Older blog entries for neurogato (starting at number 25)

No More SmoothWall (For Me)

Some of you who know me may know my fascination and infatuation for SmoothWall, the open source Linux firewall distro. You may be interested to know that I’ve decided to take my leave of the project after just over 7 years. To explain, I need to tell a story of how I got there in the first place.

In October 2000, I moved house. My Internet access changed from using a Nokia 5146 mobile phone making data calls to Freeserve and BT Internet (0800 dialup for a tenner a month), hooked up to a Windows NT Workstation to share to my fledgling LAN (of two machines), to having a USR Sportster 56K modem and “real” phone line. I needed a better way to share the access than a Windows box, and decided to investigate building a router firewall running Debian Linux. I lasted about two days and was getting narked off that I had to read all my personal email at work. Then I picked up the December 2000 issue of Linux Format, which had a free Linux-based router firewall distro cover mounted on the CD. It was SmoothWall 0.9.5LF.

I installed it and it ran just peachy, getting way further than my fudged Debian install in about 20 minutes. Internet access had I. Once I was online, I did my usual: subscribe to the mailing lists, check out the project a bit more. Turns out they were looking for some help with the web interface the firewall software used, and at the time I considered myself a dab hand with Photoshop and HTML, so I threw my cap over the wall and sent some UI mockups to the list. Soon, I was part of the project team, and not only helping Dan Goscomb build out the web interface, but also doing some meagre Perl hacking on the UI rendering code, and fiddling with serial LCD consoles to get status information from the firewall onto. Eventually I found myself involved in redesigning the project website from scratch. In short, I had become a member of my very first Open Source software project. I soon grew to know members of the team very well — they included dang, dan_c, whaletales, bill, rebecca, and I especially got to know Richard Morrell and Lawrence Manning (aslak).

A year later, and the whole thing had ballooned to the point where a company could be formed around marketing, developing and selling the whole kit and caboodle in a more corporate-friendly fashion. In November 2001, I did some contract work for the company to create the very first iteration of the SmoothWall company website, and by January 2002, I was employee #4 of SmoothWall Ltd.; employees #1-3 were (in no real order) Richard, Lawrence and George. George had come from building up IT businesses, and we were looking for someone with biz clout to manage the company while we did all the fun stuff like hacking on cool code, websites and teams. I lasted there until mid-2004. This was a time when the company seemed to be doing well, building new commercial products on the back of the open source project output, and we had nearly tripled in size. Richard had already left by this point, leaving a trail of customers and open source users who loved what he had helped nurture, and some people angry at being sworn at a bit. While I enjoyed the work, we were still a small company and I needed a bit more money coming in. I decided to resign after I was offered a job with an ISP in Edinburgh which paid better, and let me explore system administration as a career as opposed to web development; I had spent a fair while doing webdev at SmoothWall, but I decided that my skills in that area were fading fast, and that I’d need an extensive amount of time to train myself up on newer webdev technologies.

Meanwhile, I still considered myself part of the open source project, and still did some sysadmin and forum twiddling in that regard. However, as time went on, I spent more and more time in my work — especially since some of it had an on-call element — while concurrently, more and more Express development seemed to be occurring in-house, sometimes taking cues — and I assume code — from the corporate products. Now, this is A Good Thing; a corporate entity backporting features and code from its commercial products into its open source endeavours, but there just seemed to be no way for me to do much outwith the realm of the company.

This went on until around 2007, when the smoothwall.org website was redesigned, shortly after the smoothwall.net site was overhauled. The team page had always listed me, and when we had text describing what we did, it always gave a pretty accurate view of what I had contributed. But this new version relegated me to “Moderator and user support”. What? In September, I tried asking why this had happened in the team-only forum:

Incidentally, why am I now listed as a “moderator and support” in the team listing? I have done sys admin, web design, UI design, and development for this project. I haven’t done forum moderation or any level of support for years, literally years. Why are my rather sizable contributions being demeaned in this manner? Why was I not consulted about this change? Why, frankly, should I give a damn about this project any more?

