So, you want to do computer science, huh?


This has been on my mind for a while. Lots of friends are asking me for advise about their interest in pursuing courses on computer science (undergrad or grad).

First things first: I do have both CS and EE degrees (from Oregon State University), but that was from the 1980s. The world of computer science has evolved significantly since those days. I got to be on APRAnet then and it has evolved into what the Internet today. In that process, lots of the types of knowledge that one needs to do computer science – as an academic program – has also changed – but not evenly across the world.

I do mentor/advise startups and if any of them come to me with proposals that involve buying hardware, setting up software as part of the servers etc, I will promptly throw them out. Create your stuff on the cloud – AWS, Google, Rackspace, DigitalOcean etc. Lots of them out there. At some point, when your project/start-up ideas have gained some form/shape, and you have paying customers, you could consider running your own data centers using Red Hat Open Stack and Red Hat OpenShift  to make sure that you have a means to run your application in-house or in your own data center or onto the public cloud seamlessly.

So, likewise, if anyone is keen on doing a CS degree, do consider the following (not an exhaustive list, but a starting point):

  1. Do look at courses available online (Khan Academy, Coursera, EdX) and understand the breath and depth of what is out there.
  2. Learning online is a big challenge – especially for adults (atleast it is for me). I think I can manage the courses, but having to juggle the course and life when you don’t have a supporting group of classmates, it will be a struggle.
  3. If you are already keen on something – like game development, or artificial intelligence etc, do look out for the sites that are specialised in those fields. I particuarly like fast.ai for AI related stuff because of the use of Jupyter notebooks (which is really the only sane way to do anything with data science).
  4. Make sure you create and manage your own brand via your own blog – wordpress.com (like this blog itself), code repositories (not only code, but including documents, graphics etc) sitting on sites like gitlab.com or pagure.io (or even github.com). Create and curate your thoughts, ideas and considerations on your blog and repositories. I would not recommend LinkedIn as the primary site, but would encouage use of it as a place for links to your personal sites which should always be primary. You must always retain control of your stuff and not be dependent on others.
  5. Explore the various areas of interest that you have and find out who the thought leaders are including the professors. Contact them and seek their advise. Don’t be concerned that they might ignore your – which is just fine – but you never know who will respond and engage and your path will take a different turn.

If there are any other thoughts, do comment below. Love to hear from others on how they would have answered the same question.

 

 

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And, they are online now


Over a week ago, I was pinged by @l00g33k on twitter with a picture of a description of a piece of code I wrote in 1982.

That lead to a meet up and reliving a time where the only high technology thing I had was a 6502-based single board computer complete with 2K of RAM. It was a wonderful meet up and @l00g33k  was kind enough to handover to me a bag with 10 copies of the newsletter that was published by the Singapore Ohio Scientific Users Group. That was the very first computer user group I joined.

Suffice to say, I did help contribute to the newsletter by way of code to be run on the Superboard ][ – all in Basic.

I’ve scanned the 10 newsletters and it is now online.

I am really pleased to read in the Vol 1 #3 (page 36) a program to generate a calendar. The code is all in Basic. Feed it a year and out comes the calendar for the whole year.

Another piece of code is in Vol 1 #5 page 36 a program to print out the world map. That code was subsequently improved upon and published by another OSUG member to include actual times of cities – something that could only be done with the addiion of a real time clock circuitry on the Superboard ][.

A third program was in Vol 1 #6 page 26 that implemented a morse code transmitter.

I was very happy then (as I am now) that the code is out there even though none of us whose code was published in the newsletters had any notion of copyright. Code was there to be freely copied and worked on. Yes, a radical idea which in 1984 got codified by Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation (www.fsf.org).

You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep**


Lots of what we take for granted found expression in the thoughts and writings of John Perry Barlow. He crafted “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” back in 1996. It held lots of truths that I found critical for all of us, regardless of where we find ourselves.

John passed away on 7 February 2018. I was privileged to have met him in Singapore on 28th March 1995 (update: thanks to Marv for the date) and what an honour it was. Singapore was in the midst of her “IT 2000 Master Plan” crafted by the National Computer Board (the earliest I can find of ncb.gov.sg is from 13 October 1997).

He had spoken at an event at the NCB and we then proceed to have lunch a chinese restaurant at Clementi Woods park. Among the many things we chatted about was about the future and what it means to be connected. Mind you, those were days when we had dial up modems, perhaps 56k baud, but what a thrill it was to hear about his visions.

I was fortunate to have been able to keep in contact with him in the early 2010s via twitter and email and I was very glad that he did remember that trip and that he found some of the things Singapore was doing then to be intriguing but challenging for the future and that digital rights would be something that we need to be fighting for because if the people don’t own it, governments and big corporations will occupy that space.

He was the founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation and on 7th April 2018, the EFF held a “John Perry Barlow Symposium” hosted by the Internet Archive. Do watch the recording to how critical John was to lots of what we take for granted today.

Read his writings at the EFF which is hosting the John Perry Barlow Library.

Thank you John.

* John’s photo by Mohamed Nanabhay from Qatar,  CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66227217

**https://www.quotes.net/quote/4718

Seeking a board seat at OpenSource.org


I’ve stepped up to be considered for a seat on the Board of the Open Source Initiative.

Why would I want to do this? Simple: most of my technology-based career has been made possible because of the existence of FOSS technologies. It goes all the back to graduate school (Oregon State University, 1988) where I was able to work on a technology called TCP/IP which I was able to build for the OS/2 operating system as part of my MSEE thesis. The existence of newsgroups such as comp.os.unix, comp.os.tcpip and many others on usenet gave me a chance to be able to learn, craft and make happen networking code that was globally useable. If I did not have access to the code that was available on the newsgroups I would have been hardpressed to complete my thesis work. The licensing of the code then was uncertain and arbitrary and, thinking back, not much evidence that one could actually repurpose the code for anything one wants to.

My subsequent involvement in many things back in Singapore – the formation of the Linux Users’ Group (Singapore) in 1993 and many others since then, was only doable because source code was available for anyone do as they pleased and to contribute back to.

Suffice to say, when Open Source Initiative was set up twenty years ago in 1998, it was a formed a watershed event as it meant that then Free Software movement now had a accompanying, marketing-grade branding. This branding has helped spread the value and benefits of Free/Libre/Open Source Software for one and all.

Twenty years of OSI has helped spread the virtue of what it means to license code in an manner that enables the recipient, participants and developers in a win-win-win manner. This idea of openly licensing software was the inspiration in the formation of the Creative Commons movement which serves to provide Free Software-like rights, obligations and responsibilities to non-software creations.

I feel that we are now at a very critical time to make sure that there is increased awareness of open source and we need to build and partner with people and groups within Asia and Africa around licensing issues of FOSS. The collective us need to ensure that the up and coming societies and economies stand to gain from the benefits of collaborative creation/adoption/use of FOSS technologies for the betterment of all.

As an individual living in Singapore (and Asia by extension) and being in the technology industry and given that extensive engagement I have with various entities:

I feel that contributing to OSI would be the next logical step for me. I want to push for a wider adoption and use of critical technology for all to benefit from regardless of their economic standing. We have much more compelling things to consider: open algorithms, artificial intelligence, machine learning etc. These are going to be crucial for societies around the world and open source has to be the foundation that helps build them from an ethical, open and non-discriminatory angle.

With that, I seek your vote for this important role.  Voting ends 16th March 2018.

I’ll be happy to take questions and considerations via twitter or here.

Wireless@SGx for Fedora and Linux users


Eight years ago, I wrote about the use of Wireless@SGx being less than optimal.

I must acknowledge that there has been efforts to improve the access (and speeds) to the extent that earlier this week, I was able to use a wireless@sgx hotspot to be on two conference calls using bluejeans.com and zoom.info. It worked very well that for the two hours I was on, there was hardly an issue.

I tweeted about this and kudos must be sent to those who have laboured to make this work well.

The one thing I would want the Wireless@SG people to do is to provide a full(er) set of instructions for access including Linux environments (Android is Linux after all).

I am including a part of my 2010 post here for the configuration aspects (on a Fedora desktop):

The information is trivial. This is all you need to do:

	- Network SSID: Wireless@SGx
	- Security: WPA Enterprise
	- EAP Type: PEAP
	- Sub Type: PEAPv0/MSCHAPv2

and then put in your Wireless@SG username@domain and password. I could not remember my iCell id (I have not used it for a long time) so I created a new one – sgatwireless@icellwireless.net. They needed me to provide my cellphone number to SMS the password. Why do they not provide a web site to retrieve the password?

Now from the info above, you can set this up on a Fedora machine (would be the same for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu, SuSE etc) as well as any other modern operating system.

I had to recreate a new ID (it appears that iCell is no longer a provider) and apart from that, everything else is the same.

Thank you for using our tax dollars well, IMDA.

This is very interesting! (it is proprietary though)


I just came across something called hashgraph that seems to be able to replace blockchains as the basis of distributed ledgers.

The hashgraph is wrtten up by Dr Leemon Baird in this paper: http://leemon.com/papers/2016b.pdf is by the main author Leemon Baird.

He is the founder of a company called Swirlds (www.swirlds.com). Swirlds has implemented the hashgraph algorithm and provides a development environment for people to write applications on top of. It seems that Swirlds has been in stealth mode for the last 5 years or so.

The swirlds technology is, unfortunately, closed source and their demo platform is at:

http://www.swirlds.com/download/

with demo apps (these demo apps are also in the download above):

https://github.com/lbaird/swirlds-demos

Both the SDK and demo codes are jar files. The source code of the demo is in public domain.

One of the key advantages of hashgraph is the number of transactions per seconds that goes into the tens of thousands while being able to maintain consensus with a certainty of 1 and also to be fair.

Hashgraph does not suffer wasteful computational cycles of blocks to arrive at consensus (and hence the power savings).

They don’t have a public block yet (they have a demo of it).

Swirlds has 3 patents (http://www.swirlds.com/ip/).

From their website, their business model is to license their base environment for production.

I feel they are on to something.

More backgroud:
a) https://squawker.org/technology/blockchain-just-became-obsolete-the-future-is-hashgraph/
b) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sg-0Dgxc0io (The Future is Not Blockchain, it’s hashgraph)
c) https://youtu.be/ole2WuwNLL4 (The Future Of Consensus | A Panel Discussion With The Hashgraph Team At The Assemblage NYC

You can follow hashgraph on telegram https://t.me/hashgraph

Three must haves in Fedora 26


I’ve been using Fedora ever since it came out back in 2003. The developers of Fedora and the greater community of contributors have been doing a amazing job in incorporating features and functionality that subsequently has found its way into the downstream Red Hat Enterprise Linux distributions.

There are lots to cheer Fedora for. GNOME, NetworkManager, systemd and SELinux just to name a few.

Of all the cool stuff, I particularly like to call out three must haves.

a) Pomodoro – A GNOME extension that I use to ensure that I get the right amount of time breaks from the keyboard. I think it is a simple enough application that it has to be a must-have for all. Yes, it can be annoying that Pomodoro might prompt you to stop when you are in the middle of something, but you have the option to delay it until you are done. I think this type of help goes a long way in managing the well-being of all of us who are at our keyboards for hours.

b) Show IP: I really like this GNOME extension for it does give me at a glance any of a long list of IPs that my system might have. This screenshot shows ten different network end points and the IP number at the top is that of the Public IP of the laptop. While I can certainly use the command “ifconfig”, while I am on the desktop, it is nice to have it needed info tight on the screen.

 

 

c) usbguard: My current laptop has three USB ports and one SD card reader. When it is docked, the docking station has a bunch more of USB ports. The challenge with USB ports is that they are generally completely open ports that one can essentially insert any USB device and expect the system to act on it. While that is a convenience, the possibility of abuse isincreasing given rogue USB devices such as USB Killer, it is probably a better idea to deny, by default, all USB devices that are plugged into the machine. Fortunately, since 2007, the Linux kernel has had the ability to authorise USB devices on a device by device basis and the tool, usbguard, allows you to do it via the command line or via a GUI – usbguard-applet-qt. All in, I think this is another must-have for all users. It should be set up with default deny and the UI should be installed by default as well. I hope Fedora 27 onwards would be doing that.

So, thank you Fedora developers and contributors.

 

 

A better model to work with citizens


I have been putting off installing the SGSecure application on my phone.

I finally decided to do it via the Google Playstore. It got downloaded and installed and when I started the app, it needed me to agree to the Terms of Use:

Screenshot_20170407-084036

I know most people would just hit the “I agree” button, but not me.

I hit the “Terms of Use” link and it then brought me to Ts&Cs page.

Screenshot_20170407-083728

As an open source advocate, I am very disappointed that a tax-dollars funded application is kept proprietary. I am OK for the contents the app works with as “proprietary”, but at the very least, I expect that the application code be placed on an open source license like the GNU General Public License. Why? So that we can all work to make it even better. The government is not the best in building applications and as has been demonstrated over the last few years, working with the free and open source community helps build a significantly better application no matter who you are.

Continuing the Ts&Cs:

Screenshot_20170407-083746

Screenshot_20170407-083805

I have a problem with 4 (b) above. Why would the app need access to messaging services? Shouldn’t the app be able to send information to the relevant recipients directly?

Screenshot_20170407-083932

What’s with 4 (e) where it says that PII may be shared with non-Government services? It is easy to say “to serve you better”. I would want to know who the non-G service providers are and how they manage these PII.

Screenshot_20170407-084001

The link at the bottom of the screenshot above, brings me to https://e3res.sgsecure.sg/misc/tnc_v1.html – a substantially similar one as the one included in the app.

I decided to uninstall it.  And I tweeted about my hesitation in accepting this app. Hopefully someone is listening and I am more than willing to discuss.

This is quite a nice tool – magic-wormhole


I was catching up on the various talks at PyCon 2016 held in the wonderful city of Portland, Oregon last month.

There are lots of good content available from PyCon 2016 on youtube. What I was particularly struck was, what one could say is a mundane tool for file transfer.

This tool, called magic-wormhole, allows for any two systems, anywhere to be able to send files (via a intermediary), fully encrypted and secured.

This beats doing a scp from system to system, especially if the receiving system is behind a NAT and/or firewall.

I manage lots of systems for myself as well as part of the work I at Red Hat. Over the years, I’ve managed a good workflow when I need to send files around but all of it involved having to use some of the techniques like using http, or using scp and even miredo.

But to me, magic-wormhole is easy enough to set up, uses webrtc and encryption, that I think deserves to get a much higher profile and wider use.

On the Fedora 24 systems I have, I had to ensure that the following were all set up and installed (assuming you already have gcc installed):

a) dnf install libffi-devel python-devel redhat-rpm-config

b) pip install –upgrade pip

c) pip install magic-wormhole

That’s it.

Now I would want to run a server to provide the intermediary function instead of depending on the goodwill of Brian Warner.

 

UEFI and Fedora/RHEL – trivially working.


My older son just enrolled into my alma mater, Singapore Polytechnic, to do Electrical Engineering.  It is really nice to see that he has an interest in that field and, yes, make me smile as well.

So, as part of the preparations for the new program, the school does need the use of software as part of the curriculum. Fortunately, to get a computer was not an issue per se, but what bothered me was that the school “is only familiar with windows” and so that applications needed are also meant to run on windows.

One issue led to another and eventually, we decided to get a new laptop for his work in school. Sadly, the computer comes only with windows 8.1 installed and nothing else. The machine has ample disk space (1TB) and the system was set up with two partitions – one for the windows stuff (about 250G) and the 2nd partition as the “D: drive”. Have not seen that in years.

I wanted to make the machine dual bootable and went about planning to repartition the 2nd partition into two and have about 350G allocated to running Fedora.

Then I hit an issue.  The machine was installed with Windows using the UEFI. While the UEFI has some good traits, but unfortunately, it does throw off those who want to install it with another OS – ie to do dual-boot.

Fortunately, Fedora (and RHEL) can be installed into a UEFI enabled system. This was taken care of by work done by Matthew Garrett as part of the Fedora project. Matthew also received the FSF Award for the Advancement of Free Software earlier this year. It could be argued that perhaps UEFI is not something that should be supported, but then again, as long as systems continue to be shipped with it, the free software world has to find a way to continue to work.

The details around UEFI and Fedora (and RHEL) is all documented in Fedora Secure Boot pages.

Now on to describing how to install Fedora/RHEL into a UEFI-enabled system:

a) If you have not already done so, download the Fedora (and RHEL) ISOs from their respective pages. Fedora is available at https://fedoraproject.org/en/get-fedora and RHEL 7 Release Candidate is at ftp://ftp.redhat.com/pub/redhat/rhel/rc/7/.

b) With the ISOs downloaded, if you are running a Linux system, you can use the following command to create a bootable live USB drive with the ISO:

dd  if=Fedora-Live-Desktop-x86_64-20-1.iso of=/dev/sdb

assuming that /dev/sdb is where the USB drive is plugged into. The most interesting thing about the ISOs from Fedora and RHEL is that they are already set up to boot into a UEFI enabled system, i.e., no need to disable in BIOS the secure boot mode.

c) Boot up the target computer via the USB drive.

d) In the case of my son’s laptop, I had to repartition the “D: drive” and so after boot up from the USB device, I did the following:

i) (in Fedora live session): download and install gparted (sudo yum install gparted) within the live boot session.

ii) start gparted and resize the “D: drive” partition. In my case, it was broken into 2 partitions with about 300G for the new “D: drive” and the rest for Fedora.

e) Once the repartitioning is done, go ahead and choose the “Install to drive” option and follow the screen prompts.

Once the installation is done, you can safely reboot the machine.

You will be presented with a boot menu to choose the OS to start.

QED.

 

I know more than you do


I cannot help but continue to be baffled by the way the G responds to some of the continuing challenges that the nation faces.

Way back in 2009, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the formation of the Singapore Infocomm Technology Security Authority. It apparently is an entity within the Internal Security Department. Fast forward four years, the Ministry of Defence announces the setting up of a Cyber Defence Operations Hub. Not sure how much these two efforts are costing us, the tax payer, but suffice to say, an extra $130 million will apparently be spent on more cyber security stuff over the next 5 years. Nice.

Money is not an object is seems. There is plenty to be spent. Will any of this help create new software and hardware that is open? Will the tax dollars being spent enable the citizens to help and innovate upon? I suspect that they will not buy the “security by obscurity” meme and claim national security being paramount and so all things have to be hidden.

While all of this was happening, some websites got defaced. Defaced by groups who label themselves as “Messiah” and claiming affiliations with the Anonymous group. The clueless mainstream media, obviously, go about saying that the sites were “hacked”. Hacking is a noble thing. It is a skill, a frame of mind, a can do bravado. A cracker/vandal, on the other hand, is one who does not live up to the hacker ideals and ethics and abuses her skills. She is no different from a housebreaker who by day is a locksmith.

So, amidst all of these defacements and “cyberwar” preparedness, we get reports of some individuals being caught and the charged in court for allegedly undertaking the defacements. These alleged vandals, if we are to go by the MSM reports, seem to be nothing more than script-kiddies who could not even do the basic “cover your tracks” that any criminal worth his salt would have done. These script-kiddies merely locked on to pre-existing flaws in the sites they chose to vandalize and did the deed. Perhaps they deserve the book being thrown at them.

On the other hand, these alleged vandals could be fall guys. They were unskilled enough to have been caught.

This is too cool!


