Culture : Where have all the geekers gone?

peteI’m a geek. There I said it, happy now? I enjoy fiddling with technology and making computers DO things. Chances are, most of you reading this are geeks too, so some of this article may seem like I’m preaching to the choir, but please bear with me as I have a point to make. When I was 10, I started programming in QBASIC. Whilst at college I studied Maths, Higher Maths, Computing, Electronics and Physics. When I reached university I moved into Acoustical Engineering, studying Fluid Dynamics, Vibration, Acoustics, Computing, DSP and much much more. I am a geek. Probably the point that defines this more than anything else is the fact that I loved studying all those things and that today I miss the shear volume of learning that I was doing during my education.
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Programming : Undo Adds Usability to our Frictionless Desktop

Everyone who has used a graphical computer interface has experienced modal popup dialogues. These are the small windows typically with “OK” and “Cancel” buttons which appear in front of the application. These modal dialogues are extremely popular with developers and are available in almost every user interface library.
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Feature : Creating your own Linux Live CD from scratch

For the feature this month, GeekDeck’s come over all technical. Well it had to happen sooner or later. It’s not that we’ve shunned the technical articles at all, I think it’s probably that they take a lot longer to prepare and write than the articles about more abstract things. Putting my mindless prattle aside, let’s move on to discussing the real crux of the article.
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Gaming : Me gamer, me angry!

markI’ve just come home from a bad day at work so prepare yourself! I decided to play a bit of Fable 2 to let off a bit of steam but that didn’t work. It only made me madder. More of that below, but, got me thinking about some of the things that get me mad in terms of games. Here are just a few. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Continue reading

Industry : If it weren’t for ignorance…

peteOk, this one has been on the tip of my fingers for a long time. I’ve written about it in a less obvious way on countless occasions, and anyone who knows me well will know my stance on this. It’s something that actually pains me in multiple ways and I often feel like such a hypocrite just because I’m involved with the IT industry. Ok, it’s not something that keeps me awake at night, but it has taken up a significant amount of my thought process over the last few years. Thankfully that last statement was relative and I’m not required to divulge the actual figure of cranial activity over the the aforementioned time period. I’m talking of course about ignorance in the field of IT.
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Culture : The not so virtual internet

peteThe Internet, the final frontier, where anything can happen in the safety of a virtual world protected by a barrier of anonymity and falsehood. Nobody gives their real name out on the Internet so it’s completely safe. If you meet someone you don’t like you can just block them. Never meet up with anyone you meet on the Internet. These were the so called unwritten laws of the Internet. All was tickity boo, until the little thing called social networking came along and changed the virtual world forever. The question is, is the Internet really so virtual anymore and is the Internet more real now that we’d like it to be?
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Review : Lowepro CompuDaypack

peteA while ago my backpack broke. When I say broke, I mean literally in several places. I’d used it for a good few years and it’s straps were torn and the insides disgustingly mucky and decrepit. It had gotten to the point that I was actually pretty embarrassed to have it on my persons. Deciding that towing it 3 metres behind me in a trailer wasn’t going to do anything to improve my image, I resolved that I should buy a new backpack, but what to buy?
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Sign Off : Do my eyes deceive me? A skeptic’s view of the E3 announcements

markHere we are at the conclusion of another issue of GeekDeck. It’s at this point that cbx33 can breathe a sigh of relief as this month I’m going to sign off. This time around it’s my turn to look back over the past month and find something to moan about (anyone that’s seen my other article in this issue, Me gamer, me angry! will see that it’s something I’ve been doing a lot lately!)
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Editor’s Letter : A little help please

peteHail all Geeks

Hi guys,
It’s with great pleasure that I bring you issue 2 of GeekDeck. I was concerned at how this whole thing was going to work out. Whether I’d be able to fill the magazine with an average of 10 articles each month, but so far, it’s going just fine. We still have much to talk about and there are many ideas for features and interviews boiling away in the backs of our minds, which I hope will fill you all with wonderment for a long time to come.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of the contributors. It’s not easy having me on your back for an entire month and I have to say I did give a fairly tight deadline of about 2 weeks for the first issues articles, hence a lot of issue 1 was written by me. I was prudent in storing up a good few articles, just in case I needed them. As I sit here at the train station, three weeks away from the release of issue 2, I already have 2 articles, a sign-off and this letter already in the bag. So I should be ok for issue 2 too.

There are some really great articles coming up, however, what I’d like to do, is ask for a little help from anyone reading this that feels they may have the right skills, or knows someone who may have the right skills. The GeekDeck team is in need of a few things right now. The first is an audio cut and shut shop. We’re considering doing a podcast which would be the main contributors talking about each others articles and giving their views on the previous issue. Several of the contributors are really keen to do this, myself included, but I just don’t have enough time to sit there and cut up the audio, insert funky music etc.

The second thing we’re after is possibly someone to help layout the PDF version. Currently this is done using Scribus. “Woah!” I hear you cry. “That sounds like hard work” Well, actually….No. Granted it does mean I am limited in some respects, but laying it out in Scribus is actually working out really well. This way I can get an idea how things are going to look quickly and without any expensive software. However, if there is anyone out there who is willing to give us a hand in this respect, we’d welcome them with open arms.

