Friday, December 04, 2009

Sadly, I have had this conversation.

I have indeed had this conversation. More than once. Almost down to the punchline.

Brought to us from our friends at

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ubuntu withdraws Gimp-y love

An article over on Lockergnome clued me in to the news that Ubuntu is considering not installing Gimp by default. While Gnomie Matt Hartley is expressing his disagreement here, I'm not surprised.

I have to disagree. What people want - even among Linux users - is the equivalent of Paint. Gimp is not Paint.

Gimp is not hard either. Especially if all you want to do is crop an image. But then you could use Phatch (which is also not so simple, but still).

Why is Gimp not Paint? Because it is (rightfully so) closer to Photoshop. At the heart of the problem are basic premises. Things like drawing a simple square. It is simply counter-intuitive to select a blank region and then choose "stroke selection".

I love Gimp and will happily install it from repo in future versions of Ubuntu because, like K3b and BlueFish, it's on my "pull" list when I build a new machine.

But it doesn't surprise me A BIT that Ubuntu is opting not to install it by default.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How is this not a hacking tool?!?

OK, so someone explain to me how this isn't totally a Microsoft invention to make Windows more easily hacked? "I'm sorry Bill, but I can't allow you to do that. Here's a convenient list of accounts you can try to impersonate so that you CAN do that though".
- Leon

PS: Comic is courtesy of, and was featured in the post from Gizmodo. And I really like it. So I kept it in.

By John Herrman on Unix

So, how exactly did Microsoft—those bastards!—end up patenting Sudo, a years-old Linux command line tool, without someone stepping in to stop them? Easy! They didn't.

The story inspired widespread hyperventilation last week, most of which revolved around a few impassioned quotes:

Here it is, patent number7617530. Thanks, USPTO, for giving Microsoft, which is already a monopoly, a monopoly on something that's been in use since 1980 and wasn't invented by Microsoft. Here's Wikipedia's description of sudo, which you can meaningfully compare to Microsoft's description of its "invention".

This from Groklaw, a site that specializes in free and open source software legal affairs, i.e. exactly this kind of thing. But for whatever reason—zeal? clicks?—their reading of the patent, which we picked up, turn out to overblown. Says Sudo maintainer Todd Miller, via Ars:

I've already received a number of questions about US patent 7,617,530 that some people seem to believe might cover sudo. I don't think that is the case," he wrote. "Sudo simply doesn't work this way. When a command is run via sudo the user is actively running the command as a different user. What is described in the patent is a mechanism whereby an application or the operating system detects that an action needs to be run with increased privileges and automatically prompts the user with a list of potential users that have the appropriate privilege level to perform the task.

So, if not this, then what does the Microsoft patent cover? Back to Ars:

Specifically, it describes a user interface which displays accounts that have the necessary rights to perform an action when the user is blocked from performing an action that requires higher access privileges.

These are similar, but not patent similar.

Turns out, though, that there is a Linux tool called PolicyKit just like what Microsoft patented, which prompts users to switch to a higher-level user account when they hit against a permissions barrier. It was created after the patent was filed, but before it was made public. So, Microsoft, on all counts: not guilty. [ArsTechnica]

Friday, November 13, 2009

But... it's still just a phone!

(with all credit and thanks to XKCD.COM)

This really is about how I feel:

Do I lose geek cred for having a phone that I use JUST as a phone? I mean, I WANT a Droid. I really do. I went to the Verizon store a couple of days ago and lovingly fondl... I mean worked with it for about 20 minutes.

But at the end of the day it's still just a phone, and I still just make calls and occasionally text my wife. If I'm anywhere, it is with a laptop and internet connection.

Now maybe someday I'll find myself in that weird situation where I *need* to answer email but either can't get to it because the firewall blocks it or there's no wifi signal. but it hasn't happened yet.

So my Droid lust is just that - lust. Physical desire without any emotional relevance or connection to a relationship beyond it's own gratification.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

HOW TO: Copy/Burn YouTube videos to DVD

A friend just asked me this, so I figured I would post it here for anyone else's amusement/information/disgust.

1) google (yes, it *is* a verb, dammit!) ' "how to" burn youtube video to dvd'
2) pick the second link cause it looks close and isn't a video and I am waaaaaaay too ADHD to sit through a video
3) read the instructions
4) re-word the instructions because I truly do believe the world gave me a red pen with which I have the divine right to edit anything I feel is substandard. Ah, the joy of ego.
5) Decide that those instructions won't work
6) Modify instructions
7) stir and add salt to tas... wait a minute.

OK, here you go:

1) Check if your DVD burning software can burn AVI files to DVD.
2) If you know it CAN'T, go here: and download (and install) the (free) software. This *will* burn an AVI video file to DVD. And it's free. Did I mention it's free?

3) go to YouTube and go to the video you want to burn to DVD
In the upper right corner of the screen, there is the URL link. Make sure you have that link (copy/paste, whatever). It's going to look sort of like this:

3) Go to

4) on the main page, in the BIIIIG box marked "URL", put the youtube address you grabbed in step 3. The first step 3. Oh, you weren't paying attention?
5) Choose the AVI format
6) click Start
7) go get a cup of coffee. A reeeeaaaalllly big cup of coffee


9) take a deep breath. use the defibrilator if you need it.

