Updated Blogroll

It’s been a while since I updated my blogroll. A “blogroll” is a list of links to blogs that I read regularly. I took a few old ones out and added these:

  • Aaron TenHarmsel’s photoblog: Aaron is a friend from Rush that takes amazing photos. I recently convinced him to start a WordPress-powered photoblog. He’s an awesome photographer.
  • Binary Impact: My old pal Jon Saed from UIUC has a new WordPress-powered blog with lots of techy goodness.
  • Flickin’ Spit: Chris Byrne (Sadie’s cousin) has a pretty good site of music reviews. It’s got a lot of not-so-mainstream stuff, and it’s the first place I go if I find a new group I like, such as Fleet Foxes.
  • Smarterware: Gina Trapani recently stepped down as lead editor of one of my favorite tech websites, Lifehacker, and started her own blog.
  • xkcd: This is just silly because it should have been on this list long ago. xkcd is the best webcomic, and it comes topped with a heap of geeky goodness. It covers everything from escaping from velociraptors to linux to science and space to school to DRM. It’s simply amazing. I wouldn’t blame you if you went and read the entire archive right now!

Do you have a blog or website I should be reading? Let me know and I’d be happy to add you!

Dumbass, M.D.

You have Some Terminal Condition, which necessitates taking two pills a day: one Pill A and one Pill B. If you neglect to take either pill, you die; if you take more than one A or more than one B, you die. If you don’t take them at exactly the same time, you die.

This morning you are going through you usual routine. You pick up your bottle of A Pills and gently tap one into your palm. Then you pick up your bottle of B Pills and tap it, but two pills accidentally fall into your hand. You now hold three pills (one A and two Bs), you don’t know which are which, and they are completely indistinguishable from each other. The A Pills are the same color as the B Pills, they are the same shape, same size — they are identical in every respect. Man, your doctor is a dumbass. But he’s a rich dumbass, because he’s charging you $10,000,000 a pill! So you dare not throw any away.

Thus, the puzzle: what can you do to ensure that you take only one A Pill and only one B Pill today, without wasting any pills (either today or in the future)?

Copied entirely from Defective Yeti [via xkcd wiki]


Also, I have not solved this yet.

WordPress Stickers

I’ve been a big fan of WordPress since I started using it in about 2004. It has grown into such a great blogging platform since those early days, and they’re continuing to push the limits of how blogging software should run. Whether you have your own private blog like I do or you have a free blog hosted on WordPress.com, they give you everything you need to get to make a killer blog.

Since I got my new laptop, I’ve been trying to decorate the plain black lid with some stickers from my favorite software. I got some stickers when I became a student member of the FSF, but I really wanted a WordPress sticker to show my love for the best blogging platform. I was sad to see they don’t sell any in the WordPress store, but they give them out at their conferences. Eventually my web search led me to Maya Desai’s WordPress.com blog. If you leave her a message explaining why you’d like some schwag, I think she might be able to help you out. My request for “a sticker” was fulfilled today:

I got a boatload of WordPress schwag!

I got a boatload of WordPress schwag!

Of Freedom and Trademarks

I read an article this past weekend that brought up some interesting issues that I tend to forget about concerning free software. Most people these days are familiar with Firefox. While Firefox is open-source and “essentially” free software, the key area that makes it non-free is in its trademark and copyright. The brand name “Firefox” is a trademark of the Mozilla Foundation, as is the Firefox logo. Since the logo is artwork, it also falls under copyright restrictions.

Trademarks are a funny business. Unlike copyright, which is inherent from the minute that pen touches paper, a quotation is voiced, or a blog post is published, a trademark is not inherent. As such, copyright is enforceable in general. If you find a person violating that copyright, you are empowered to make them stop, but if you choose to ignore it, that’s your decision. Trademarks on the other hand are a “branding” and are not inherent. If you find someone in violation of your trademark, you must act to stop them (or help them to comply). Otherwise, you are forfeiting your right to the trademark.

In general, this is thought to be a good thing because trademarks are “branding” used to ensure quality. I probably don’t want to install just any piece of software on my computer, but if it’s “Mozilla Firefox” then I will. This is especially important when discussing open-source software. With proprietary software, it would be difficult to distribute a “fake” copy without people noticing a difference. But with open-source software, everyone has access to the application’s source code. This means that anyone could build it, modify it, and tell it to collect all of your private information for them. If they can convince you to install “their version” of your favorite program, that’s a major security threat. Sharing code is also the hallmark of free and open-source software, and users are encouraged to modify it. But it doesn’t mean that after doing that, they deserve to still call it “Firefox”. Of course, Firefox should be credited as the basis for the work. It’s good to know when something has been stamped “Mozilla Firefox” because it tells you that it’s endorsed by the Mozilla Foundation and you can trust it.

