Upgrading to Fedora 23 and some meaningless torrent stats

Since Fedora 23 was released yesterday, I went ahead and upgraded my desktop over lunch. The process was mostly painless. I followed the instructions for using dnf in Fedora Magazine, but hit a small snag: a few of the packages blocked on requirements. So I removed an old kernel-devel package and gstreamer-plugins-ugly. But I still got this:

package kf5-kdesu-5.15.0-2.fc23.x86_64 requires kf5-filesystem >= 5.15.0, but none of the providers can be installed.

That’s not great, because you can’t remove that package without also removing KDE Plasma. Taking the –best off of the dnf invocation fixed it, without any weird upgrade issues (the –best option supposedly cancels the download if a package can’t be upgraded, but everything seems good after the fact).

Since I don’t have any great tales of technical prowess to share, I thought I’d comment on the torrents. Measuring usage of an open source operating system is a really tricky thing, so I thought I might see what the torrents tell us. Keep in mind that torrents are probably a terrible way of measuring popularity, too. I’m just going to assume that most people who torrent ISOs are only torrenting the ones they actually use (instead of me, where I torrent several just to be a good citizen).

Here’s my seeding ratios for Fedora 22:

Flavor i686 x86_64
KDE 16.1 32.9
Security 8.02 13.6
Workstation 24.8 31.2
Server 10.3 15

The “ratio ratio” as I call it is a comparison of seeding ratios between the two main architectures:

Flavor x86_64:i686
KDE 2.04
Security 1.70
Workstation 1.26
Server 1.46

So what does all of this tell us? Apart from “absolutely nothing!”, it says that KDE users install on x86_64 way more than on i686. Workstation is still really popular on 32-bit machines and overall. The first 32 hours of seeding for Fedora 23 show similar patterns. Yay?

Learning by mashing buttons

I’ve become somewhat of a Slack expert at work (or at least that’s the perception) On the technical side, we’ve been using it for over a year, and you’d think everyone would have a pretty similar degree of familiarity. That turns out not to be the case.

I don’t think I’m particularly smart, but I tend to be pretty good at knowing how to configure various applications. This isn’t some skill honed by years of meticulous study. On the contrary, I learn my way around by smashing keys until something interesting happens.

One of the first things I do when I get a new device or application is to go poking around in all of the menus looking for fun settings to change. When my family got our first computer, I nearly bricked it a few times playing with different settings. I’m much more careful now, but I’m still unwilling to leave settings unexplored.

Occasionally I’ll be reminded that not everyone does this, and it confuses me. Where’s the fun if you don’t play with all the settings to see what happens?

I’m a boothtrovert

Some people are introverts. Some are extroverts. I, apparently, am a boothtrovert. Last week, I attended the All Things Open conference in Raleigh. As part of the Opensource.com Community Moderator team, I took a few shifts in the site’s booth. And wow did I enjoy it!

I’m an equal mix of introvert and extrovert, depending on the day, but something about working the booth really got me going. It helped that I had nothing to sell. All I had to do was talk to people about the site: what they like about it (if they read it), and how maybe they should consider contributing. I’m not sure any of them actually will, but there were definitely a few people who began to light up when I explained that I went from thinking “I have nothing to contribute” to having submitted 20 articles in the space of just a few months.

But my favorite part happened during one of the book signing sessions. We were giving away signed copies of Jason van Gumster’s Blender for Dummies, and the stock we had was quickly exhausted. One guy came up to the table and looked pretty sad when he found out there were none left. So I asked his name and then brought him over to where Jason was standing. I introduced him to Jason and stepped out of the way to let them talk. They conversed for probably ten minutes or so. It wasn’t the same as getting a free and autographed book, but he certainly seemed less sad.

I’m not sure I could ever give sales pitches, but I certainly enjoy the interaction and conversation of booth work (interestingly, I mostly don’t like visiting booths at conferences, in part because I know it will result in having to ignore sales solicitations for the next three months). It looks like I’ll have another opportunity soon, but this time for work. I’ll be interested to see how booth-for-work compares to booth-for-volunteer.

ebooks versus dead tree books

For a long time, I avoided ebooks. Partly because reading on a monitor was just weird to me. Partly because I really like the feel and smell of physical books. Partly because having a dead tree version of manuals was important in outages. Partly because I don’t have to worry about DRM. Partly because I enjoy the look of a shelf full of books.

It wasn’t until my oldest child was born that I started getting into ebooks. The aspect ratio of my phone or tablet made long-form reading a lot easier than the “sideways” monitor setup. The real selling point was that the backlight was a lot easier to manage than a small reading light, particularly when trying to get a resistant child to fall asleep.

