You Want a Refund?

When users of an awesome free OS or awesome free software complain about stupid little stuff like spoiled brats, I like to tell them, “You are entitled to a full refund of the purchase price.” Sometimes they get it, and reflect on the fact that a whole buncha people worked really hard to create and maintain the software at their own expense. Sometimes they still whine and I tell them, “well then, stop using the software, or the distro, whatever, and go back to paying big bucks to single vendor. You get what you pay for, right?

Please read the article below, and consider supporting great projects with whatever donations you can afford.

https://mikemcquaid.com/2018/03/19/open-source-maintainers-owe-you-nothing/?fbclid=IwAR3pj4uyM5Efj70XlkCeCTygrtXc3nekeOLki6tFdE1C31G4Nzz0zS-Gpf0

Why Xubuntu – Another Reason That Might Surprise You

I have written about a lot of Linux distros, and they’re all great in their own way and for a whole bunch of varied reasons. Sometimes I would try one out just to try something new. More often I would “distro hop” (change my Linux operating system from one distribution to a different one) because of other Linux users (hereafter “‘Nixers”) reviews and opinions. Sometimes I hopped to get away from systemd, which other ‘Nixers have written horrible stuff about, like “they’re watching, they’re spying, they’re gathering info, and systemd will eventually become Skynet and wipe out humanity!” I’m already scared of technology by nature, but all the fuss over systemd (used in most Linux distros now by people a lot smarter than I kinda freaked me out and I binged on distros that aligned against the coming takeover of human society by the Robotic Overlords.

I have already described why I love this distro, Xubuntu. But in this post I want to go beyond the user experience, and explore another compelling reason that I have settled on Xubuntu and expect to stick with it.

Sometimes I read blogs from other ‘Nixers who railed against Linux distributions made by corporations hoping to profit from free and open-source software (FOSS). How dare they! Profit is evil! The pursuit of money leads to all kinds of evil, exploitation, and ecological disaster! Red Hat, IBM, Oracle, and Canonical among others, all create and give away great Linux operating systems for desktops and servers. There’s nothing in the GNU license, under which Linux is offered, that forbids anyone from copying, modifying, selling, and mixing up Linux any way they please. Yet many ‘Nixers seem to be awash in anti-corporate and anti-capitalist sentiment. They insist that any decent Linux OS must be created and maintained by volunteers supported by donations from users, period. Yet look at what many of these volunteers supported by donations are building on: Corporate Linux! How many Ubuntu-based spinoffs are there, all asking for donations to “improve” Ubuntu with some unique software and shiny wallpaper? How many from Fedora, same thing? It seems so hypocritical. Using Ubuntu as a base and relying on Ubuntu’s software repositories, these spin-offs claim some higher morality? Pfffft. Use Debian as a base, then. Use Arch as a base, or Slackware or any other “non-corporate” distro to improve upon and release as a “new” distro (or “distrolet,” as I call many of them).

Now consider why Ubuntu is far and away the most popular “base to build a new distro on.” There’s always Debian, from which Ubuntu is based, and it’s not an evil profit-seeking corporation. But noooooo, they build their distro on Ubuntu. Why? Because Ubuntu has vastly improved upon Debian, from the easiest installation software ever devised to whatever “non-free blobs” they have added to make Ubuntu “just work” on a huge variety of hardware. The “evil profit-seeking corporation” that developed and maintains Ubuntu has done a heckuvalot to improve on Debian, and it’s so very much easier to build a new distro on than Debian is.

So: Why Xubuntu instead of Debian, Slackware, Arch, or Mandriva? Because of the amazing work and innovations of the corporation behind it, for one thing. Also because it is officially supported by that corporation, yet community-developed at the same time. It’s not going to disappear when it’s “lead developer” gets sick, dies in a car crash, or has a stroke and can’t work anymore (like almost every other non-corporate Linux distro). And because it is built from Debian, great grand daddy of distros, which is also backed by a large community and not just one guy or one small group.

