Dec 12

Yes, I know it’s a Beta release, but…

  • We all know that “Beta” has a special meaning for Google, and besides…
  • Google’s Beta products and services are usually quite better than others that claim to be stable or mature.

On January of this year, I shared with you some facts that show that it takes Google no less than a year since it releases a new product for Windows to having a version of the same product running on Linux (see “Google, are we second-class citizens?“). The 1.0 release was launched on December 11th 2008. 362 days later, Linux and OS X users finally have a native beta for their respective platforms.

I’ve tried it on Debian Lenny, and I have to say that I’m really pleased and that it runs wonderfully. So, for those of you that are done with Firefox’s bloat and subpar performance, now you have the choice to run a modern, lightweight, reliable and extremely fast open source web browser.

The only bad news is that we’re still second-class citizens to Google, and that doesn’t seem likely to change in the near future. Now that we have Chrome… where’s the Google Talk client for Linux? 4 years and counting…

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Posted by Marcus Friedman

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Last modified on 2009-12-13 20:27
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Aug 10

Sometimes, asking a question can be a big challenge. Because even if your question is very clear and precise, there’s always someone that will get it wrong. Perhaps that would be something to expect in fields like fine arts or philosophy, where so many things are open to interpretations and debate. But when it comes to highly technical matters, it’s amusing to see all the ways that things can go wrong after a question has been asked.

How many time have you asked a technical question on a forum or newsgroup, and have only received lots of useless, clueless, wrong or even arrogant answers?

Obviously, human beings can’t always provide a right answer to a given question, and that’s something we have to live with. But nonetheless I wonder: what’s the point in giving an answer when...

  • you’re not answering the question that was asked
  • your answer is clearly not helpful (and you would have noticed that if you had thought for a minute before answering)
  • you really don’t know what the answer is (and maybe you even know that you don’t know)
  • you don’t have real world experience on the subject (and no, having a friend who knows, or having read a paper on the subject is not equal to having real experience)
  • you’re not qualified for answering (for example, because a question is about medieval history, and you happen to be a car mechanic who hasn’t even studied history as a hobby)

So let’s see how a clear, simple, precise question can be answered in every possible wrong way.

Fair warning

This article contains some slang and expressions that might make some people feel uncomfortable. You’ll also find a good deal of sarcasm. So if that’s not ok with you, please don’t read it (or at least don’t complain about it after having been warned)

Continue reading "How (not) to answer technical questions (or "the cow riddle")"

Posted by Marcus Friedman

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Last modified on 2009-08-10 23:55
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Aug 2

In case you’ve missed it (even when the chances of that happening are low), there’s a new website for system administrators and IT professionals that you’ll probably find useful. Server Fault was launched on April 2009 as a private beta, and went into an open beta on May 2009.

Basically, Server Fault is a place where system administrators can ask questions and get answers from peers willing to share their expertise. It uses OpenID, so if you already have for example a Google, Yahoo or Technorati account, you can use those credentials for authentication.

The website implements an interesting feature called reputation, which is a scoring system similar to those used in some bulletin boards.

There are literally thousands of questions that have already been asked (and answered), which indicates that the site’s popularity is quite good. If you take a look around, you’ll find very different kind of questions: from the most basic you can think of, to the extremely specific or complex ones.

From time to time you’ll also come across some question that is totally irrelevant to systems administration, but that’s something that cannot be avoided (anyway, the voting mechanisms offered by the website help a lot to separate the wheat from the chaff).

Asking a question is a different story. Sometimes you can be lucky and get pretty good and clever answers. And some times the only thing you’ll get will be useless ones. Or even none at all.

I’ve been testing Server Fault by submitting some tough technical questions, and while sometimes I got really good answers or hints on how to solve specific issues, I also got quite a lot of irrelevant replies. But even in those cases, I’ve found the overall experience quite amusing.

As with any other online resource, this one certainly can’t replace the professional advice you could get from an expert on a given field. But I think it’s a good place for sharing knowledge amongst peers.

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Posted by Marcus Friedman

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Last modified on 2009-08-02 23:07
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Apr 16

New Releases in the OSS world

Apr 14

When you need to distribute documents in PDF format, you’ll probably want to protect them. If you are working on Mac OS X (or Windows) and you have Adobe Acrobat, that can be done quite easily.

But if you’re running Linux on your desktop —or even if you’re using Windows or a Mac and don’t want to use proprietary programs—, there are free tools that will let you protect your files by adding encryption, passwords and restrictions.

One of those tools is pdftk (the pdf toolkit). On Debian and Ubuntu, pdftk is already present in the official repositories, so all you have to do to install it is:

apt-get install pdftk

In the product’s website you’ll also find binary packages for FreeBSD, Mac OS X and Windows.

Here are some examples that show you how to use the program:

  • Encrypt a PDF using 128-Bit Strength (the default) and withhold all permissions:

    pdftk mydoc.pdf output mydoc.128.pdf owner_pw foopass

  • Same as above, except that a password is required to open the PDF:

    pdftk mydoc.pdf output mydoc.128.pdf owner_pw foo user_pw baz

  • Same as above, except that printing is allowed (after the PDF has been opened):

    pdftk mydoc.pdf output mydoc.128.pdf owner_pw foo user_pw baz allow printing

Besides the security functions, pdftk has many more features that you might find useful too, including the ability to merge, split and rotate PDF documents, or applying watermarks.

GNU / LinuxFreeBSDMac OS XWindows


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Posted by Marcus Friedman

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Last modified on 2009-04-15 22:27
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