Ubuntu ShipIt is down!

Ubuntu ShipIt down 9.04
Ubuntu ShipIt website notice

Ubuntu’s hugely popular free media program ShipIt has been ‘taken down temporarily due to excessive traffic’, thus buttressing the idiom ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’. (I’ve already ordered my CD long ago. I wanted to check if it had been shipped. No, r-tard, I don’t order multiple CDs and hoard them. I order just one – as a keepsake with its official cover. And to get more Ubuntu stickers.) The ShipIt notice instead encourages visitors to download via BitTorrent. I’m sure the normal ISO file mirrors around the globe are getting pummelled right now.

I plan to upgrade using an alternate install CD I ordered from this place (damn you, Linux Bazar, for not being quick enough). Why am I not downloading myself? My Internet connection has this terrible habit of logging me off randomly at times. I did download OpenSuse 11.1 when it came out but babysitting my download to ensure I didn’t get logged off and it completed was a harrowing experience. So I’ll be a nice guy and instead of DDoSing Ubuntu servers I’ll support the open source ecosystem by buying my CD. I’d have ordered from Canonical’s Amazon shop if the shipping prices weren’t outrageous.

DPS Vasant Kunj is showing interest now in migrating the Internet Lab computers from Windows 98 to Linux. I’d started this on a small scale when I was in school but as soon as I passed out from high school some people (ref: Code Warriors) brought everything back to Windows status-quo. School isn’t likely to upgrade the Internet Lab and users are clamouring for a better experience than Windows 98 (newer browsers, better word processing software which can handle new formats), so I suggested a shift to Linux. I can’t decide between Xubuntu 9.04 and Linux Mint 6 Felicia Xfce Edition. I’ll be installing it on a few systems initially. Based on the feedback it will be expanded to all the systems in the lab.

Food For Thought Tech Takes

Apparently Someone Agrees

Guest blogged by Anuj on 15 May 2008.

I wrote a post a while back on OLPC and why it’s a failure, now one of the people who used to work for them wrote an article about why OLPC is such a big “fuckup”. Here are a few money quotes:

“In fact, I quit when Nicholas told me — and not just me — that learning was never part of the mission. The mission was, in his mind, always getting as many laptops as possible out thereOoops!

“That OLPC was never serious about solving deployment, and that it seems to no longer be interested in even trying, is criminal. Left uncorrected, it will turn the project into a historical information technology fuckup unparalleled in scale.”

On the whole charade

“About eight months ago, when I caught myself fighting yet another battle with suspend/resume on my Linux-running laptop, I got so furious that I went to the nearest Apple store and bought a MacBook. After 12 years of almost exclusive use of free software, I switched to Mac OS X………So in the meantime, I switched to OS X and find it to be an overwhelmingly more enjoyable computing experience.” Maybe Apple should run an ad; “Hi I’m a Mac, I’m a PC I wish I was a Mac so that the freetards would like me” *sob*

“Of the programmers, a vast, near-total majority don’t dare in the Land o’ Kernel tread. As one of the people who actually can hack my kernel to suit, I find that I don’t miss the ability in the least. There, I said it. Hang me for treason.” Who does? I mean you do get a kick out of it but if you think about it then it really isn’t worth it.

On Stallman
“Keeping that in mind, Richard Stallman’s missive on the subject just riled me up:

[Stallman wrote the following]Proprietary software keeps users divided and helpless. Its functioning is secret, so it is incompatible with the spirit of learning. Teaching children to use a proprietary (non-free) system such as Windows does not make the world a better place, because it puts them under the power of the system’s developer — perhaps permanently. You might as well introduce the children to an addictive drug.[/Stallman]

Oh, for fuck’s sake. You really just employed a simile comparing a proprietary OS to addictive drugs? You know, ones causing actual bodily harm and possibly death? Really, Stallman? Really?

The problem is that Stallman doesn’t appear to actually give an acrobatic shit about learning, and sees OLPC as a vehicle for furthering his political agenda. It’s shameful, the lot of it.”

Turns out that OLPC was never about education or anything it was simply about selling those dumb laptops, GQ admit it you were conned.

Food For Thought Tech Takes

Why OLPC Can Never Work

Guest blogged by Anuj on May 1, 2008.

OLPC is an initiative by MIT, which promises to deliver a laptop for every child in every hamlet for a not so measly cost of $100. Why? In order to help their education, for this they are following 5 principles:

  • Child ownership
  • Low ages. The hardware and software are designed for elementary school children aged 6-12.
  • Saturation
  • Connection
  • Free and open source

Why It Won’t Work

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mllerustad
Okay, lets see if I understand this. You’re handing out laptops worth $100 to children in rural areas who usually belong to below poverty line families and you’re calling it a cheap solution to education, how? They earn less than a dollar a day, so it would take them more than a 100 days of work to earn enough to buy that laptop, do you think that they’re going to spend 4 months or more than 4 months of pay on a thing like this? Isn’t staying alive more important? So what should they do? Well, there’s always that magical word called the government, ask them to pay it. Now this would mean that valuable public money is being spent on a wild goose chase, which will amount to nothing. So forget the clause about child ownership, it practically cannot exist as at the end of the day someone else will pay for the machine.

