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Archive for July, 2006

Reality Check: Getting a ‘Real’ Job

Computer lab
Another day, another dollar.
But is your workplace a dreadful place to be?

I quite enjoy my life in an arena which involves research, publications, public appearances, sharing of code that I produce, and technical writings that I rapidly accumulate. All of that, in fact, is something that reaches culmination through the Internet and Web sites, which are — to me at least — a gateway to a wider world. For long I have pondered (and even lost sleep over) a scenario where I find myself in a cubicle, coding for somebody else day, by day, by day…

Dreadful forecasts aside, there are other ways to make a living. Fortunately, a happy life is one where making ends meet should suffice, vacations are unnecessary, and help for those that surround us gets elevated. I seem to be getting worried prematurely. Here is one such article that speaks of self-employment and affordable independence.

It’s funny that when people reach a certain age, such as after graduating college, they assume it’s time to go out and get a job. But like many things the masses do, just because everyone does it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. In fact, if you’re reasonably intelligent, getting a job is one of the worst things you can do to support yourself. There are far better ways to make a living than selling yourself into indentured servitude.

This reminded me of an older blog item (a speech actually) which I once read and boomarked. It moved me enormously.

I was a diligent Oriental in high school and college. I took college-level classes and earned college-level credits. I rushed through college in 3 1/2 years. I never traveled or took time off because I thought it wouldn’t prepare me for work and it would delay my graduation.

Frankly, I blew it.

You are going to work the rest of your lives, so don’t be in a rush to start. Stretch out your college education. Now is the time to suck life into your lungs-before you have a mortgage, kids, and car payments.

Another nice item from the first author (one which I commented on before) speaks of 10 ways to relaxify your workspace. Recommended reading!

Battle of Two Linux Titans

SuSE Linux beta, KDE

The older KDE-based version of SuSE Linux

ANOTHER short Linux comparison has taken my attention. It is by no means a professional or comprehensive review, but is does provide a ‘taste’ of two ends — Ubuntu and Novell’s SLED — both of which are GNOME-based GNU/Linux distributions. Below is just a fragment.

In conclusion, SLED 10 brings everything that Ubuntu does and feels slightly faster. But Ubuntu has bigger and nicer community and .deb is simply better than .rpm. Out of 10, I give both of them 10. Linux desktop has never been so good.

I quite like the author’s illustration of the increasingly-popularised Mac OS X look in Ubuntu. There have always been significant visual improvement in SLED, particularly since SUSE 10.1 was released with grey shades in GNOME.

Misinformed Article About GNU/Linux

Season of the playful penguins
Season of the playful penguins from Oyonale

YESTERDAY I noticed an article which is due to go public on July 24th (that’s tomorrow). This article was titled “A Linux OS For All” [rel="nofollow"], but this title may be very deceiving, in my humble opinion. Its inference is not a very positive one. It led me to the thought of One Microsoft way (or Apple, for the sake of this argument’s completeness). To quote one part of the article that truly itched:

“Linux, on the other hand, does not have that excuse—the operating system should be popping up all over the place. From my experience, the features I like about Linux are probably also the biggest limiting factor to its widespread adoption on the desktop. Linux proves to be infinitely customizable and has a plethora of applications available, yet those excellent capabilities bring confusion to the product.”

I had to scratch that itch. Essentially, the author proposes robbing users from choice and diversity. Monoculture is what Linux is here to address/tackle. Isn’t that what SLED is for, after all? Why eliminate all others which are fine contenders? And why spread FUD about compiling packages when there are such huge Ubuntu repositories. Initially I thought that someone else should E-mail him (he explicitly invites feedback); even doing so before the article goes live! Eventually, I did this myself last night. I’m hoping to get a response on Monday. Patience is divinity, but the clock keeps ticking.

Update (24/07/2006): I received a reply suggesting that my words can be added as an appended Letter to the Editor.

Digg’s Effect on Search Engines

The Digg front page

I must admit that I have fallen in love with the ‘Digg (sub)culture’. And primarily owing to Digg (and its saturation of dynamically-generated pages), the number of hits for my surname is growing at a wild pace across search engines. It is approaching one million in Google (Interesting fact: if I received a penny for every hit that is added to Google, for example, I would be able to make ends meet). This wasn’t intended; rather it’s a side effect that I have just become aware of. I tend to have a consistent username, which is always available due to the small size of my family.

I suspect that, at the moment, Digg boasts over 10 million subscribed members who are largely interested in information technology. Many will be exposed to the virtues of GNU/Linux and Open Source, which seems encouraging to me. At the time of writing, 4 of my submissions appear in the front page, among 15 submissions in total. That’s almost a third of a front page, whose domains’ Alexa traffic rank is among the top 100 sites on the Web. What an overwhelming experience.

Reliable Backup Mechanism

Data Recovery - presentation

T ODAY I would like to explain, in a relatively shallow level of depth, my most basic backup routines. I will concentrate on a somewhat simplified perspective and that which involves my current backup approach for local files, as opposed to the Web. The method is largely automated, owing to cron jobs (scheduler-driven). More details and method were described in older blog items. For example, have a cursory look at:

At present, I continue to seek and stick to a robust backup mechanism that is rather immune to human error, as well as hardware failures. I take the ‘stacked backup’ approach (keep several cumulative/progressive backups) and I always remain paranoid, as to be on the ‘safe side’ of things. I fear (and maybe even loathe) situations where I might lose data as this costs a lot of time and can even lead to considerable emotional pain, especially in the case of irreversible loss. As a result, I have scripted all my backup routines. I can just set it all up and thereafter forget about it, so frequency of backups can be increased without extra cost (time). I would like to share a few commands that I use in this blog post, for whatever it’s worth. Here are bits referenced from the crontab file, as well as some corresponding and related scripts.

