License wars: GPL vs. BSD (or What happened to the public domain?)

There is a very interesting article about the GPL copyright license and the BSD copyright license, and this author’s view that the public domain is the only way to go. This is a very interesting take on both licenses.

His (her?) view is that both licenses place restrictions on the user (as he suggests all licenses do). However, I would beg to differ with the assessment on both licenses…

The GPL license does place restrictions on the user; however, those restrictions are there to preserve the freedom to change, modify, and give away the source code. That’s it. The restrictions are there to preserve freedom.

The BSD license places restrictions that basically say the user is responsible for the software, and says nothing about anything else. The BSD license was designed to preserve the freedom to do whatsoever you will with the software (including putting it into proprietary systems and not releasing source code).

However, the public domain basically places no restrictions whatsoever on your software. Thus, someone can appropriate the software, start selling it, claim they wrote it, and more – without any recourse for you, the original author. It is for this reason that the Public Domain is not where you want your software.

Solaris Virtual Memory Analysis: a tour through one admin’s process

This article by A. J. Clark was very informative; it doesn’t just show you what the problem is, but takes you through the process as the administrator analyzes a Solaris 8 server trying to find out why swap space was so heavily used. Go read it!

Software I am most thankful for

There are a number of articles about being thankful, as this is the American holiday Thanksgiving.

What software am I thankful for? I have several that I would name:

  • UNIX. UNIX was created by researchers at AT&T in 1969; nothing has been the same since AT&T let it loose. Its descendents are everywhere today, and provide sustenance for me and my family.
  • BSD. BSD and the pioneering work by the Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG) gave us freely available BSD variants, the Fast File System, vi, csh and lots more innovations – not to mention the commercial start of Sun Solaris.
  • Mosaic. This software package was possibly the first graphical web browser, and thus the beginning of the World Wide Web as we know it today; nothing has ever been the same since.
  • gcc. It was this C compiler that helped galvanize a revolution in software development, leading to the massive open source arena we know today. If it were not for gcc, how many projects would now lay fallow and dormant?
  • Emacs. Yes, Emacs. I do love vi, and use it first by choice, and will always. But it was Emacs that gave the impetus to create the Free Software Foundation, which organization has done more for open source and free software than can ever be repaid. Emacs also led directly to the creation of the GNU General Public License (or GPL).
  • HP-UX. This is the operating system that fills my days with work and my pockets with change. How can I be but thankful for that?

There’s lots of other things to be thankful for other than software – I, for one, am most thankful for you, dear reader, for letting me write to you for these many months. I’ve no intention of stopping any time soon.

NVIDIA Introduces a Supercomputer: Tesla

This is just incredible. According to the specifications and what NVIDIA is claiming for the Tesla Supercomputer, this will be like putting a supercomputer on every desk: 240 cores at your side. NVIDIA is harnessing the compute power of the GPU in amazing ways with this product.

The Tesla product is available standalone from TigerDirect at $1699.99 or as part of computers from Microway or Penguin Computing (among others).

Choosing the Right Mobile Phone (or a review of the LG UX830)

Here in the United States, Qualcomm was able to get the Broadcom chipset locked out as they fight in court over patents. This means that all phones available for sale in the U.S. until very recently were operating Qualcomm chipsets. I’ll describe why this is important.

The LG UX830 (or LG Glimmer) is a good example. Since it is a Qualcomm-chipset based phone, it uses BREW and has no support for J2ME. With BREW, any third party developer must get an application certified to run on BREW and must pay a large sum of money just to be able to release the application to the public. Thus, virtually all open source applications are locked out of a BREW phone. Since Qualcomm controls BREW, it is no surprise then that this lockdown on the market has locked open source applications out of the current United States phone market.

For system administration, applications like SSH and one-time key pads are important – and unavailable on BREW phones.

Durability is not often mentioned in reviews of phones. The UX830, for example, has very flimsy plastic covers that feel as if they could break at any time. The cover for the charging port (microUSB port) gets in the way of the plug, so it sticks out from the phone when you open the port to use it.

Another thing to worry about is the usability of the phone itself. The LG phones I’ve seen have atrocious usability problems. Take the (apparently) multimedia menu. What is the difference between: Music, Shuffle, Audio, and Record Voice? Music is the music player. Audio is where you can work with your audio files: move, copy, set as ring tones, etc. (but not play with the player!). Shuffle actually has nothing to do with any music: it is the ability to randomly select a ringtone or alarm tone.

The application Record Voice is another perfect example: recording as soon as the application starts, and there is no way for you to listen to the recording without hunting down another application – and you don’t even have the option of not saving the recording. You start the application, then it will record and save – without giving you choice on whether to save, where to save, or what name to use.

The normal panel display is somewhat confusing as well: who knew that “four dots” meant “Main Menu”?

A phone (or computer system, or microwave, or VCR, or whatever) should not require hours of study to operate correctly – and without causing unexpected problems.

For me, the Nokia 6165i and 6265i that I’ve owned in the past were (mostly) good examples of usability. For one thing, there was the “gallery” (which contained pictures, sounds, applications, alarms, whatever) – which LG has separated out unnecessarily.

When looking for a phone – especially if for a team – I would recommend the following:

  • Check usability: how hard is it to start using all features without the manual? Does everything work as expected? Or are there surprises for whoever uses it?
  • Check for J2ME: a phone that uses BREW has a complete lockdown on the applications you can use; for instance, Opera Mini will not work. J2ME, however, is much more open: anyone can develop and release applications for J2ME.
  • Durability. Will it hold up? Check buttons, hole coverings, and any moving parts. A phone gets beat on; make sure it will stand up to it.
  • Check for memory cards – and which ones. Memory card expansion can be important, especially for saving data and external applications. However, are the memory cards commonly available? Are they cheap or expensive?

It may not be easy to get some of these specs; in particular, cellular carriers either don’t know what they are or don’t want to advertize. Asking your local salesperson for a phone that supports J2ME is likely to get you a blank stare, so do the research online yourself first. PhoneScoop is one such site; the PhoneScoop page on the LG UX830 has a lot of very useful information. PhoneArena is another site; their page on the LG UX830 is also very useful.

Sparking new ideas

When you are look for new ideas – for writing, for presentations – here are some ways to go about it.

One good way is to brainstorm – write down things to write about. Don’t stop to judge the ideas, good or bad – just let it flow at a rapid pace onto the page. I like to use what is called “junior legal” (8 in. by 5 in.) on a clipboard of the same size.

After writing down all the ideas that come to you, then you can sift and winnow what you’ve written. Don’t reject out of hand any idea; see if there isn’t a kernel of a possibility in it.

You can also use a mindmap during some of this process. A mindmap is like an outline in radial form that starts with a center topic (though this description is woefully inadequate). Don’t just make bubbles and connect them (which seems to be common to computer mindmaps); make connectors in different sizes, colors, styles – make the mindmap a work of art that expresses how each item affects you.

This may generate quite a few good ideas to start writing about. (Guess I’ll get started….)