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
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.

In your own private cloud, there are a number of ways to work with virtual machines. Amazon's cloud uses Xen for its virtualization infrastructure, but in your own cloud, you are free to use Xen or KVM or Virtualbox, or whatever else you want. Lacking an EC2 console, administering and working with VMs in your cloud will require you to choose your own admin tools. There's always the command line, of course; you can launch a KVM or Xen machine without a GUI, but there's also a nice graphical program called virt-manager that I'm rather fond of; literally the 'Virtual Machine Manager' (see Figure 1). Using this tool, you get a bird's eye view of running virtual machines, including live performance graphs for network, CPU, and disk usage. The Virtual Machine Manager also makes it easy to communicate with other hosts running virtual machines; that would be your private cloud. It gets better; virt-manager works with both KVM and Xen, two common virtualization frameworks.

Figure 1 : Once connected Virt-Manager shows you all configured machines whether they are running or not.

The virt-manager application displays information about each machine, its run state, number of processors (VCPUs), memory usage, and CPU usage. It also lets you adjust the resources for a given virtual machine, adding processors,  memory, or even extra storage. There are tools for cloning VMs, creating new VMs, and communicating with VMs using a full graphical console; point and click. The latter is done using a built-in VNC client.

Most distributions have virt-manager in their repositories, but they sometimes tend to run well behind the version available directly from the Website itself (long term support distributions are particularly problematic that way). I don't find myself suggesting this often in 2011, but I highly recommend that you get the source and compile the latest version yourself. It's all Python code so perhaps compile isn't quite the right word but while you're there, make sure you also download the latest 'virtinst' code and prep that as well; virt-manager relies on it.

When you run virt-manager for the first time (see Figure 2, from a different machine), you'll find yourself looking at a rather sparse window, especially if you have no VMs currently running on the host system.

Figure 2 : The virt-manager application at start. No connection and no virtual machines.

When Virt-Manager starts, it will look to the host system, the 'real' hardware on which the virtual machines are running. Depending on the setup, the machine may be disconnected, at which point you will right click on the 'localhost' machine, and select Connect. Once this is done, you should then see all the virtual machines running on the system as shown in Figure 1).

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