Finally, we want to spruce up the GeekDeck website a little. This involves a measly $15 for the wordpress upgrade, but along with that, we need someone who can design us a buttkicking website to work with wordpress. Anyone who feels they are up to the job, send us a portfolio.

So I hope you enjoy Issue 2, it’s been fun writing for it and we always want to hear your comments and feedback, good and bad, it helps us to do better for you.



PS, you can now follow us on twitter,

Walkabout: Ken Vandine


If you’re a GNOME user and happen to attend open source events, chances are that you’ve either met or seen Ken Vandine, and how could you miss him? Founder of the Foresight Linux distribution and long time contributor to open source projects in general, he is the most upbeat and easy going person you’ll ever meet! Ken and I met when I moved to North Carolina and was looking for a job. Fast forward 3 years later and he is still the same affable person who spends way too many hours working on his projects and getting close to no sleep. GeekDeck managed to get a hold of him via IRC long enough to ask him a few questions and kick start this new column, Walkabout! So take a walk with Ken and I if you will and get to know him a bit more.

GeekDeck: Tell us a bit about yourself and what influenced you to get started with Open Source?

Ken VanDine: Community… I am a pretty social guy, and I really loved the inviting nature of community participation. I think that is why the GNOME Love initiative is so important to me, I want to show others how they can get involved and really make a difference. Open Source isn’t just about the software, it is about people too.

GeekDeck: You are responsible for spearheading and maintaining the Foresight Linux project. Why did you decide to create your own distribution and what was your immediate objective?

Ken VanDine: I have been a GNOME user for many years now and probably really got more involved in GNOME advocacy just a couple years ago shortly before I created Foresight. I realized there was some very interesting work being done on desktop tools, but they were hard to integrate into existing distros. There just wasn’t an easy way for users to see what was on the horizon and how great Linux on the desktop was becoming. So I created Foresight in 2005 to showcase some of these technologies that I thought were going to make a big impact.

GeekDeck: How did you turn your “hobby” distribution into something that could attract other fellow enthusiasts? In other words, what did you do to get people to join the project, and more importantly, what made them stick around?

Ken VanDine: I think it was mostly our friendly, inviting IRC channel. Also the rolling release concept really attracted lots of folks; they like the “new” stuff. I also credit conary a fair bit; the ease of packaging is really unsurpassed, which opened it up to more people that would otherwise not be able to get into packaging.

How can you not like this guy???

GeekDeck: Do you still think that Foresight is achieving its original objective from when you first started the project?

Ken VanDine: Yes and no actually; some of that really new technology has made it into the more main stream distros and the pool of really innovative stuff that isn’t available yet is getting shallower. This is a great thing, it means we are getting better 🙂 Foresight has turn more into getting the software to the users faster, with it’s rolling release model.

GeekDeck: I had the pleasure of working with you at rPath and the one question I’ve always had is: how many hours do you sleep and do you have caffeine running through your veins? Hehehehe now, seriously, how many hours do you devote to your projects on a daily basis?

Ken VanDine: I generally get very little sleep, not sure how I do it. I usually get to bed around 1am and get up at 7am; when I was with rPath and had to drive to work I was up by 6am… so now I get an extra hour of sleep, yay!

GeekDeck: Early this year you left rPath and started working for Canonical. What can you tell us about the work that you are doing now and what can Ubuntu users expect from the work you’re doing?

Ken VanDine: I am working as an Ubuntu Desktop Integration Engineer, helping the Ayatana (AKA Desktop Experience) and Online services teams get their cool new stuff into the distro. There is some cool stuff being worked on for sure; we just announced the first beta of the Ubuntu One service , and Jaunty included the new notification system as well as the messaging indicator. What comes next should be clearly after UDS later this month.

GeekDeck: What does your envolvement with the Ubuntu distribution mean for Foresight users? Do you see yourself passing the Foresight baton to someone else and focus more on Ubuntu work or can you see a way of juggling both worlds?

Ken VanDine: I plan to continue working on Foresight as long as I can. So far my new job really has only changed one thing, I spend less daytime hours working on Foresight. I still love Foresight, and I really feel like it is a way for me to express myself a bit. It is molded after what I think the desktop should be.

GeekDeck: What is your idea of the perfect desktop for a home user? What applications, features and specific technologies would you use to create this utopic desktop?

Ken VanDine: I think the real key to the perfect desktop is one that seamless integrates your life. Easy to use applications are important, like banshee, tomboy, f-spot, pidgin, etc. But being able to effectively use those applications in a modern computing era with many users having more than one computer, and the ever growing desire for social technologies. I want to import a photo from my camera on my desktop with f-spot, send it to my mother without opening some web page or another application… let her comment that the picture is great except for the runny nose, see her response later that evening on my laptop and clean up the runny nose on my laptop and publish it again. For me that is the ideal situation: your data is everywhere you are, and the applications know how to access it. This is why I am so excited about the Ubuntu One service; the infrastructure to do just that is there now… someone needs to just do it. So in short… cloud integration in the desktop, using web services in a web browser is soooo 2005 🙂

GeekDeck: You are a busy father of 3 (last time I checked) and seems to always be present in their school activities. What advice do you have for those of us who are also full-time parents and have to juggle different open source projects?