… and …

The bottom line is, I want to contribute to this project, and I want to be involved in more than just forum/support monkey stuff, which it seems I’ve been lumbered with. If it’s not clear from my earlier post, if this is where I’ve been relegated to, I’ll leave. It’s not a threat, it’s not an attempt at blackmail, coercion or anything like that, it’s just a reality. I don’t think it’s fair that some of the strongest contributors - and I don’t mean myself, but some of the very experienced and knowledgable folk in the community - appear to have been marginalised in favour of ultimate control resting with staff. The general attitude outgoing seems to be that we can only help with peripheral segments of the project. I do apologise if I’ve completely misread this, but that’s how it seems from the outside. [...] The community. It has to be the sacred element of any open source project, and it simply can’t be abused under any circumstances. There is talent here, use it, leverage it, but for $deity’s sake, don’t marginalise or ignore it.

No meaningful reply was given, and nothing was done about my entry. At one point, I was challenged to define what I did on Express 3.0 to justify any expansion on my team entry; I replied with this:

That I didn’t contribute anything directly to 3.0 should have no bearing on my standing. Are you writing off everything I’ve done in total over the last nearly seven years? Are you happy to see me demoted to someone who helps on the forums (not that I had a lot of time for that even at my most active)? With that one statement, you have undermined my entire confidence in this project, however, I will not let this get to me, and I will not turn into some [censored] threatening all sorts of crap in a lame attempt to Get Things Done.

My work on the firewall user interface, which was built upon in 3.0, not re-engineered from scratch, was ignored, as was my other work on the website. Sadly, my repeated efforts to engage without threatening anything did nothing. Nothing changed.

A conference call was announced to try and talk through some of these issues, and while methods (telephone? Skype? Gizmo?) and times were discussed, nothing concrete came out and nothing was arranged.

Equally crazy things were done around this time; the administrator’s manual for Express 3.0 was gated behind a signup form, nominally to generate opt-in statistics on SmoothWall usage and hardware configurations, to better understand the population and how to tailor the HCL to increase hardware compatibility. Regardless of the rationale, well-intentioned or not, who hides the freaking documentation for an open source project behind a sign-up form? Meanwhile, a poll was fielded in the public forums to see if Express users would be interested in paying SmoothWall Ltd. for a “features” subscription, including “like anti-spam, web filtering blocklist and settings backup”. The answer was a resounding “no”. These were typical of what seemed to be increasingly odd business decisions, and bizarre attitudes on how to run an open, transparent FOSS project.

So five days ago, I posted to the internal forum explaining that I was considering leaving the project, and asking for comments: not to seek pleadings for me to stay, or to incite insults to force my hand, but again to generate a rational discussion, highlighting my issues:

I still appear to be listed on the website as a forum moderator, completely ignoring the work I’ve done on SmoothWall in the last 7 years. I’ve asked about this before, and nothing was done. I’m finding increasingly little time to squeeze in other things outside my commitments to things like Linden Lab, LugRadio and so on. I feel like there’s a stand-off-ish position being taken when communicating with those I know in the core community.

So, I’m giving serious consideration to resigning from the open source project; I’ve already revoked my forum adminship (did it a month or two ago, actually). All the development work now seems to be done in-house. There’s nothing for me to do whatsoever as a sysadmin. I’m not a good tester. I’m not going to sit and just moderate a forum given my level of involvement in the past. So it feels like time.

I made it crystal clear that this was not an attack, that this was not my trying to “get at anyone”, these were observations and my reaction to those observations.

Five days later, and nothing has happened. Again. So I feel it’s time to say farewell to SmoothWall. I’ve no doubt I’ll still stay part of the user community, at least peripherally, and I bear no real ill will to anyone involved. I’m just very disappointed in the decisions made to get where we are today, and I feel it’s hypocritical to stay connected to a project I have misgivings about. This also isn’t to say that SmoothWall the distro and product line aren’t good; they are, and I’ll likely continue to recommend SmoothWall Express where appropriate, although I’ll likely be replacing my own SmoothWall border solution with a Cisco 871-K9 to get my IOS nous up.