The Lead developer of Xubuntu at present is also a developer of the wonderful Xfce desktop! Both projects benefit from sharing developers. Under the hood (or bonnet, for you chaps on the other side of the pond), it’s Ubuntu. But only minimally so. Updates are far less frequent on Xubu than on it’s flagship Gnome-desktop counterpart, and updates don’t seem to break things on Xubu. I’m using a well-broken in Long Term Support release of Xubu, so it’s far less prone to having an update break anything.

So if you’re a ‘Nixer because you’re an anti-capitalist left-leaning FOSS zealot, you’ll hate this post, and you might hate me for writing it. But if you’re a ‘Nixer because the locked single-vendor system of Microsoft or Apple has let you down, try Xubuntu.

Technology, Learning, and the Digital Divide

This is a modified paper I wrote for one of my college classes. But it belongs here on Confessions of a Technophobe because technology in the classroom is becoming a really big deal. And as an aspiring future educator and ardent advocate of free and open-source software, I propose it’s use in the classroom as a means of crossing the great “digital divide:”

Technology is a great learning tool for students, but requires the same judicious and skillful use as other tools of learning. When audio-visual tools such as television and motion pictures were introduced into classrooms, teachers and students needed to be trained in the proper use of these technologies so that they would be an aid to learning rather than a distraction or a hindrance. We have all seen – or been – the student nodding off in the classroom during a movie rather than interacting with the material, and teachers were encouraged to use movies and videos with care to avoid that unfortunate result. Some teachers became dependent upon these new tools because they made it possible to provide the required access to learning materials with little or no effort by the teacher to actually convey the content themselves. The same can be true for the newer technology that enables access to material through the Internet, but there are ways to avoid it which should be implemented in every school. And there are ways to make this technology available in ways that minimize the “digital divide” between “haves” and “have-nots” in today’s classrooms. Both considerations are vital to the success of our students. This discussion seeks to address the following:

  • Integration

    of technology into instruction

  • Student

    safety on the Internet

  • Technology

    standards for middle school students

  • Choosing

    appropriate technology

Integration

My cooperating teacher, Mrs. P., integrates technology in her 7th-grade Civics and 8th-grade US History classes using an interactive web portal with downloadable assignments, readings, study guides in pdf format, and webquests; and e-mail links for communicating with students and parents. A closed television network at the middle school is accessible in every classroom so that teachers rarely need to purchase outside videos or other audio-visual aids for their classes. But Mrs. P. has brought in some documentaries on video from her own library to supplement the network library for her own classes. “There are resources available besides the ones offered by the school that include valuable material that is omitted or inadequately covered in the textbooks and video library,” she says. “Once I obtain approval for their use, I give my students the benefit of these extra resources that they wouldn’t otherwise have” (V. P., personal communication, February 6, 2015). One of her students uses a tablet as an accommodation, and is able to submit classwork digitally either by showing it to Mrs. P. or directly uploading it.

Safety

Mrs. P. is able to address both the “digital divide” and Internet safety by providing her students with access to the school library’s computers, which offer filtered access to the Internet using built-in hardware as well as software safety features in a safe environment. She falls short, in my opinion, by not adequately integrating research skills into the instructional material. Perhaps teaching research skills is considered to be beyond the ability of middle school students, but I share the opinion that research skills should be introduced as a necessary part of accessing information on-line. One educator writes, “While they’re learning to be good researchers, students will also be solidifying key Common Core competencies, like the ability to integrate knowledge, identify truthful reasoning, and use evidence to make a point” (Shwartz). If research skills are not included as part of the actual lesson, the research process becomes irrelevant to the students. A Google search can easily lead to unreliable, biased information or outright false information. Students must learn to identify good academic sources from bad ones. It is not enough to simply forbid students from using Wikipedia “because it is unreliable.” Students need to know how to tell whether material is reliable or not. Such skills are not beyond the ability of middle school students in my opinion. Any student that is mature enough to use the Internet is mature enough to learn basic research skills. A link from Ms. Shwartz’s article provides an ideal summary of what to look for in an easily applied acronym, “the CRAAP test” (Unknown). The acronym stands for:

  • Currency:

    The timeliness of the information,

  • Relevance:

    The importance of the information to your research,

  • Authority:

    The source of the information,

  • Accuracy:

    The reliability and truthfulness of the information, and

  • Purpose:

    The reason the information exists or is published.

