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Top 10 libre timewaisters from Debian

Free Christmas in Riga, Latvia.

It looks like the Linux centre of the Latvian university in partnership with Latvian Open Source Association is going to throw a Free Code Christmas on 19th of December. Current idea is to make a mix of a social and technical event. The plan calls for two rooms - in one room a series of 15-20 minute presentations will be held and in the other room tea and cookies will be served and all the speakers will be available for interrogation. The plan is to start at 18.00 and go on until 21 or maybe a bit later. The official information will be coming next week, but remember - you heard it here first ;)

A couple shots from Tokyo girls concert ...

Lead singer Dark wisper

A couple shots from Tokyo girls concert from the closing ceremony of the Animefest3. This ends my photostream from the event, now I'll have to shoot something new to show you. BTW: there are also some photos that I did upload to Flickr, but didn't link to the blog - you can go to my photostream to see all of them.

Last week a idea came to my mind - promoting open source is most rewarding if we do it to developers who then come to open source and help us move forward, the biggest identifiable bunch of developers in Latvia are the web developers (LAMPers, ASPers, J2EEers, ...) and these developers are quite interesed in that new "Web 2.0" buzzword. So I thought - why cann't Latvian Open Source Association organise a event dedicated to Web 2.0: what it is all about, what open source solutions empower you to develop Web 2.0 sites, how and why should you use them and also why and how do you contribute back to the community that created these tools. Nobody else stepped up for the task, so if I want this to happen - I will have to organise that. I have defined the master theme and format of the conference and now I am going around the potential sponsors asking for few hundred $ to fund the coffee breaks and a lunch. If I get that, then we can start thinking about specific topics, speakers, participant registration forms and all the rest of the stuff. If I don't get that 'till Christmas, then I will not be able to get the event going at the planed time in the last week of February. Well - a bunch of job to do.

BTW: this reminds me - what's up with USA and Christmas??? As you probably know, mine only source of information about world events is The Daily Show (along with the Colbert Report, and _sometimes_ BBC news) and now it seams that USA have gone to the extremes of ridiculousness (I guess, president sets the mark). Banning use of word Christmas? How about cancelling New Year? You do know that in some religions the year changes at a different day, don't you? And don't get me started about "Plan for success" two years after the "Mission Accomplished" by the man personally!

Surveying web projects to remake the Lat...

Surveying web projects to remake the Latvian Open Source Associations web page. At this point we are hosting it on TikiWiki, but people are increasingly unhappy about it and so am I. I like very much that Tiki is very integrated and has all we need and all we might ever need (wiki, blogs, forums, articles, photo galleries, categories, users, messages, comments, calendar, ...), but it has several shortcomings:


  • The wiki syntax is very complex and hard to learn

  • The code is very bloated

  • Tiki eats lots of memory and CPU

  • It is kind of brittle - in many instances pages are sent out incomplete and only reloading the same page fixes that

  • There were some security issues with user uploaded files. I personally think that all files should be held either in database or in folders inaccessible by the browser and fed out to users by a specialised script

  • Plugins, while a very powerful tool, make the complex syntax even more complex

  • Many pages that the user gets can/should not be refreshed as that will cause a repetition of an action (adding another copy of the same comment, ...). In my mind,

  • The generated HTML pages of Tiki are huge - starting with a 100 Kb per page (including css and javascript, but excluding any images).

  • Many features that are natural for uses of PHPBB2 or other forums come like an afterthought in Tiki, like threading, named multilevel quoting, avatars

  • It is hard to maintain a modified version of Tiki and keep up with upstream changes


My ideal feature set:

  • Wiki

  • Forum (multiple named forums in categories)

  • Blog (multiple separate blogs with sepatare set of tags and a rss/atom feed for each blog, tag or combination of tags)

  • Calendar for planned upcoming events


Additional technical requirements:

  • Every object must be commentable

  • The same Wiki syntax must be used everywhere

  • Unified linking schemes with InterWiki support

  • There should be WYSIWYG edit option

  • Unified users and groups

  • Every page that users view must be a view page and not an update page. For a simple example: user is at viewpage/SomePage and fills a form there that will add a comment to the page, the form is being submitted to addcomment/SomePage with the comment data in POST headers, when the addcomment script has added the comment, it redirect the user back to the viewpage/SomePage, maybe indicating which comment was just added, so that user can see the change highlighted. Even better if it can be done, like in GMail, when the new comment is incorporated into the page without a reload and a request is sent to the server independently.

  • Names of Wiki pages must not be limited neither to CamelCase nor to ASCII chars. I want to be able to have pages called "Juridiskā informācija" or "開眼 の 司会者" :)

  • WAP version

  • It should be possible to attach files and images (with proper preview thumbnails) to each and every item: wiki pages, comments, blog posts, forum posts, news items, calendar entries, other files and images (hmm that would be weird :P)

  • It would be perfect if it was written in Python with proper objects for everything and database based object persistence



As you can see, I face a long selection/adaptation/programming prospect. I wish I could use as much of existing open source components and contribute my changes back, so they can be properly maintained within respective projects.

The optimum scenarion would be a construction of some kind of TikiWiki Light with the needed functionality, code cleanup, restructurisation, ... Will have to talk to TikiWiki project heads for that.