So long, SmoothWall. It was fun.

Syndicated 2008-03-05 05:12:20 from neuro.me.uk » open source

Easy Peasy WordPress Upgrades

My blog software, WordPress, has been nagging me to upgrade it for a few days now. It’s normally an easy process: go to the website, download the tar archive, untar into a temporary directory, then cp -a the files into my blog’s Apache virtual host directory.

However, Aq noticed a slightly easier way: use Subversion. Now I can upgrade WordPress with a simple svn switch command, followed by a click on a database upgrade script. Much, much easier.

Syndicated 2007-11-24 05:53:52 from neuro.me.uk » open source

quotes.lugradio.org is Back

Finally, I’ve managed to get the LugRadio IRC Quotes Database back online on the day that the large gents released LugRadio Season 5’s first episode. I’ve migrated from rash to Chirpy! — the same qdb used by the Mozilla Foundation, amongst others. This migration has been a long time coming, and hopefully LugRadio community folk can enjoy having some fun reading some of the utter, utter random pish we’ve come out with over the last couple of years!

Syndicated 2007-09-24 17:12:13 from neuro.me.uk » open source

A PC Pro Wishlist

Yes, I’m in Rant mode again; just sent this to PC Pro magazine:

To: letters@pcpro.co.uk
From: neuro@well.com
Subject: Wishlist

Hi PC Pro Letters,

I was pretty disgusted to note the completely haphazard manner in which David Fearon researched and documented Ubuntu Linux’s “downsides” in your “Who’s Killing Windows?” feature (p122, issue 156). He references the relatively complex Synaptic package manager application to add and remove software, when for over a year a simple and usable “Add/Remove Applications” applet has been sitting at the bottom of the Applications menu in every standard install of Ubuntu. The rest of the article was littered with errors, and this has led me to a wishlist, a la Jon Honeyball’s (p128-129, issue 156).

  1. PC Pro should endeavour to contract writers who are knowledgeable on their chosen topic. If they can’t write authoritatively about the subject they are submitting articles on, they shouldn’t write them at all. The Real World section is terrible for being full of inaccuracies while purporting to be written by experts.
  2. More editorials from high profile figures from outside the IT industry, and real critical pieces from regular contributors such as Dick Pountain’s diatribe on cover discs.
  3. No more rambling back page rants from Jon Honeyball, please.
  4. More space for readers’ letters; surely you receive more than 10 usable missives a month? This is the age of Web 2.0, interactivity!
  5. Less screengrabs of websites in Real World and elsewhere, cf Steve Cassidy’s MS and IBM grabs (p175-176, issue 156). I understand writers sometimes struggle to find appropriate art, and that pictures speak thousands of words, but it’s akin to BBC News Online posting a shoddy screengrab of google.com to talk about Google. If you have to screengrab, at least get an app or relevant shot.

This is the first I’ve been compelled to write to PC Pro to complain in years of reading, and the magazine is otherwise consistently excellent. Hopefully this will be taken as constructive criticism and not just a random slating! Keep up the good work.

Syndicated 2007-08-13 12:34:14 from neuro.me.uk » open source

CompressedJuneJuly

It’s time for another Cram Post, Neuro Style.

june » to san francisco for a couple of weeks to acclimatise to linden lab culture and processes, very chilled yet productive fortnight, i can now convert pounds sterling to/from US dollars and PDT to/from BST in my head; july » had great fun trying to procure a macbook pro for work, to wolverhampton for lugradio live 2007, gave a quick talk and demo about second life, got more enjoyment out of picking up an xbox 360 on the cheap, to brighton for the develop conference and a linden recruitment event, beer is not cheap in brighton, got to meet peter molyneux and aleks krotoski which rocked - aleks, the pigeons are still not safe!, saw the simpsons movie - basically a 90 minute episode of the simpsons and that’s not a bad thing, housemates who moved in here in march are moving out to a bigger pad near glasgow *schniff*, the geekha.us shall continue tho!