[harish@phoenix ~]$ traceroute 216.81.59.173
traceroute to 216.81.59.173 (216.81.59.173), 30 hops max, 60 byte packets
 1 registerlafonera.fon.com (192.168.10.1) 2.473 ms 2.937 ms 3.902 ms
 2 cm1.zeta224.maxonline.com.sg (116.87.224.1) 15.342 ms 15.664 ms 16.515 ms
 3 172.20.53.17 (172.20.53.17) 17.175 ms 17.540 ms 18.104 ms
 4 172.26.53.1 (172.26.53.1) 18.865 ms 20.381 ms 20.813 ms
 5 172.20.7.30 (172.20.7.30) 24.398 ms 24.337 ms 24.227 ms
 6 203.117.35.45 (203.117.35.45) 28.237 ms 17.013 ms 16.335 ms
 7 203.117.34.37 (203.117.34.37) 15.227 ms 21.645 ms 21.858 ms
 8 203.117.34.198 (203.117.34.198) 20.962 ms 21.042 ms 20.766 ms
 9 203.117.36.38 (203.117.36.38) 21.584 ms 22.500 ms 22.639 ms
10 paix.he.net (198.32.176.20) 213.814 ms 214.532 ms 216.222 ms
11 10gigabitethernet9-3.core1.sjc2.he.net (72.52.92.70) 209.283 ms 209.811 ms 206.368 ms
12 10gigabitethernet5-3.core1.lax2.he.net (184.105.213.5) 197.110 ms 199.926 ms 203.206 ms
13 10gigabitethernet2-3.core1.phx2.he.net (184.105.222.85) 231.479 ms 234.769 ms 234.712 ms
14 10gigabitethernet5-3.core1.dal1.he.net (184.105.222.78) 246.268 ms 246.252 ms 246.026 ms
15 10gigabitethernet5-4.core1.atl1.he.net (184.105.213.114) 273.176 ms 273.562 ms 273.933 ms
16 216.66.0.26 (216.66.0.26) 257.073 ms 257.860 ms 258.197 ms
17 * * *
18 Episode.IV (206.214.251.1) 279.888 ms 277.874 ms 280.236 ms
19 A.NEW.HOPE (206.214.251.6) 285.736 ms 284.384 ms 285.730 ms
20 It.is.a.period.of.civil.war (206.214.251.9) 291.342 ms 293.745 ms 293.975 ms
21 Rebel.spaceships (206.214.251.14) 295.027 ms 300.389 ms 300.605 ms
22 striking.from.a.hidden.base (206.214.251.17) 300.050 ms 300.106 ms 299.865 ms
23 have.won.their.first.victory (206.214.251.22) 284.885 ms 291.515 ms 293.083 ms
24 against.the.evil.Galactic.Empire (206.214.251.25) 282.759 ms 280.749 ms 280.269 ms
25 During.the.battle (206.214.251.30) 301.951 ms 300.714 ms 297.183 ms
26 Rebel.spies.managed (206.214.251.33) 306.370 ms * *
27 * to.steal.secret.plans (206.214.251.38) 304.887 ms 301.879 ms
28 to.the.Empires.ultimate.weapon (206.214.251.41) 292.549 ms 290.469 ms 291.832 ms
29 the.DEATH.STAR (206.214.251.46) 290.021 ms 281.892 ms 280.153 ms
30 an.armored.space.station (206.214.251.49) 283.677 ms 295.996 ms 285.008 ms
[harish@phoenix ~]$

Good stuff, Episode IV.

In a word, wow!


I am not sure if this is a report that contains stuff taken out of context, but if its true that PM Lee thinks that his government did not have clarity in vision, what does that mean to all the justifications of paying sky-high wages to the “ministers” who were, after all, the ones who should have looked out for us?

I await back-peddling and clarifications before commenting on what appears to me an admission of failure.

While we are talking about failures, let me point a huge failure playing out in the Singapore civil service in the form of the fiasco called the  “Standard Operating Environment”. There is no one in the civil service that has anything positive to say about the fiasco that they have to be living with for the next umpteen years. The amount of tax dollars wasted and continued to be wasted because of the closed, proprietary software chosen is appalling. We need to stop it. Now!

Mr Prime Minister, I made an offer to help set up a Singapore Open Institute that will propel the Singapore public sector rapidly forward with the adoption and use of open source software and make it innovative and forward thinking. The offer still has not been taken up by you or your office.

Let’s make rapid changes and changes for the better. I look forward to hearing from you at h dot pillay at ieee dot org.

Doing the right thing and a proposal


I am glad to read the the Prime Minister has decided to probe the sale the applications (built and paid using tax dollars) by the PAP Town Councils to the PAP-owned company AIM.

<stand up> <applause> <applause> <applause> <applause> <applause> <sit down>

I would like to know the following:

  1. Who will head this?
  2. What kind of time frame will this have to be done by – one month, one year, by next general election?
  3. In the meantime, what happens to the monies that have been spent (and to be spent) in the transaction
  4. Will there be a public disclosure of companies that are PAP-owned and a list of transactions done by them with public sector agencies. I would expect the same from the WP and other political parties as well.

I would also like to hear from the Prime Minister on how we can ensure that all technology used/developed/deployed in any public sector entity in Singapore will FIRST consider open source solutions and failing to find something, then with a request for exemption (RFE), filed, published and approved, to look at non-open source options.

The time is NOW to make the bold and exciting change, Mr Prime Minister. I am sure this is of no concern to you, but rest assured your legacy will be being acknowledged as the Open Source Prime Minister.

While it might be premature to say “well done”, any progress is good progress. Doing the right thing is what this is all about.

As citizens, we need to keep a watchful eye on this probe to ensure that nothing is left unturned and keep the pressure on.

Again, my offer to help build an open source solution to managing Town Council system remains.

Let me take this opportunity to flesh out a proposal of how this can be accomplished.

Proposal

  • We establish a Singapore Open Institute, funded by government and/or corporate sponsors.
  • SOI’s role will be primarily at assessing all the open source solutions being developed around the world especially for government (and education) and finding local use of them. Likewise, local public sector agencies can seek SOI’s help in creating open source solutions.
  • SOI will be the trusted agency that public sector entities will seek advise and clearance in projects they want to undertake.
  • SOI will also create a Public Sector Software Exchange (PSX). The PSX will be open to anyone, anywhere to contribute to as well as to consume code from. All code in PSX could be on a GPLv3 or Apache License v 2 or something Singapore-branded, like the EU open license. PSX will also host SMEs, start-ups and individuals who can provide solutions. Parts of the Instruction Manual will have to be amended as needed to accomodate this.
  • SOI will also be the entity to which requests for exemption (RFE) has to be applied for by public sector agencies before going for closed source products. RFEs will have an expiry period and will be specific to a project.
  • SOI will also be the catalyst in creating and running programming contests, hack-a-thons etc (both with open source software and hardware). This is principally to encourage as many people to learn coding and build solutions.
  • Mindef, Police, SCDF and security related agencies are exempted from SOI but are strongly encouraged to create an equivalent of forge.mil.
  • SOI will also be the thought leader for Open Data, Open Source, Open Hardware and Open Standards.

It is an idea whose time has come for Singapore to act on, Mr Prime Minister.

Let’s do the right thing.

It’s not a contest per se, it’s a Sahana-moment!


So, my 3 am post from January 3rd 2013 is now on http://www.tremeritus.com, probably not a good thing, but then this is the way things move.

For what it’s worth, going by the comments in that post, this is not about scoring points against the Coordinating Chairman or the PAP or the WP.  It is about highlighting the facts in a way that was clearer and not wrapped up in words and more importantly, offering a better way to do things for the betterment of this country.

At the expense of being ridiculed for stating the obvious, all the information and analysis done at 3 am on January 3rd 2013 that is in my original post is from that one media release put out by the Coordinating Chairman on January 2, 2013.

There is confusion about what the various issues which sadly are related albeit tangentially.

Let me try to give a map of the issues that are being looked at.

a) The Ministry of National Development put out a  Town Council Management Report for 2012 on December 14, 2012. Of the 15 town councils, all except for the Aljunied Hougang Town Council scored green in S&CC Arrears Management – Examines the extent of Town Councils’ S&CC arrears that residents have to bear.” AHTC is the only non-PAP Town Council.

b) Because of that red score, the question arose as to what happened? To that extent, the AHTC released their comments.

c) It then was known to all of us that there was a company, Action Information Management Pte Ltd, that was providing the IT solutions to the town councils.

d) That was when the issue blew up with regards to who is AIM, why did this company get to do this business, how did they come to own the IT system etc etc.

So, there are two chunks of issues:

1) The poor performance from the Town Council Management Report 2012 perspective of Aljunied Hougang Town Council

2) Who is this AIM and what is their role in all of this?

Both are important issues. I am in no position to comment on the first point.  That is for the AHTC to address to the satisfaction of the residents of AHTC as well as us Singaporeans.

My interest centers in the second point. As a computing professional, having been in this industry since 1982, this interests  me personally. I am also an advocate of using and growing the use of open source technologies especially in the public sector. The Town Councils are public sector organizations. It pains me to see good money being thrown at IT solutions only for the vendor(s) to obsolete it in a relatively short time, and get the customer to pay up again and again. This becomes even more acute with public sector IT spending. It is yours and my tax dollars that get spent wastefully.

Sure, there as a time when the open source solutions and frameworks did not quite provide good alternatives to address the varied IT needs. But that was a long, long time ago. Today open source is so very prevalent in every nook and corner that there is no longer any justifiable reason not to consider open source first for any IT need, especially in government and public sector.

People who know me would have heard the repeating groove that I have become, in that we need, at least in Singapore, an official government policy to do open source FIRST for all public sector IT procurement and for government agencies to file justifications for exemptions if they want to go with a proprietary solution and these exemptions have to be public knowledge.

Why is that needed? It is because monies spent by publicly funded agencies especially in reusable technologies like software, should not be wasted and locked away in some proprietary solution.

I am not proposing nor suggesting that open source solutions don’t come at a price. They do. They will need to be supported (as any software needs to, open or otherwise). But the huge upside when used in the public sector is that the solution can be worked on and enhanced and re-factored by entities that the public sector organizations could engage. This grows the local, domestic IT sector. It grows it in a way that benefits the local econoomy and SMEs who then get opportunities to become conversant in domains that otherwise will be hard to get into. With the code being open, anyone can contribute, but, and this is the part most people miss out, you STILL NEED commercially contracted support. 

This opens up opportunities to SMEs in Singapore to take up the various solutions to manage and maintain and gain expertise and in the process begin expanding outside Singapore as well.

Eight years ago, as a reservist SCDF officer, I was mobilized to support SCDF’s Ops Lion Heart to help with Search and Rescue after the 2004 Boxing Day Indian Ocean tsunami. My country called me to serve at a time of need and I put on my uniform and was on the ground in Banda Aceh for about two weeks.

The lessons I learned then was that in a disaster situation, the various international agencies and military/civil defense forces on the ground had very little common technology (other than walkie talkies) that could be used to coordinate the work. We, the SCDF, had our comms equipment (we had a Immarsat vsat satellite and satellite phones and GPS devices) but other than that, nothing else to interface with the other forces on the ground. Why? Because each of those entities had their own proprietary software tools to work with. At a time when there was a massive natural disaster, as rescuers we were not assisted by the technologies because of vendor lock-in.

Out of that disaster, came Project Sahana –  put together by Sri Lankan open source developers. Sahana is now a UN sanctioned tool for disaster management.

Why do I bring this up? Because it seems that we are heading to a Sahana-moment in Singapore. Public sector IT services should be decoupled from political parties.  Public sector IT solutions must open up the source code so that there are no opportunities for being taken for a ride.

So, to draw back to the beginning. Mr Coordinating Chairman, this is not a contest per se. This is a genuine offer to help us, the collective us, to do the Right Thing

Why Open Standards and Open Source Matters in Government


I have offered to the powers that be (TPTB) running the various Town Councils in Singapore an opportunity for the open source community to help build an application to manage their respective towns following the unfolding fiasco around their current software solution which is nearing end of life.

I am not surprised to hear comments and even SMS texts from friends who say that I am silly to want to offer to create a solution using open source tools. I can only attribute that to their relative lack of understanding of how this whole thing works and how we can collectively build fantastic solutions for the common good of society not only in Singapore but around the world.

I work for a company called Red Hat. Red Hat is a publicly traded company (RHT on NYSE) and is a 100% pure play open source company. What Red Hat does is to bring together open source software and make it consumable for enterprises. Doing that is not an easy thing. A lot of additional engineering and qualifications have to go into it before corporates and enterprises feel confident to deploy it. Red Hat has been successful in doing all of that because of the ethos of the company in engaging with open source developers (and hiring them as full time employees where appropriate) so that we can help the world gain and use better and higher quality software for everything.

That means that in taking open source software, Red Hat has to ensure that improvements and enhancements done are put back out as well to benefit everyone else and at the same time, at a price, provide a service to enterprises that want to use these tools but also want accountability, support, continued innovation etc. That is the Red Hat business model. We are the corporate entity that enterprises deploying open source tools look to for sanity.

Naturally, everything we create is available to anyone else, including our competition, and, yes, we can be beaten at our own game. That’s the best part. The fact that we can be challenged by others with what we helped create is a fantastic situation to be in as it forces us to constantly innovate (and in the open) and show how we are a responsible open source community member while giving tremendous value to enterprises.

It is in that spirit that I made the offer to help form a team of open source developers in Singapore to create the management system software for the town councils.  Certainly, when the software is built and deployed, the town councils would need to have competent support and there is nothing stopping any of the IT SMEs in Singapore picking up that opportunity. This gives the Town Councils significant advantage in choosing vendors to support their needs while keeping the innovation forthcoming because the code is open.

Here’s an article in an IT publication which I was interviewed about open source and CIOs – yeah, self promotion :-). But, here’s a better article about how open source is so prevalent in the US  government as well (yes, Gunnar is a colleague of mine).

So, the offer to build an open source solution is genuine and sincere. It is not for me to make money out of it per se, but to foster a situation that will create even more opportunities for others to actively participate in create fantastic open source solutions for us not only for the Singapore public sector, but the world.

I hope this offer is taken up seriously by TPTB including parts of IDA and MND. And for the record, this offer has nothing to do with Red Hat.

My Conscience Is Bugging Me


I cannot let the media statement put out by the “Coordinating Chairman of the PAP Town Councils” regarding the sale of the town council management software system to a ex-PAP MP-owned company be left alone without it being shredded apart. The media statement appeared on January 2, 2013 on the PAP website.

I have italicised and indented the paragraphs from the media statement and my response follows each italicised segment.

Statement by Teo Ho Pin on AIM Transaction

On 28 December 2012, I issued a press release in response to Ms Sylvia Lim’s statement on the website of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council. Ms Lim had made various assertions in her statement. However, her statement was made without citing the relevant facts. I now make this further statement to set out fully the relevant facts.

I am the co-ordinating Chairman of all the PAP-run Town Councils (“the TCs”). The PAP TCs meet regularly and work closely with one another. This allows the TCs to derive economies of scale and to share best practices among themselves. This improves the overall efficiency of the TCs, and ensures that all the PAP TCs can serve their residents better.

In 2003, the TCs wanted to harmonise their computer systems. Hence, in 2003, all the TCs jointly called an open tender for a vendor to provide a computer system based on a common platform. NCS was chosen to provide this system. The term of the NCS contract (“NCS contract”) was from 1 August 2003 to 31 October 2010. There was an option to further extend the contract for one year, until 31 October 2011.

In 2010, the NCS contract was going to expire. The TCs got together and jointly appointed Deloitte and Touche Enterprise Risk Services Pte Ltd (“D&T”) to advise on the review of the computer system for all the TCs. Several meetings were held with D&T.

After a comprehensive review, D&T identified various deficiencies and gaps in the system. The main issue, however, was that the system was becoming obsolete and unmaintainable. It had been built in 2003, on Microsoft Windows XP and Oracle Financial 11 platforms. By 2010, Windows XP had been superseded by Windows Vista as well as Windows 7, and Oracle would soon phase out and discontinue support to its Financial 11 platform.

From what is mentioned above, D&T noted deficiencies and gaps in the system, which it seems was only about parts of the application infrastructure becoming obsolete and unmaintainable. It would be good to know what other gaps and deficiencies were reported.

It is now clear that the application that was developed ran on the system from Oracle Corporation, called “Oracle Financials 11”. It also is clear that, possibly both the server and client OS was Microsoft Windows XP. I do wonder how that original application was spec’ed out?

We have here a classic case of all of the component systems needed to run an application reaching end of life or becoming unsupported even as the application could still be used.

That, in itself, is not a big deal. Forced obsolescence is the norm in the IT industry. It is not the best state of affairs, but it is what it is.

The TCs were aware of and concerned about the serious risks of system obsolescence identified by D&T, and wanted to pre-empt the problem. In addition, as the NCS Contract was about to expire, they sought a solution which would provide the best redevelopment option to the TCs, and in the interim would allow them to continue enjoying the prevailing maintenance and other services.

Fair enough.

As Coordinating Chairman of the TCs, I had to oversee the redevelopment of the existing computer system for all TCs. It was clear to me that the existing computer software was already dated. The NCS contract would end by 31 October 2011 (if the one year extension option was exercised). However, assessing new software and actually developing a replacement system that would meet our new requirements would take time, maybe 18-24 months or even longer. We thus needed to ensure that we could get a further extension (beyond October 2011) from NCS, while working on redevelopment options.

Not sure why the preceding was needed, for it is a restatement of the first discussion.

D&T also raised with the TCs the option of having a third party own the computer system, including the software, instead, with the TCs paying a service fee for regular maintenance. This structure was not uncommon.

By stating that D&T saying that it is a common method for “third party own the computer system”, it is not clear how that would help with a rapidly aging computer system. Sounds incredulous for D&T to suggest that.

We decided to seriously consider this option. Having each of the 14 individual TCs hold the Intellectual Property (IP) rights to the software was cumbersome and inefficient. The vendor would have to deal with all 14 TCs when reviewing or revising the system. It would be better for the 14 TCs to consolidate their software rights in a single party which would manage them on behalf of all the TCs, and also source vendors to improve the system and address the deficiencies.

This paragraph contains the biggest amount of doublespeak and warped sense of value if there ever was one. What does it mean that each of the TCs holds the “Intellectual Property”?

It was stated that the reason for creating the application was (from above) “(t)his allows the TCs to derive economies of scale and to share best practices among themselves. This improves the overall efficiency of the TCs, and ensures that all the PAP TCs can serve their residents better.” which puts to lie “(t)he vendor would have to deal with all 14 TCs when reviewing or revising the system”.

It would seem that whatever that was built, ended up being 14 versions of the application and not one. How does reviewing and revising the system become any more efficient by “consolidat(ing) their software rights in a single party”? Humbug.

If that indeed was a valid reason, all the TCs could have done was to agree to trust one TC to be the custodian and decision maker. How does each giving up their ownership to an external party be any better?

I suspect the Coordinating Chairman is pulling a fast one here.

The TCs thus decided to call a tender to meet the following requirements:

1. To purchase the software developed in 2003, and lease it back to the TCs for a monthly fee, until the software was changed;

2. To undertake to secure extensions of the NCS contract at no extra cost i.e. take on the obligation to get an extension on the existing rates, until the TCs obtained new or enhanced software. This was put in to protect the financial position of the TCs; and

3. To work with the TCs to understand their enhancement and redevelopment needs and look for a suitable vendor to provide these upgrades.