It is not necessary for students learning to do Internet research to be left to their own devices in discerning which sources are good for their research or not. By integrating research skills into the subject matter itself, teachers in even the lower grades can give their students a big head start for the later years when they will be expected to put those skills to regular use.

Technology Standards for Middle School

While I have touched on what I think ought to be included, I have not been able to find a concrete and measurable statement of middle school grade-level technology standards in the Florida Standards, but only a vague reference in the Language Arts Standards to “the use of technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and link to and cite sources as well as to interact and collaborate with others, including linking to and citing sources” (http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/W/7/6/). Clearly, there remains much work to be done in order to make such a nebulous “standard” concrete enough to make it more than a wishful aspiration. Using or adapting the CRAAP test and other simple tools can help “put wheels on the cart,” enabling students to learn research skills as part of the subject matter so that it makes better sense. It also puts responsibility for learning firmly in the hands of learners rather than teachers. “The technologies that can be used to help students take ownership of their learning include blogs, wikis, online quizzes, and VoiceThread,” according to an article on making use of technology in the classroom (Bart). Mrs. P. makes use of some of these tools on her own web portal, but they could be made more interactive through the use of online puzzles and games rather than the burdensome printed crossword puzzles she hands out in class. One of the reasons she does not is because several of her students use older computers with unsupported operating systems like WindowsXP®, which lost support for security updates last April. Purchasing a new computer to replace a perfectly good one that doesn’t have the resources to run the new version of Microsoft Windows® is an unreasonable hardship on families. It is one example of what our textbook calls “the digital divide.”

Crossing “the Digital Divide”

“Technology offers hope to many, but it does not always offer opportunity to everyone,” our textbook asserts to introduce “the gap between technology haves and have-nots” (Sadker & Zittleman, p. 195). Even with the dramatic drop in prices for computers and Internet access, much vital technology is simply out of reach for many families. Even here at the College of Central Florida it is an issue for students who are not wealthy or who work during the hours that computers at the school are available in the Learning Center. One wonderful bridge over this great gap which has made huge advances in recent years, is the development of free and open-source software (FOSS) and free operating systems like GNU/Linux. This writer uses an ancient relic of a computer – one step up from an abacus – kept out of the landfill by means of a simple, elegant, point-and-click operating system that is absolutely free of charge. Loaded with a free office suite that does everything that it’s expensive proprietary Microsoft counterpart does, I have been able to get almost all of my school work done without having to spend hundreds of dollars to replace a working computer and upgrade massively expensive office software. The only glitch has been a requirement in two of my classes to use only Microsoft format in some assignments. LibreOffice, the most popular FOSS equivalent of Microsoft Office®, is able to convert documents into Microsoft format most of the time, but it should not be necessary since LibreOffice works on every platform including Windows. Keeping modest computers working well with free operating systems like Linux, and using no-cost software like OpenOffice or LibreOffice, the Evince pdf reader and other free tools has become a great bridge over the digital divide in many underdeveloped nations, impoverished schools, and even government agencies. It has been neglected in favor of expensive proprietary systems for far too long. The time is long past that public schools should have stopped holding their students and teachers hostage to mega-corporations which lock them into a single format. Access to information on the Internet is far too valuable a resource to be kept from students merely for the sake of appeasing a corporate giant.

References

Bart, M. (2011). How Technology Can Improve Learner-Centered Teaching. Magna Publications.

Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/

instructional-design/how-technology-can-improve-learner-centered-teaching/

Sadker, D. & Zittleman, K. (2013). Teachers, Schools, and Society. (10th edition). New York, NY.

McGraw-Hill

Shwartz, K. (2013, October). Teach Kids to Be Their Own Internet Filters. Retrieved from

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/10/tech-kids-to-be-their-own-filter/

Unknown. (2012). The CRAAP Test. Retrieved from the North Carolina A&T University Library web

site: http://libguides.library.ncat.edu/content.php?pid=53820&sid=394505

Xfce is At it Again

This has happened before with Xfce4’s desktop weather applet, and now here it is again:

No forecast, no information to display. The last time it happened I was using Xubuntu – still a favorite of mine prior to 14.04 – and the fix was to remove the weather applet (not just from the panel, but remove the software from the computer), then add a PPA, and from that source, install a maintained version. Or, alternately, just be patient until an update fixes it – which it did the last time, and pretty quickly.

