 years old, and to this day, I still remember those first words. We had moved from Alma, Quebec to Ontario and didn't yet have a place to live. So my parents rented a room at the Sleepy Time Motel in St. Thomas, Ontario, where we stayed for a couple of weeks. The motel was just on the outskirts of town. Just a short walk down from the motel was a chip wagon selling hamburgers, fries, hot dogs, and so on. I wanted a hot dog, so I asked my Dad for some money and the English words I would need to ask for my treat. I practiced that line over and over again, reciting it out loud and in my head as I walked toward the chip wagon. Those words, "I want a hot dog with everything on it" still echo through my mind to this day.

Those types of early language memories can be powerful. Consequently, there are still a lot of French idiomatic expressions floating around in my head. I still occasionally say "Close the light" instead of "turn off the light". Which brings me to Lent.

04
Feb

Fashion Monster

I have no idea what to make of this, but it made me smile, scratch my head, and pinch myself to make sure I wasn't having some kind of bizarre psychotic dream. So I'm sharing it.

03
Feb

Betrayal of the intellect

Last night, at the Cambridge Union debating society, Professor Richard Dawkins debated the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The image here comes from a story on the Huffington Post where Dawkins is quoted as saying that religion is a "betrayal of the intellect". When I referred to this story on Google+, someone replied to my post by saying the trouble with Richard Dawkins is that he is a "rabid, fundamentalist, atheist" and as deluded at the former Archbishop. He further suggested that neither science nor religion will ever settle this issue.  

Here's my take . . . whether or not some deity or other exists, I can say with near absolute certainty that it's not the god of the Bible, Talmud, Torah, Koran, or any of the books that are paraded as God's word on this planet. Furthermore, the evidence suggests, with near absolute certainty, that there is no god, at least not in the way that most religious people envision such a being.

27
Jan

Today's Bible Quote Examined : Kings 2:23-25

If you've every wondered whether God and his prophets have a sense of humour, wonder no further. Harken to the word . . . 

23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
25 And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.

Apparently, having your bald head insulted was too much for Elisha who was on his way from Jericho to Bethel. He calls on God to do his worse and God puts on quite a show indeed.

23
Jan

Jesus and the Parable of "The Good Samaritan"

The parable of the "the Good Samaritan" was always one of those stories that stuck out as being 'wrong', precisely because it sounded like a racist slur or stereotyping a country and its people. You know what I'm talking about. The cheap Jew. The drunk Irishman. Here in Canada, we used to have stupid Newfie jokes.

In that way, the parable of the Good Samaritan is much like telling the story of the Sober Irishman, which is worth mentioning only because, well . . . can you really imagine a sober Irishman? How about the story of the rich Jew who gives a lot to charity?

Or the Newfie with a Ph. D.? Seriously . . . We could come up with something totally unbelievable, like a Newfie doctor who invents a life-saving device or does something important! Let's include that one in the next edition of the Bible, shall we?

17
Jan

Sysadmins

From the amazing xkcd at xkcd.com


Just because . . . 

15
Jan

Getting and Staying Creative

I ran across this little video while checking into some Drupal themes for a customer. The video was embedded into a slider to show that you could do cool slidery things. While my customer passed on this theme and will be using something else, I did get to take away a cool little collection of creativity tips. And no, I don't do all of these . . . well, not always. Hey, some things I'm great at, other things, not so much.

29 WAYS TO STAY CREATIVE from TO-FU on Vimeo.

13
Jan

Calling BS on Mother Theresa

Penn and Teller, with a little help from Christopher Hitchens, show us how you can take a culture of pain, misery, poverty, and suffering, and make it sound so good, you reward it with sainthood.

It's amazing to think that a person like Mother Theresa can be seen as a force for good. Sort of like making pedophile priest sound like a force for good. Of Islamists beheading people in god's name sound like a good thing. The latter is relatively fast and brutal, the former takes time and stretches the suffering out over many years.

Which do you like best?

The Anonymous collective on online hacktivists has started an online petition to the White House asking that denial of service attacks (DoS) be protected as free speech and thereby receive the protection of the First Amendment. They argue that denial of service is not hacking, but a form of protest. In their petition, Anonymous suggests that a denial of service attack is no different than gathering outside a business or public office in protest. You are, in effect, occupying a Website in the same way that you might occupy the street outside a business or government office.

The biggest problem I have with this argument is that while there are some valid points on the surface, it doesn't make a lot of sense when you dig even a little deeper. That's because a Website isn't a business.