If you look at the actual tender noticeall it states is that they are selling a “developed application software” and that the tenderer should be “experienced and reputable company with relevant track record”.

The devil is in the details which is only available if you fork out $214.
So, the PAP TCs wanted to sell out to someone else who fits their criteria of an experienced and reputable company with RELEVANT track record. The tender advertisement sounds very thin and vague.

Under the tender, the TCs sold only the IP in the old software. The ownership of the physical computer systems remained with the individual TCs. We wanted to sell the IP rights in the old software because it had limited value and was depreciating quickly. Had we waited until the new system was in place, the IP to the superseded old software would have become completely valueless.

Ah huh! They wanted to monetize their “IP” as it were. Time was running out. Not sure who else on the planet would want their “IP”, but they must monetize it.

The TCs advertised the tender in the Straits Times on 30 June 2010. Five companies collected the tender documents. These were CSC Technologies Services Pte Ltd, Hutcabb Consulting Pte Ltd, NCS, NEC Asia Pte Ltd and Action Information Management Pte Ltd (“AIM”).

I am sure four of the companies listed above, after wasting the $214, are run by level-headed management who realized that this tender was a huge scam and wanted no part in it and so decided not to respond.

I am aware that NCS considered bidding but in the end, decided not to do so as it was of the view that the IP rights to software developed in 2003 on soon to be replaced platforms were not valuable at all.

Another company withdrew after it checked and confirmed that it was required to ensure renewal of the NCS contract without an increase in rates. The company did not want to take on that obligation. The others may also have decided not to bid for similar reasons.

In the end, only AIM submitted a bid on 20 July 2010.

Does the Coordinating Chairman really think that NCS would have fallen into the scam as well? They would have known that there really is nothing in the application that they could “salvage”, having built it in the first place, let alone helping their customer monetize it.

We evaluated AIM’s bid in detail. First, AIM’s proposal to buy over the software IP would achieve our objective of centralising the ownership of the software, consistent with the model suggested by D&T.

This is circular logic which needs no further response.

AIM was willing to purchase our existing software IP for S$140,000, and lease it back at S$785 per month from November 2010 to October 2011. The lease payments to AIM would end by October 2011, with the expiration of the original NCS contract. Thus after October 2011, the TCs would be allowed to use the existing software without any additional lease payments to AIM, until the new software was developed.

Let’s do the math:

14 PAP Town Councils AIM
Contract Award $140,000 (perhaps each TC got $10K) ($140,000)
Lease (Nov 2010 – Oct 2011) ($785*14*12 => $131,880) $131,880
Nett $8,120

This meant that the TCs expected to gain a modest amount (about S$8,000) from the disposal of IP in the existing software.

So, the so called “Intellectual Property” is really only worth $8,120.

Second, AIM was willing to undertake the risks of getting an extension of the NCS contract with no increase in rates. This was the most important consideration for us, as it protected the TCs from an increase in fees.

And AIM will have the needed clout to negotiate with NCS – because they own the software – but the 14 PAP Town Councils being the original customer of NCS could not garner? Is that really true, Mr Coordinating Chairman? You are saying that you cannot do better than AIM against NCS? Say it ain’t so, Mr Coodinating Chairman.

Third, we were confident that AIM, backed by the PAP, would honour its commitments.

Wow, the PAP link. That’s the magic bullet.  Cronyism at its best. “Backed by the PAP” because the three directors are former PAP MPs or because the company is funded by the PAP?  Perhaps the other companies who picked up the tender document realized that they are not a PAP-{owned, funded} entity and would therefore not win.

That statement alone reeks of contempt of the free market, the principles of transparency, meritocracy and everything we hold dear in this country.
Are you, Mr Coordinating Chairman, also saying that AIM has deep pockets that they can withstand the possibility of NCS not agreeing? The directors of AIM have been reported not to be taking in director fees. That’s noble of them. It does look like the PAP Town Councils found their shining white knight in AIM.

Given the above considerations, AIM had met the requirements of the tender on its own merits. We assessed that the proposal by AIM was in the best interests of the TCs, and thus awarded the tender to AIM.

Of course! AIM has to be trustworthy and reputable given their PAP pedigree. Of course! D’oh!

Under the contract with AIM, the TCs could terminate the arrangements by giving one month’s notice if the TCs were not satisfied with AIM’s performance. Similarly, AIM could terminate by giving one month’s notice in the event of material changes to the membership of a TC, or to the scope and duties of a TC, like changes to its boundaries. This is reasonable as the contractor has agreed to provide services on the basis of the existing TC- and town-boundaries, and priced this assumption into the tender. Should this change materially, the contractor could end up providing services to a TC which comprises a much larger area and more residents, but at the same price.

What a lot of nonsense is this? It is unbelievable that the Coordinating Chairman can include a poison pill clause in the contract if the “boundaries of the Town Councils change”. I believe the boundaries of the West Coast Town Council changed after the May 2011 elections. I don’t see AIM doing anything about terminating the contract (correct me if I am wrong Mr Coordinating Chairman).

How does changes in the “larger area and more residents” materially change the way the software works? Is Mr Coordinating Chairman taking the tax payers and constituents of the PAP Town Councils to be daft? Wait a minute, a former PAP prime minister says we are (search for daft in that link)!

Since winning the tender, AIM has negotiated two extensions of the NCS contract until April 2013, at no increase in rates. The first extension was from November 2011 to October 2012, and the second from November 2012 to April 2013. The TCs received a substantial benefit in terms of getting the extensions from NCS beyond the original contract period, without any increase in prices.

Now, this is confusing. But I shall hold back for more juicy parts following.

What is not known now is the maintenance charges NCS charged as part of their original contract with the PAP Town Councils.

AIM has also been actively working with several vendors to explore new software options and enhancements for the TCs. AIM has identified software from a number of possible vendors, and has invited them to make presentations to the TCs in order for a suitable option to be chosen.

Are any of these open source solutions? Or is this going to be another closed, proprietary system that will face the same issues as the older one? Why are the Town Councils (via AIM) not looking at maximizing the tax dollars that goes into this by using open source solutions?

My offer to help build a fully open source solution remains.

Following the expiry of the initial lease arrangement for the software from AIM on 31 October 2011, no further lease payments for the software were made to AIM. During the period of its contract extension from November 2011 to April 2013, the management fee payable to AIM for the whole suite of services it provided was S$33,150, apart from what was payable to NCS for maintenance. In the end, inclusive of GST, each TC paid slightly more than $140 per month for AIM to ensure continuity of the existing system, secure the maintenance of this system at no increased costs, and identify options for a new system to which the TCs could migrate.

We entered into the transaction with AIM with the objective of benefitting the TCs. Over the last two years, the intended benefits have been realised. There is thus no basis to suggest that the AIM transaction did not serve the public interest, or was disadvantageous to residents in the TCs.

Bingo! The smoking gun perhaps?

So, AIM is not charitable and is asking the TCs to pay from November 2011 till April 2013. This is what the math looks like:

14 PAP Town Councils AIM
Contract Award $140,000 (perhaps each TC got $10K) ($140,000)
Lease (Nov 2010 – Oct 2011) ($785*14*12 => $131,880) $131,880
Nett $8,120
Nov 2011 – Apr 2013 ($33,150) $33,150
Nett ($25,030)

So, contrary to the rationale of “monetizing the IP” (a load of crap), the 14 PAP Town Councils will incur a loss of $25,030 in this deal.

This amount is on top of the cost of the D&T report and the “apart from what was payable to NCS for maintenance.”

It does seem that the PAP, having been in power for over 50 years, has found many creative means to “misdirect” tax monies.

I am saddened to have done this analysis.


Please, Mr Coordinating Chairman, please, come clean. You made a mistake. You thought you got a good deal. But that was not what it was. You have been drinking from the PAP water fountain for too long that you cannot see what is right and what is wrong. Your “media statement” is so full of holes that we can drive the Airbus A380 through it with room to spare.

Again, my offer to form a team of open source developers to build a solution that can benefit not only the town councils but anyone else remains.

Software for Public Sector Applications


The ongoing egg-in-the-face of the PAP over the “tender” (thanks to Alex for posting it via an anonymous source) awarded to AIM over the acquisition of a piece of software created for the use of the Town Councils is really disappointing.

Looking at the Today Online story, it would seem that Mr Teo and Mr Das have a lot of explaining to do.

Here’s an example of how proprietary software companies abuse their customers.  If you happen to have acquired a new laptop and it came with Windows 7 Starter Kit installed, when you set it up, you will be presented with a set of terms and conditions. Most people will just click OK and accept the terms and conditions without reading a word. But in this case, if you did not read anything you’d have missed out a juicy bit of restriction.

Section 8 on Page 7 of the Software License Terms says:

8. SCOPE OF LICENSE. The software is licensed, not sold. This agreement only gives you some rights to use the features included in the software edition you licensed. The manufacturer or installer and Microsoft reserve all other rights. Unless applicable law gives you more rights despite this limitation, you may use the software only as expressly permitted in this agreement. In doing so, you must
comply with any technical limitations in the software that only allow you to use it in certain ways. You may not
· work around any technical limitations in the software;
· customize the desktop background;
· …;

Isn’t amazing that even though you thought you bought that piece of software (according to their rules, it is not sold only licensed), you are NOT allowed to change the desktop background. Changing it will be breaking the terms and conditions of Windows 7 Starter Kit. Wow.

It sure sounds like our friends at the PAP-run Town Councils and AIM took a chunks out of the proprietary software “let’s screw and milk the customer” book. Only this time, the customer is the tax-paying Singapore public.

My offer to the Town Councils, expecially Aljunied Hougang Town Council, to help them build a fully open source solution remains.

Open Source and Government


[11:05 am Dec 26th: updated to reflect some clarifications given to me via other walled-garden social media]

The recent events with the Worker’s Party-led Aljunied Hougang Town Council‘s financial management system needs to be looked at from a far more holistic manner.

The system that AHTC has used for managing the financial and related activities was something that they inherited from the previous Aljunied Town Council. ATC was held by the People’s Action Party who lost it to the Worker’s Party in the May 2011 General Elections. And with the adjoining Hougang Constituency also held by the WP, it made sense for them to join forces and create AHTC.

From information that I have from the online and social media (and the MSM surprisingly), the software system was developed by the National Computer Systems under contract from the PAP-run town councils for an unspecified (say $X) amount. I can’t tell if the $X was for software only or did it include hardware as well. Probably not. Nor can I tell if it did include ongoing support, bug fixes and upgrades?

After acquiring the software, it seems that the software was then sold via a tender  to Action Information Management Pte Ltd (AIM) for an amount of S$140K (to be confirmed).  What that means is that the PAP-led TCs probably did have to absorb the $X-$140K difference and potentially it will come out of operating budget of the TCs which is funded by tax-payers.

AIM is interesting.

For a company that now owns a town council accounting package, it does not have a website. This is 2012 and unless AIM believed in the Mayan global destruction, there is no excuse at all to not have even a rudimentary, place-holder webpage. This is almost 2013, not 1993.  Is AIM a real software company? Do they really know how to manage and support software systems? ACRA records show it to be $2 company with a forwarding address – which is all halal.

Let’s grant AIM the benefit of doubt that they are indeed capable of managing what they bought. From some accounts, the system is apparently sophisticated.  It is possible that AIM could be sub-contracting this back out to NCS to manage and update. Who does one, in the town councils, call when there is an issue with the software? If you are reading this and work in a town council and know the answer, please post the answer anonymously (if you don’t want to be identified) in the comments below or email me directly at h dot pillay at ieee dot org.

With AIM now owning the software system, the town councils have to pay AIM a monthly fee (the quantum is not entirely clear – numbers below $1K per month per town council have been bandied around). Such leaseback schemes are all fine and dandy. It is disappointing that the PAP town councils saw this to recoup their investments because what ends up is that the tax payers will be paying over and over again for the same piece of software.

Whatever it is, the application is apparently now not available for the AHTC to use.

Solution

The solution to this mess is very simple. This is a situation where we have a public service organization – the town council – that is now beholden to a proprietary software vendor who has chosen to do as they please citing whatever that is in the contract between the parties.

What we need is to create a fully open source solution that is free from the archaic software licencing regime of proprietary software vendors. Town Councils are funded entirely by public funds – from the government as well as collections from service charges etc rendered to the residents under the purview of these town councils. Why should these residents have to pay over and over again for some piece of software that they have already paid to develop? Unless it turns out that the PAP town councils, in contracting NCS to build it, funded from some other sources not from the council funds, it has to be assumed that it was paid entirely by public funds.

I have said this for many years. What we need in this country is the sharing of resources built using open source software and tools especially in public sector services. The IDA can take lead in this but they haven’t. Services that are built using open source software and tools don’t have vendor lock-in. It helps spur innovation and collaboration and expansion of the software sector. We have seen this in many other economies but not in Singapore. Not yet.

I am sure I can pull in a group of interested individuals to give their time and energy to hack a solution for AHTC by putting together the rich set of applications already done in the FOSS world (Adempiere comes to mind) and with Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, and OpenShift and with the tools already built by Code For America and we can trivially, yes trivially, get AHTC up and going.

We will also need data from these town councils in a published open data format. I’d like to see AHTC take both the technical and thought leadership in this by publishing all of their accounting details in http://data.ahtc.org.sg (for example) so that anyone can see exactly what the council is doing and what areas need help, what is succeeding, what’s failing etc.

Questions that need answers:

  1. This statement: “In a letter, he explained that in 2010 they called an open tender to which AIM submitted the sole bid though five companies collected the tender agreement.” is really disappointing. Who were the four others and why did they choose not to bid. I would also want to see the tender document itself to see what it required. I cannot believe that the only respondent is a company that does not have even a website can submit a bid and win this. Something smells very fishy here.
  2. Why are the financial details of town councils not publicly available in an XML format by way of open data like data.gov.sg? Transparency is the watchword here.

So, the offer is out to the AHTC. I, as a member of the Singapore Free and Open Source Community, am able and willing to help you. What the community can help create will be a fully open source accounting and town council management software solution that anyone else can use. And yes, even the other town councils under the hegemony of AIM. There will be no vendor lock-in and usage license fees. I am making this offer not for politics per se, but because it is the Right Thing to do.

A helper note for family and friends about your connectivity to the Internet from July 9 2012


This is a note targeted at family and friends who might find that they are not able to connect to the Internet from July 9, 2012 onwards.

This only affects those whose machines were are running Windows or Mac OSX and have a piece of software called DNSChanger installed.  The DNSChanger modifies a key part of the way a computer discovers other machines on the internet (called the Domain Name Server or DNS).

Quick introduction to DNS:

For example, you want to visit the website, http://www.cnn.com. You type this in your browser and magically, the CNN website appears in a few seconds. The way your browser figured out to reach the http://www.cnn.com server was to do the following:

a) The browser took the http://www.cnn.com domain name and did what is called a DNS lookup.

b) What it would have received in the DNS lookup is a mapping of the http://www.cnn.com to a bunch of numbers.  In this case, it would have received something like:

http://www.cnn.com.        60    IN    A    157.166.255.18
http://www.cnn.com.        60    IN    A    157.166.255.19
http://www.cnn.com.        60    IN    A    157.166.226.25
http://www.cnn.com.        60    IN    A    157.166.226.26

c) The numbers you see in the lines above (157.166.255.18 for example) are the Internet Protocol (IP) number of the server on which http://www.cnn.com resides. You notice that there are more than one IP number.  That is for managing requests from millions of systems and not having to depend only on one machine to reply.  This is good network architecture. For fun, let’s look at http://www.google.com:

http://www.google.com.      59    IN    CNAME    www.l.google.com.
http://www.l.google.com.    59    IN    A    173.194.38.147
http://www.l.google.com.    59    IN    A    173.194.38.148
http://www.l.google.com.    59    IN    A    173.194.38.144
http://www.l.google.com.    59    IN    A    173.194.38.145
http://www.l.google.com.    59    IN    A    173.194.38.146

http://www.google.com has 5 IP #s associated to it but you notice that there is something that says CNAME (stands for Canonical Name) in the first line. What that means is that http://www.google.com is also the same as http://www.l.google.com which in turns has 5 IP#s associated with it.

d) The beauty of this is that in a few seconds, you got to the website that you wanted to without remembering the IP # that is needed.

What is this important? If you have a cell phone, how do you dial the numbers of your family and friends?  Do you remember by heart their respective phone numbers? Not really or at least not anymore You probably know your own number and a small close group (your home, your work, your children, spouse, siblings).  Even then, their names are in your contact book and when you want to call (or text) them, you just punch in their names and your phone will look up the number and send out.

The difference between your cell phone directory and the DNS is that, you control what is in your phone directory.  So, a name like “Wife” in your phone could point to a phone number that is very different from a similar name in your friend’s phone directory.  That is all well and good.

But on the global Internet, we cannot have name clashes and that is why domain names are such hot things and people have snapped up pretty much a very large chunk of names during the dot.com rush in the late 1990s.

Now on to the issue at hand

So, what’s that got to do with this alarmist issue of connecting to the Internet from July 9, 2012?

Well, it has to with the fact that there as a piece of software – malware in this case – that got added to those running Windows and Mac OSX.  In all computers, the magic to do the DNS lookup is maintained by a file which contains information about which Domain Namer Server to query when presented with a domain name like http://www.cnn.com.

For example, on my laptop (which runs Fedora), the file that directs DNS looks is called /etc/resolv.conf.  This is the same for a Mac OSX file and I think it there is something similar in the Windows world as well. Fedora and Mac OSX share a common Unix heritage and so many files are in common.

The contents of my /etc/resolv.conf file is:

# Generated by NetworkManager
domain temasek.net
search temasek.net lan
nameserver 192.168.10.1

The file is automatically generated when I connect to the network and the crucial line is the line that reads “nameserver”. In this case, it points to 192.168.10.1 which happens to be my FonSpot wireless access point. But what is interesting is that my FonSpot access point is not a DNS server per se.  In the setup of the FonSpot, I’ve got it to look up domain names to Google’s public DNS server whose IP #s are 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4.

Huh? What does this mean?  Simply put, when I type in http://www.cnn.com on my browser, that name’s IP# is looked up first by my browser asking the nameserver 192.168.0.1 which is the FonSpot will then return to my browser that it should go ask 8.8.8.8 for an answer. If 8.8.8.8 does not know, hopefully 8.8.8.8 will give an IP # to my browser to ask next.  Eventually, when an IP # is found, my browser will use that IP # and send a connection request to that site. All of this happens in milliseconds and when it all works, it looks like magic.

What if you don’t get to the site?  What if the entry in the /etc/resolv.conf file pointed to some IP # that was a malicious entity that wanted to “hijack” your web surfing?  There is a legitimate reason for this. For example, when you connect to a public wifi access point (like Wireless@SG for example), you will initially get a DNS nameserver entry that belongs to the wifi access provider. Once you successfully logged into that access point, then your DNS lookup will be properly directed. This technique is called “captive portal”. My FonSpot is a captive portal btw.

The issue here is that those machines who have the malware DNSChanger have the DNS lookup being hijacked and directed elsewhere.  See this note by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation about it.

It appears that the DNSChanger malware had set up a bunch of IP# to redirect maliciously all access to the Internet. If your /etc/resolv.conf file has nameserver entries that contain numbers in the following range:

85.255.112.0 to 85.255.127.255

67.210.0.0 to 67.210.15.255

93.188.160.0 to 93.188.167.255

77.67.83.0 to 77.67.83.255

213.109.64.0 to 213.109.79.255

67.28.176.0 to 67.28.191.255

you are vulnerable.

