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. 

21
Nov

Who cares about your dang Desktop Environment?!

Well, actually . . . I do.

If you are into such things, and you place your faith on those distro popularity numbers over on DistroWatch, you'll see that Ubuntu has dropped from its number one position, a position now held by Linux Mint. Heavens, no! Surely the universe is about to implode! And isn't even 2012 yet! 

Sorry about that. The reason for Ubuntu's decline from that venerated number one position has been speculated on by tea leaf readers everywhere (i.e. my fellow tech journalists). Much has been made about the Canonical's embrace of Unity over traditional GNOME and I am among the guilty when it comes to that. I happen to dislike Unity but I do like GNOME 3. This, oddly enough, puts me at odds with the majority of people who runs GNOME in one way or another though more people seem to hate Unity than GNOME 3 --  I could be wrong. The question, however, is this . . .  

Has Canonical shot itself in the foot, giving up its number one position, by adopting and sticking by Unity? Does the choice of desktop environment matter that much? Are Linux users, who traditionally just install and run whatever they want, regardless of what it presented to them, really that irked about Unity that they are abandoning Ubuntu? Okay, that's at least three questions.

Which brings me to my Ubuntu and Linux Mint experience.

You could say I've had a love/hate relationship with Ubuntu going back a long ways. Ubuntu, or in my case, Kubuntu, and I have parted ways several times (see my "Crisis of Kubuntu Faith" video), only to get back together a few months later. I got to loving Ubuntu and Kubuntu so much that I became senior editor of Ubuntu User Magazine. But even in that role, I was regularly drawn to Linux Mint, an Ubuntu-based distribution that was particularly friendly to Windows-refugees, mostly due to the fact that it came with all those lovely proprietary codecs and plugins that you always have to load whenever you install a new distribution. Linux Mint was, as I called it a couple of years ago, Ubuntu done right.

So when I blew away Windows and loaded up my new notebook, I naturally went and downloaded the latest Linux Mint. I did that partly because I've gotten into the habit of recommending it to my non-Linux friends who are looking to improve their desktop experience. That's my snarky way of saying "leaving Windows". But I digress . . . 

Three weeks pass and I start to get a little antsy. This Linux Mint is okay, but the KDE implementation, is way out of date. Mint has seemingly abandoned my favorite desktop interface. Seeing as I am particularly good at this Linux stuff, I figure it's no biggee. Besides, I like playing on the bleeding edge, despite having gotten bloodied more than once over the years, and so I add the apt repositories for Project Neon, the true bleeding edge of KDE.

Except that I do also like to have, at my disposal, the current stable version of my software, including my desktop environment. While there's some talk on the Linux Mint channels about a new KDE distribution coming some time soon(ish), I can no longer pretend. Linux Mint has let me down. Last night, I downloaded the latest Oneric-based Kubuntu and installed it on my computer. My OS is up to date and I've got a recent, and stable, KDE (and Project Neon too). 

The point of all this is that I have, more than once, abandoned a distribution for its desktop environment, or its support of a desktop environment. And, as I demonstrated last night, I'll do it again. And again. You can subtract one from those Linux Mint numbers and add one to Kubuntu because I'm back to Kubuntu, Baby!. You're dang right the desktop environment matters. It matters a lot. To me. And to others. Is this, however, what's hurting Ubuntu's numbers? Maybe not, but it's not that crazy an idea. 

So . . . are you a until recently happy Ubuntu user who has switched to Linux Mint? Was it Unity, or something else?

As for my opinion . . . I also loved Window Maker and used it for years. Read into that what you desire.

14
Nov

Has Linux dropped off the face of the Earth?

Over on my mailing list, the WFTL-LUG, a "whatever happened to" discussion has emerged in part because question traffic has gone down dramatically. Fewer people are coming out to LUG meetings. It's as if Linux is fading away.

"Has Linux dropped off the face of the Earth?" The answer is obviously no. Linux is still around, stronger than ever, but the desktop OS does seem to be disappearing. Of course this is true of Windows and Mac OS, at least from the average user's perspective. Desktop Linux is strong with those who use it; those who have been using it, but the buzz seems to be gone. 

None of this surprises me though. Sure, we may never see the Year of the Linux Desktop, but the nature of the desktop is changing. People are increasingly living their lives online. Yes folks, it's that cloud you keep hearing about and it's really out there. Google+ and Facebook and Twitter and online document management and email and just plain old Web surfing. For most, the network really is the computer and as time goes on, people care less and less what is running on their computers and more about what they can access once they get online.