Now these laptops come with the ‘Sugar’ user interface which even children can get sick of, the machine specs are so pathetic that they aren’t pretty much good for anything at all, they won’t be able to run any post 1995 software, they have a clock speed of just 433 MHz on an AMD Geode LX-700 which runs at an impressively low 0.8 watts. Now, compare that to the iPhone which runs at about 412 MHz, that’s a phone and it is comparable to that laptop. Are you getting it? These kids have about 1 GB of flash storage. Any good present day software requires more than that. Hell, office will take up more space, it’s good for nothing. The hardware is so minimal, I am surprised that they’re calling it a laptop, I mean it’s a laptop by the standards of 1984, not 2008.

They give a GUI around with this called ‘Sugar’ which is basically more comparable to a conc. solution of H2SO4. It can handle only one task at a time, running two applications simultaneously kills it. It doesn’t a ‘bloated’ interface, so forget the easy to use Leopard, think crap.

Sugar interface for the XO Laptop
Creative Commons License photo credit: ideonexus
So you have hardware that does nothing and software that isn’t any good. Well maybe this stuff is good for the children it has been built for, well, ask yourself, what the hell is the child supposed to do with the laptop? It sure as hell can’t replace a human teacher at this point, it won’t even be a supplement at the end of the day. It will simply gather dust in peoples homes. What do you expect a child to learn, if he doesn’t have any mentor at all to guide her/him? Well, they sure have educational programs on the machine, but who’ll teach the children to use them? Who will give that little concrete base which will help them to start? You know what the OLPC wiki says about this?

The XO laptop will bring a world of new ideas, images, and materials to children around the world. It will also provide students and teachers with new ways to collaborate, create, and transform works over time. Our belief in collaboration as a fundamental part of learning underscores our commitment to editable document formats, revision tracking, and careful attribution of authors and sources.

“How do you expect the child to learn and comprehend “new ideas, images, and materials” when she/he hasn’t understood the old ideas, images, and materials. The regions for which they’re aiming for have an adult population which is, usually, illiterate or with a very low level of education, where will the children learn from? The teachers? Well most of the schools which are therein such areas are virtually non-existent, they have meagre or no staff, whatever staff they do have is usually very incompetent. Are you getting my point? Where will the basic input come from, when will the return come? And how exactly will it come? I can’t see any method except for changing the system to bring back results. In short giving laptops as handouts is not going to solve anything at all.

Creative Commons License photo credit: adriaan bloem
You know what’s the icing on the cake? Incompatibility, they can’t run the widely used formats like .doc (although .rtf is supported), without running into compatibility hassles which I doubt an average 12 year old will be able to solve. Anyway if you find a way to emulate windows on it, what resources will you use? So for all intents and purposes this is completely incompatible with the broader PC environment. So the poor folks went begging to the OLPC guys to ship it with Windows. Nicholas Negropnte, the only guy with some brains in the outfit, agreed. Now the other friktards are going to walk out, that is people are threatening to quite, because the guy is giving them what they want. So that they can actually do something with their craptop, why are they against it? Somehow the free software brigade has morphed it into an issue of freedom, it’s a matter of freedom now that people get what they want? Has Stallman actually looked at what the hell he is selling to the world? I mean who’s freedom is at stake, and how exactly is it at stake?

In short, this was an idea that could only work in the primary schools of a highly industrialized country, not a developing country as the infrastructure to exploit it isn’t there. Oh wait a minute hasn’t Apple already captured that market? So these guys figured that they will have to hoodwink someone else, so the warped this up into a project for the education of the world’s children and started peddling their wares to people who don’t require it. They are better off spending that money getting books, teachers and infrastructure, but heck that was the old fashioned way. They wanted to show the world that they can do something. So they came up with this fancy scheme which can never work, and will never work until a certain basic level of development isn’t there. By that point, I am guessing, they’ll probably be able to afford an iMac.

My advice to the freetards is that ditch this thing and go home and do some Zen meditation or something, maybe go to a good $500 doctor to cure your dementia. My advice to the various governments is, put in money where you need to put in, for heavens sake start acting like a government.


I think that in human evolution it has never been as necessary to have this substance LSD. It is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be.

Albert Hoffman, I hope that you may trip in peace…..