Now you might be sitting there, scratching your head, and asking, “What’s the big deal? Can’t I just assume that anything I get from mozilla.com is what I want?” For many people, the answer to that is “Yes, you can.” But according to its license, Firefox is free to distribute under its brand name as long as any changes to it have been approved by the developers. This is something that many GNU/Linux distributions take advantage of so that they can package “Firefox” as the official web browser of their operating system. This helps user-friendly distributions like Ubuntu because potential users instantly recognize the brand Firefox and are comfortable with it. This works well for just about everyone involved.

Debian is another GNU/Linux distribution. It has roots as one of the first GNU/Linux distributions, and it defines itself by its commitment to being free. You may have developed a great program that a lot of people like, but if it’s not free software, it’s not good enough to be called “Debian” and included in their operating systems. They would like to be able to use Firefox as their default web browser like other, less “freedom-oriented” distributions do. If it were just a trademark issue, there would be no problem. Debian could easily show Mozilla exactly what changes (if any) are in their version of Firefox. Since the Firefox logo is also under restrictive copyright protection, however, Debian can’t include it. They also can’t just exchange the logo for a non-copyrighted one because the Firefox logo is part of the trademark. This copyright could be changed to a more permissive license by Mozilla, but it looks like their theory is that Debian could just as easily bend their rules. This is where Debian has taken a stand. Since they’re committed to providing a completely free operating system, they do not include Firefox as their browser.

Firefox is a good browser, and Debian doesn’t want to try to code another browser or use a less popular alternative. Since the only real problem they have is with the trademark and artwork, they’d much rather keep the rest of the Firefox code intact. Plus, with the number of Firefox plug-ins available, a lot of users want to use it. So what does Debian do? Since Firefox is open-source, they just strip out the copyrighted logo and come up with their own. This means that they lose the “Firefox” branding, so they chose the name IceWeasel (and a free logo) to replace it.

Now it may seem like kind of a moot point in the long run, but it makes me proud to see that a distribution like Debian will stick to their guns in a situation like this. It may not be for everyone (I’m still using Firefox on Ubuntu), but they chose not to back down on the ideals of their organization and their users when it would have been very easy to do so. So kudos to Debian and IceWeasel.

Summer Reading 2008

I kind of fell back in love with reading during my year off from school. I started around Christmas of 2006 and actually got quite a few books read before school started this past Fall. Unfortunately, as you might expect I don’t have a lot of time for leisure reading. Actually, I say that, but it’s a complete lie. Really, I do have time for it, and I just don’t allocate my free time towards it even though I should.

Well regardless, I am going to allocate some time for reading this summer finally. I’ve got a whole bunch of books on my shelf that I’m itching to get ahold of. Here are the ones I’m hoping to crack open:

Wish me luck! See something you think I should be reading? Let me know! I figured if I list them here, I’ll be more likely to make headway on them.

Change Congress

Lawrence Lessig gave a great speech at the National Conference for Media Reform a few days ago. It was a very insightful look at the way our government runs and how we can address its problems. He uses a bunch of great examples. It’s kind of long (~30 minutes), but take the time to watch the whole thing. There is a particularly good part somewhere around 23:00-26:00. The speech was kicking off a project he’s working on called Change Congress. Now that’s change I can believe in.