First of all, here is a command which takes all the settings files (beginning with a dot) and puts them on the external storage media, datestamped. It’s possible to go further and compress (e.g. using gzip), but it makes the entire process much slower.

tar -cf /media/SEA_DISK/Home/Home-Settings/home-settings`date +%Y-%m-%d`.tar ~/.[0-z]*

Here is a simple way of preparing a datestamp-named directory.

mkdir /media/SEA_DISK/Home/`date +%Y-%m-%d`

I then take all files to be backed up, slicing them into volumes of 1 gigabyte (the filesystem will not accept files that exceed 4 gigabytes in size).

tar -cf - /home/roy/Main/BU|split -b 1000m - /media/SEA_DISK/Home/`date +%Y-%m-%d`/Baine-`date +%Y-%m-%d`.tar

Lastly, important files that change frequently are copied without any compression.

cp -r /home/roy/Desktop/ /home/roy/.kde/share/apps/kpilot /home/roy/Main/MyMemos
/home/roy/Main/kpilot-syslog.html /media/SEA_DISK/Home/Misc_local #local

I prefer to send copies of these files off-site as well, just for the sake of redundancy.

konsole -e rsync -r /home/roy/Desktop /home/roy/.kde/share/apps/kpilot
/home/roy/Main/MyMemos /home/roy/Main/kpilot-syslog.html
/home/roy/public_html roy@baine.smb.man.ac.uk:/windows/BU/Sites/SCG #and remote

In the above, Konsole is just a convenient graphic-textual wrapper for these operations that spew out status or flag errors, shall they ever emerge (a rarity).

I use tape archives to retain nightly stacks. Every night I use rsync to replicate my main hard-drive and to avoid the existence of deprecated files, I create a fresh copy twice a week, using rm -rf followed by scp (could be rsync as well, in principle) and a storage unit whose total capacity is 0.3 terabyte keeps stacks of the files before each rm -rf operation. Here are some bits of code which are hopefully self-explanatory.

konsole -e rsync -r roy@baine.smb.man.ac.uk:/home/roy/* /home/roy/Main/BU/ &

For a fresh copy of a remote home directory, begin by erasing the existing files.

rm -rf /home/roy/Main/BU/*

rm -rf /home/roy/Main/BU/.[0-z]*

Then, copy all files using a simple remote copy command.

konsole -e scp -r roy@baine.smb.man.ac.uk:/home/roy/* /home/roy/Main/BU/ &

The stacked backups that are dated get deleted manually; and quite selectively so! One should permit reversal to older states of the filestore by leaving sensible time gaps between retained backups. This prevents backups from being ‘contaminated’ too quickly. Important files are often replicate on file/Webspaces, so the most I can lose if often less than one day’s worth, due to hard-drive failures that are physical. The files are kept on 3 separate archives in 2 different sites in Manchester (home and the University; used to be three sites before I left one of my jobs). All in all, I hope this inspired someone. If not, at least it would serve as a page I can reference friends to in case they seek something similar.

More tips on *nix-oriented backup can be found in a recent article.

The Songs That Grip Our Minds

Vinyl record

I found the following article quite fascinating.

Songs we hear as teenagers tend to remain lifelong favourites because they become hardwired into our memory during a critical time, a memory conference has heard.

[...]

“You recall more memories from the period of 10 to 25 [than previous or subsequent periods] and the bump has a peak between 16 and 20,” he says.

“The brain works at its optimum in that period. It’s a sponge and it soaks up everything.”

To name just a few songs that will remain with me forever: “Tonight” by Blackstreet and a couple of renditions of “I Can’t Go for It”. I tend to associate — mentally that is — album covers with certain songs that eternally stay in my head.

When Community Sites Intersect with Cash

Money on keyboard

ONLY a few days ago, Netscape and AOL offered money for people to participate in their on-line portal. Having created a Digg copycat, they were willing to pay some generous sums of money for influential Diggers to defect and help create a larger and healthier community elsewhere. The cited article views these recent events in a rather objective way.

Dollar signs went off in the blogsphere Wednesday, as blog pioneer and recent Netscape recruit Jason Calacanis offered up to $1000 a month to woo volunteer posters away from popular reader-generated link sites like Digg and Reddit.

[...]

“I’m just surprised that he feels like he had to steal people away from Digg,” said Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief at SearchEngineWatch.com. “Certainly it’s starting to feel forced now. He’s looking for leaders in his community. None of them have emerged apparently, so he’s hoping to bribe them away from another place.”

[...]

Will the cool hunters in the Digg community take the bait? Reached via e-mail, Digg’s second most popular user, Dirtyfratboy (also known as Henry Wang), told Wired News that he was torn.

“Mr. Calacanis shows up this week and informs the world that users can receive payment for their work. I’ve stayed by Digg’s side ever since the 2.0 birth, but I’m in real pain right now. I would rather break my arm than to dismiss Digg, but my college tuition doesn’t pay for itself.”

Even to me this was tempting. Out of curiosity I got in touch with Calacanis and tested the ground, so to speak. They seem interested at the time, but this truly conflicted with my principles. It would also be awkward, if not a poor strategy altogether. Paying people to do what others already do voluntarily? A couple of days later this led to quiet riots by existing Netscape.com fans. So, I imagine the plan has been fully conceded by now.

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