26 March 2008

Stepping on a geek's copyright OR what could have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship

I stepped up recently to help Dragos Manac with his Linux column in the Catavencu magazine (the print edition). Not for the money (it's a sum so low, I would be ashamed to tell and I can get better payment from other places) but for the greater good, for Linux, for glory and stuff like this.

This seems kind of fun job, I am used to write stuff (even if I usually write in English, a return to Romanian prose is refreshing), I have plenty of ideas in the queue and a lot of things deserve promotion. Being a mainstream magazine, is not hard, you have to touch light topics without entering into details.

All good until today, then the first piece was published. Attributed to someone else. And with someone else's website URL next to it. Sorry guys, but this is too much. I have to react.

I can accept it was an editor's mistake, without rushing to the "p" word. I may accept Dragos sent the correct text with the correct signature to the editor. But, frankly, I don't care. I don't care if it was a honest mistake, laziness, malevolence or something else. I want moral reparation.

Now here is the full text of the article, I have not signed anything with anybody, have received no payment (but have not asked for), have not waived my copyright, so sue me if you dare:

[copyright infringement?]

Of course, before going out in the blog with it I escalated to the proper channels: first to Dragos (an answer like "it's too late, nothing can be done now, the next number will have an article with the right credit" is not good enough), then to the magazine (no reply so far).

So disappointing when you put god faith in a thing and people don't give a rat's ass. If I publish content as GPL, CC-BY-SA and even PD that does not means I don't care about it. By the opposite.

Update: one week later, the next edition of the magazine published an errata. I am OK with them now (but only with them).

My struggles with F9 Beta

This time I really want to jump to the Fedora 9 Beta on my primary desktop (as unwise as such a move is), I want to practice how some theming things go along. My first try was to do what all the cool kids do: do a yum update to Rawhide, I did a small test and got that:

Transaction Summary
Install 128 Package(s)
Update 1339 Package(s)
Remove 2 Package(s)

Total download size: 2.4 G

I am to big of a wimp for that, uninstall some large packages (games which I don't play anymore) and it gets a little better:
Transaction Summary
Install 124 Package(s)
Update 1275 Package(s)
Remove 1 Package(s)

Total download size: 1.8 G

Better, but not good enough: if I have to download that much, then I can download a bit more (double) and do a clean install (you'll see next why this proved a good decision by a totally unexpected reason).

So I don't like the Live CD as a base install, I need in the day to day activity a lot more packages so I had to install from the classic DVD image. But wanting an install from USB media I found what I label as a clever way: use livedc-iso-to-disk to write the netinsatll image to an USB pen drive, then copy the install DVD on the same drive, boot from it and whan asked from where to install select that USB drive (sdb1 in my case) and a hard drive (I wasn't able to find a simper way, but this is simple enough).

But I hit a bug, I can reproduce it both when installing from the classic DVD with Anaconda and when booting from the Desktop Live CD (in this case I can see it all the way: RHGB, GDM, desktop): I don't have any text on screen, no icons, no buttons or other widgets, nothing. Here is how my desktop looks like:

And this is for Intel on-board graphics, something that is expected to work the best out-of-the box (do not look funny at me, I didn't buy that box, I always buy AMD).

I guess I can do a text install and hope for the best, but as I said before, this is my primary box and I don't want to risk being forced to boot into Windows or revert back to F8 to do my day to day work.

Update: as everyone adviced, run the installer with xdriver=vesa and it went OK (if you can say running the desktop after install in VESA is OK). Then, to be on the safe side, updated everything, deleted xorg.conf, reboot and now it if just fine (resolution, acceleration, everything).

25 March 2008

Inkscape 0.46 - the stealth release

Now that we are out of the embargo and can talk freely about the release, here is the news item: after over one year of waiting (and a couple of weeks of stealth status), Inkscape 0.46 was released with a load of features.

Why stealth? Between a crappy platform, Windows, which exhibited a bad printing bug (a release blocker) and a tight ass distro, Ubuntu, with its policy of not trusting its package maintainers for package updated, Inkscape developers found themselves in a hard place: to release with a major bug on Windows (where the majority of users are) or delay the release, lose Ubuntu's feature freeze and have no reason to release at all for the following 6 months (about the same happened 6 months ago).
So the "solution" was to release but at the same time not to release: a release a couple of weeks ago, just in time for Ubuntu, but with all the PR embargoed until either the Windows bug is patched or is evident it will not be patched.
At least the release happened officially now.