Economic Stimulus Laptop

Did you get a $600 (or more) economic stimulus check from the government? Been looking around for a new laptop for you or the family? Wouldn’t it be great to get a top quality laptop for under $600? Lenovo always has great deals on their ThinkPads, but there is a particularly good deal going on now. To get the best deal, follow these instructions (adapted from slickdeals). First, sign up for a FatWallet Cash Back account to get 15% cash back on your Lenovo purchase. Follow their link to Lenovo’s website (you must go to Lenovo’s website from FatWallet or you won’t get the best deal). Click on Products, then Notebooks, then ThinkPad Notebooks, and then R-series. Then choose either the 15.4″ or 14.1″, and click “View Models”. Ignore the prices though because they’ll end up being basically the same price (actually the 15.4″ will be $3 cheaper). If you go with the 15.4″, choose the “ThinkPad R61 15.4″ widescreen with integrated graphics” (3rd from the left; I recommend this over the first 2 options: R61e and R61i). It’s listed at $748.50 Sale Price. This is 25% off the regular price. Click “Customize & buy”. The default options should be ok, except for one thing. I would upgrade to “2 GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz SODIMM Memory (2 DIMM) add $30” in the section marked “Total Memory”. Vista will not run well on 1 GB of RAM. Other upgrades are at your discretion, but for this example, I’ll only be upgrading the RAM. It’s all I think you need to upgrade unless you want a DVD burner or a bigger hard drive. Click “Continue” on the right for the next few screens and then click “Add to cart”. Your total should be $778.50. Then apply eCoupon USPTIME2SAVE (at the bottom near the price). This will get you another 15% off the R-series, making your total $661.72. Complete your purchase (you will probably have about $45 tax and free shipping). In 90-120 days, you will get 15% cash back from FatWallet (that’s $99.26). You’ll have to request payment from FatWallet once your account has been credited with your cash back. That will make your grand total 562.46 (+tax). You’ll see many deals for $599 and even $499 in the coming weeks at Best Buy and Circuit City, but please understand that they’re most likely sub-standard computers. This machine has one of the best processors available, and it’s very well-built. For the price, I couldn’t recommend it more.

Lenovo ThinkPad R61If you’re thinking that you’ll be carrying your laptop around with you extensively (to work, class, or travel), you could opt for a thinner and lighter T-series or X-series laptop. The USPTIME2SAVE coupon won’t be as good for you (10% off for the T-series and X-series), but you’ll still get a good deal on it.

The coupon USPTIME2SAVE is only good until 5/19/08. The 15% cash back from FatWallet is good through 5/31. There will probably be a similar coupon to replace USPTIME2SAVE, but there are no guarantees. Also, the 25% instant discount is set to expire on 5/19. It will be replaced by some other discount, but it probably won’t be as good. Personally if you don’t think your laptop will ever leave the house or won’t leave it very often, the R-series will be your best bang for your buck. If you’d like to get even cheaper than the $562, you could opt for the R61e or R61i. These both come with lower-end processors, which may have some performance deficits on Vista, but they probably wouldn’t be too bad. Oh and if you want to save yourself the “Microsoft tax”, check out the 14.1″ R61 with Linux (furthest to the right on the 14.1″ models). Upgrade the Total Memory to 2 GB like above and I’d also upgrade the battery to a 6-cell (the same as you’d get above). Your total will be $501.77!! You can always install Ubuntu for free and it should run splendidly if you don’t like SLED.

Just as a note: I am not receiving any money for advertising this. It’s just an awesome deal that I think people should know about. I started out writing out a whole guide to buying a new laptop for the economic stimulus package, but I think for now I’ll just recommend this one. Also, just as a disclaimer, Lenovo is based in both China and the US. Your laptop will ship from China. So this may not be the best way to stimulate the US economy with the government money. That being said, I can think of a lot of people who don’t care as long as they get a good deal.

Ubuntu Day 8.04

Today marks the release of Ubuntu 8.04, code named “Hardy Heron”. This is the day that occurs twice a year to celebrate the culmination of 6 months of hard work from the folks at Ubuntu, Gnome, Linux Kernel, and the thousands of other free software organizations who’s work is combined to make Ubuntu possible. I have been using the beta version of Ubuntu 8.04 for about a month now, and I can honestly say that I’m really loving it. I’ve got it made, since my ThinkPad contains only free hardware. My graphics card is the fantastic on-board Intel X3100, for which Intel has wisely released all the specifications. This means that Intel graphics work better than almost any other graphics card on Linux. This is especially true compared to nVidia and ATI cards, which many people have. ATI and nVidia do not give good support to the Linux community. This means that Linux users are stuck using their buggy drivers or open-source ones that have been reverse-engineered and are not full-featured. I have an nVidia 6600GT on my desktop, so I will see how things are working on it in a day or two. All-in-all, I think this is a great release from Ubuntu. I can’t help but stand back and marvel at what can be accomplished in the free software community.

In honor of Ubuntu Day, I will be turning my laptop into a make-shift freedom toaster. I’ll be burning and handing out copies of my favorite operating system to anyone who wants to have a look. Try that one with MS Windows or Mac OS! Want to try it out yourself? Go download a copy for free or get a free copy in the mail! If downloads are going too slowly, you can always use BitTorrent (see the list half-way down the page).