Still, my consumption habits are better suited for physical books. One of my favorite ways to get books is to peruse the discard shelf at the local library. I’ll pick up books that seem interesting. If they are, I’ll keep them. If they’re not, I’ll send them off to Goodwill. Digital media doesn’t (yet) have a similar paradigm.

On the one hand, that makes sense. Digital copies are cheap to the point of being basically free. Who needs to discard an ebook when you can just copy it? Of course, authors and publishers argue that such a model completely eliminates the commercial value of their work. I am very sympathetic to that, although there’s certainly room to make copyright law more consumer-friendly.

Slowly, I’ve begun adding to my ebook collection, generally when O’Reilly has their Day Against DRM sale. I’ll still prefer physical books for the most part, if nothing else because it’s easier to get them autographed. A conversion to more ebooks is probably inevitable, particularly once publishers realize that ebooks are cheaper to produce and adjust the prices downward accordingly.

RIP Paul

I swear this won’t become a theme (or at least I hope it won’t), but the world got a little bit darker today. My friend Paul Birkhimer passed away this morning after a a brief battle with cancer. Paul was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the end of May. It was aggressive, but it did not dampen his spirits.

I’m not sure Paul’s spirits were dampenable. I didn’t know him half as well as I would have liked, but he always seemed to be the most cheerful person in the room. His cheer was a quiet one, subtle. He wasn’t bombastic in a way that turned people off, but an even, slow-burning cheer.

I first met Paul because his wife Suzanne of my undergraduate department’s Assistant Head. I’d seem him at department functions and thought he was a pretty fun guy, but I couldn’t remember his name. I called him “Mister Sue” until I learned his name. I don’t remember if I ever told him that or not, but I’m sure he would have gotten a kick out of it.

Paul faced cancer exactly how Paul would: with humor, with faith, and with the love of countless family and friends from all over. Would that we were all a little more like Paul.

How I take notes

I’m not what you call an obsessive note taker, but I have learned over the years that I shouldn’t rely on my memory without some kind of external backup. A while back, I came across an article about how taking notes by hand is better for long-term memory. This immediately made me sad, since all of my serious note-taking is done digitally. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized digital notes are best for me.

I first started taking digital notes late in my undergraduate career. I had a program called “GoBinder” where I could import course notes and slides and comment directly on them, as well as adding my own free-form content. This worked fairly well for more text-based classes, but for meteorology classes with a lot of Greek letters and illustrations, it was a bit of a challenge. I mostly stuck to hand-written notes.

Years later, I went to graduate school. A master’s degree in IT project management is very wordy, so I resumed digital note-taking. Pretty early on, I settled on using Markdown. This allowed me to take notes that looked like text but still have some basic markup so I could highlight important points, make lists, etc. When it was time to study for exams, I would review the notes, and convert them to HTML for more in-depth study and review.

This method worked pretty well for me and had a few added benefits. When doing homework, I could `grep` for a key phrase if I couldn’t remember where to find it. Also, the files were on my SpiderOak account, so they were available to me anywhere. I didn’t have to worry about leaving my notebook at home or spilling coffee on it (at least if I spilled coffee on my laptop, I’d be able to get my files onto a new one).

For me, the portability and searchability are compelling reasons to stick with digital notes. As the article points out, I do find myself doing more transcription when typing than when writing, but that’s a habit I can fix.

RIP Lara


Internet, I want to tell you about my friend Lara Ann Harrison. Lara was a short little bundle of happy. She was a sweet person who was fiercely loyal to her friends. I met her by happy accident. Her older sister was my age. We met at a couple of Model UN conferences and became friends. One day, I called her and we talked for several minutes before I said “you don’t know who this is, do you?” Well it turned out I didn’t know who she was. I wasn’t talking to Kari, I was talking to Lara.

At 17, I didn’t have too many friends who were younger than me, but Lara and I quickly became close friends. I hope I was as good a friend to her as she was to me, but at that point in my life I don’t think it was very likely. At any rate, we lived about 45 minutes away from each other, so we didn’t see each other too often, but we talked a lot on AIM.

I got older and busier and we started talking less. Then she got older and busier and we talked even less than that. The last time I saw her was at least 5 years ago, probably closer to 10 at this point. I don’t remember the last time we talked. We just sort of drifted apart.

I found out earlier this week that Lara died at the far-too-young age of 28. In fact, she died back in January. I missed the news when it first happened, and it was only because Facebook had decided to show me a post that her sister made that I realized she was gone. It’s odd how the Internet has changed the way we interact. Without it, Lara and I would never have become close friends. Without it, I might never have known she left us far too soon.