Most ordinary desktop users seldom give a thought to the fact that someone has to maintain every single application we use, in our distro’s repositories and in the project’s own servers. These invisible people make it possible for the rest of us to use software and keep it updated. When one of them fumbles for whatever reason, then instead of being grateful for what we have and enjoy for free, we gripe and complain. Hey, FOSS user, it ain’t like you’re not getting your money’s worth! So just quit your bitchin’ and do a little reading. My favorite distros all have Wikis and helpful documentation all over the place, and forums to help us non-geeky types interpret some of that hard-to-decipher techno-jargon. This fix for this (at least in Debian / MX) did not instantly appear in the forums. But no one is especially worried about it, because again, we’re certainly getting our money’s worth!

Try desklets! And/or gdesklets (old but pretty cool). The Xfce4 panel app is not the only source of desktop weather info for goodnessakes. Even a technophobe can easily and quickly install and configure any of the fine alternatives. And people who use free software need to gain some appreciation for the unsung, under-appreciated heroes who make it all possible.

Still lovin’ my Xfce, waiting for an update to fix it, no big deal.

Are Linux Users Anti-Capitalist?

I’ve seen a lot of stuff in Linux forums and blogs to make me think so, in spite of the existence of for-profit Linux companies like Red Hat, Novell, and Canonical. During my very brief membership in Diaspora, the free and open-source social network that bills itself as an alternative to Facebook, I found no other members there who believe in good old fashioned free market capitalism. Diaspora attracts many Linux/FOSS users. There were hundreds of posts from Diaspora community members equating profit with greed, as though it is somehow unethical to reap the rewards of one’s own hard work. For all I could tell, I may have been the only one in the whole network with an opposing point of view.

Now comes another rant from Richard Stallman, the rabid FOSS advocate who sees all other software as inherently evil because it may have a profit motive. In his most recent anti-capitalist rant, the Bearded One rails against Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, the most popular and most widely used desktop Linux distribution in history. He urges Linux users to abandon Ubuntu because of an advertized feature of it’s innovative Unity desktop interface (here). He claims that the “shopping lens” in the desktop “dash” (think of “dashboard” – that Unity desktop is pretty cool, and is designed with a view towards touch screens and such – the future!) is a “sneaky” invasion of the user’s privacy with an eeeeevil profit motive.

First of all, the shopping lens is an advertized feature of Ubuntu, so there’s nothing “sneaky” about it. And users can easily opt out if they don’t want to use it. Secondly, it takes money to fund development of Ubuntu’s innovations, which they then provide for free to their users. Canonical’s deal with Amazon helps provide some of that funding while preserving the user’s privacy by not collecting any “user-identifiable” information. What expectation of privacy does any online shopper have anyway? Gimme a break! If Canonical can get enough profit from deals with companies like Dell, Amazon, and Google to continue funding their awesome and innovative operating system and then give that operating system away for free, how can that be considered greedy and selfish?

It’s only considered “greedy” by anarchists, communists, and others who believe that the rewards of one’s own hard work should not be retained by those who earn those rewards. “Share the wealth,” we are told by those who would remove any incentive to work at all, much less invest in the work of others. The Linux and Free and Open Source Software communities have more than their fair share of such rabid anti-capitalists who think they are entitled to all the benefits of other people’s work. What about their own volunteer contributions to the Free Software Foundation? How is that different from any Ubuntu user who wants to use Ubuntu’s cool search feature or shopping feature to support their favorite Linux/FOSS project? Answer: It’s no different at all. It’s just easier than writing a check to support the Bearded One’s favorite Linux/FOSS projects – or more accurately, to support the Bearded One himself.

Shut up, Stallman. Quit begging and bitching and get a real job. I bet if you did, you would come to resent the efforts of other socialists and anarchists to confiscate your wages in order to “share the wealth” with other bums like you.