Here’s a test I did with the 1st of those IP#s on my fedora machine:

[harish@vostro ~]$ dig @85.255.112.0 www.google.com

; <<>> DiG 9.9.1-P1-RedHat-9.9.1-2.P1.fc17 <<>> @85.255.112.0 www.google.com
; (1 server found)
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 34883
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 3, AUTHORITY: 4, ADDITIONAL: 5

;; OPT PSEUDOSECTION:
; EDNS: version: 0, flags:; udp: 4096
;; QUESTION SECTION:
;www.google.com.            IN    A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
www.google.com.        464951    IN    CNAME    www.l.google.com.
www.l.google.com.    241    IN    CNAME    www-infected.l.google.com.
www-infected.l.google.com. 252    IN    A    216.239.32.6

;; AUTHORITY SECTION:
google.com.        32951    IN    NS    ns2.google.com.
google.com.        32951    IN    NS    ns4.google.com.
google.com.        32951    IN    NS    ns3.google.com.
google.com.        32951    IN    NS    ns1.google.com.

;; ADDITIONAL SECTION:
ns1.google.com.        33061    IN    A    216.239.32.10
ns2.google.com.        33061    IN    A    216.239.34.10
ns3.google.com.        317943    IN    A    216.239.36.10
ns4.google.com.        33297    IN    A    216.239.38.10

;; Query time: 305 msec
;; SERVER: 85.255.112.0#53(85.255.112.0)
;; WHEN: Sun Jul  8 21:40:07 2012
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 242

Some explanation of what the is shown above. “dig” is a command “domain internet groper” that allows me, from the command line, to see what a domain’s IP address is. With the extra stuff “@85.255.112.0”, I am telling the dig command to use 85.255.112.0 as my domain name server and get the IP for the domain http://www.google.com. Currently 85.255.112.0 is being run as a “clean” DNS server by the those who’ve been asked to by the FBI.

Hence, what will happen on July 9th 2012 is that the request by FBI to give a reply when 85.225.112.0 is used, will expire. Therefore the command I executed above on July 8th 2012 will not return a valid IP number from July 9th 2012. While the Internet will work, there would be people whose systems have been compromised to point to the bad-but-made-to-work-OK DNS servers, will find that they can’t seem to get to any site easily by using domain names. If they instead used IP#s, they can get to the site with no issue.

A quick way to check if your system needs fixing is to go to http://www.dns-ok.us/ NOW to check. If it is OK, ie your system’s /etc/resolv.conf is not affected (or the equivalent for those still running Windows).

See the announcement from Singapore’s CERT on this issue.

And it’s live now – SCO Open Server 5.0.5 running in a RHEL 6 KVM


As promised earlier, the final bits of getting an application that runs on the old hardware on to the VM is now all done.  I tried to install the app but, I really did not want to spend too much time trying to figure out all the nuances about it.  Since this is really an effort that would eventually see the app being replaced at some future date, I wanted to get it done easily.

So, over the last long weekend, I did the following:

a) Created a brand new VM running SCO Open Server 5.0.5 on the RHEL 6.2 machine. The specs of the VM are: 2GB RAM, 8GB disk, qemu (not kvm), i686, set the network card to be PC-Net and Video as VGA. This is the best settings to complete the installation of SCO in the VM.

b) Meanwhile on the old machine, I did a tar of the whole system – “tar cvf wholesystem.tar /”. This is probably not the best way to do it, but hey, I did not want to spend time just picking what I wanted and what I did not need from the old machine. The resulting “wholesystem.tar” file was about 2G in size.

c) Ftp’ed the wholesystem.tar file to the VM and did an untar of it on to the VM – “cd /; tar xvf /tmp/wholesystem.tar “. This resulted in a VM that could boot, but needed some tweaks.

d) The tweaks were:

  1. Changing the network card to reflect the VM’s settings
  2. Changing the IP#
  3. Disabling the mouse on the VM

d) SCO is msft-ish (or may be msft learned it from SCO) in that the tool that is used to do the changes “scoadmin” will, after changes are done, need the kernel be rebuilt which then necessitates the rebooting of the VM to pick up the new values

e) Edited the /etc/hosts file to reflect the new IPs and added in /etc/rc.d/8/userdef file a line to set the default route on the VM: route add default 192.1.2.5

The VM’s IP is 192.1.2.100 and in the /etc/resolv.conf file, the nameserver was set to 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 (Google’s public DNS)

Printing:

a) The old machine had two printers – an 80 column and a 132-column dot matrix printer – connected to its serial and parallel ports.  I did not want to deal with this issue for the VM and got hold of two TP Link PS110P print servers. What’s nice about these are that they are trivial to work with (they are running Linux anyway) and by plugging them to the printers (even the serial printer had a parallel port), both printers were on the network and so printing from the SCO VM was now trivial.

b) Configuring the SCO VM to print to the network printer was using the rlpconf command. The TP Link print server has an amazing array of options and I picked the LPR option and the LPT0 and LPT1 device queue on the two TP Link print server. While the scoadmin has a printer settings section, for some reason the remote printers set up by it never quite worked.  In any case, the rlpconf edits the /etc/printcap file to reflect the remote printers and that is all that is needed.  Here’s what the /etc/printcap looked after the rplconf command was run:

cat /etc/printcap
# Remote Line Printer (BSD format)
#rhel6-pdf:\
#       :lp=:rm=rhel6:rp=rhel6-pdf:sd=/usr/spool/lpd/rhel6-pdf:
LPT0:\
:lp=:rm=192.1.2.51:rp=LPT0:sd=/usr/spool/lpd/LPT0:
LPT1:\
:lp=:rm=192.1.2.52:rp=LPT1:sd=/usr/spool/lpd/LPT1:

the IP #s were set in the TP Link print servers and their respective print spools.

c) so, once that was done, running lpstat -o all on the VM shows the remote printer status:

#lpstat -o all
LPT0:
lp1 is available ! (06,05,02,000000|01|448044|443364|04,02,02|8.2,8.3)
LPT1:
lp1 is available ! (03,02,03,000000|01|450384|445932|04,02,01|8.2,8.3)

Networking issues:

Initially, I had set up the VMs using the default networking setting for KVM.  The standard networking in KVM assumes that the VM is going to go out to the network and not running as a server per se. But this VM was going to be accessed by other machines (not the RHEL6 host) on the office LAN, so the right thing to do is to set up the a Bridging network instead of a NATed network. RHEL 6.2 does not, by default, have bridging set up and I think that need to change. NATing is fine, but in order for the VM to be accessed from systems other than the host, there has to be additional firewall rules set up if it is to be NATed, but a one liner iptables rule: “iptables -I FORWARD -m physdev –physdev-is-bridged -j ACCEPT” if it was on a Bridge.

I think the dialog box that sets up the VM via virt-manager should add an option to ask if a you need a bridged network. The option is there, but not obvious. So following these instructions carefully – they work.

Well, that was it. The SCO Open Server 5.0.5 with the application that was needed is now running happily in a VM on a RHEL 6.2 machine and the printing is via the network to a couple of print server.

I must, once again, take my hats off to the awesome open source developers of KVM, QEMU, BOCHS etc for the wonderful way all the technologies have some together in a Linux kernel as fully supported by Red Hat in Red Hat Enterprise Linux. There is an enormous amount of value in all of this, that even a premium subscription of this RHEL installation is a fraction of the true value derived. The mere fact that a 20th century SCO Open Server can now be made to run in perpetuity on a KVM instance is mind-boggling (even if Red Hat does not officially support this particular setup).

QED.

Microsoft’s “open technology” spinoff


While I would like to stand up and cheer Microsoft on them setting up the “Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc”, I am not convinced that they are doing this in good faith.

Microsoft’s founder, Bill Gates, said in 1991 – 21 years ago – that

“If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.”

only to have all of that conveniently forgotten years later when they themselves started patenting software and suing people all over. These are the kinds of actions taken by a company who cannot innovate or create anything that is new and valuable.  It is also the same company whose CE goes around saying things like:

“Linux violates over 228 patents, and somebody will come and look for money owing to the rights for that intellectual property,”

Too many of these statements and blatant lies from a company that has lost its ethical compass. This is the same company that is now pro-CISPA even after backing down from being pro-SOPA. Do read this statement from EFF about what’s wrong with CISPA.

Never mind all that. Clearly, Microsoft sees money in FOSS. It is business as usual for them in creating their new subsidiary.

If they are really serious about FOSS being part of their long-term future, I am sure they will be reaching out to many people in the FOSS world to join them. Thus far, all I have seen is a redeployment of their internal, dyed-in-the-wool MSFTies.

I think Simon’s commentary on the plausible reasons for Microsoft setting this new entity up is a good set of conspiracy theories, but I think Simon gives Microsoft too much credit.

Exposing localhost via a tunnel


I came across this tool, localtunnel, that offers a way to expose a localhost based webserver (for example) to the internet. It is a reverse proxy that brings you to your machine way behind a firewall by bouncing off of a externally reachable host running localtunnel.

I tested it out on my Fedora 16 laptop (all I had to do was to run “gem install localtunnel” as I had ruby already installed).

I like the idea, but am not entirely convinced about the security exposure.

What does it take?


I am an organizer of a programming contest that will be using some really cool technologies (HTML5, Python, OpenShift, just to name three). This will be a contest open to anyone but we would need whoever takes part to be in Singapore for the duration of the contest.

This contest will also involve children 12-years and below (in their own category using Scratch as the tool) as well as an open category covering everyone else.

This contest covers the entire gamut of users – children (the next generation coders), cool technologies, innovation, solving society’s problems).

What I would like to do is to find a way to have the President of the Republic of Singapore to be the guest of honour to present prizes to the winners when the contest is all over. President Tony Tan, in his earlier career, we a champion of education (as Minister of Education), headed up the National Research Foundation (as champion of innovation and entrepreneurship) and is the current patron of the Singapore Computer Society.

My challenge is that everyone I talk to says that “inviting the president is hard; too much protocol; too many security related issues etc”. Really? Is it so hard to invite the head of state to be the chief guest of an event focusing on things that he had championed earlier in his career?

Please tell me how I can cut to the chase and get him as the Chief Guest. Anyone? I will send an email to him directly, but I shall put this request out in public now.

The Value of being Heard and Consulted


Some of you would know that I am employed by a company called Red Hat since September 2003, it will be nine years with the organization. That’s longer than I have been with any of my startups (Inquisitive Mind and Maringo Tree Technologies) combined. In many ways it is not about Red Hat per se, but about Free Software (and Open Source for that matter) and how the culture of Red Hat very much reflects the ethics and ethos of the Free Software movement.

Yes, Red Hat has to earn its keep by generating revenues (now trending past US$1 billion) and the magic of subscriptions which pegged the transfer of significant value to the customers by way of high quality and reliable software and services, ensures that Free Software will continue to drive the user/customer driven innovation.

All of this is not easy to do. When I joined Red Hat from Maringo Tree Technologies, I went from being my own boss, to working for a corporation. But the transition was made relatively easy because the cultural value within Red Hat resonated with me in that Red Hat places a very high premium on hearing and engaging with the associates. I was employee #1 in Singapore for Red Hat and my lifeline to the corporation was two things: memo-list and internal IRC channels. Later as the Singapore office took on the role of being the Asia Pacific headquarters, we hired more people and it is really nice to see the operation here employing over 90 people.

But inspite of the growth in terms of people, the culture of being heard and consulted is still alive and thriving. It is a radically different organization which will challenge those joining us from traditionally run corporations where little or no questions or consulting is done and all decisions are top down.  I am not saying that every Red Hat decision is 100% consulted, but at least it gets aired and debated. Sometimes your argument is heard, sometimes it is accepted and morphed, sometimes it is rejected.  I think this interview of Jim Whitehurst that ran in the New York Times is a good summary.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 comes to the rescue of SCO Open Server in a VM!


After about two years ago to the day (plus or minus), I’ve finally gotten around to moving a friend’s ancient SCO OpenServer 5.0.5 to run on a modern operating system within a virtual machine.

My friend acquired a brand new Dell Xeon server with 8GB of memory and tonnes of disk space.  It came pre-installed with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6. I got him to register with Red Hat Network and then set up the system and got it fully updated.  All’s well on that count.

Next was to take the experience from two years ago where I managed to install the SCO OpenServer 5.0.5 on a RHEL 5.4 system and make that happen in the latest and greatest of systems.

First was to create the ISOs of the CDs needed (dd if=/dev/cdrom of=NameOfCD.iso) and kept it in a directory for ISOs which I created in the /opt directory.

Second was to fire-up virt-manager (from the GUI so that my friend knows what is happening), and then go about creating a new VM. The virt-manager had problems to start up which puzzled me.  This is 2012 and this machine is a server class machine. It could not be that Dell shipped the machine with support for virtualization turned off in the BIOS, could it? Was I so wrong. For reasons I cannot explain, Dell chose to DISABLE support for virtualization in the BIOS even for this server class machine. I had to reboot the machine, go into the BIOS settings, enable the virtualization option and restart RHEL.

This time, firing up virt-manager worked like a charm and the proceeded to create a new VM.

The following screenshots are self-explanatory including the installation screens from SCO:

The key choices in the dialog boxes were as follows:

a) Check on the “Customize configuration before install”

b) Set Virt Type as qemu and Architecture to be i686

c) Change the NIC type to pcnet

d) Change the Video to vga

With those settings, the installation of the VM started.

The SCO installation is so archaic and ancient that it amazes me that I could still install it into a 21st century virtual machine! And kudos to the KVM and virt engineers!

As the SCO installation proceeds, there are few things that need to be chosen:

a) The installation device is an IDE CDROM on the secondary master.

b) When chosing the “Hard Disk Setup”, change the “Tracking” to “Bad Tracking Off”. This enormously speeds up the “formating” of the drive by SCO.

c) Change the “Network Card” to manual select and then chose “AMD PCNet-PCI Adapter”

d)And continue to the last screen and go ahead with installation.

So, a few minutes later, it is all installed and the system will shutdown.  You can then safely restart the VM and you should be in the default text console. Like any Linux machine, you do have alternate screens available by using the menu options of the VM window “Send Key” and send “Ctl-Alt-F1″ etc to the VM and it will switch to the various virtual consoles available.  

Once you are logged into the system, you can go ahead and use it.

I will follow-up with the installation of a product called “Throughbred 8.4.1” in a subsequent post.

In the meantime, if you have additional SCO CDs such as:

a) SCO-Optional-Services.iso, or

b) SCO-RS-505A.iso, or

c) SCO-SkunkWare.iso, or

d) SCO-Vision-2K.iso, and

e) SCO-Voyager-5-JDK.iso,

You can use Virt-Manager’s interface for the VM-in-question’s “Details” menu option and chose the CDROM option to connect to the ISO that is needed. Once it is linked up, switch over to the VM’s console, and assuming you are logged in as root, type in “mount /dev/cd0 /mnt” to mount it. For some reason, the first time I type the command it throws an error, and have to do it a second time when it succeeds. Then you have access to the ISO as a local CD.

Cool tech tip


Saw this on identi.ca feed:

“@climagic youtube-dl -q -o- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zscrs94_pFc | mplayer – cache 1000 – # Watch youtube streaming directly to mplayer”

So, do yum install youtube-dl mplayer on your Fedora machines, then you can pull in youtube videos with the youtube-dl command and then pipe it (the “|”) to the video player, mplayer and watch it immediately. No need for a browser and this is really cool.

Naturally, if all you wanted was to download the youtube video and keep a copy, just use youtube-dl [URL].

You can replace mplayer with vlc as well so the one above would look like this:

youtube-dl -q -o- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zscrs94_pFc | vlc

OSCON 2011 – Tuesday July 26


Finally, I’ve found time and motivation to attend the O’Reilly organized Open Source Convention 2011 in Portland, Oregon.

It has been many years since I was in Portland – in fact, the times I spent in Portland was when I was in school in OSU in the latter half of 1980s. Most times, I will drive up from Corvallis on a Saturday morning, go to Powell’s and spend the whole time there. I did do some hiking around the area, but it was Powell’s for me.

So, it is somewhat of a de ja vu and yet new.

I have signed up for the sessions on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday and will also be supporting the Fedora team who has a booth as well as the Open Source for America.

Tuesday’s sessions show a few HTML5 talks.  Looks like HTML5 is indeed the next new shiny thing. May be not. But it is nice to be in a techie session and actually do some coding – it is always a good adrenalin rush for me. Coding and hacking has always been.

Here’s the site the speaker Remy Sharp is using for his talk “Is HTML5 Ready for Production” – jsbin.com,  html5demos.compusher.com and responsivepx.com/. Cool stuff – he is now showing WebSockets as well. Awesome. WebSocket servers have to be node.js machines for superfast connections.

Change and Opportunity


Change and evolution are hallmarks of any open source project. Ideas form, code gets cut, repurposed, refined and released (and sometimes thrashed).

Much the same thing happens with teams of people.  In the True Spirit of The Open Source Way, people in teams will see individuals come in, contribute, leave. Sometimes, they return. Sometimes, they contribute from afar.

Change has come to Red Hat’s Community Architecture and Leadership (CommArch) team.  Max has written about his decision to move on from Red Hat, and Red Hat has asked me to take on the leadership of the group.  We have all (Max, myself, Jared, Robyn, and the entire CommArch team) been working hard over the past few weeks to make sure that transition is smooth, in particular as it relates to the Fedora Project.

I have been with Red Hat, working out of the Asia Pacific headquarters based in Singapore, for the last 8 years or so. I have had the good fortune to be able to work in very different areas of the business and it continues to be exciting, thrilling and fulfilling.

The business ethics and model of Red Hat resonates very much with me. Red Hat harvests from the open source commons and makes it available as enterprise quality software that organizations, business big and small can run confidently and reliably. That entire value chain is a two way chain, in that the work Red Hat does to make open source enterprise deployable, gets funnelled back to the open source commons to benefit everyone. This process ensures that the Tragedy of the Commons is avoided.

This need to Do The Right Thing was one of the tenets behind the establishment of the Community Architecture and Leadership team within Red Hat. Since its inception, I have had been an honorary member of the team, complementing its core group.  About a year ago, I moved from honorary member to being a full-timer in the group.

The team’s charter is to ensure that the practises and learnings that have helped Red Hat to harness open source for the enterprise continues to be refined and reinforced within Red Hat.  The team has always focused on Fedora in this regard, and will continue to do so. We’ve been lucky to have team members who have had leadership positions within different parts of the Fedora Project over the years, and this has given us an opportunity to sharpen and hone what it means to run, maintain, manage, and nurture a community.

The group also drives educational activities through the Teaching Open Source (TOS) community, such as the amazingly useful and strategic “Professors Open Source Summer Experience” (POSSE) event.  If the ideas of open source collaboration and the creation of open source software is to continue and flourish, we have to reach out to the next generation of developers who are in schools around the world. To do that, if faculty members can be shown the tools for open source collaboration, the knock-on effect of students picking it up and adopting is much higher. That can only be a good thing for the global
open source movement.

This opportunity for me to lead CommArch does mean that, with the team, I can help drive a wider and more embracing scope of work that also includes the JBoss.org community and the newly forming Cloud-related communities.

The work ahead is exciting and has enormous knock-on effects within Red Hat as well as the wider IT industry.  Red Hat’s mission statement states: “To be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way.”

In many ways, CommArch is one of the catalysts. I intend to keep it that way.

Now all machines at home are on Fedora 15!