Working from home

A couple of months ago, Harvard Business Review ran an article about working from home. The article didn’t say telecommuting is the worst, but it did point out some of the productivity and morale benefits of office interactions. After two years of my own working from home experience, I thought I’d reflect on my own opinions.

The thing that has surprised me the most is how much I miss having a commute home. Whether by bus, bike, or car, my trip home took 15-30 minutes. It was my time to switch from work mode to home mode (and if I were riding the bus, watch some Netflix). My commute home now is the two seconds it takes me to stand up and leave the room. If I’ve had a rough day at work, immediately walking into a 4 year old and a 1 year old (and a wife who has been herding them all day) doesn’t allow for much time to reset.

I do sometimes miss the personal interactions with my coworkers. I have a colleague across town, and I see him in person once every few months. On a normal day, the fact that I can work without someone sitting in my office distracting me is a benefit. When I do need to talk something out, coworkers are a video call away. I really only miss physical presence on days when I’m just not feeling very motivated to work.

Why I blog

I started this blog in January of 2008. Initially the posts were infrequent and poorly-written (as opposed to now when they are frequent and poorly-written). At the time I had a LiveJournal account that I regularly updated, but felt like I wanted to separate personal and technical content. Seven-plus years later, I haven’t logged into my LiveJournal account in years but Blog Fiasco is still going strong.

I was but a young sysadmin at the time, and this blog was an opportunity to share things I learned. Mostly for my own benefit, but I figured if it was new to me, maybe it would be new to someone else, too. As I started training our student technicians, I starting writing blog posts as a way to plan lessons for them. These days, the posts are less technical and more opinionated. That’s not really a change in me so much as a change in my focus.

In all of the years I’ve been writing this blog, I have made exactly zero dollars from it. That’s fine. Despite the half-hearted Amazon ads and the occasional affiliate link I toss in a post, I’m not here to make money (though I certainly wouldn’t object to it). Mostly I write for my own benefit. Occasionally, I hope that my bloggery will make me well-respected throughout the land. There’s still time for that.

It isn’t just that I enjoy writing. Every so often, a post will turn out to be really helpful to people. Less often, they will tell me that, and it makes me feel good. For example, back when GEMPAK was much more difficult to install than it is today, I spent several hours getting it to compile. I wrote a post, mostly so that when it came time to build it again, I’d already have the steps written down for me. Much to my surprise, people found it, and found it useful. In the comments, readers were even helping each other.

More recently, I finally got around to enabling site statistics. I was really surprised when I saw that another post from 2010 was still getting regular page views. I described how I hunted down and solved a problem with printing. As recently as 2014, people were still finding it useful enough to leave nice comments. Since I enabled site statistics, that page gets an average of six views a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but I’m generally getting 20 or so on days I don’t post, sot hat’s a sizeable contribution.

Another great thing about site stats is finding out that a quote has become very popular. One of my earliest posts used “reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life” as the title. I had never heard the quote before, but I wanted a title and I searched for quotes about reading. From May 14 through June 14 (the first month I had site stats on), the post got a total of 10 views. It’s had 33 more since then (and probably more than that by the time this post publishes). Either someone famous repeated the quote, or it’s being used in a freshman literature assignment.

I don’t always write here, either. I used to write for the local newspaper, basically as a public service. I’ve been a conference blogger for the LISA Conference for a few years, and have really enjoyed the experience. I would not have had the opportunity were it not for this blog. Lately I’ve also been contributing my company blog and to opensource.com. Now I just need to start monetizing all of these words. Maybe next year…

Kids these days

A while ago, I heard about a website called Class 120. The service is designed to allow parents, coaches, and the like to see when college students are going to class. It uses the student’s smartphone location and class schedule to determine if the student attended the class or not. When I first heard of this, I rolled my eyes. I suspect many others have a similar reaction.

But the more I think about it, the less objectionable it seems. Going off to college is often the first time a teenager has real independence. It’s unreasonable to expect them all to do well with no experience. A little bit of passive supervision might be just what it takes to turn a $20,000 waste of a year into something more immediately useful. Sure, it could be a crutch, but sometimes crutches are necessary.

Speaking for myself, something like this might have been really useful in 2001. My first year as an undergraduate was pretty lousy academically, in part because I missed a lot of class. I learned my lesson eventually, but at the cost of effectively a wasted year. People have various ways to motivate themselves, some intrinsic, some extrinsic. Who am I to judge?