When you disrupt a business by standing outside its offices and protesting, you don't stop the people inside from expressing their points of view or countering yours. Sure, you're a nuisance to the people you are protesting, and very likely their customers, but each side is still able to make their voices heard. You make your demands while the press reports on the activities and the people you are protesting get to make their points. Freedom of speech is more or less guaranteed to all parties, unless there are issues of illegal confinement, hostage taking, kidnapping, or some other forcible denial of any individual's right to express themselves.

The trouble with Anonymous' argument is encompassed in my last point. They are forcibly denying a site owner of the ability to express themselves. In that effort to express themselves, they are denying the site owner of their freedom of speech. The site being taken down is left with no way to express itself. At no point in this discussion am I suggesting that anyone is using illlegal botnets or zombie systems to do the work. I'm basing this on the idea that everything else in play is perfectly legal, with members using their own computers to hit the refresh button over and over again. Besides, how they do it is irrelevant to the First Amendment question.

To make matters worse, many Websites are on shared hosting systems. One Apache server handles many different companies. If you perform a denial of service against a company, you could be taking any number of additional businesses offline, limiting their ability to do business, and to express themselves. Their only crime is being on the same server. 

It's a bitch, but if you want to walk the high road of free speech, you can't deny another person doing the same. Freedom of speech is a two way street, otherwise it's just those with means and the power ensuring that others are kept silent.

09
Jan

Hating the Touchpad

I hate touchpads. I sincerely hate the things. Maybe it's because I have big gorilla hands, but when I am trying to write at the keyboard, the darn things always pick up the slightest brush from my apparently huge, verging on monstrous, hands and translate those inadvertent touches into the most egregious of errors. Words, and sometimes whole sentences, are selected, to be overwritten by the next character I type at the keyboard. If I'm not paying attention, such as when I am looking away from the keyboard as I type, I have to go back several levels of "undo" in order to recapture the lost text, the net effect of which is that I lose the new text. I hate those things. And so I always plug in an external mouse and turn off the touchpad. But I digress . . . 

My old Acer laptop's hard drive crashed over the holidays. This is, remarkably, the first time in some 30 plus years that I've owned computers in which a hard drive actually crashed. In those many years, I've seen many crashed drives, including one belonging to Sally's PC, but never to mine. In my first book on Linux, back in 2001, I wrote that it wasn't a question of if your hard drive would eventually fail, but when. Marcel, meet "when". 

I actually liked my Acer notebook and I've had excellent luck with Acer products over the years, so despite the crashed hard drive, I decided to buy another Acer notebook. This one, the one I am writing on, is an Aspire V3-771 with an Intel i3-2370M processor, a 750 GB hard drive, 6 GB of RAM, and a bright 17 inch LED display. At $499, I simply could not pass it up.

The notebook came with Windows 7 but I erased it when I loaded the latest Linux Mint (based on Ubuntu Quetzal). It worked beautifully except for one thing. The touchpad wasn't being reported by the system as a touchpad. It worked fine in that I could use it to navigate the desktop, right-click here, left click there. Except that since I don't want the thing; remember, I want to use an external mouse. The trouble is that I just couldn't turn the thing off using the standard touchpad control programs. What to do, oh what to do?

We can find out how the X window system sees the various devices it works with by using the xinput command.  I opened a terminal session and typed "xinput list" at the shell prompt.

$ xinput list
⎡ Virtual core pointer                          id=2    [master pointer  (3)]
⎜   ↳ Virtual core XTEST pointer                id=4    [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ Logitech USB Optical Mouse                id=11   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ PS/2 Generic Mouse                        id=13   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎣ Virtual core keyboard                         id=3    [master keyboard (2)]
    ↳ Virtual core XTEST keyboard               id=5    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=6    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Video Bus                                 id=7    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=8    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Sleep Button                              id=9    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ HD Webcam                                 id=10   [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ AT Translated Set 2 keyboard              id=12   [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Acer WMI hotkeys                          id=14   [slave  keyboard (3)]

As you can see, the touchpad is being recognized as a generic PS/2 mouse and not as a touchpad (I've bolded the appropriate line for emphasis). This is all fine and dandy except that I can't use touchpad control software to turn the thing off as I usually do when I load up a new notebook. This is a known issue for this particular chipset, and not just for Acer.  Luckily, the above command told me everything I needed to know in order to write a script that would do the job for me. I called my script, "disable_touchpad".

$ cat disable_touchpad 
#!/bin/bash
# 
echo "Disabling touchpad"
xinput set-prop 13 "Device Enabled" 0

The "0" at the end of the xinput line at the end of the script tells X to disable the device at id #13, which the "xinput list" command told us about. If you rerun the same command but add a 1 at the end of it instead of the 0, you will reactivate the touchpad. Consequently, I have a second script called "enable_touchpad" that does just that.

Now I can happily type away, with my touchpad safely locked away where it won't accidentally destroy all the work I've done. 

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