10) On the screen you should see a link at the top that says "Download the converted video". Click it.

11) Don't worry about the "Bad Request" page you see in your browser. You should ALSO see a download box. Download the video to your computer. Don't forget to make a note of where you put it. Just like your keys, glasses, youthful enthusiasm, socks, virginity and the dog.

12) Now you should go to your DVD burning program OR the DVDFlick software. I don't know anything about either so you are more or less on your own, but it should be pretty straightforward - grab the AVI video and burn it to DVD.

Simple, right?

Monday, August 24, 2009

So accurate it's uncanny

I know this isn't ACTUAL content, but sometimes you find something that is so close to real life that it stops (or starts) being funny. In today's case, I found two things:

Enjoy the humor. Or just shake your head in exhasperation.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Web site setup

A friend recently asked if I would help him set up a website (I get that a lot). He is unable to participate in a traditional work environment, but has some wonderful knowledge and skills that he wants to share online, hopefully for profit. Here's the email I sent him, which I thought you might find beneficial as well. This isn't the answer I give to EVERY customer who needs a web presence. It's just one answer. As usual YMMV.

- Leon

I apologize for the delay. Here are some thoughts, ideas, pointers and - most of all - the start of our conversation.

1) homework.
Here's some online reading you can do. First, there's which we talked about

Next, there's, which was written computer pundit who writes about computer geek stuff, and it's where I originally found out about Parrot Secrets and the secret behind Parrot Secrets.

Now on to: and more importantly this downloadable PDF: You need to look at EVERYTHING this guy has done. He's built a "following" in less than a year, and makes about $45,000 a year from his site where he does little more than travel, write about travel, and write about writing about travel.

Yes, that's a lot of writing. And I guess that's a point. If you don't want to do a lot of writing, online may not be the way to go. The internet is about connections and community. If people don't feel connected to you (and to an extent to each other) they won't feel like they are part of a community and they won't buy stuff. Unless you are And even there, do you notice what they do? Customer reviews, feedback, recommendations, etc. They are building community too.

Last stop is my new site: Once again. A lot of writing. And I'm not even selling anything. Yet.

2) web site basics
Nope, I'm not teaching you web coding. I just want you to see how some of the basics work. First, check out: and look at all the links on the lefthand side. There's a HUGE variability of what you can do with a web site.

Next, check out these sites:, and These are HUGE clearinghouses of free designs. Eventually, I'm going to tell you to go dumpster diving through those designs and pick one. I can change the color, size, shape, etc but I like to use these as a starting point. Want to know how much I can change? Check out this template: Does it look familiar? It's what I used for the basis of

Eventually we're also going to talk about web applications - blogs, forums, shopping carts, etc. But for now, we just have to decide what we want the site to look like. And THAT is determined by what you want to do there. Meanwhile, keep in mind that is really nothing much to look at. But it rings in over $400k per year.

3) Search Enging Optimization (SEO)
As I mentioned, there's stuff you can control and stuff you can't. Once you are done NOT doing stupid things (which takes all of 30 minutes), you are pretty much finished. You are either going to show up in search rankings or you aren't. What REALLY makes a difference? Getting listed on OTHER people's web sites. Which means getting recommended, which means connecting to people which means (you guessed it) writing so people know you are out there.

4) What next?
Next, I want you to come to terms with the fact that a lot of this is going to rest on you, not me. I can whip off the design, set up the server, install the applications, etc. I can't write the content of your web site for you. I can help you publish eBooks but I can't help you write them. I can put all the technical tools in place so that people can find your web site and navigate it easily, but I can't make them know who you are. That's all you.

If you are up for it, so am I.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Team players vs autonomous thinking

My friend Doug over at sent me this link:

I went out and bought the book. It's a good read. Not exactly life changing, but potentially habit changing or perception affirming, depending on how you do/look at things to begin with.

Here's one of the key ideas that I thought was relevant to "IT people":

Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.

Nor can you bully a subordinate into becoming a genius.

Since the modern, scientifically-conceived corporation was invented in the early half of the Twentieth Century, creativity has been sacrificed in favor of forwarding the interests of the "Team Player".

Fair enough. There was more money in doing it that way; that's why they did it.

There's only one problem. Team Players are not very good at creating value on their own. They are not autonomous; they need a team in order to exist.

So now corporations are awash with non-autonomous thinkers.

"I don't know. What do you think?"
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"I don't know. What do you think?"

And so on.

Creating an economically viable entity where lack of original thought is handsomely rewarded creates a rich, fertile environment for parasites to breed. And that's exactly what's been happening. So now we have millions upon millions of human tapeworms thriving in the Western World, making love to their Powerpoint presentations, feasting on the creativity of others.

What happens to an ecology, when the parasite level reaches critical mass?

The ecology dies.

If you're creative, if you can think independantly, if you can articulate passion, if you can override the fear of being wrong, then your company needs you now more than it ever did. And now your company can no longer afford to pretend that isn't the case.