I spent 30 minutes this morning upgrading my sons’ laptops to Fedora 15. I used a Fedora 15 LiveDVD (installed on a USB) that I had created that included stuff that the standard Fedora 15 LiveCD does not because of space. Tools like LibreOffice, Scribus, Xournal, Inkscape, Thunderbird, mutt, msmtp, wget, arduino, R, lyx, dia, and filezilla. I’ve thrown in blender and some games into the mix as well.

The updates of the systems went super quick (20 minutes to first boot) and then on to Spot’s Chromium repo:

  1. su –
  2. cd /etc/yum.repos.d/
  3. wget http://repos.fedorapeople.org/repos/spot/chromium/fedora-chromium.repo
  4. yum install chromium

Following that, on to rpmfusion.org to get the free and non-free setup RPMs to get to the tools that are patent encumbered and otherwise forbidden to be included in a standard Fedora distribution.

  1. yum install http://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-stable.noarch.rpm
  2. yum install http://download1.rpmfusion.org/nonfree/fedora/rpmfusion-nonfree-release-stable.noarch.rpm
  3. yum install vlc
  4. yum install thunderbird-enigmail

[Update, June 19, 2011 0050 SGT] Based on the comment from Jeremy to this post, I’m updating the instructions]

The last bit is flash from Adobe – the 64-bit version:

  1. wget http://download.macromedia.com/pub/labs/flashplayer10/flashplayer10_2_p3_64bit_linux_111710.tar.gz.
  2. tar xvfz flashplayer10_2_p3_64bit_linux_111710.tar.gz
  3. cp libflashplayer.so /usr/lib64/mozilla/plugins/
  4. chmod +x /usr/lib64/mozilla/plugins/libflashplayer.so

Installing a 32-bit version of Adobe Flash for a 64-bit Fedora installation:

  1. Go to http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Flash#Enabling_Flash_plugin
  2. Installing a 32-bit wrapped into a 64-bit version
  3. ln -s /usr/lib64/mozilla/plugins-wrapped/nswrapper_32_64.libflashplayer.so /usr/lib64/chromium-browser/plugins
  4. These steps should be sufficient for flash to be enabled for both Firefox and Chromium

Once done, restart your browser and you will have flash enabled.

Yes, I am aware that I’ve had to compromise and load up non-free software. It is less than ideal and I am looking forward to GNU Flash maturing as well as MP3 and related codec getting out of patent.

Printer/cups tip


Every time I update the OS on my laptops, I have to add the CUPS printer settings for the in office systems. It used to be that there was an internally usable RPM to do this, but I always thought that it was not really a clean enough solution.

So, this post is more of a reminder to myself that all I need to do is the following:

echo “BrowsePoll cups.server.domain.com” >> /etc/cups/cupsd.conf

service cups restart

And, viola, like magic, the printers get discovered and all is well. Nice.

Early thoughts on GNOME 3


I must admit, the first time I installed Fedora 15 alpha, I did it only to test out what GNOME 3 was all about. It looked like an interesting interface that would work on a tablet-like device, having used the Andriod-based Archos 10.1 for while now.

When Fedora 15 was officially launched on May 24th, I decided to move my work machine (a Dell Vostro v13) from Fedora 14 to 15.

For the tl;dr, I like GNOME 3.

Now the rest of the story:

The default background looked like a curtain from another era. I hit the right-button of the mouse to see what’s available, but nothing came up. I know I have stuff on the Desktop. How do I get to that now? By moving the mouse to the top left hand corner, the desktop “collapses” to show a whole of other things amongst them being the “search” box on the right side of the screen. I typed in “Desktop” and among other things, it came up with “Places and Devices”. Hmm. Interesting way to navigate.

One of the best uses of Fedora has been the fact that I could share my network connection with anyone. I am often in situations where I have my 3G USB dongle connected up and turning my laptop into a wifi hotspot. Alas, as I write this blog, it is not working in GNOME 3. It is one of the minor things I have to put up with now. I am hopeful that it will be reinstated RSN.

In general, I think there has be a lot of rethinking that has gone into the design of GNOME 3. I like that fact that the desktop is kept really clean. I am one of those guilty of a crowded and busy desktop. Now all of that is hidden away in a FOLDER (which is was anyway) called Desktop. Maybe it is time to retire that Desktop folder meme as well.

Now that I’ve been using GNOME 3 for about two days, it has begun to grow on me.  All of my other machines at home (and which my family uses) are all running the older GNOME and it does seem clunky and ancient.

Overall, I am pleased thus far. Just give me the means to share out my network, I’ll be productive.

My must-haves on any new Fedora installation


So, I’ve taken the plunge and gone ahead and updated my Fedora 14 to the next rev of Fedora 15. F15 comes default with GNOME 3. I am still finding my way around it, but it seems to be less clunky than GNOME 2.x. There are some minor stuff missing. I am hoping that the network-sharing part gets included in a hurry.

The purpose of this post is to document for myself, the extra apps that I include in a standard installation.

Firstly, I started the installation from a Fedora 15 x86_64 live CD. I turned on the encryption of my /home directory for obvious security reasons. I think it should be made mandatory for everyone.

Once the system was all set up, I added the following:

a) go to http://www.rpmfusion.org – set up the free and non-free stuff

b) go to spot’s repo for the open sourced version of Chrome – chromium.

c) install xournal, mutt, msmtp, wget, arduino, scribus, inkscape, audacity, libreoffice, thunderbird-lightning, thunderbird-enigmail, etherape, nmap, lyx, vlc, dia, R-project, gimp, twinkle, virt-* and x-chat

d) adding my sshtunnel alias command into the ~/.bashrc:

#setting up ssh tunnel
alias sshtunnel="ssh -C2qTnN -D 8080 username@somedomain.com &"

e) updating the network proxy to “socks, localhost, port 8080”.

Open Source Java all the way


I am really pleased to see that the IcedTea project doing so well that for all the sites that need Java enabled in the browser, icedtea is more than sufficient.  It used to be the case that I needed to download from java.com the RPMs for my installations before I could get access to http://www.dbs.com, http://www.cpf.gov.sg and more importantly, for my sons, http://www.runescape.com.

I’ve just moved to the latest Fedora 15 on my Dell Vostro V13 laptop and my well-worn practise, check that I could get access to DBS, CPF and runescape. And they all worked.

How does one know if Java is installed on the machine?

Start the browser (Firefox or chromium), type in “about:plugins” in the URL section.  On Chromium, you will see among other plug-ins, a section that says:

IcedTea-Web Plugin (using IcedTea-Web 1.0.2 (fedora-2.fc15-x86_64))

The IcedTea-Web Plugin executes Java applets.
Name: IcedTea-Web Plugin (using IcedTea-Web 1.0.2 (fedora-2.fc15-x86_64))
Description: The IcedTea-Web Plugin executes Java applets.
Version:
Location: /usr/lib/jvm/java-1.6.0-openjdk-1.6.0.0.x86_64/jre/lib/amd64/IcedTeaPlugin.so
MIME types:
MIME type Description File extensions
application/x-java-vm IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.1.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.1.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.1.3 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.2.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.2.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.3 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.3.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.4 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.4.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.4.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.5 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;version=1.6 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-applet;jpi-version=1.6.0_50 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.1.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.1.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.1.3 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.2.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.2.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.3 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.3.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.4 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.4.1 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.4.2 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.5 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;version=1.6 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-bean;jpi-version=1.6.0_50 IcedTea
.class .jar
application/x-java-vm-npruntime IcedTea
.
If that section does not show up, you do not have Java enabled for the browser. In which case, in Fedora, for example, you can choose the Add/Remove Software option, search for icedtea and install it. Once the icedtea is installed, you should restart your browser in order for the browser to pick up the new plug-in. That’s it. Open source Java FTW!

Is Vietnam blocking Facebook?


I am sitting at a lounge in Ho Chi Minh City’s international airport and connected to the wifi. Interestingly, I cannot reach facebook.com.  Here’s the dig and traceroute info:

$ dig www.facebook.com

; <<>> DiG 9.7.3-RedHat-9.7.3-1.fc14 <<>> www.facebook.com
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 15351
;; flags: qr aa rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 0, AUTHORITY: 1, ADDITIONAL: 0

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;www.facebook.com.		IN	A

;; AUTHORITY SECTION:
www.facebook.com.	86400	IN	SOA	vdc-hn01.vnn.vn. postmaster.vnn.vn. 2005010501 10800 3600 604800 86400

;; Query time: 17 msec
;; SERVER: 192.168.1.1#53(192.168.1.1)
;; WHEN: Thu May 12 19:11:39 2011
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 96

$ dig facebook.com

; <<>> DiG 9.7.3-RedHat-9.7.3-1.fc14 <<>> facebook.com
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 22473
;; flags: qr aa rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 0, AUTHORITY: 1, ADDITIONAL: 0

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;facebook.com.			IN	A

;; AUTHORITY SECTION:
facebook.com.		86400	IN	SOA	vdc-hn01.vnn.vn. postmaster.vnn.vn. 2005010501 10800 3600 604800 86400

;; Query time: 15 msec
;; SERVER: 192.168.1.1#53(192.168.1.1)
;; WHEN: Thu May 12 19:12:16 2011
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 92
# traceroute facebook.com
facebook.com: No address associated with hostname
Cannot handle "host" cmdline arg `facebook.com' on position 1 (argc 1)

# traceroute www.facebook.com
www.facebook.com: No address associated with hostname
Cannot handle "host" cmdline arg `www.facebook.com' on position 1 (argc 1)
# dig @8.8.4.4 www.facebook.com

; <<>> DiG 9.7.3-RedHat-9.7.3-1.fc14 <<>> @8.8.4.4 www.facebook.com
; (1 server found)
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 22333
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;www.facebook.com.		IN	A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
www.facebook.com.	1	IN	A	69.63.189.26

;; Query time: 128 msec
;; SERVER: 8.8.4.4#53(8.8.4.4)
;; WHEN: Thu May 12 19:18:37 2011
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 50

Once I turned on my sshtunnel, I can get to facebook not otherwise. Interesting.

It’s May 8th 2011 and it is a Brand New Singapore!


Good morning Singapore. Together we broke the back of the PAP with them being routed in the polls, with the Worker’s Party retaining Hougang and now winning the Aljunied GRC.

As the sun emerges, we are being blessed with the dawn of a Singapore awaken from a long drawn siesta and political apathy.

What we need to do now is to close ranks, both the victors and the losers and work for an even better tomorrow.

All this while, I’ve chosen not to get involved with my municipal and local community stuff – largely leaving it to the MPs to do the work.  I intend to change that. I live in the West Coast GRC and I want to know exactly what happens in this GRC and the best way forward is to get involved. I think there is plenty of room for local residents to engage and play a role in the community.

We have to build on the momentum of these elections. I am sure that these results will perhaps spur many a Singaporean who gave up on their country and moved overseas to consider returning. To return and help build this into a nation that we can all be extremely proud of. A nation that welcomes one and all from around the world. Although I am second generation Singapore, my parents were the immigrants of their time and we need to make sure that we continue to build up a managed and well thought out immigration policy to help build our population. Should we have 5 million people on this 600-sq-km island? Or should we have 6.5million? Whatever the number, the basis of how we should be building Singapore is by consensus, consultation, transparency and collaboration. Not by the now discredited PAP heavy-handed “I know best, if you disagree, you’ll repent” style.

Hence I would like to call out to any and all to help me build on the idea of The Open Party. Yes, it is different. Yes it is radical. But to me the ideas around how open collaboration and consensus building using all the technology is crucial.  Of course, engaging with the population in person is paramount, but so is the need to work with them cleverly. Serving the people and being in government cannot be a win-lose proposition. It has to be an all around win-win process. The Open Party will be built along those lines.

Looking at this map of the results, it looks like the heart of Singapore is where Hougang and Aljunied is. The colour scheme has the US Red vs Blue states aura, but to me it looks more like the heart is alive, red and beating and the blue areas are deprived of oxygen and are suffocating and anemic.

Quick take on what the PAP reactions would be

It is the case that the PAP’s GRC gambit has failed after over twenty years of milking it. It is also the case that MM Lee’s threats, which harp from an ancient time of fear mongering, did not go down well at all. Why the PAP continues to let MM Lee continue with his style of politics is beyond me. I am sure that no one in the PAP dares to stand up to and challenge him.  MM Lee has done his work for this country. If he truly means what he says that he is concerned with this country, he should do the Right Thing and stand down. This country will survive and flourish. No need for Parental Guidance (unless MM Lee sincerely believes that his son is still needing PG).

The PAP has done stuff that they have never done before. They actually attempted at an apology, even if it was half-hearted. PM Lee’s lunch time rally at Boat Quay last week, where he sorta-kinda said sorry, was way too little, too late. The PAP continues to ignore feedback and objections raised by the population and when they finally realized that they’ve been sleeping at the wheel (and hence the appropriateness of WP’s second driver analogy to slap the main driver awake) it was too late. The PAP thinks that their mistakes were only since 2006.  If that’s how they look at it, then they are missing out on a far bigger problem.  The concerns have been around from probably 1991 – that’s 20 years ago. The fancy formulae in computing ministers’ salaries to the prices of public housing are just two of many. When my parents bought their first HDB property in 1964 in Queenstown, it cost them S$6,200 in 1964 dollars. When they moved into a new HDB home in Bukit Purmei in 1984, it cost about S$120k or so. Twenty times more over twenty years. Did the cost of land really go up that much given that the government acquires land cheaper than what it should be at? Public housing should be made available NOT at a profit margin that puts monies into the public coffers at the expense of the buyer. The fact that Mah Bow Tan has been returned to office (and possibly back as Minister of National Development) does not augur well. Why is it that all discussions about HDB is not answered by the CEO of HDB but by the minister? Does the CEO have nothing to say? No accountability at all? There has to be clear separation of accountability and  responsibility which can only come with transparency which is what I am proposing with The Open Party.

Just as the HDB CEO maintains radio silence, so does the CEOs of SMRT, SBS Transit, ComfortDelgro when it comes to public transport.  We have to take to task all of them – and the CEO of LTA – when it comes to being accountable.

The victory of the PAP in Potong Pasir is really shallow – both figuratively and metaphorically. SPP’s Mrs Chiam lost the seat to the PAP by a mere 114 votes (7973 vs 7859). 114 votes. There were more spoilt votes cast. I am sure the PAP will now move mountains and pump newly available cash into Potong Pasir. Will that be good for the people of Potong Pasir – probably in the short-term. But for the long-term, I am sure that they’ll take the money thrown at them by the PAP and come 2016 revert to Mr Chiam’s party.

Final thoughts

I think Singapore and Singaporeans need to evolve the culture of “compete we must, but by cooperating we make greater progress”. I hope the 40+% of Singaporeans who voted for  ABP (Anyone But PAP) will not be pushed aside and ignored. The people who stood for election and lost should be welcome by the winners to work together to progress further and faster. It cannot be winner take it all. Let’s close rank and help steer the good ship Temasek forward.

Much work needs to be done for a better Singapore. 2016, here we come!

Majulah Singapura.

Wear A Rubber Band On Your Right Wrist As You Go To Vote


We have four days till Polling Day. Here’s what I would like to see happen.

The BIGGEST challenge with the electorate is that they are fearful of the following:

a) That the vote is not secret because of the serial numbers

b) That Singapore will deteriorate if PAP loses

I would like to have each and every voter on Polling Day wear a rubber band (any colour, any size) on the right wrist to remind them that:

a) Their vote is SECRET

b) Singapore will be GREAT little country with or without the PAP.

The rubber band is to remind the wearer to VOTE  For Themselves, for their Family, for their Friends, for Singapore.

I will be wearing a rubberband on my right wrist on Polling Day and as I walk to the polling booth at Qi Fa Primary School.

Please pass this on. We can do this. And we must.

Majulah Singapura!

Way before 2016 – The Open Party


I think Singapore will be a dramatically different place come the early morning of May 8th, 2011.  The tsunami of votes of support which will bring in ABPs into parliament would reinforce confidence in Singapore and fellow Singaporeans. The zeitgeist today is one of revolution. The Arab 2011 revolutions (Egypt, Tunisia and others in progress) and the sputtering jasmine revolution in China are inspirations for our own Uniquely Singapore orchid revolution.

I am hopeful that my fellow citizens will keep the PAP majority to no more than 57 seats in parliament (I hope not to have to update this at noon on nomination day April 27 2011). That will mean that the PAP will not have the 66% (57 / 87*100 = 65%) that they need to change the constitution and other laws. It will also mean that we will finally have a parliament that is truly accountable to the population and not one that is a rubber-stamp.

Which brings me to 2016. That will be five years from now and I am hopeful to have launched a political party – The Open Party. The TOP should build on the proven principles of the open source way, one which is collaborative and willing to trust the citizens to help build this island into a nation of people, who are proud to be called Singaporeans. The ideas behind the open source movement resonates solidly with me. I will draw on it heavily. I will be keen to meld those with ideas from the greens movements and the pirate parties of the world. The mash-up will help build a model that could hopefully see value not only in Singapore, but the whole world.

Can I invite you to join me build this vision and be part of the journey. Together we can do this. For your Singapore. For my Singapore. For the Singapore of our children. Let’s roll up our sleeves and do it.  Singapore, yes we can! Majulah Singapura.

Managing open source skepticism


I had an opportunity to speak to a few people from a government tender drafting committee on Wednesday.  They are looking at solutions that will be essentially a cloud for a large number of users and have spoken to many vendors.

I was given an opportunity to pitch the use of open source technologies to build their cloud and I think I gave it my best shot. I had to use many keywords – automatic technology transfer (you have the source code), helps to maintain national sovereignty, learning to engage the right way with the FOSS community, enabling the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs and preventing vendor lock-in.

By and large, I think the audience agreed, except for one person who said “yeah, now it is open source, but it will become proprietary like the others”. Obviously this person has been fed FUD from the usual suspects and I had to take extra pains to explain that everything that we, Red Hat, ships is either under the GNU General Public License or GNU Lesser/Library General Public License.  The GPL means no one can ever close up the code for whatever reason. I am not entirely sure I managed to convince that member of the audience. In a lot of ways, this is the burden we carry as Red Hatters in explaining our business model and how we engage with the FOSS community etc.

Glad to have participated in the Cloud Workshop in Penang


I am pleased to have spent two days at the National Cloud Computing Workshop 2011 held in Penang, Malaysia April 11-12 2011. Targeted at the Malaysian academic community, it offered some insights to the initiatives that the various universities in Malaysia are undertaking on rolling out an academic cloud that is being set up with a fully accountable Malaysian identity and access framework.  I think this bodes well for their plans to push for a Malaysian Research Network (MyREN) Cloud that is hoped will be a way to encourage the collaboration of both faculty and students in sharing knowledge and learning. I was particularly pleased to have been invited to speak about cloud technologies from a Red Hat perspective as well as to introduce the audience to the various open source collaboration and empowerment work Red Hat is doing from the Community Architecture team. When I mentioned, during my talk, about POSSE and Red Hat Academy as well as “The Open Source Way” and “Teaching Open Source“, I could sense a level of interest from the audience in wanting to know more.  And true enough, the post-talk q&a focused a lot on “how can we take part in POSSE”.  Looks like it is going to be a few POSSEs in Malaysia this year! Let the POSSE bidding process begin!