Ken VanDine: Dedicate your time to the kids first, they are precious and your actions have a huge impact on them. When they go to bed you have plenty of time to hack. My kids go to bed by 8pm (generally), which gives me a solid 3+ hours to dedicate to my hobby (I have an amazing wife!). It does get harder to dedicate time to my projects, now that I have a baby again. His schedule isn’t very predicable yet, he seems to always have an ear infection and trouble sleeping. But again that takes priority, if he has a good night I get plenty of time to work on what I want to, if not I end up holding him which is great too.

Og Maciel is a QA Engineer for rPath and a long time contributor to the translation efforts of several upstream projects. When not spearheading new projects or communities, he likes to fish, watch ice hockey and spend time with his 2 lovely daughters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Photo supplied by Kevin Harriss

Review : Cherry Picks of the Month: Sliced Bread


This month’s edition of Cherry Picks of the Month has a review of a very special product that will definitely turn many heads. It is one of those products that you proudly claim to be “the best thing since the invention of sliced bread.” At least I think so! 🙂 But first things first:

DISCLAIMER: I am a QA Engineer at rPath, the company behind the technology here presented. This post belongs solely to my person and is not, in any shape or form sponsored by my employer.

Now that I have gotten that out of the way, let us dive head first into software appliances and why you should pay attention to them.

Wikipedia tells us that “A software appliance is a software application combined with just enough operating system (JeOS) for it to run optimally on industry standard hardware (typically a server) or in a virtual machine.” In other words, it is a lean and mean (usually?) GNU/Linux machine stripped down to its bare minimum configuration with a single (or combination of) application that does a very specific job. A good example of this would be a network firewall which is probably the most common type of software and hardware appliances out there.

So what is the big deal, right? Anyone with enough knowledge and time can install an operating system, gut it of all the pieces you don’t need and get it small enough to fit your needs, right? You could then take the application being developed by the other IT guys and manually install it to arrive at a software appliance right. And if you find out that there is a dependency required to run that application, you can always download the source and compile it to make it work. What? The version you installed is not the same used by the IT guys? Ok, you can search for the proper version and compile it again, not a problem. And what if a major security update of one of the underlying components becomes available the day you’re finished building your appliance? Guess you’ll have to download it and install it.

Do you see any problems with building your systems this way? What if you needed literally 1000 of them tomorrow? Do the words “time constraint”, “dependency hell”, and “Seppuku” mean anything to you? If you see yourself nodding affirmatively, then let me introduce you to rBuilder Online, the easiest and most efficient way to build a software appliance, and keep your sanity intact.

In a nut shell, rBuilder Online is a 100% free online “software appliance manufactery” maintained by rPath. A true window to the technology developed by the rPathians, rBuilder Online allows you to create, develop, maintain and (most importantly) deploy software appliances from the comfort of your chair. A very basic appliance can be built and deployed in literally minutes, all requiring only the use of your mouse and some simple decisions such as what platform you want to use (several are currently available, all built with the highly advanced conary package management system), what type of images you want to generate (i.e. ISOs, VMware, Xen, Citrix, EC2, etc) and what packages to include besides the bare minumum. The flash animation below shows how I created a product called GeekDeck based off the rPath Linux 2 platform, chose to generate an EC2 image and added the Apache web server as one of its components (if you cannot see it, please visit this link).

Creating a new appliance

The combination of these choices are all put together into what is called a group, a very detailed compilation of all the packages that make up our product, with dependency tracking down to the file level! Let me say that again: Every file of every single package that make up this product, from the very basic component to its kernel and the packages we added atop is tracked and mapped in the same style a versioning control system does. What that means is that for every customer you ship your product, you will know exactly what files and what versions of these files (and its dependencies and its’ versions and the dependencies of the dependencies and so on and on) are installed on their system. And if tomorrow you rebuild your group and add new content to it, your customers will be able to update their systems and they will get only what you specified on your group! Say goodbye to dependency hell!

It is well worth mentioning that every single appliance gets a web-based appliance management interface that will allow you to not only manage services and configure settings of your system but also keep it up to date with newer versions of your product. Also, rBuilder allows you to manage the content of your product by promoting it to different labels giving you control to move it through different phases of a release cycle, say moving a well defined group from a Development label through QA and eventually Production.

By the way, the EC2 image I built for this demo can be launched from rBuilder Online. Make sure to have a valid Amazon EC2 credentials ready.

I could go on and on about some other cool features that are built in and available free of charge on rBuilder Online, but I’ll stop it here and let you do some research of your own. Better yet, you could opt out of using the community version of rBuilder and instead try the brand spanking new rBuilder Appliance. It is like having your own software appliance at your fingertips! 🙂

Og Maciel is a QA Engineer for rPath and a long time contributor to the translation efforts of several upstream projects. When not spearheading new projects or communities, he likes to fish, watch ice hockey and spend time with his 2 lovely daughters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.