So dust off your horn and start tooting it. Exactly.

However if you're not paricularly creative, then you're in real trouble. And there's no buzzword or "new paradigm" that can help you. They may not have mentioned this in business school, but... people like watching dinosaurs die.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Colored Perceptions

I will freely admit up-front that I know little, if anything about businesses, startups or even management - except for the kinds of work environments and management styles I prefer to be an employee of/in/for.

Having said that, Bob Lewis' recent article on the Phoenix principal ( reminded me of Crayola.

In my mind, when thinking about how successful a company can be in the future, the starting point is "what do they do?" - well, "everyone knows" Crayola makes crayons. Everyone knows that.

[note: when reading over this, my wife quickly pointed out that "everyone" is obviously people who don't spend a lot of time being with or shopping for kids. Because what I discovered below is pretty common knowledge in her circle of associates. As always, YMMV.]

As far as product diversity, my assumption was that their product line would include different sized boxes of crayons, and that they've branched out into washable markers. I figured they probably get some revenue from supplying those small 3- or 4-crayon packs to resturants. After that, there's not much to say, right?

Take one look at their web site though, and the whole theory is blown out of the water. This isn't a crayon company. This isn't even an art-supply company.

From what I can see, Crayola sells artistic inspiration, and it's target consumer group is one which universally - to the last person - believes they are imminently talented artists. Kids.

The Crayola web site is completely focused on encouraging visitors to be artistic. There are coloring pages. Lesson plans for teachers. An e-card creator. An online calendar that lists events like National Wildflower week (May 4-8), International Museum day (May 18) and the Dragon Boat festival in china (May 28).

This point was driven home (hah!) when my wife showed me a sidewalk paint foam sprayer she bought for my son's birthday.

A Sprayer. For paint. That foams. On your driveway.

That's about as far from waxy crayons as you can get and still be in the same solar system.

Maybe I'm lionizing them and this is just good business (again, I'm not a business guy so I could be overly impressed by nothing). But it seems to be that this is a company that is thinking hard about their essential mission, and choosing not to be stopped by artificial boundaries with regard to "this is what we make".

Someone once told me that Cisco bills itself (internally at least) as a software company. Not hardware, that's just a means to an end, which is delivering the IOS (among other things) to customers. I have a few friends in Cisco now, and I'm not sure that's really the case. But at the time it struck me as a novel way for them to look at themselves.

This realization has, in turn, made me think hard about what my mission is - in life, in business, in my usual work day. Do I really just fix computer problems? Is there (or could there be) something more noble to this, a higher purpose which would inform my choices?

I'm sure a lot of people may see this as a cynical exercise in rebranding - doing the same thing but calling it something different. But this has to be more than billing myself as "a sanitation engineer" instead of a garbage collector. This needs to be a change in focus and philosophy, or else it will be easily detected for what it is - a cheap marketing ploy.

So that's it, my big idea for the week. I think I'm going to go crack open that package of glow-in-the-dark finger paints and see what kind of mess I can make.

Unbuntu update, a year later

I'm finally coming back to this blog, and thought an update to the previous post would be worthwhile. Interestingly enough, not much has changed. Ubuntu remains a very stable environment and an awesome (in my opinion) alternative to more mainstream operating systems. Having said that, it's not for everyone (nor is Windows, or MacOS, or Solaris, or...) and it's not for every kind of computing task (again, no other OS is a one-size-fits-all deal either).

What works fine

  • Web browsing (although FireFox 3 crashes from time to time, but that's not ubuntu's fault).

  • Email (I prefer Thunderbird with the Lighting Calendar add-in, but Evolution or some other reader is probably just as good.

  • document creation and management (OpenOffice 3.0 should suite most people's needs just fine)

  • Web page design and creation (Bluefish is OK. I flip between that an Screem. I would still love a Linux-compliant version of HTML-Kit).

  • Graphics creation/editing - Gimp is as much photoshop as some people will ever need, and more than most will want.

  • CD/DVD burning - with the exception of copying movie DVD's (see below), K3b (or whatever other tool you want is Just Fine.

What works really well

Overall, things Just Work Faster in Linux. Memory is used better. Applications that shut down really shut down. There is less of a need for reboots.

For programming, the nice part about Linux is that you can run a local web, database, or whatever server and do your development. Yes, this can be done in Windows but it's not always so simple. More of "those" kinds of tools are native to Linux than they are for Windows. And since a lot of the development I do is for the web environment anyway, it more closely matches what I'm going to upload to the real server later.

What doesn't work so well

  1. Burning movie DVD's.

  2. some older equipment (like my Visioneer 7100)

  3. wireless (I don't run Ubuntu on a laptop, but I've heard that some wirless card chipsets are less-than-fun to set up)

How you get around it

In a nutshell, VirtualBox ( Free, easy to install, wonderfully stable use of memory, fast switching in and out. I can't say enough good things about it.


In the end, you certainly could run virtualbox on a windows machine and host your Linux environment, and do everything I'm talking about in reverse. And that would be Just Fine For You™. But in my experience, and for what I do on my computer, Linux (and Ubuntu) just gets better and better every day.