Category Archives: FOSS

Venturing into the world of external hosting

This morning, for the first time in nearly 18 years, I did not run apt-get update on my server to look for any software updates. The reason is, I can’t. There is no server; it was decommissioned on Saturday, a decision that has been forced on me. I have hosted my domains myself ever since I bought them.

Yes, the government forced me to do it. Pardon me while I take a rather circuitous route to explain.

Australia is in the laborious process of rolling out a broadband network across the nation; due to political wrangling, the rollout has been something like the Shakespearean drama The Comedy of Errors.

The original plan envisaged by the Labor Party, one of the two main political factions in Australia, was to provide 93% of premises with fibre right up the home. The 7% who were unable to get this technology due to geographical factors were to be served by fixed wireless or satellite.

The project got underway in 2009, with a government company, NBN Co, set up to handle the rollout. But in 2013 the other side of politics, the Coalition (a loose alliance between the Liberal and National Parties) took office and changed the technologies that would be used, claiming that this would hasten the rollout. (It has turned out be a big lie.)

In addition to fibre to the home, satellite and wireless, the Coalition added hybrid fibre coaxial using existing cable networks (one of the two cable networks had to be excluded later when it was found not to be fit for purpose) and fibre to the node. The latter means that the copper lead-in to a home will be anything from 400 metres to a couple of kilometres and the speed one gets will be dependent on this.

The Coalition has also added fibre to the building/basement where fibre is taken to the basement of an apartment complex and copper is used to provide the links in each apartment, and, very recently, something called fibre to the distribution point where the lead-in is by copper running less than 40 metres. The NBN Co has also been throwing around an American term, fibre to the curb, (kerb in proper English) which means that the last bit of copper runs for between 300 and 400 metres. Both these terms, FttDP and FttC, have been used interchangeably by the NBN Co, adding to the confusion that surrounds the project.

The NBN Co advises residents when their homes/businesses are ready to be hooked up and gives private residences 18 months and businesses double that time to switch over. Reports from those who have switched have, for the most part, been quite discouraging. Thus it does take an act of faith to make the plunge before one is forced to do so.

I decided to switch in September after hearing from a neighbour that he had done so and was getting good speeds. I work from home, and my wife also does so occasionally, so upload speeds are important. And on ADSL, those are less than a megabit.

After checking with my existing ISP and finding out that they were not offering any business packages on cable — which is the technology allocated to the area where I reside — I picked another ISP and ordered a connection. NBN Co obviously did not give a rat’s that there are many small businesses that use ADSL business connections to run their own services like web and mail.

It took a total of 14 days for the NBN Co staff to come out and connect me, pretty good considering that the ISP told me it would take 20 business days at the maximum to get me connected. The work was finished by 12.30pm on the day and I had to contact my ISP two hours later to find out why the connection was not working. I was told that it would take about three hours more to be activated. By the time I was able to check again, it was 11 hours since the guy who came to do the work had gone. By that time it was working.

The decision to get rid of my server was forced on me by the fact that no ISP is offering business packages on cable. I am not surprised, as the numbers being served by each ISP on this technology would be small and given the outrageous charges that ISPs have to the pay the NBN Co for bandwidth, profits can only be made by ISPs if volumes are large. Given that Australia has a very small population, 24 million all told, those numbers will always be a pipe dream considering how many ISPs are in the game and how many are coming onboard to try and grab new customers.

Without a business connection (and a fixed IP which is part of the deal), one cannot run any services as I was – and hence I decided to move my websites and mail server to an external provider. A friend, Russell Coker, very kindly offered to host my sites and mail.

Two days into using the NBN, things appear to be okay. But with cable the downside is always that the more people who connect, the slower the speeds become. It is like a water pipe; the more holes you punch in it, the less the force of each individual stream.

But then one has no choice in this matter. I have taken the fastest possible connection, 100Mbps/40Mbps, to mitigate problems, should they arise, for as long as possible. Cable is only a temporary solution; the government will have to upgrade everything to fibre to the home in the future whether it likes the idea or not.