Tech Takes

Recording Screencasts in Linux

I needed to record screencasts to demonstrate the bug I was facing in Flash. I’ve used different methods of capturing desktops before this particular instance too (most notably for ThinkQuest, although the screencasts were never used). You could act all geeky and do everything the hard way from the terminal. Or, you could use software which makes this easier. I’m going to mention the two most useful options that you have. Both of them spit out their output in Ogg Theora format which any self-respecting media player on Linux (or VLC Media Player on other platforms) can play back. The beauty of Ogg Theora is that you can create high-resolution, high-quality screencast files which are quite small in size. (This last bit is especially useful if you need to transfer the files to someone / upload it online – generally true in the case of screencasts.)

One which I’ve tried is Istanbul desktop session recorder. You could call it the point-and-shoot camera of Linux screencasting. Launch the application and it will sit in the notification area. Rest of the menu options are quite easy with explanations presented when you hover your mouse pointer above the icon. The trouble with Istanbul – apart from the wacky name – is that the resulting video often has segments which are completely out of sync and blinking akin to a tubelight. On playing back the video you’ll find that Istanbul seems to be continuously pausing and then restarting video recording. Nevertheless, I’ve faced this problem only in Ubuntu 8.10 and the software otherwise worked on earlier Ubuntu releases. Maybe it still works for other distros. Ubuntu users can easily install both / either application from ‘Add/Remove’ or apt-get.

The software you’d actually find useful is recordMyDesktop (their camelCase usage, not mine). There’s a command line version and a graphical front-end for it called gtk-recordMyDesktop. Similar to Istanbul, rMD will add an icon to your notification area. However, unlike Istanbul, rMD offers you way more customization options through the GUO interface. One tip – do NOT enable ‘on-the-fly encoding’ because it may cause considerable lag / jitter in your video of you haven’t got a powerful processor. This isn’t something which affects screenrecording because the encoding can be done (automatically) after the recording has been made.

gtk-recordMyDesktop also allows you to choose video quality, sound quality (and whether you want it in the first place – if you don’t, uncheck the box in front of sound quality), and the area of desktop to be recorded. By default, the whole screen is captured but if you wan’t to restrict capture area to a particular window, then click the ‘Select Window’ button and then click using the crosshair pointer in the window area you want. You can even choose a smaller area by dragging the crosshair pointer and selecting a limited area.

To make a screencast to show off uber-cool 3D desktop effects, don’t forget to enable ‘Full shots at every frame’ (under ‘Advanced > Performance’). I would also suggest you to increase the frame rate from (default) 15 fps to at least 25 fps to make a ‘sensible’ recording. Since the output is an Ogg Theora file you’ll anyway be getting a small-size file as output, tweaking this option won’t bloat up the filesize.

Tech Takes

Adobe Flash (bug?) in Linux

Adobe Flash based uploaders have become fairly ubiquitous on the Web, mainly because of their multi-upload capabilities. Hurrah to no longer having to click-through ‘Add more upload bixes’ links in HTML forms.

It seem to me that in Linux at least there might be a bug in Adobe Flash specifically regarding Flash-based uploaders. I’m putting this post up in the hope that someone else may have a solution to this problem OR can confirm whether this actually is a reproducible bug on other Linux distros.

I’m currently using Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex with all updates installed. The browsers I tested on are Mozilla Firefox 3.0.6 and Epiphany (Gecko) 2.24.1. The issue that I’m facing is that whenever I’m uploading files using a Flash-based uploader, my browser hangs (in Ubuntu, the window gets greyed out). As soon as the upload gets over, everything goes back to normal. If I’m uploading multiple files using the same uploader then the browser alternates between its normal and ‘not responding’ state until all the files are serially uploaded. This happens across every Flash-based uploader. I’m using the latest version of Flash – v10.0.22.87 – installed using the adobe-flashplugin package in Ubuntu repository. I’ve also tried with uninstalling this and using the flashplugin-nonfree package (this one’s recommended for older Ubuntu versions, although it installs the same version of Flash). I later reinstalled adobe-flashplugin.

I have recorded some screencasts of this potential bug in Flash on Linux, which you can download by clicking here. The download is a bzipped tarball containing three screencasts – total download size is 9.9 MB. The videos are in Ogg Theora format (if you’re on Windows and want to see the problem, you can use VLC Media Player). I’ve chosen to demonstrate the issue on three different sites – my on own WordPress install, MediaFire, and Flickr. For the Flickr one, I’ve shown how the browser alternates between not responding and normal state for multiple uploads.

When uploading many files (say, around 5-) using a Flash-based multi-uploader, the constant switching of states causes the browser to lock up for good forcing me to kill the process. Once I was uploading a video once to Yahoo! Video (a considerably large file which took around an hour to upload) the browser was in a ‘not responding’ state for around an hour; despite that, when the upload finished the browser returned to its normal state.

I didn’t find any material regarding this from anyone else on the Web, so I’m not sure whether mine is an isolated case – and whether there are steps to solve this. Please leave your inputs in the comments section!