Maverick Meerkat Installed

Today I downloaded the latest version of Ubuntu: 10.10 Maverick Meerkat. I burned both a cd and a dvd (for good measure) of the .iso file. Then I lugged an aging desktop that is not currently using Ubuntu (yes, it uses the “other” operating system!) downstairs and set it up in the kitchen so that I could plug it directly in to my router. You really want a wired connection to the Internet when you go to install Ubuntu. In fact, the new install screens specifically check for this and then give you the possibility of downloading additional software during the installation.

The installation was clean and smooth. I had a slight hiccup initially in getting my PC to boot from the install disc, but once I realized that I was being dim (hey, 6 months between installs and I forget things) everything proceeded in due order. I continued reading a book whilst the computer did what it had to do.

A clean install, however, was not what I was worried about. I’ve done lots of clean installs of Ubuntu over the years. Rather I was concerned about my sadly proprietary usb wireless adapter (a D-Link DWA-130). That was an inexpensive adapter I purchased some time ago when this non-wireless-card desktop moved out of reach of my router. It worked fine in the “other” operating system. But I knew from testing an Ubuntu release on cd a while back that this adapter does not work out of the box with Ubuntu. I would need to sort that out if I was going to be able to use this machine with this wireless adapter up in my office. That, or I would have to go purchase another adapter, checking first this time that I was getting something that was more ecumenical with respect to operating systems. (But oh, I hate to waste money like that!)

First I confirmed that in fact my wireless adpater does not work out of the box with Ubuntu 10.10. Second I did what any good computer hobbyist would do – I turned to Google. A quick search using “ubuntu usb wireless adapter” brought me to Ubuntu’s Docs on Wireless Cards. An excellent start. I took the advice at the top of the page and fired up a terminal window and typed: lsusb. That confirmed two things for me: 1) Ubuntu was in fact seeing my wireless adapter, and 2) the chipset my adapter was using (essential later for downloading the correct driver).

I learned that in order to use this wireless adapter, the best route would be to download the correct driver from the manufacturer, then install Ndiswrapper and Ndisgtk (a helpful interface for those who prefer to visit the command line and not necessarily live there). Where did I get the information on how to do this? From the Ubuntu Docs on Ndiswrapper, of course.

It helps to follow the instructions carefully. Don’t rush things. You will need to revisit the command line at points. For example, I needed to add a line to blacklist.conf in modprobe and that was easily handled via vi. A short bit of testing revealed that my wireless adapter was now working correctly. And this post is evidence of same.

I am looking forward to exploring more of the Maverick Meerkat now that I have an Ubuntu desktop in my office again.

Game on!

The bookend shouts of, “CAR!,” followed at a decent interval by, “GAME ON!,” are almost too typically Canadian to need much explanation. Readers of this blog may have noticed that I have been largely out of the FOSS discussion for about a year. Or, as you might say, a decent interval. I feel like it is time for me to get back in the mix and thereby announce same with the traditional Canadian shout of, “GAME ON!”

Getting back in the FOSS swing of things isn’t so hard, really. I have not in fact been away, just quiet. Fortunately my re-emergence coincides with a couple of useful events almost in my back yard: DrupalCamp Toronto 2010 and FSOSS 2010.

I’ve been to a couple of FSOSS (Free Software and Open Source Symposium) meetings in the past. They are usually very well organised with a great selection of workshops and keynotes that cover a wide spectrum of issues and projects in the FOSS world. This year’s FSOSS looks just as impressive.

DrupalCamp is something different for me. I’ve started playing with (i.e. learning) Drupal on a couple of my websites recently. I had heard lots of good things about Drupal for years of course but this is the first time that I’ve started using it for real. I’m on a bit of a learning curve there but so far it is making sense. When I spotted DrupalCamp being mentioned on my local LUG list (well, I didn’t say I’d become a monk or anything!) I thought it would be worth investigating. So I’m heading up or over or down to Toronto for one day of the two-day Drupal Camp (although that day does include a keynote by Dries Buytaert so it should be interesting!). Time to learn a bit more about the Drupal community and see if there might be a place for me there.

If you are attending either DrupalCamp Toronto or FSOSS, do say hi. (I’ll be the short, quiet guy at the back of the room.)

It’s good to be back.

Research

Some novels just seem like dumping grounds for an author’s recent “research” projects. Paragraphs, even whole pages, show up that do little more than report on some phenomenon, concept, historical object or event, etc. This never impresses me. I haven’t chosen to read a novel in order to become “informed” (dread word) on a subject. There are other, more or less reputable, sources for (fact checked) information. A novel might glancingly touch on subjects that I might then go on to explore elsewhere, a spur if you will to my own “research”. But it won’t be a substitute for real information, so why masquerade as such?

Of course, it does help to get your facts right. Paris is in France (unless you are talking about Paris, Ontario). The War of 1812 occurred roughly in 1812, I think. A cedar is a coniferous tree. All these are true propositions, so far as I know. Any one of them might show up in a novel. But their appearance in the novel does nothing to either confirm their truth or confer any special status upon them. One might just as well have read that Paris is in Luxembourg.

When I see large swathes of research surfacing in a novel, I always wonder if the novelist could not have imagined a better history, a more relevant account. Something genuinely relevant to her characters or their situation.