As a Fedora user, I am content: we have the latest prerelease, pre3, in Rawhide, a build is also available for F8 in Koji for testing purposes, the new version will get in Rawhide and F9 but also (and here our policy and our package maintainers shines compared with other distros) in the current stable, F8.

20 March 2008

A first attempt at F9 "Sulphur" media labels

There is still early, with plenty of time until the release but with the Beta expected the next week, maybe some may have use for them, so here is my first attempt at Fedora 9 "Sulphur" media (CD/DVD) labels:

[cd label] [cd label] [cd label]

The first one is an extremely simplified version of "burning sulfur on waves" we feature on the release artwork, the second is an even more simplified version of it (for LightScribe) and the last is just the wallpaper clipped with a CD shape (not printer friendly at all).

Linux is everywhere: even on phones

[phone]Recently someone asked me to help him with the configuration (it was absolutely painless) of a cordless Internet/ DECT phone, VOIP841. Is a nice, even if a bit pricey IMO, phone made by Philips, able to call land lines, Skype network (without the need of a PC), use multiple handsets (and have calls between those handsets too)... but enough with the praises, I am not a Philips sales agent.
What I liked the most is that phone runs Linux (I noticed this seeing "Open Source File" on their download page. Cool stuff, Linux is everywhere!

note: and the guy owning it (he bought it by himself and is happy with it) looks funny at me when I mention using Linux...

13 March 2008

How many people in the Fedora Art group?

With FAS2 deployed, it is naturally for everybody to explore its functionality, trying to make the best use of it. Is not that hard from there to get to the list of members in a group, like the Art group, notice a lot of members, 38, realize that some of those names are completely unknown (unknown on the Fedora Art list, other Fedora lists and the larger Fedora universe) and have the initiative for a policy for granting group membership (with all the privileges granted by it).

This is my comment seeing we have 38 people in the group:

If Fedora Art would have 38 active members, then it would be better looking than OS X

Read this as you want either that I believe we are close enough to the OS X quality that we can match and surpass it or that I think it is such a high, unreachable, number that the goal will remain apiece in the sky.

12 March 2008

Dithering for GRUB

There is a hard constraint when creating GRUB splash images: they must be 640x480px with effectively 14 colors (16 colors, one must be white and another black) so the result is something which will look inevitably bad consider today's requirements and expectations.
The solutions are either to use custom patches (like gfxboot), wait for GRUB 2 (which seems to never come to an useful state) or try your best with dithering (which works OK for simple images but not so well for anything complex). And I have not touched yet the issue of various aspect ratio displays.

So here is a first iteration made by Mo for a GRUB splash based on the F9 Waves theme:

[grub splash]

On top of the inherent visible pixels, I have a big issue with it on my 20" widescreen display: the bubble does badly deformed (that happens when you use 4:3 video modes on wide screens). I expect a sulfur crystal will not look that bad when deformed. And I have the feeling the splash would look better un-centered.

Enough reasons to try my own variation, I edited the Inkscape made SVG and exported as a full color PNG, it looks quite nice:
[grub splash]

But as I said above, it needs to be uglified, to match the specifications, so let's make it indexed, 14 colors:

The result is really ugly, we have a lot of unwanted light pixels:
[grub splash]

So take the cone tool, clean them and then with a sharp brush solve some more minor details. Still ugly:
[grub splash]

I blame it on the blue flame, it is the primary source for this light color. So back to the source, remove the flame, export as PNG, index with dithering:
[grub splash]

A lot less bad pixels, GIMP them out:
[grub splash]

Much better but not sure it is good enough, I passed it as is. Mo takes the torch again: she lighten the background and dull the water reflections a bit, simplifies the yellow crystal, index the image with dithering and adjust the result removing some of the unwanted noise:
[grub splash]

Now about adding the blue flame back... that's really a tough one.

Note: to test those images as GRUB splashes, open the indexed PNGs with GIMP, save them as splash.xpm.gz and put the file in /boot/grub/

11 March 2008

All your mails are belong to Y!

I am a heavy email user, but my mail exchanges are usually either in geek circles, the business area or both, so my usual data is not a good sample. But recently I was involved in a project (website) which deals with a completely different demographic group: women watching specific TV shows (soap operas, talk shows) or reading specific press and who happen to have access to a computer, either at work or at home, but don't understand, and don't want to understand the technology. Pretty much the mainstream public.