For a while there, it looked like netbooks were going to be the big thing with Linux getting another shot at the elusive desktop. Now it's tablets and smartphones everywhere you turn. And what's emerging as the de facto operating system of the tablet and smartphone world? Something called Android. Those of us who have been doing this FOSS thing for a long time still see Linux back there somewhere. Android is the evolution of Linux for the mobile world.

And what of the old Linux? It's still out there, and it's bigger than ever before. It's everywhere. It's everything. It runs the infrastructure that makes the mobile world work. Mail servers and media servers and Web servers and application servers and every kind of server you can think of.

Want to know just how good Linux and free software is these days? Get this. Linux has become invisible. Maybe that's how you measure real success.

World domination? Been there. Done that.

11
Nov

Rememberance Day, 2011 - A Taste of Armageddon

Lest we forget . . .

Remembrance Day at the John McCrae House (birthplace, museum, & memorial) in Guelph, Ontario Canada. A detail shot of the "altar" of the memorial, with the complete poem "In Flander's Fields" & the line "LEST WE FORGET" inscribed on it. 2 Canadian remembrance day poppy pins & part of a wreath are visible. Image source: Wikipedia

I've published a variation of this post for the last few years. If it sounds familiar, you'll understand why. But remembering the past is what this post is about and on this November 11, 2011, I am once again finding myself thinking about wars past, wars present, and sadly, the wars to come. Over the years, I've come to believe that we need to reflect on the horrors of war because we need to understand that it is something dreadful; something to be avoided at all costs; something to be engaged in only as a last resort. And when all else fails, to engage in with the understanding that it is awful and horrible that we may find an end as quickly as possible.

I don't usually find myself thinking about Star Trek on this day, but there's an episode from the original series that fits well with war today. It's called "A Taste Of Armageddon". In that episode, Kirk and his team beam down to the planet Eminiar VII, a planet that is supposedly at war. Except that there are no bombs, no missiles, and no bullets. Computers fight the war and those people who have been killed in the conflict, willingly report to disintegration booths to be cleanly disposed of. This war has been going on for ages but because it is so clean and tidy, people have forgotten about the horrors of war, and so the war persists.

That's what the words "Lest We Forget" are all about. 

War in the 21st century, at least for those of us living in North America, has become far too sanitized. We watch remote controlled drones surgically neutralizing enemy targets from thousands of miles away. And while our men and women die in foreign conflicts few of us actually understand, our politicians want to isolate us from the horrors those men and women actually face. In 2006, Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister, sought to ban the media from displaying images of flag-draped coffins as dead soldiers returned home.

08
Nov

Asimo Gets An Upgrade

As I write these words, I am also vacuuming the floor. In a manner of speaking. My Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner is actually doing the work. In that sense, in a few minutes, I will be washing my kitchen floor. Well, my Scooba floor washing robot will be doing the job but I still have to put in the cleaning solution and press the button.

I love robots. If I could get a lawn mowing robot or a snow removal robot (albeit one that I could afford), I would be in line for one right now. 

Meanwhile, in another part of the robosphere, Honda has upgraded Asimo, its amazing humanoid robot. You may have noticed that while many people (such as myself) have adopted robots and invited them into our homes, humanoid robots are still pretty rare.

I believe the reason, cost aside, is that we want our robots to do things for us, like vacuum the carpet and wash the floor. Honda groks this now, as the following video demonstrates. They have upgraded Asimo to perform the task . . . THE TASK . . . for which we have all been waiting. Asimo now has the ability to pour and serve alcoholic drinks. Hey Honda, how much for that humanoid robot in the window?

Enjoy! And cheers!

04
Nov

God's Will, Cruelty, and Murdering Children

Back a few months ago, Karen and Elizabeth Shatz were found guilty of their child's murder (they pleaded guilty). The adopted child was beaten to death by following the instructions in a fundamentalist Christian child-rearing book. Another mother, Lynn Paddock, was found guilty of first-degree murder for killing her 4 year old son, Sean, because he wouldn't stay in bed. Well, it has happened again.

Larry and Carri Williams are charged with homocide resulting from torturing, beating, and starving their child, then leaving her outside to die of exposure (and, presumably, her various wounds).

The parents, in both cases, essentially (over time) beat their child to death by following the teachings of a book called "To Train Up A Child" by Tennesse pastor Michael Pearl and his wife, Debi Pearl. It's a good Christian's guide to abusing your children in order to bring them up right. The authors advocate corporeal punishment for children from infants on up, with appropriate Bible citations and instructions as well as the sorts of implements you'll be needing to do the job. You can buy this torturer's guidebook on Amazon where it's a best seller. Yes, it's a best seller . . . meaning there are plenty of good Christian parents who adhere to this method of child-rearing.