You need more then one wheel for the bandwagon to start rolling

This is an English summary of my Latvian rant about the activities (or lack thereof) of the Latvian Open Source Association (LAKA) in my other blog. Before someone misunderstands, I am the chairman of the LAKA's board, so this is not a plain ranting, but more of a plan pondering for future action.
For two years after the formation of LAKA we have quite little real work done - a few installfests, a visit by RMS and a MySQL executive, some work in the translation field, a little representation in the swpat issue, lots of flaming about site and logo design. That about sums up two years of a whole associations work. I must say that this is pretty crappy. Many good ideas remained just that - ideas, many needed projects (OOO translation, statistics for FLOSS use, .gov lobbying) just never started like they should. Also almost no business was interested in actually making something viable in the FLOSS sector, mostly because they so no viable business model.
It took me quite some time to understand why this was happening, but I think that I finally got it - there is noone to profit from it. And those who could profit from it, do not know about it.
I took a look back at us. Most of LAKA are system administrators and students. Why these people are interested in promoting FLOSS? Economies of scale gives them better software once more people start using it. Also students are interested in wider adoption because it makes their skills more profitable in the marketplace.
This would give them incencitive to create installfests, make some technical events, do some translation in the free time, but you would need a different type of motivation to make something more important, like actively lobby government, organize conferences for 150-200 CEOs of local SMEs, drive around the country organizing Infoday's, seminars, educational sessions, create and test business strategies, create a new market and bind several million EUR of investments.
Sysadmins and students are not interested in such activities, but the question is who is? According to the free software project management paradigm ("Scratch your own itch") the ones most interested in these events are the ones to make them happen.
The most obvious candidates for this role are the big international companies that are actively supporting the FLOSS movement and are making quite a buck from it. IBM, Novel, Sun, HP, Oracle and many others might be interested to invest some funds to create a whole new multimillion market.
This was the basis for the project I named LAKA2. At this point in time, two discussions are taking place - one in IBM and Novel and one in LAKA, both are trying to make this idea better and more suited for both sides and for the society as a whole.
Stay tuned, I hope something good will eventually emerge from this.

Exim fuckup

I spoke too soon - Exim gave up on me failing to start with an obscure message:
Exim configuration error in line 301 of /var/lib/exim4/config.autogenerated: group mail was not found

The group 'mail' was still there and id and getent commands confirmed it. With help from #debian@irc.debian.org I was able to figure out that /etc/groups had permissions of 0600 which made it unreadable for anyone except root. Doh!

Fixing bugs of TikiWiki

Just now I did some hacking of TikiWiki on the LAKA site. First I added a feature - now RSS feeds from news articles can be selected by topic. Then I put two rss aggregators on the main Wiki page of the site - one with all articles on 'LAKA' topic and the other one for all articles.
In the process I discovered a bug in Tiki RSS lib that did not allow two RSS feeds to be put on the same Wiki page. I traced the call to a 'include()' directive that should have been 'include_once()'. This also caused another bug to appear there - variable $rsslib had to be declared global in the same module.
Now I only have to create some way to make a feed for 'all topics except LAKA'. That will be harder.

PS. Restoring Mailman and Postgresql was a snap. Today seams to be a better day for me :)

Reinstalling laka.lv

Today I ventured into the most annoying adventures a system administrator can face - reinstall. Fortunately this was a planned one, so I had just made all backups.
Problems started even before I did - all air circulation devices were broken in the company that collocates our server, so it was very hot there. I am not afraid of some heat unless it cooks my servers, so I went on with the reinstall.

While I was on the way to the location I asked the kind people there to make some kind of temporary banner page on one of their servers to say something like 'LAKA is being repaired now, come back in a few hours'. While they were doing that, it was needed to restart their corporate firewall as it stopped responding. And then ... the firewall didn't come up. Dong! Now imagine three men in a hot and tight server room struggling to untangle cables to get that firewall box out in the open to see what happened to it. Juk! After dissection the firewall claimed that it suddenly needed a video card. It's clear that the CMOS battery is dying on that thing. The way of least resistance was chosen (as people from all levels of the building were rushing in the server room every 5-7 seconds) and the Internet was returned to the people, and me as I was just going to finally start reinstalling our server.

As usually with 7+ year old hardware, the CD-ROM gave out in the worst possible case. Luckily there were some spares around. This servers case is something really interesting - it actually has a button to open the side of the case. Like a case eject :).

Installing Debian was uneventful showing the high level of this distro. In parallel I helped one guy to try to install SMB printer in Gentoo and soon I had to arrive to a conclusion that Gentoo sucks - nothing worked without a bit of tinkering. Even after installing ppds for the printer I had to unzip and install them manually. Juck!

Reinstalling needed programms was fast and seamless. The biggest problem was restoring the data. Unfortunately I made a full backup of the whole disk an that was a big problem. I mean 800 Mb is big if your downlink is less then 50 KB/sec :(. I spend a hour cutting out all the stuff I needed to revive the web and shell users. That was 150 Mb. Not wanting to waste my time waiting I wanted to put it on the download and head home to finish the thing remotely, but there was another problem lurking in the firery shadows - the firewall didn't want to give me back my IP.

I left hosters deal with that problem. When I left they were telephoning the authors of the firewall. Half an hour after I got home, the server was back online and I could start copying the reduced backup. Restoring Web and mysql services was a snap even considering migration to Apache 2 and MySQL 4 in the process. It just worked :)

After that I realized that I had screwed the user ids by copying old /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow over the new ones. Doh! I was save by some mysterious force that made backups right after the installation. I spend 20 minutes inching back into control of the system (I lost root and ssh would scream in panic because /etc/passwd had 0600 mode :P) and another 15 to carefully carry old users over to the new system.

Then I recovered a lost MySQL root password by looking at backup of my .mysql_history file. Doh!

Now I'll need most of the rest of the backup to get mail and postgresql back up. More waiting :(

Edit: Now this is getting ridiculous - the server that has the backup just shut down on his own. Ridiculous!

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