Not much to my surprise, I saw the statistics with hard numbers about how the Yahoo mail reigns supreme on this group: over 90% (in my sample it was ~92%) of those people use Yahoo as an email provider (those are personal email addresses), any other provider is just statistical noise. Some of those people give an IM address as their contact address (sometime in addition of email, sometime instead of) and those are always Yahoo! Messenger addresses.

I checked my findings with a friend of mine, he also work with mainstream, non-geek audience (he run an online store, but not sell technology products, only contact lenses) and he has similar numbers but from both men and women.

The conclusion from this is that on the home/personal area, Yahoo Mail is almost a monopoly on the Romanian email and IM market.

Talking about this with my friend, the discussion got inevitably to the topic of Microsoft's intention of buying Yahoo. While my friend,a fervent Debian user, is delighted by this perspective, he hates Yahoo with a passion after a lot of problems with email delivery to his Yahoo using customers (he says something like: I want Yahoo to die, even if Microsoft is the one that kills them), I am scared as hell by the idea of being forced in a Microsoft email and IM realm too (I am also not an Yahoo fan, but I use some of their services but no Microsoft service).

07 March 2008

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

In my opinion, the Parsix theme is ugly, a bad combination of light blue wallpaper, dark gray windows, light blue window title bars and glowing orange/brown icons. Should I wonder when it is acclaimed on the Art list by our favorite two trolls?

06 March 2008

Import Illustrator (.ai) files with Inkscape

One of the features which can be found in the soon-to-be-released Inkscape 0.46 is the ability to import PDF files (based on libpoppler) and as a consequence, .ai (Adobe Illustrator) files (which are based on PDF). Note: this feature was developed as part of the Google Summer of Code 2007. So how good is that import? I found it to be quite good.

But first a bit of history: for those who remember, the Bluecurve icon set was revolutionary for its time: an icon set for a Linux desktop created with vector graphics. But in those early days, without a competent editor available, it had to be created with Adobe Illustrator, which was for a long time a problem for contributors, which were not able to play with those icons without selling their souls.

Fast forward a couple of years ago, when we had the tool, Inkscape, and were thinking about the future of the Fedora icons: stay with Bluecurve, create a next-generation Bluecurve, adopt an existing icon set or create a new one from scratch (we pursued partly option 3 and 4, but this is not the subject of this post).

We still had problems with anything Bluecurve-related: no way to open the .ai files on a Linux desktop and without written guidelines, hard to re-create them from scratch. So the so solution was to export them as SVG with Illustrator and then freely play with those SVGs on Inkscape.

Today the Bluecurve days are behind us (if you still find a Bluecurve icon here and there on a Fedora desktop it is a bug and have to be fixed) but using the Inkscape 0.46 pre-releases (on Rawhide, but also easy to find for F8) we can play at last with the initial .ai files (after 5.5 years... good lesson to learn about file formats).

Below are two screenshots: one is the Illustrator created .ai files opened with Inkscape 0.46 pre2 and the other a SVG exported from Illustrator and opened with the same Inkscape 0.46 pre2. They look the same to me, bug for bug, which I find pretty good.

[illustrator import]

Update: and here is how they are supposed to look (Illustrator created PNG) - not sure if the small differences are caused by Inkscape bugs or features not supported by SVG:
[illustrator import]

04 March 2008

NIN: Ghosts and its CC license - a not so positive view

NIN: GhostsWith all this fuss about the Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts release under a Creative Commons license i feel compelled to ask a naive question (or it is an annoying question which renders me a a first class nitpicker?).

Quote from their readme, distributed inside the official torrent:

We encourage you to share the music of Ghosts I with your friends, post it on your website, play it on your podcast, use it for video projects, etc.  It's licensed for all non-commercial use under Creative Commons.

So my question is: if I use AdSense or something similar on my website, is legal or not to share there? But if I have a button for PayPal donations to a FOSS project?

Of course I already know the answer and it is no, as those can be interpreted as commercial activities (even if the AdSense usage is intended to barely cover the hosting price and a FOSS project is a non-profit).

But this is not why I find this release useless, I find it useless because I can't use this music as soundtrack for my screencasts, which are released under CreativeCommons Attribution Share Alike, so incompatible with the Non Commercial clause.

So are you confused by the too many Creative Commons licensing options?