Before I continue with my part of the story, take a moment to watch the video below. If you can.

When I posted this video to Google+ a few days ago, someone replied with a quote from Matthew, suggesting that the parents "will get theirs" for disobeying the word.

Matthew 25, 40 "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

If only it were so simple. To begin with, it should be noted that Christ was not talking about children in that quote. As to the Christian-ness of the parents, one could argue that the parents were, in fact, the very best of Christians and true believers to boot. The girl, by all accounts, was misbehaving. So harken unto the word:

Deuteronomy 21, 18-21 "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die:"

I don't know about you, but having my son argue with me after a night of drinking won't be enough for me to take him to the village elders and have him stoned to death. 

Should the parents have punished the girl? Let's see . . .

Proverbs 23, 13-14 "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."

Maybe they just wanted to beat her long enough to deliver her soul from hell and got carried away. How much beating is okay? If you beat her until she is nearly dead but recovers, is it okay?

The Bible (or pick your favorite holy book) is filled with contradiction. As such, you can pick and choose what you want to support your point of view, but in quoting the Bible to say this kind of cruelty is wrong (as with the quote from Matthew), you must allow the counter argument (that it's okay to beat your children) or the Bible must be dismissed as a source of truth or justice. Either it's okay to beat your children to death or it isn't. Either the Bible is the complete and eternal word of God or it isn't. And if one part of the Bible is wrong, then other parts are as well. And if other parts are wrong, then there's no way to tell the good from the bad and it must be abandoned as a source of moral teaching.

You may call yourself a fundamentalist Christian. I'm betting you're a lot less fundamentalist than you think. Or at least, I hope you are. I'd hate to think you beat your kids and leave them out in the cold to die.

In closing, the title of the Pearls' book, "To Train Up A Child", comes from the Bible. 

Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

04
Nov

God's Will, Cruelty, and Murdering Children

Back a few months ago, Karen and Elizabeth Shatz were found guilty of their child's murder (they pleaded guilty). The adopted child was beaten to death by following the instructions in a fundamentalist Christian child-rearing book. Another mother, Lynn Paddock, was found guilty of first-degree murder for killing her 4 year old son, Sean, because he wouldn't stay in bed. Well, it has happened again.

Larry and Carri Williams are charged with homocide resulting from torturing, beating, and starving their child, then leaving her outside to die of exposure (and, presumably, her various wounds).

The parents, in both cases, essentially (over time) beat their child to death by following the teachings of a book called "To Train Up A Child" by Tennesse pastor Michael Pearl and his wife, Debi Pearl. It's a good Christian's guide to abusing your children in order to bring them up right. The authors advocate corporeal punishment for children from infants on up, with appropriate Bible citations and instructions as well as the sorts of implements you'll be needing to do the job. You can buy this torturer's guidebook on Amazon where it's a best seller. Yes, it's a best seller . . .meaning there are plenty of good Christian parents who adhere to this method of child-rearing.

Before I continue with my part of the story, take a moment to watch the video below. If you can.

04
Nov

Dear God

A classic tune from the 80s by XTC, back when music videos were still cool.

Watching this was all I needed for a serious geek mind trip.

 

31
Oct

Kobo VOX

The Kobo Vox eReader is a departure from the classic e-paper devices in that it's a full-fledged Android tablet. 

It turns on with just a touch; used as I am to the classic Android power-on, I kept holding down the power button, waiting for the 'buzz' that signals activation. For a moment, I wondered if it was actually working.

In the third part of this course, I introduced you  to the virtual machine manager or virt-manager. Today, I'm going to show you how to create your own virtual machine with virt-manager.

There are two ways (using virt-manager, that is . . . there are always other ways) to create a new virtual machine. One involves creating the machine from scratch, via the virt-manager interface and the other uses cloning. You, in effect, create a clone of a running virtual machine  (I'll cover cloning in the next installment of this course). Let's start by taking a look at creating a virtual machine from scratch.

From the Virtual Machine Manager, make sure you are connected then left-click the main host instance (localhost). You should see the button labeled New switch from its grayed out state to available. For the following example, I'll take you through an Ubuntu Linux installation. Click New to start the VM creation process and you'll see a window asking you to specify a name for your new VM and requesting an installation method (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 :  What will you call this new machine and how will you install it?

Step two asks you to specify the location of your installation media, whether it be an attached CD or DVD, or an ISO Image (see Figure 2). Allow me a momentary backtrack to step one before I continue. The ISO install is the method I chose, but there are others as well. For instance, you could import an existing image and install from that (in a fashion similar to that of the Amazon AMIs), boot using the local network (PXE), or boot from a network install directly from a distribution's repository.

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