On day two, I was invited to take part as a panelist with some of the other speakers to discuss the future of cloud in Malaysia and to throw up suggestions and ideas about what they could be targeting. One of my two suggestions was to first create a “researchpedia.my” as a definitive wiki-based resource that brings together the various research activities in Malaysia in the private and public universities as well as public-funded research institutions. The key is in a site that is wiki-based so that there are no unneeded bottlenecks in updates etc and helps with keeping the information current.  The second suggestion to the audience was to consider the various Grand Challenges and see if any of them are interesting to be picked upon. What is needed is to aim really high so that at least you will land on the moon if you miss. Aiming only to land on the moon may result in you landing in the ocean!

Overall, I think the organization was good. I am looking forward to the presentation materials of the speakers to be made online and to the next event!

Cloud for Academics


I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak from both a Red Hat and an open source presective about cloud technologies to the academic community in Malaysia.  

Clearly there is a lot to convey and I am hopeful that they have an appreciation that they can and are welcome to participate in cloud-related projects.  I hope that they’ve understood that projects such as Delta Cloud and related projects that they could direct their students (undergrad orgrad) to participate.  
For the benefit of all, here are some links that would be good to explore:
I was also asked about what Red Hat does for academics and was a prefect shoe-in to introduce both POSSE and Red Hat Academy.  Hopefully I will be run a POSSE in Malaysia really soon.

Believing in your own BS


I spend pretty much 100% of my waking hours in the IT world. A world that changes and evolves rapidly. This results in a massive amount of churn in ideas, methods and processes. Some of these see traction and light of day and become adapted.  The adoption happens with the help of a) “messaging” and b) “positioning”.  The people who do this first have to believe that it is worth their while to push the message and second to repeat it enough times to make sure that it gets sunk in.

But, sometimes, this brainwashing reaches the level of “believing your own bullshit“. The bullshit (BS in short) that your product, service, offering is so damn good and wonderful that there is no way anyone can question or challenge it.

Years ago, I was the professional services director and later CTO of a company selling technology to banks. I liked only some portions of the technology – the crypto stuff – but the rest of it was so-so. More so-so because even though it was developed on Linux environments, it was never sold to be run on that. I was placed in many speaking situations to promote the tech and talk about how wonderful it is etc. I had to do both a) and b) above and eventually began believing in my own BS. I truly disliked it. I felt unclean every time I spoke highly of the products knowing full well that quite a bit of it was high-grade BS.  The reason for it to have been BS was its development model – proprietary and all in-house. No one could inspect, change or improve it for it was all done internally. There was no external developer community, nothing.

I contrast that with what I had done post leaving that entity over a decade ago. It was wonderful that I got back to my roots – the Free and Open Source world. This is a world in which I do not have to spin a story, promise a capability or functionality to anyone. If something works, it will. If it doesn’t, let’s work on making it happen. No hidden agendas. Nothing to BS about. I sleep well knowing that I did not hoodwink anyone.

Now, let’s look at what we have seen and will continue to see in the Singapore political scene in the last few months. With parliamentary elections looming, the ruling elite have (re)started to spin their BS. Almost every one of the ruling incumbents believe it to be true – lock, stock and barrel. They are all completely whitewashed and project an image that they are credible through and through and “You, Mr Elector, do not forget that. You, Mr Elector, owe it to us to re-elect us to office. Or else, Mr Elector, watch out.”

We, as Singapore citizens, can help snap the ruling elite out of their stupor and hypnosis. By voting in non-PAP candidates into parliament, we will finally have the best Singapore we can have. A Singapore that we do not have to “believe in our own BS”. A Singapore that we can be truly proud to represent every one of us. A Singapore that Singaporeans can truly call their own.

True Leadership and The Open Source Way


I live in the Free and Open Source World. A lot of what the FOSS movement’s ethos and principles are quite core to me.  I think this webinar featuring Charlene Li is a required viewing.  Remember, this is not about technology.  It is about how you should do things, how you should be authentic and how you should consider the notion of leadership.

This is a model that applies very well in daily life, including politics. Yes, politics. If you want to gain trust of the population, openness, authenticity and honesty are very important.  Lessons from The Open Source Way are very useful and appropriate as my country prepares for the upcoming parliamentary elections (likely to be on April 30, 2011).

NASA’s inaugural Open Source Summit


I missed the live streaming of the NASA OSS Summit but it is mostly all captured and available on ustream.tv.  These are the links to the recordings:

Day One:

Day Two:

And a great post on OSDC.

Enjoy.

Taking the higher ground


I am disappointed with the kinds of ad hominem attacks being made at the person from the PAP who is being labelled as the PAP’s youngest candidate to be introduced this time around.

It is one thing to comment on how the MSM covered her introduction with a “Ring”-like photo on the front page – the criticism is about how the MSM made the classic editorial mistake of a bad photo, and it is another to do character-assassination which seems to be what is being done. Give the lady a chance. Everyone deserves a chance. Yes, even though I will never vote PAP, I will still want to hear them out.  I am sure she has some sincerity and clearly would want to serve. She says that she has been working on the ground in the Ulu Pandan area for 4 years. Kudos to her then.

The vitriol that is being made is with regards to her husband being the principal private secretary to Lee Hsien Loong (the Prime Minister). That there is nepotism and/or cronyism in play could be a fair comment; but that is a field that is well oiled with the ruling party, so one should not be surprised.

The scenario that would will disappoint my fellow citizens will be if she is grouped in the GerrymandeRed-Constituency-scheme and that GRC does not get contested. In that case, she walks into parliament without being actually voted in.

Remember – in 2006,  only 34.27% of all voters VOTED for the PAP who went on to get 97.6% of seats in parliament! An unaccountable parliament could again be in place in 2011.

So, let’s take the higher ground. Let’s show the world that Singaporeans are fair and passionate people.  See Cherian’s post on this topic.

Interesting post from a non-techie moving to Fedora


A good friend of mine sent me a note about his friend’s experience in moving to a Fedora and Red Hat desktop environment.  That person is a non-techie and this is his report – all unsolicited – but posted with permission and anonymized.

=====
I’ve installed both Fedora and Red Hat, here’s my first impressions:

1. Both Fedora and Red Hat are well designed. Because they use GNOME, both have a similar look and feel to Ubuntu. This is great as it makes for an easier transition! 🙂

2. Just like Ubuntu, after you first install Fedora and Red Hat, the system jumps onto the Internet and looks for software updates and security fixes that need to be installed.

3. With my high speed Internet connection Fedora took several hours to upload and install its initial updates.

I’m guessing with your connection that the initial update (and the annual update) will take a full day. Fortunately, during the update there were only two events that required me to click a button. Otherwise I was able to walk away from the computer and just let it do its business.

3. Red Hat took a bit less time in its initial update. I’m guessing this is because it has less software.

4. Fedora and Red Hat are identical in their look and feel. They have different applications pre-installed and, most importantly, Fedora has access more software than Red Hat does.

Red Hat is very conservative in the software it includes. I’m guessing this is because it is typically used as a secure server for business. Hence, it doesn’t offer as much end-user software.

Note the difference in pre-installed software available as seen in the attached screen shots.

5. Finding and updating software is very similar to Ubuntu. I found the package lists easier to navigate in Ubuntu, but Fedora and Red Hat are still easy.

That’s what I have for you thus far!

=====

Data analysis sought


I’ve extracted the stats from the Singapore elections department‘s site and set up a tabulated voting results from the very first elections in 1955 upto the last one in 2006. The data from the parliamentary elections (aka general elections) have been put up on google docs. I just wish that the elections department had the stuff out as a rss feed.
What I want to do is to look at the impact of the notion of walkover to the overall voting patterns which I think has made the majority of Singapore citizens never to have exercised his/her right to vote at the ballot box.
Not even exercising your right to vote because of some silly administrative procedure is a travesty of all that it means to be a citizen. It is an abuse of basic human rights. I want to see the elimination of walkovers which essentially means that even when there is only one person (or the abomination of a group representation constituency or GRC), they do not get the seat(s) automatically.  The candidate(s) must gain a minimum of 30% of votes in their favour. Failing to get that minimum means that the seat is vacant and a by-election has to be called.
Here’s some additional background on why we need to abolish walk-overs.
There’s work to do. Help.

Unfiltered feed from Al Jazeera


If you are running Fedora or Red Hat Enterprise Linux, you can watch the raw feed from Al Jazeera using this script:

======>8=====cut here=============
#!/bin/sh
rtmpdump -v -r rtmp://livestfslivefs.fplive.net/livestfslive-live/ -y “aljazeera_en_veryhigh” -a “aljazeeraflashlive-live” -o -| mplayer –
======>8=====cut here=============
Save the preceding into a file called for example, aljazeera.sh and change the permissions to x (chmod +x aljazeera.sh) and then you can run it as ./aljazeera.sh
Enjoy.

The magic of brand loyalty


We are all slaves to perception. What you perceives essentially drives your actions.  Yes, we can think through the issues and mitigate perceptions so that you can derive at a fair decision.

My very first mobile phone, a GSM phone nonetheless, was from Motorola that I bought in 1995 when the organization I was with insisted that management folks use a mobile phone.  My solution to this was to get a phone that was working in the 1800 MHz range instead of the 900 MHz range.  The reason was that the 1800 service from SingTel was not widely available in Singapore and I had the perfect excuse for not being reachable. But as the usage of the phone increased and as our first son was about to arrive, it became untenable that I have a phone but not usable sometimes because of coverage.

That prompted me to relook the phone and asked around to see what I should be getting.  A good friend of mine, Mathias, suggested looking at Nokia. So, I went ahead and acquired a Nokia and a new cell phone # in 1997. I don’t recall the model number, but it was a world apart from the Motorola. It had a very intuitive menu system, quite the difference from the Moto.

I was sold on the Nokia. All my subsequent phones were Nokias (except for one mistake in getting an Ericsson) and I was really happy with them. Nokia 3210, 6120 etc.  We were a Nokia family. I really wanted to get the N800 and other Nokia smart phones, but they were pricey and out of my budget range (even with mobile operator subsidies). My family was happy with the Nokias we had.  I had even helped to start the gnokii.org project in 1998.

My last Nokia phone which I still use is the E61 which is a really nice Symbian 60-based phone that works well for all I need to do.

But in 2009 or so, when Google launched their phone and was available in Singapore through SingTel, I went for it.  Google One (HTC Dream phone) worked well.  I still have it but I am not using it. As soon as Google themselves launched their Nexus One in 2010, I ordered it directly from Google and that continues to be my phone of choice.

I have been looking forward to Nokia coming out with their MeeGo phones later this year and I would have bought it for sure. It is all about both a sense of brand loyalty and being a satisfied customer. A repeat customer is such a valuable asset.  Why do we, as a family, continue with Colgate toothpaste all these years? it serves it’s purpose. We are satisfied customers. Lather, rinse and repeat.  That would have been the same thing with Nokia. But not now.

The selling out of the Nokia business by their CEO Elop to a partnership with Microsoft has killed this brand loyalty [Nokia eloped with Microsoft!].  Sure, my brand loyalty is just one person (and perhaps my family), but the backlash I am seeing across others is quite shocking.  People who use Nokia phones and were contemplating iPhones or Androids were holding out for Nokia to put out their MeeGos.

And here’s a snippet of a conversation I heard this morning in the MRT: “No, actually, there is nothing wrong with my Nokia phone. I know my nephews and nieces all use iPhone and Android phones and they make fun of me and my Nokia. I did read that Nokia was to come out with a phone to challenge Apple and Google. But today I read in the papers that Nokia will be making a Microsoft phone. You know, I have *never* seen anyone with a Microsoft phone ever. I already use Microsoft stuff in my home PC and it is so slow.  When the Nokia phone has Microsoft in it, it will be slow. For sure. Stupid, really stupid.”

It’s really hard to earn brand loyalty and is, in general, eroded gradually and does not end abruptly.  Nokia’s brand loyalty was slowly eroding in the face of Androids and iPhones. The fact that Elop has said that the platform is burning simply meant that Nokia can burn much faster instead on a Microsoft platform than with anything else. Nokisoft or Microkia or whatever abomination it will be is DOA.

Do check out this very interesting analysis of the business and Nokia Plan B.

Virtualization and the Internet


I had the privilege of speaking to a great group of network operators as part of the South Asian Network Operators Group conference held in Colombo, Sri Lanka from Jan 11-18, 2011. The topic I spoke on was entitled “Virtualization and the Internet”.

Temporary fix to StarHub’s illegal code injection


StarHub continues to do their illegal code injection into the return stream and here are four ways to you temporarily fix it:

  • Run a proxy server somewhere. By using a proxy server, you can by pass StarHub completely and their illegal code injection.  An added benefit would be that you will not be censored as well (wink, wink).
  • In Firefox, install NoScript. With NoScript, you should block anything from wishfi.com, which is the service StarHub is using to do the illegal code injection.
  • Run Tor – The Onion Routing – anonymous routing protocol.
  • If you are running Chrome or Chromium, you can disallow running of Javascript (chrome://settings, click “Under the Hood”, then click “Content Settings”, under Javascript, click on “Do not allow any site to run Javascript”. That will set up the browser to stop running Javascript and when a site needs it, on the URL line, a small box will appear and clicking on it will offer you options to allow Javascript to run per site.  Very much like NoScript does.  Not sure how this option for Chromium compares with NoScript for Firefox.

But not all of us have a means to run a proxy or a socks server, so the NoScript option would be a good solution.

You should seriously considering running Tor as well.  Helps to ensure your presence on the Internet is anonymous and helps getting past the likes of the GFC.

Update from StarHub’s code injection: It is now more than three months, and their response has been significantly less than stellar. Yes, they have privately replied to me stating that what they are doing is halal and that they checked with the IDA. They also want me to rephrase my original post about their activity being illegal.  We are at a temporary stalemate. I am waiting for them to blink.

This is what thought leadership is an example of!


I am pleased to see this note by Michael Tiemann, President of Open Source, Inc.  As 2011 opens up, I would not be surprised to see the CPTN Holdings LLC, begin to play the game that their founders want – to go after people, groups, projects that might infringe software patents. It is universally agreed that software patents are an abomination (and by someone no less than Bill Gates). I am troubled that all of this maneuvering will continue to confuse and complicate FOSS development.

Was I fair?


I read with amusement some of the comments that people made with regards to the chat I had with the Dell Rep about acquiring a N-series machine. The chat is posted here.

Most of the comments were about how they DID NOT KNOW of this option being available which was the intent of my post, but there was a subset of comments that were clearly annoyed with their perception that I was “rude”, “an ass”, “a douchebag”, makes “us computer scientists look bad” and so on.

Perhaps I am guilty of all of the above and I would apologize to both the Dell Rep and those who voiced their objections.

I bought my very first laptop from Dell in 1996. Although it came with Windows 95, I think, I loaded up either Slackware or Yggdrasil. That machine is long gone – the LCD started peeling off and the motherboard went bad.  But the harddisk (I think it was a 500MB drive) survived and I’ve long since given it away. I then went through about 6 more Dell laptops (and oodles and oodles of Dell tower and pizza-box servers) and my current pride of place is reserved for a N-series Dell Vostro V-13 running Fedora 14. I am, indeed, a long time loyal customer of Dell’s.

With that in mind, and the nature of that engagement with Dell was about a committed customer who wanted to continue to recommend yet another Dell but with Linux on it. Having being frustrated in not finding the N-series offerings on Dell’s site, I entered the chat with an annoyed frame of mind.  No, it is not an excuse for any perceived bad behaviour, but I am a knowledgeable customer who knows about the N-series offering and getting riled about not finding it.

In any case, the intent of my post has been achieved.  Now people are better aware that they can, if they want to, acquire a piece of hardware from a reputable vendor but with their choice of software.  When you empower and engage with your customers, both you and your customer win.  Doing business is not a zero-sum game. I would encourage those reading this post to listen to Prof Michael Porter’s interview on BBC that aired earlier this week on the nature of shared value/value shared.

Security breach of addons.mozilla.org


Thanks to Mozilla for this pro-active reporting of the security breach.  If any of you reading this blog have an account on addons.mozilla.org and have not received this note, please take action.


Mozilla Add-ons
 
date Tue, Dec 28, 2010 at 8:34 AM
subject Important notice about your addons.mozilla.org account

Dear addons.mozilla.org user,

The purpose of this email is to notify you about a possible disclosure
of your information which occurred on December 17th. On this date, we
were informed by a 3rd party who discovered a file with individual user
records on a public portion of one of our servers. We immediately took
the file off the server and investigated all downloads. We have
identified all the downloads and with the exception of the 3rd party,
who reported this issue, the file has been download by only Mozilla
staff.  This file was placed on this server by mistake and was a partial
representation of the users database from addons.mozilla.org. The file
included email addresses, first and last names, and an md5 hash
representation of your password. The reason we are disclosing this event
is because we have removed your existing password from the addons site
and are asking you to reset it by going back to the addons site and
clicking forgot password. We are also asking you to change your password
on other sites in which you use the same password. Since we have
effectively erased your password, you don’t need to do anything if you
do not want to use your account.  It is disabled until you perform the
password recovery.

We have identified the process which allowed this file to be posted
publicly and have taken steps to prevent this in the future. We are also
evaluating other processes to ensure your information is safe and secure.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact the
infrastructure security team directly at infrasec@mozilla.com. If you
are having issues resetting your account, please contact
amo-admins@mozilla.org.

We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.

Chris Lyon
Director of Infrastructure Security

Interesting to see me quoted


I was pleasantly pinged by someone who said that I was being quoted in an article saying: “The best moment for me was the launch of Fedora 14 (and subsequently Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) Enterprise 6) along with the deltacloud.org efforts,” wrote Harish Pillay in the TuxRadar comments, for example. “They augur well for 2011 and beyond.”


Well, it is true.  DeltaCloud is very critical so that corporates will not be straddled with the “mother of all lock-ins”. I cannot emphasize that enough. As more entities contemplate moving more of their operations to the cloud, it is crucialthat the cloud service provider provides a fully documented means to ETC (Exiting The Cloud).

How to buy a Dell WITHOUT windows


I was asked by a friend to get a Fedora CD to her and her friend so that their children can learn to use Linux.  I suggested that I will help by shipping the Live CDs as well as spending some time (along with my 2 sons) to teach their sons how to use Linux.

Then the request came back asking where can they get a new laptop without Windows and that prompted my revisiting the Dell.com website to see if I can get a machine without ‘oze.I have a Dell Vostro V13 N-series (which came with Ubuntu preinstalled, the “N” meaning “No Windows”). So, that was what I was looking out in the dell.com site.  Search as I might, nothing showed up.  It’s amazing how well hidden the n-series offerings are.  I am very sure Microsoft’s marketing muscle is squarely behind it. 