An encounter with Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier

MANY people who claim to be part of the so-called free and open source software community paint themselves publicly as open-minded and reasonable people.

As with most things, the reality is often different.

I’ve met more than my fair share of people who consider themselves part of this community as I’ve been writing about these genres of software for nigh on 10 years. There are lots of excellent open-minded and reasonable folk in these circles, but some of those who pose as leaders are often the most biased.

Until January 2009, I had never met Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier. I had occasionally read something which he had written as he has worked in a number of online publications as a technology writer and editor. I always thought of him as a competent and intelligent writer.

In 2008, he took up the job of community manager for OpenSUSE, a GNU/Linux distribution that has been sponsored by Novell, a company that signed a patent deal with Microsoft in November 2006, a deal that was considered a sellout by most of the FOSS community.

Exactly how a journalist can cross over to the world of PR is beyond me. Of course, when one is already doing PR and passing it off as journalism, it is not difficult at all.

In January 2009, at Australia’s national Linux conference, which was held in Hobart, the capital of the island of Tasmania, Brockmeier gave a talk on how, in his opinion, FOSS projects should be publicised.

I was present and wrote it up. I did not agree with many of his recommendations and said so without mincing words.

The conference, an annual affair held in a different city each year, provides wireless internet coverage but it is often patchy as the number of conference rooms is normally spread over an entire university campus. As a result, those who need net access – in my case I can’t work without it – often have to work in certain areas.

But in Hobart, the wireless coverage was super; hence, when I had a backlog of stories to file, I would sit in some lecture theatre or the other and do my work.

I was sitting in one such lecture and writing an article on the day when my piece about Brockmeier’s talk appeared. I suddenly noticed the man himself sitting a few seats away and glaring in my direction. This did not bother me as many people glare at me. I finished my work and got up and left.

Brockmeier came charging behind me. He hailed me and said “You’re XXX aren’t you?” He was perspiring freely and appeared to be very agitated.

When I answered in the affirmative, he asked me which journalism school I had attended. I told him that I had never been to journalism school but had learnt the trade at the stone (that’s what we called the page-making table in the days of lead-type). I also told him that I had been educated in India, while he had been educated in the US and asked him if that really made a difference.

He was taken aback by my frankness and caught on the back-foot; it looked like he was not used to people answering back. He then said that since I disagreed with him about how FOSS projects should be publicised, I should tell him the right way to publicise such projects.

I told him that I had never heard such a silly thing in my life and that I was not going to tell him a thing – it was for him to find out. He then accused me of being innacurate in my report as some things I had reported were not in the PowerPoint presentation which he had used. He said he had been watching me in the theatre from which I had just emerged and noticed that I had not taken a single note.

This again was silly and childish as he had spoken extempore a great deal while his presentation was taking place. I asked him to go back and have a look at a video of his talk before opening his mouth. I also told him that I was not writing anything about the talk that had been going on in the theatre and hence there was no need for me to take notes.

The bluster seemed to go out of him. It was as though a balloon had been deflated. I told him I had no time to waste and started walking away. He walked alongside me, muttering something about nobody liking me because I criticised people in my articles. This, of course, showed that his knowledge of journalism was a big zero and that PR was the right field for him.

Journalists are asked to write about things without fear or favour. In practice, this does not work 100 percent of the time – but if you stick to the rules of the profession even 75 percent of the time, you end up making an awful number of enemies. There are three classes of enemies – those who are pissed that you wrote about them, those who are pissed because you did not write about them, and those who are pissed because you described them as being the co-founder of a company when in reality they are one of four co-founders and came in after the other three.

Journalism is a terribly lonely profession, hence not many people go down this route. I’m talking of the real route. Instead, there is a kind of half-arsed compromise and puff pieces are written to make people happy. Most of it is spin of the most extreme kind.