One exception to this observation/speculation occurs to me. At the moment I am reading a “hard” science fiction novel set in the near-future or possible-present. Here the author includes, again, a considerable amount of “research”. But the research seems directly relevant to the plot and the characters in the novel. Perhaps this is not surprising since the plots and character actions of hard science fiction novels usually turn on exploring the implications of scientific advances. What would life on a space station be like? What if artificial intelligence became a reality? How do social structures of ant colonies compare or contrast with human social organisation? Here I both enjoy the paragraphs and pages of research but positively expect it of the author.

Rethinking my Personal Identity Online (PIO)

I have a confession to make: I have never tweeted. There you have it. Shocking, I know. I’m concerned enough about this to have gone and got myself a Twitter account the other day. Within hours two other users were “following” me. This despite the fact that I had never tweeted (and still haven’t). I wondered what they were expecting, with no history of tweets to judge that following me would be worth their while. I suppose my name, or more likely my email address, was sufficient within Twitter to attract them to my empty account (yes, I know them both outside of twitterdom). But that didn’t lessen my communications anxiety. What would it be worthwhile me saying (or, rather, tweeting)? Mark that. Before I have input a single 140-character utterance, I am thinking about the wider ramifications/implications/considerations of what I might place in the infosphere.

Recently, on an email list to which I subscribe I got notice of a call for papers for a special issue of the journal Minds and Machines (I haven’t bothered with a link because it is not an open access journal). The issue would be on the construction of Personal Identities Online (PIO). It caught my eye because some years ago this was a subject that concerned me somewhat. Seems like a long time ago now, but I remember struggling with the possible implications of fully embracing openness, which at the time meant mostly free and open source software to me. I concluded that the way to live openly would be to avoid a radical disjunct between my online identity and, for want of a better term, my “real” identity. As much as possible I wanted them to be seamless. That is the reason the URL for this blog has my real name in it. If I join an online community, or an open source community, again, I tend to use my real name. If I put a comment on your blog or elsewhere, I won’t hide the fact that it was me. I’m not naive; I know that some individuals have exceedingly good reasons for obfuscating their online identities. But I wasn’t in that situation and I wanted to take up the challenge of living in the open.

For the past month I have been helping a friend build an online presence for herself in a new career. At first we talked a lot about her goals. We also talked about what a personal website or blog, or a business website, says about you and how you can influence that impression in small ways. This prompted me to undertake an audit of my own online presence and begin to think through what I was saying with it. On which, more anon.

I know that a number of my friends are on Twitter. I know this because I see their tweets appear on my Facebook (FB) page. I had wondered why they were using an external micro-blogging site in order to post FB updates. Later I learned that through yet another tool you could post to numerous online communities at the same time, for example to FB, Twitter, and LinkedIn. (TweetDeck is an example of one of these tools.) Why would I want to do that? Why do they? I suspect I must have fallen behind the times on this.

The good news is that I’m back thinking about such things. As such, I thought an initial post that I am so doing would be a good way to solicit input from others on aspects of their PIO and how they manage same. In a series of posts (you noted the “I” in the title, right?) I want to turn my attention to blogs, rss feeds of various kinds, websites, online communities like FB and LinkedIn, and, of course, Twitter. I may even find something worth tweeting about.

Writing club

For about a year now I have been a participant in the Kitchener Public Library (KPL) Writers’ Collective. I was delighted to discover the collective in the run up to Kitchener’s Word on the Street 2009 event and gladly committed myself to the monthly meetings where members share and discuss each other’s work. The collective isn’t well-publicised, so there isn’t much point in searching for it online. But I assure you that it does in fact exist.

The members of the collective range from beginners to published authors. Most participants seem to have been with the collective since its inception, a small but dedicated group. There are enough members at the moment for 3 groups of up to 8 participants. A group will stay together throughout the year with new members able to join in the autumn. Ideally each member will submit up to 5 pages from a work in progress, a short story or novel, or a set of poems. Discussion is mixed, often impressionistic, sometimes insightful, but always a bit awkward. It’s not exactly what I envisioned, having previously only heard about the writers circles that met in England, but it suffices. What you imagine, perhaps, is a small group of like minded individuals gathering over a glass or wine and a nibble of cheese with light classical music in the background. This collective is a bit more institutional.  Meetings are held in whatever board rooms can be appropriated at various branch libraries. Glaring fluorescent lighting and hard backed chairs keep us focused on the task at hand. There is no wine.

There are good reasons, I take it, for the setting. Disclosure of personal information, even such details as one’s surname, is kept to a minimum. The collective members tend to stay on a first name basis, exchanging their monthly submissions through an intermediary within the KPL. Thus avoiding the need even to exchange email addresses. Yet there is a perhaps unlooked-for benefit of such a design. The critiquing of one’s work remains superficially objective, or at least not personal. There is plenty of scope for learning in such an environment, and little need to take all criticism to heart.

Still, I sometimes wonder what my ideal writing club would be like. It would need a frisson of disagreement, a pinch of daring, a serious attitude to the hard work of craft, maybe softer chairs, and, yes, perhaps a post-meeting glass of wine. But for now I’ll be happy to stick with the KPL Writers’ Collective and see how things go.