Now, since I know that there is such as thing as a N-series laptop, I clicked on Dell.com’s “Live Chat” button and the following is the transcript of what happened. I’ve replaced the Dell person’s name with “Dell Rep”.
16:35:51 Customer harish pillay
Initial Question/Comment: h.pillay@Ieee.org
16:35:56 System System
You are now being connected to an agent. Thank you for using Dell Chat
16:35:56 System System
Connected with Dell Rep
16:36:01 Agent Dell Rep
Welcome to Dell Sales Chat. My name is Dell Rep. I’ll be your personal sales agent. How may I assist you. If you proceed to place your order online, please indicate my name, Dell Rep, as your sales representative so that I’ll be able to track your order for you.
16:36:22 Customer harish pillay
Hi, Dell Rep. Can you point me to where I can get the n-series vostro v13?
16:36:33 Customer harish pillay
i do not want to buy windows for the machine.
16:37:01 Agent Dell Rep
we do not offer n-series of the Dell system online
16:37:07 Customer harish pillay
why?
16:37:24 Customer harish pillay
does microsoft restrict sales of n-series online?
16:37:56 Agent Dell Rep
i’m not too sure on that but V13 has being replaced by the V130
16:38:23 Customer harish pillay
ok, so I would like to buy a v130 without an OS (I will settle for freedos).
16:38:36 Customer harish pillay
i prefer the n-series v-130 then.
16:39:51 Agent Dell Rep
the V130 is not offering any Free DOS version at the moment
16:40:01 Agent Dell Rep
let me check on the availability of the V13
16:40:13 Agent Dell Rep
we do offer Free DOS offline
16:40:50 Customer harish pillay
it does not matter if it has freedos or fedora (or even ubuntu). i want to buy the machine without any microsoft os.
16:41:07 Agent Dell Rep
any particular specifications on your mind?
16:41:47 Customer harish pillay
i will be running Fedora and/or Red Hat Enterprise Linux on them. I have the apps taken care of already.
16:42:22 Agent Dell Rep
any specific hardware requirement
16:42:51 Customer harish pillay
Why don’t you focus on asking about the OS? the hardware is OK as it is.
16:43:25 Customer harish pillay
64-bit, 8G would be nice, but 4G RAM is OK. USB (3.0 would be nice), bluetooth, wifi.
16:43:55 Agent Dell Rep
please note that you may find difficulties for the correct drivers as we have not tested on the compatibility of the drivers with the OS you intend to install
16:44:13 Customer harish pillay
not that you support windoze drivers anyway.
16:44:17 Agent Dell Rep
any other hardware requirement
16:44:33 Customer harish pillay
none
16:44:52 Agent Dell Rep
also is this purchase are for your company or personal?
16:45:05 Customer harish pillay
does it matter?
16:45:27 Agent Dell Rep
i need to generate the quotation for you
16:45:51 Customer harish pillay
Intel Corporation WiFi Link 5100, Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8111/8168B PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet controller,
16:46:19 Customer harish pillay
is there a price difference if the quote was for corporate vs consumer?
16:47:02 Agent Dell Rep
there’s no difference unless your company has a specific contract with Dell
16:47:40 Customer harish pillay
fair enough. give me the consumer quote first.
16:48:32 Agent Dell Rep
can i have your full legal name, address as well as your contact no
16:49:04 Customer harish pillay
:-). harish pillay, address
16:50:27 Agent Dell Rep
alright, let me work the quotation and emailed it to you?
16:50:40 Customer harish pillay
ok. h.pillay@ieee.org
16:50:47 Agent Dell Rep
noted
16:52:22 Customer harish pillay
so are we done or what?
16:52:42 Agent Dell Rep
unless you’ve others to add.
16:53:04 Customer harish pillay
so the quote will be without windows?
16:53:12 Agent Dell Rep
yes
16:55:26 Customer harish pillay
that’s fine. can you provide me with the quote that shows with and without windows?
16:55:37 Customer harish pillay
i want to know the difference.
16:55:42 Agent Dell Rep
alright
16:55:46 Customer harish pillay
not that i want windows.
16:56:50 Customer harish pillay
are you mailing the quote now?
16:57:17 Agent Dell Rep
give me about 5 mins and i shall be able to send it to you
16:57:56 Customer harish pillay
ok thanks. i will be keeping this chat transcript and blanking out your name.
16:58:12 Agent Dell Rep
thanks
16:58:57 Customer harish pillay
the reason for keeping the chat transcript is so that I can post this to my blog stating that there is a way to buy non-windows Dell machines but one has to ask for it.
16:59:26 Customer harish pillay
so, keeping your name off the transcript is key as it is not you but your organization that is at fault here.
16:59:32 Agent Dell Rep
we do have regular request for n-series of system from time by time
17:00:20 Agent Dell Rep
we do not offer is sometimes to avoid misunderstanding from certain customers where they look for the cheapest system and only to find out that no OS was installed
17:00:33 Customer harish pillay
and I want to make it a permanent request and something that I can find from your online catalog. As long as it does not appear, I think Dell is doing the whole world a disservice and pandering to Microsoft’s monopolistic heavyhand.
17:00:33 Agent Dell Rep
we had that quite a lot previously
17:00:56 Agent Dell Rep
that’s the reason we choose to offer all with the OS preinstalled
17:01:00 Customer harish pillay
and if you explain to people, they will understand.
17:01:26 Agent Dell Rep
not all customer are as understanding as you
17:01:39 Customer harish pillay
so long as dell hides the info (or makes it hard to find), these misunderstandings can happen.
17:02:07 Agent Dell Rep
we have lots of customer who choose the cheapest and only to find out that no OS is installed
17:02:57 Agent Dell Rep
we don’t really hide the info as long as a customer request for it, we’ll be able to offer
17:03:22 Agent Dell Rep
we just limit them options online to avoid misunderstanding
17:03:37 Agent Dell Rep
anyway perhaps we may work out something in future
17:17:37 Agent Dell Rep
i’ve just emailed both quotation to you. could you please check and revert
17:23:28 Agent Dell Rep
Is there anything else I may assist you? If there’s no further assistance required, you may email me at DELL REP @dell.com shall you need further assistance / clarifications.
17:32:49 System System
The session has ended!
I have received a quotation for the Dell Vostro V13 and here are the numbers:
a) S$887.15 for the N-series
b) S$1045.79 for the same machine with ‘doze.
Hardware: Vostro V13 System Base (SU7300)Intel® Core?2 Duo Processor SU7300 (1.3GHz, 3M L2 Cache, 800MHz FSB) ULV, 13.3HDF Anti-glare LED LCD panel with camera, 4GB (1X4G) DDR3-1066MHz SDRAM, 1 DIMM500GB* Hard Drive, 7200 RPM, 6-cell Lithium Ion Sealed 30Whr Battery, Integrated Graphic CardIntel(R) Wireless Network Card 5100 (802.11a/g/n)Dell Wireless 365 Bluetooth ModuleInternal Dell(TM) Keyboard (English).
So, the Windows-tax is S$158.64. Now you know.

National Convention for Academics and Researchers, Hyderabad, India


I had the distinct privilege of attending and speaking at the National Convention for Academics and Researchers 2010 in Hyderabad on December 17 and 18 2010. The event was held at the Mahindra Satyam Technology Center, an enclave of low-rise building that helps one get away from the horn-tooting noise of a typical Indian city. The settings were a pleasant park-like environment.

I arrived at the location at about 10:30 am on Friday Dec 17 and I was greeted by the nice cool weather (I reckon with a daytime temperature of about 20C).  There were about 4 low-rise building housing the conference auditoriums.  I particularly like the fact that those buildings were named after legendary Indian centers of learning like Nalanda  and so on.  Interestingly, I am not able to located a map that shows the names of those buildings (and the Mahindra Satyam website is horribly broken when viewed on Chrome but OK on Firefox).
I participated in a few of the talks, with my own contribution during the FOSS and Education session (sadly, there are no online references to the session – the site has not been updated; probably will never be). For what it’s worth, here’s my presentation.
I spoke for about 15 minutes and touched on POSSE, TOSW and threw out an invitation to the audience (90% of whom where faculty) to consider participating in a future POSSE to be run in India and thence to help run POSSEs themselves.  All I can say is that I have an overwhelmingly positive response and I think we have our collective hands full in making this happen in 2011 in India.
We need to urgently figure out how to scale POSSEs in 2011/2012 and I am inclined to look at the TEDx model to ensure consistency, quality and value.

FOSS.in Day 2 and feeling sick! Really sick!


Day two of the very last FOSS.in started a little late for me.  I was developing a cold, a really bad cold.  The one thing I always carry with me when I travel is vitamin C.  This time, I completely forgot it (all my fault, not The Wife’s). I have found that if I take at least 1000 mg daily, when I travel, I am functioning well and given the usual timezone challenges etc, I do not fall sick.  But that was not the case this time.

I decided that I will take a slow start to day two and fortunately, my colleagues in Red Hat India had arranged for interviews with a couple of journalists in the morning.  That suited me fine.  This meeting was to be a the Oberoi Hotel at 10:30 am, I found my way to the place well ahead of time (not wishing to be stuck in traffic for no good reason).  It was good that I did this, as the cold that was developing was really getting to be annoying and I was really glad that the concierge (a Mr Amit) at the Oberoi offered me at no cost a couple of paracetamol tablets. I took that with a couple of cups of hot tea with ginger and honey and I was slowly beginning to feel better, just in time for the journalists.
All I can say is that it was nice to be able to chat with the journalists, who, thankfully, understood Red Hat and it’s business, which gave me then the time and energy to explain why nurturing and growing the open source community is just as critical and foundationally important for the long term growth of the commercial open source business like Red Hat.
The interviews were over by about noon and that allowed me enough time to fight the noon Bangalore traffic and arrive at the FOSS.in venue by 1:30 pm.  After gulping down a nice vegetarian lunch (I guess all they had there was vegetarian lunches), it was time to proceed to Hall C for the Fedora MiniConf.
I must say that I was really pleased to see a number of people (40 perhaps) who began to fill out the auditorium, which I think is the smallest of the three auditoriums a the centre.  Rahul Sundaram, the team leader of the Fedora Ambassadors in India, kicked off the session and invited Amit Shah to speak about Fedora Virtualization: How it stacks up.  I enjoyed Amit’s talk and learned a few things about kvm which was nice considering that Amit is a core contributor to KVM! His talk was followed on by Aditya Patawari who spoke about “Fedora Summer Coding and Fedora KDE Network Remix“. The contents were good but I think Aditya needs to do a little less pacing on the stage for it tends to be distracting. A key lesson from Aditya’s talk, to me, was the need to greater modularization of packages without a massive penalty in the metataging of the package system.
The third talk, IMHO, was the most fun for me. As someone who has been spending most of his editing time using vi, with the occasional foray into emacs, this talk, by SAG Arun, entitled “Exploring EMACS in Fedora – tips and tricks, packaing extensions” was indeed refreshing. I think I shall now make the $EDITOR in my machine to be emacs instead of vi!
I realized that the GPG keysigning that I wanted to run was not going to happen (as I had only gotten one participant) and that my cold, that was being held back by the earlier paracetamols and ginger/honey tea, was now coming back with a vengeance.  Added to that, I now had to catch a flight to go to Hyderabad for another event – the National Convention for Academics and Researchers. So, reluctantly, I had to cancel the GPG keysigning. The next time then!
I got into the car and arrived at the really nice Bangalore Airport and when I got out of the car, there was a clear and distinct chill in the air which caused me to shiver. And boy was I shivering.  It has been a long time since I felt that bad, and it did not help that the temperature outside was around 16C and all I had on was a t-shirt and jeans and a really bad cold.  I am not sure if the shivering was due to the cold or to a fever which I felt I was having. I managed to make my way through the customary security and checked in and found a pharmacy.  The on-duty pharmacist recommended a fairly strong medication (in the form of tablets) that contained both paracetamol and anti-histamines. All for 200 rupees. Nice. That was OK but I really wanted to know if I was running a fever and asked the pharmacist if she could just take my temperature.  What she said was that “that would be considered a out-patient and we will have to charge you”. Huh? Just the temperature, ma’am. Nothing more. I told here, “that’s fine. I will figure this out”.
As the flight I was taking to Hyderabad would not be serving any meals (hey it’s a budget airline), I figured that I better get some grub in before taking the medication and the flight. The airport’s offerings of food was nice, the environment really posh (yes, I am a sucker for well laid out airports) and it made for the miserable cold/shivering situation a lot better to manage.
The flight on Jet Airways, was on time and arrived into Hyderabad about 1.5 hours later, again on time. Nice flight, nothing spectacular.  All I could feel was that the cold was making me feel weak and tired.
I did not know what I was to experience at Hyderabad Airport – it’s my first trip there. This was a spanking new airport! What a pleasant welcome for a weary traveller. Like the Bangalore airport, this Hyderabad airport is also built
on land some 30-40 km away from the city center and accessible via a set of multi-lane highways. Nice.  Eventually, about 1.5 hours after arriving into Hyderabad airport, I was safe in the hotel and took a quick shower and crashed out. I needed to get out of this cold/flu/crappy feeling. Sleep will help.

FOSS.in day 1 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 launch


FOSS.in in Bangalore (their Xth edition and allegedly their last), started off “in true FOSS.in style” – an hour late [this was what the MC said at the very beginning and is not an editorial comment from me.]

I listed to Danese Cooper, CTO of Wikimedia Foundation, deliver the openin keynote and I did learn a significant amount of details about Wikipedia.  Here are some nuggets:
  • Wikipedia is the 5 largest site on the planet in terms of traffic
  • They have about 450 servers serving out the Wikipedia pages
  • The data center is Tampa, Florida and in Amsterday, Holland.
  • They are looking for a 3rd data center somewhere in Asia – possibly in India or Singapore (any takers, National Library Board perhaps?)
  • They have about US$20 in revenue mostly from sponsorship and donations 
  • Are fiercely independent and are not looking for help or funds that can be construed as being biased
  • Have optimized their MySQL instance as well as many other tweaks to make the site extremely responsive.  As an aside, I think they are not even using Akamai for content caching.
  • When their site goes down for any reason, they will get calls from BBC, CNN etc as Wikipedia has become a key resource.
Danese’s talk lasted about 45 minutes followed by a lively Q&A session.  Watch the video when I get a chance to post it.
The FOSS.in day 1 was a good time to connect up with a whole lot of new folks.  OLPC’s Manusheel Gupta, an independent technologist, Arjuna Rao Chavala, Wikimedia’s Alolita Sharma and Eric and a whole slew of Fedora volunteers (for the Fedora Miniconference happening on Thursday).
The next talk I attended talk “Hardware Design for Software Hackers” by Anil Kumar Pugalia.  I thought it was a good talk focusing on using only open source tools (like avr, kicad etc) to create hardware that can then be fabricated and deployed.  It was a fun talk I felt.
 
Took a break from all of these talks and went over to Hotel Leela where Red Hat India was holding the launch event for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.  It was nice to see the RHI folks there. They had in excess of 1,100 registrations to attend the event and if we give a 50% attrition rate, that was still a number greater than the capacity of the ballroom.  So to a packed audience, Red Hat’s story was told in 4 parts and I think it was an overall success.
Looking forward to day two of FOSS.in

Participate in this info-comm survey


I think this survey, being run by the Nanyang Technology University and the Singapore Computer Society could use responses from across the world, not only Singapore.  So, please consider participating and making this survey results useful. Although I am not directly involved with the survey per se, I will post results from it here on this blog (and yes, I am trying to get the raw data on a CC-license).

This is so clever!


When something clever, it deserves pointing out.  Google posted a video about their Chrome OS and that video had some interesting stuff aka easter eggs
What was nice is that the folks at Jamendo, which has a very large and growing collection of musicians and music that you are put out on creative commons license, figured out the easter eggs and got themselves a Chrome laptop.  Well done!

GPG Keysigning at FOSS.in 2010


I will be attending the FOSS.in event from December 15-17 in Bangalore, India.

As part of the Fedora participation at the FOSS.in, I will be running a GPG keysigning party.

This will be the first time I am running a GPG keysigning event and I am following it all on the experiences of Matt Domsch and documented here.

For the FOSS.in session, please ensure that the following is adhered to (again, adopting the good work from Matt):

How To Participate (BOLD is mandatory, ITALICS is optional):


a) You need to pre-register for this.

b) If you do not already have a GPG keypair, get one done.

c) You may choose to add your USERNAME@fedoraproject.org ID into your key pair.

d) Submit your key before the keysigning party to subkeys.pgp.net keyserver. To submit, you will need your KEYID from your keyring. Run the following command:

gpg --list-secret-keys | grep ^sec

which in my case will return:

sec   1024D/746809E3 2006-02-20

What you need to do is to take the portion after 1024D and submit that to the keyserver.

e) To submit your KEYID, you need to execute the following command:

gpg --keyserver subkeys.pgp.net --send-keys KEYID

Make sure you replace the word KEYID above with the actual key.

f) Once the KEYID has been successfully submitted, email me your key fingerprint using the following command:

gpg --fingerprint KEYID | mail -s " key" harishpillay@fedoraproject.org

Just Before FOSS.in (all the following steps are mandatory)

a) If you did pre-register (ie, your emailed me the info requested above), please print out your key fingerprint ONCE and bring it along.

b) If you did not send it ahead of time, you might have to print out multiple copies of your key fingerprint. One copy per person at the keysigning party.  I cannot confirm how many there will be but do watch this blog for that number.

c) To print out your fingerprint, you can use the tool “gpg-key2ps” (found in the pgp-tools RPM – “yum install pgp-tools”).

gpg-key2ps KEYID > YOURNAME-key.ps

will generate on one page the fingerprint of your key. This document, YOURNAME-key.ps can be viewed using evince or if you prefer convert to a pdf using the ps2pdf command.

d) Run md5sum and sha1sum on the foss-in-keysigning-fingerprints.txt file.  The file, foss-in-keysigning-fingerprints.txt will be generated shortly before FOSS.in and you will be notified by email of it’s availability. Print out the results of running both the commands and bring along that piece of paper to the meeting.

e) Bring along a government-issued ID with a photo of yourself in it. This document can be a passport, a national ID card or a driver’s license. It is very important that this document has a photo of yourself that is relatively recent and that this document is government issued.

In summary, right before the kesigning event, you will have two pieces of paper (one with your key fingerprint and the other with the md5sum and sha1sum results of the foss-in-keysigning-fingerprints.txt file).

At the Keysigning Event

Since I am asking for people to pre-register, you will find the needed files on http://harishpillay.fedorapeople.org/foss.in/. We will be READING out thees values in the file to confirm match.

Post Keysigning

Once the values are read out, you will need to do the acutal signing of keys. For this, we will use “CA – Fire and Forget” tool called caff. Caff will be able to do bulk signing of keys and will then send off email  to all those whom you have confirmed. The recipients will then need to retrieve their signed key, import into their gpg keyring and also upload to the keyserver subkeys.pgp.net.

Please watch this space for the exact time and location of the GPG Keysigning event.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 launch in Singapore


Red Hat is launching the next version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, version 6, on December 3rd 2010 in Singapore at the M Hotel, Anson Road.  It starts at 9 am.  I would be sharing the RHEL 6 overview, features and roadmap.  Sign up here.

Agenda 

 

Time Programme
8.00am – 9.00am Registration & Welcome Snacks
9.00am – 9.15am Welcome Address
9.15am – 10.00am RHEL 6: Overview, Features, Roadmap

This presentation will provide an overview of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 product, covering product goals, new features and capabilities, and packaging. The presentation will be useful for CIOs and IT managers who wish to learn about this new, industry leading operating platform and how it can help them achieve their enterprise computing goals.

10.00am – 10.45am Cloud Infrastructure Matters: Virtualization, Linux and more

Virtualization is the foundational technology for cloud computing, but it is also an important technology in its own right for achieving operation efficiencies in a modern datacenter. Virtualization helps organizations expand their IT capabilities and simultaneously lower capital and operational costs. We will explore key functionality and use cases for server and desktop virtualization. We will also discuss how you can build a virtualization architecture using Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, and lay the groundwork for both internal and external Clouds using Red Hat technologies.

10.45am – 11.15am Tea Break
11.15am – 12.00pm PaaS, Present and Future: The Essentials for Building, Hosting, Integrating & Managing JBoss Applications in the Cloud

The ability to develop applications, seamlessly integrate them with existing heterogeneous environments and deploy them to a cloud infrastructure is what makes Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions so attractive. But, the benefits of rapid time to market, increased flexibility and lower costs are not guaranteed. How you design and implement the solution is critical.

Many PaaS offerings introduce a new, proprietary application development environment. Others deliver a PaaS based only on simple developer frameworks, limiting choice and application portability. When evaluating offerings, it’s important to consider portability and interoperability in both development and deployment, support for the programming models you choose to employ, the breadth of the middleware reference architecture, and the availability of tools to assist you throughout the entire application life cycle – from development through management.

In this session we’ll cover the essential requirements for Platform as a Service, and discuss how you can leverage Red Hat’s JBoss Enterprise Middleware today to build, host, integrate and manage applications in public or private clouds.

12.00pm – 12.30pm Red Hat Training and Services: Real-World Perspectives

Enterprise businesses across a variety of industries and sectors rely on Red Hat training and consulting services to address their critical business demands. Learn more about Red Hat’s enhanced training programme, which upskills IT professionals with the knowledge and proven hands-on skills to optimize the performance of Red Hat technologies such as virtualization, cloud computing and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

12.30pm –12.45pm Question-And-Answer Session

 

Fedora 14 launched in Singapore


Fedora 14 was officially launched on November 29, 2010 at the Singapore Management University.  The event was jointly held with the launch of the Open Source Software for Innovation and Collaboration Special Interest Group of the Singapore Computer Society.

About 60 persons attended the event.  Here are some photos. The presentation I did about Fedora is here.
What the Fedora Ambassadors and I showed during the event was the following must haves:
a) Xournal – this is really useful tool to help with the mundane task of “editing” a PDF.  Many a times, I have been stuck with a PDF form that needs a simple signature.  It is criminal to have to print out the PDF, sign it and then to scan and PDF it.  Xournal should be nominated for a Green Award for Software if there is one.
b) NetworkManager‘s ability to share out the network: I used a 3G USB dongle (Bus 006 Device 003: ID 12d1:1001 Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. E620 USB Modem) on the laptop that I was using for the launch.  I connected to the 3G network, then got NetworkManager to create a shareable wifi hotspot. This little capability is extremely understated. With the amount of devices around you that are wifi-capable, this ability of a Fedora machine to be able to become a wifi-hotspot is extremely useful.  Yes, you can do tethering with cell phones (atleast the Android 2.2 phones), but this being a standard capability of a Fedora box needs to be publicised.
c) Virtual Machine Manager: What demo is complete if youdo not show virtualization? And the fact that virtualization is built-in in Fedora means that you can now go about experimenting, using, breaking, fixing, updating various other systems.  This alone changes how we consume technology and how we can easily transition to the cloud.
It was an overall fun event.  I hope to see an increased participation by more folks in the Fedora community in Singapore.

More twists and turns


News is coming in that Novell is being bought out by Attachmate for about US$2.2 billion along with Novell’s “intellectual properties” (patents, trademarks, copyrights) being sold to some consortium called CPTN Holdings LLC.  For some reason, CPTN Holdings LLC does not seem to have a web presence of their own. BTW, Attachmate.com seems to be down right now (2330 SGT/1530GMT Nov 22 2010).

I can only speculate as to what the sale of the patents/copyrights to CPTN will mean.  The monies they pay out would want to be recouped which will mean that they will become aggressive in their patent litigation efforts.  I think it is time NOW to ban software patents once and for all.

 

Reflections of a week of ISO/IEC JTC1 meeting in Belfast


Interesting meeting and great opportunity to meet with people who to me seem to be caught in a world that has seen it’s glory days. I was asked by the Singapore IT Standards Committee to attend as a representative from Singapore. Nice to have an opportunity to represent Singapore at a global stage.

The ISO‘s and the IEC‘s baby ISO/IEC JTC1 just concluded it’s 25th annual plenary in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The meeting lasted from 9am Monday November 8th till about noon Satuday November 13th at the Europa Hotel.  Five and half days of meetings (9am-5pm daily), was needed to ensure that all of the Sub-committees (SCs) and various Working Groups (WGs) were able to update the JTC1 on what they have been able to do over that last twelve months in the various standards making activities. 
Many topics were covered.  Cloud computing and green IT were the top two areas of interest and in need for standards. It is crucial that standards are developed and these ensure that customers cannot be locked-in.  I am agreeable with the notion that the Cloud has the potential to be the mother of all lock-ins [I am not saying this because that link quotes the CEO of Red Hat (where I work), but because it is the big elephant in the room.]
International standards making has some interesting artifacts.  The entities that help make these standards (ISO, IEC, ECMA etc) have as one of their key components in their revenue model, the sale of printed documents containing the standards! I must note that not all of the standards bodies have “sale of printed documents” as a key portion of their revenue model (see IETF, W3C for example). However, the group whose meeting I was in, JTC1, is struggling with the notion of making the standards documents freely downloadable, while parent organization of JTC1 (ISO and IEC) are against it. The plenary did put up a resolution asking that JTC1 standards be kept free of charge to download (and if someone wants a dead-tree version, then pay for it). The continuing resistance from ISO and IEC in making this happen will ultimately see the irrelevance of JTC1 as a IT standards making entity. Perhaps a generational change is needed in the management and leadership of ISO and IEC for this to happen, by which time, I reckon, it will be too late.
Enough of doomsday stuff.  
I must record here that I am really pleased that as part of the outcome of this year’s plenary, there was a recognition that the collaboration tools that the JTC1’s constitutent groups use are not as good as can be.  They use some tool called Livelink (I think) and lots of conference calls etc.  The plenary resolved that they need to have better tools to help with collaboration and there was a call to set up an Ad-Hoc Group (AHG – yes these standards bodies LOVE their acronyms). Singapore, France and a few other countries and SCs offered to be on the AHG and, Singapore offered to chair it and I am happy to say that I will be chairing this global effort to improve the tools that standards-making groups can use to do their work.  I am looking forward to making this happen – I have to report back at the next plenary in November 2011 in San Diego.
I will be tapping on my colleagues in Red Hat and the greater open source community and trying to use the principles in The Open Source Way. Surely, tools like wikis, etherpad, irc chats etc can signifcantly improve the communications and collaboration.  It is quite sad to see word processor-based documents being emailed around as the basis of discussions etc.  Where is the single source of truth of these documents?
So, if anyone there has ideas on easy and robust collaboration tools, tell me. I have to convene a meeting of the AHG to look at these and I certainly want to use quality tools to make it happen. If these tools are open sourced, it will be so much better.

Standards work


Not sure how the upcoming week will pan out, but I am definitely eager to learn what are the nuances and politics that happens at the ISO.  I will be a delegate from Singapore attending the ISO/IEC JTC1 annual plenary in Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

It will be a long 5.5 days and I am hoping to blog and dent about it. In the meantime, what are the fun things to do in Belfast?

Being part of Community Architecture


It is time to tell the world that I have the distinct pleasure to become part of the Community Architecture team within Red Hat. This is indeed both an exciting as well as a deeply challenging opportunity.  Exciting because it means I get to continue to engage with some of the brightest minds within Red Hat who are chartered to think about how the FOSS community has to be kept alive and well. A thriving FOSS community will help continue the amazingly rapid innovation that happens which Red Hat can then bring to enterprises.  Red Hat bringing the innovations from the community to enterprises ensures that everyone wins by added engineering and QA/QE that is added so that deploying FOSS in mission critical systems become a no-brainer. Equally important, the investments by Red Hat on the additional QA/QE flows back out to the FOSS community.  All of this is the core of what has come to be termed, The Open Source Way.

I have a lot of ideas as does the team. We need to build a thriving community of FOSS contributors in Asia Pacific (APAC in short).  For too long, APAC has been a net consumer of FOSS and contributors are few and far between.  I am hoping that with the added focus I now can bring to this space on a full-time basis, that the number of people contributing code, documentation, testing, new ideas etc from APAC countries will see an increase. It has always been my belief that smart people are evenly distributed around the world.  Why we see pockets of contributors is largely a function of connectivity and opportunity.  With the connectivity equation becoming moot, we need to foster opportunity.  For that, I am gung ho and ready to make the plunge.
My initial target group will be the Fedora, JBoss and DeltaCloud communities. Onward ho!

Rescuing a SCO OpenServer 5.0.5 machine to run in a VM on RHEL5.4


I received a frantic SMS from an old classmate running a travel agency business saying that his SCO machine cannot now boot. He is running an application written to a 3-GL/4-GL product called Thoroughbred. He has had the system running since about 1999. And since it does not connect to the Internet, and only has internal LAN users coming in via a telnet connection, he never needed to keep it updated.

So, what was the problem? His 10-year old IBM tower machine failed to boot. Got some help from a local vendor and found that it was the power supply that failed not the harddisk. WIth the power supply replaced, he is now back in business. The proposal given to him from the vendor who fixed the hardware was to “upgrade to a new machine, but we cannot guarantee that the OS and applications you have running will work”.

Enter, the lunch meeting. After hearing his story, I thought his situation would make for an interesting case study for virtualization. So, with his permission, I got hold of the “still in original shrink-warp” SCO manuals and CDs along with the Thoroughbred software and installed the SCO OpenServer 5.0.5 in a RHEL 5.4 VM.

Here is what I had to do:
a) dd’ed the SCO OpenServer 5.0.5 CD (“you can now boot from the CD if your BIOS supports it”) into an iso. It came up to about 280M only!
b) From virtual-machine-manager, choose a new maching with full virtualization
c) Specified 800MB as the drive size (imagine that!)
d) Kept the defaults for the rest.
e) Proceeded with the boot up and installation.
f) All went well. It is hilarious to see the setting up of the harddisk with the sector numbers and heads being cycled through – the “drive” is virtual, and kudos to the virtualization engineers, the SCO installation program was sufficiently convinced that it was all real.
g) Boot up.

The boot up went well (user: root and password: fedora). But the network was not working. Had to start “scoadmin” to get into a curses based setup to configure the network device. I had to go back to virtual-machine-manager and set this VM to have a “pcnet” network. The default “hypervisor” network did not seem to work. The “pcnet” is apparently a ISA device which the SCO has drivers for. It was in the AMD section of the hardware network hardware setup section of the scoadmin command.

So here’s the /etc/libvirt/qemu/sco-openserver-5.0.5.xml:

  sco-openserver-5.0.5
  447d29e3-7891-bb76-385c-82d38e43e739
  524288
  524288
  1

    hvm

  destroy
  restart
  restart

    /usr/bin/qemu

[BTW, in the xml file above, I have to add a space after the < above so that it will not be interpereted by lj. Edit out the extra space if you want to use the xml file.]

The SCO OpenServer 5.0.5 does not have DHCP default and needs an IP to be specified. So, an IP, netmask and default gw has to be specified manually. Interestingly, the network device is “net3”.

It could ping out of the box, telnet to external machines etc so the NAT setup of the VM is working fine.

Looks like I have solved the problem from my friend by using virtualization. Now can get go get a new machine and run RHEL 5.4 on it have his ancient SCO OpenServer 5.0.5 + applications run in perpetuity.

Automatically connecting to the Wireless@SG hotspots


Thanks to a caustic comment some years ago to Lee Kuan Yew by some visitors to Singapore, we have a nation-wide free wifi network called “Wireless@SG”. It has been a constant pain to use and after much ridicule, someone, somewhere has decided to do the Right Thing (TM).

So, what was the problem? Well, when you come across a Wireless@SG hotspot, you have to log in via a browser before you can continue. Yes, you have to provide a username and password (yes, “someone” wants to track you). Move away from that hotspot to another Wireless@SG node, you have to log in again. No mobility. Wireless is about mobility. The people at IDA claim that they are constrained by “security requirements” from the Ministry of Home Affairs. On the other hand, the MHA folks I spoke with say otherwise. So, who dropped the ball? Whatever it is, we have wasted a tonne of tax-payer monies to run the Wireless@SG system for the last few years. There has not been a single report of the service levels of Wireless@SG and how IDA is accounting for the monies spent. I have no issue with providing a quality service using tax dollars. But to provide something that is annoying to use and having no public accountability is plain wrong.

Wireless@SG is still there and there appears to be some people using it. Most of them are NOT mobile – they tend to be seated at some fast food restaurant or coffee place etc.

Now, fast forward to 2010, it looks like the IDA has finally gotten around to make the Wireless@SG truly mobile. Why it took years, I cannot answer. Perhaps some boardroom battles had to be fought, who knows! Someone want to snitch? Post it anonymously if you must.

OK, so we now have proper mobility. Let’s look at the site that discusses this.

First, it suggests that you go to http://www.infocomm123.sg/wireless_at_sg/ssa#connect and gives you two options to connect – one via a piece of software (closed source) to connect your devices. Interestingly, they only list:

Supported Operating Systems
	- iPhone
	- Windows Mobile 6.1 and above
	- Windows XP/Vista/7
	- Mac OS 10.5 and above

as the supported OSes. No Fedora? Why?

Nevermind that. Let’s look at the 2nd option – the manual way of doing this.

Supported Operating Systems
	- iPhone
	- Windows Mobile 6.1 and above
	- Symbian S60 Windows XP/Vista/7
	- Mac OS 10.4 and above 
	- Blackberry OS 
	- Android 1.6 and above

again, no Fedora? They have Android so, how difficult is it to enable Fedora on it?

OK, let’s explore further. I had an account with iCellWireless and choosing thier column entry on Android, I get to see Android configuration document.

The information is trivial. This is all you need to do:

	- Network SSID: Wireless@SGx
	- Security: WPA Enterprise
	- EAP Type: PEAP
	- Sub Type: PEAPv0/MSCHAPv2

and then put in your Wireless@SG username@domain and password. I could not remember my iCell id (I have not used it for a long time) so I created a new one – sgatwireless@icellwireless.net. They needed me to provide my cellphone number to SMS the password. Why do they not provide a web site to retrieve the password?

Now from the info above, you can set this up on a Fedora machine (would be the same for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu, SuSE etc) as well as any other modern operating system.

Now that we have solved the single sign on problem with Wireless@SG, I want statistics on usage, support problems, etc etc etc.

Fonera 2.0n finally!


Finally vpost delivers the Fonera 2.0n I ordered online. Earlier this week, I was suprised to receive a letter (yes, paper mail) from SingPost that my Fon was being held at Singapore Customs pending approval to import from IDA. The letter had the names of the IDA folks to contact. I sent them an email and they came back promptly that they are OK with the device. I sent a PDFed copy of the letter to the IDA officer, who printed it out, stamped it saying that there are no objections, and PDFed it back. Thankfully I had cc’ed SingPost during all the correspondance, and viola, I get an email from SingPost that the delivery will be sent to my house. Wow! All done by email, PDFs and with litterally zero hassle. I do hope that SingPost would be able to check with IDA on these devices beforehand to see if there are any issues before going through the paces, but, as in any good story, the ending is happy.

Now I am a happy owner of a brand new Fonera 2.0n and I can now deploy at home. Welcome, 2010!

Xournal


Thanks to Xournal, you can now annotate any PDF and export it out to a new PDF. This is excellent for filling in forms, note taking, keeping a journal, writing using a stylus etc. I have just experimented it on my newly minted Fedora 12 machine and it just worked wonderfully. My set up has a Genius G-Pen 340 pen tablet plugged in via a USB port and it just all worked seamlessly. Kudos to all who make this happen!

Singapore files contradiction to the ECMA/MS OOXML proposal


It was an interesting evening today. As I arrived home at 6:30pm, I got a call from the chairman of the ITSC Council, saying that he had been hounded on the phone today by the rep from MS Singapore about the ITSC submitting a contradiction. Chairman told the MS rep that they should have participated in the XML WG earlier considering that the ITSC Council and a group of MS folks met to discuss the OOXML stuff on Jan 17th.

At that meeting, which I attended as well, the MS reps were informed that they should consider participating in standards activities and specifically in the XML WG and they agreed wholeheartedly.

As things panned out, they never did participate and at the last moment, probably getting wind that Singapore is going to file a contradiction, they asked for a session with the ITSC Council Chairman and the chairman/vice-chairman of the WG.

Council chairman made it clear that this is not the way standards processes work but we will make an exception and offered that we hold a conference call.

So at 6:50 pm SGT, we called in. The call had the ITSC secretariat, Council chairman, myself and two(?) persons from MS. The XML WG chair/v-chair could not attend as they had prior commitments and, in any case, they have already submitted their recommendations to the ITSC Council. It is the ITSC Council that can decide to modifiy, not submit or submit as is.

During the call, the MS rep was trying to suggest that he had spoken on the phone with the WG chair and suggesting that the WG chair was unclear as to what a contradiction meant and was apparently thinking that this was a balloting process, etc etc. The ITSC secretariat clarified that there was no misunderstanding and the report as presented to the council by the WG was specific about contradictions.

Then I asked the rep to help me understand what, in his words and from the MS angle, a contradiction would be.

He said that it would be something contradicting any existing ISO standard. I then suggested to him the date/time standard ISO 8610 is contradicted by OOXML. I explained what the problem is and then, quickly, he changed his definition to one of implementation. He tried to talk techie – “if you define date as an integer etc” – but I countered with a full on techie talk saying that the usual C libraries handle dates correctly but not OOXML on the same platform … . He did not pursue it further.

I made it clear to him that all we are filing is, a contradiction, and by his definition, the OOXML contradicts a pre-existing ISO standard.

Also, even if there was no other contradictions, the fact that there is only one is sufficient grounds to file a contradiction if we are to fulfil our ISO obligations.

He then went on to say that Singapore need NOT to be so rash as to put up a contradiction and that all of these can be resolved during the 5 month ballot period. I suggested that there is no reason Singapore should not file a contradiction when there is a clear one and, further, Singapore now has an opportunity to be an active standards community member. What could be so bad about that? We are not filing something that is incorrect. If the contradiction is trivial, then the ISO can resolve it before moving on to the 5 month ballot period. All we are doing is to respond to the ISO request.

He tried various other means to delay – “can we get an independent 3rd party to help define contradiction”[1], “no other country has filed”[2], “can we wait till tomorrow to file”[3] etc.

[1] The fact that Japan has filed and they are not exactly an English speaking country, what then for English speaking Singapore in understanding what “contradiction” means?
[2] List of countries – Canada, UK, Germany etc.
[3] The ITSC secretariat was not entirely clear what time the filing would be considered closed and I suggested that if we use midnight Feb 5 GMT/UTC, then we have until 8 am tomorrow SG time to resolve anything. What if the timing is wrong? What happens if we miss the close and we fail to file? As it turned out later, the closing time was 5 pm US EST, which is 6 am SGT February 6, 10 pm UTC.

He was basically trying to buy time until we miss the deadline. Council chairman was firm about this, repeating many times, that talking with a vendor for a standard at this late stage is an unusual situation and that the ITSC has gone over and above to accommodate a vendor’s request. In any case, since the WG has recommended filing contradictions, it will be so unless the vendor has some really convincing point which Council chairman made clear to the rep that there was none.

Case closed – at 7:55 pm. A whole hour of what was essentially begging!

Someone’s KPI is not going to be met!

What fun!

Why does he still put his foot in his mouth?


Steve Baller said yesterday that Linux users can be sued for patent infringement etc etc. And that Asian governments could be the target. Why does he say things like that, and yet be able to sleep at night? Does he not hear himself and does he not realize how really stupid he is sounding?

But, his PR folks think he is a dork (looks like it is offline now).