Syndicated 2007-07-30 13:51:26 from neuro.me.uk » open source

Microsoft and Novell == MAN Love?

After Microsoft and Novell’s announcement that they are to start collaboration on tighter integration between Windows and (admittedly SuSE) Linux, there has been a lot of bollocks kicking around from people squealing “this will be bad“, “this will be really bad“, “oh no, it’s the end of the world as we know it“, and so on. $deity forbid two old-school rivals want to bury the hatchet and do something that’s in the best interests of both their customers.

It is good for Microsoft, as it gives them an “in” into both the FOSS community and corporate arenas, and it’s good for Novell, as it helps them solidify their role in the enterprise Linux market. An associated patent agreement, where Novell pay licensing fees Microsoft for specific patents, and Microsoft agree not to litigate on those patents, is just a cherry on the cake, although cynics may suggest that the patent part is the meat of the deal. I’m unconvinced. The patent deal is to keep shareholders happy; the collaboration deal is to keep customers happy. And isn’t that what FOSS operating in a corporate environment is all about?

Syndicated 2006-11-03 14:04:37 from neuro.me.uk » open source

Chalk, Cheese

Two sides to the same story: Linspire are releasing a freely-available, freely-distributable, community-led, Debian-based Linux distribution (sound familiar?) to be called Freespire. Linspire’s edge is that they will distribute non-free drivers, such as for nVidia or ATi graphics cards, as part of the core distribution, and not from optional repositories a la Ubuntu.

Jono Bacon, who is on the Leadership Board of Freespire, is genuinely excited about Open Source and distro diversity, and I’d trust his opinion to be as unbiased as possible. Meanwhile, Pamela Jones over at Groklaw is characterising Freespire as Satan’s Distro. Yes, binary non-free, non-open drivers are Bad. But think about the first thing a new user of Ubuntu does — and when I say user, I don’t mean an average Linux geek, I mean a Joe Bloggs user, a wants to read e-mail and buy stuff off Amazon user — is to look for ways to play their MP3 collection, or watch a DVD, or go to a website with Flash, or listen to BBC Real streams, or … You see my point? The Ubuntu forums are littered with requests to just Make Stuff Work™. This is undoubtedly the market Linspire is targetting, and it is a market.

Is Jono wrong to be associated with this distro? Is Pamela right to vilify it? I’ve no doubt that while Freespire is a noble effort by a company well steeped in commercialism, it’ll survive with a niche of its own; not a huge niche, but a cult following nonetheless. Ubuntu is a steamroller of a distro with a strong ethical community. Freespire just won’t have the momentum to keep up. I really don’t know what Pamela is worried about.

Note that this isn’t SquiggleOS, the original attempt to create a free version of Linspire which began under the same name. SquiggleOS has now been abandoned in favour of Freespire development. Also note that SquiggleOS lead Andrew Betts is a Leadership Board member too.

Syndicated 2006-04-25 11:36:03 from neuro.me.uk » open source

New Location for Clan #lugradio Maps

The Clan #lugradio Maps site has been updated with new download locations for the maps, and a shell script to assist Linux users (and Windows users running Cygwin I suppose) in keeping their clan maps up-to-date. The script defaults to downloading to ~/.etwolf/etmain, so if you’ve changed that from the default, make sure that is changed in the script too.

The script is based on a shell script written by #lugradioite nlindblad, and development continued by myself as a fork from niklas’ initial work. Others have implemented similar scripts in Python and Ruby, so YMMV :) This script is now the master script with the authoritative map locations, so if you’re developing alternatives please use the URLs in this script, and please also respect the fact I’m hosting these maps personally :)

Syndicated 2006-03-19 16:22:54 from neuro.me.uk » open source

As someone said on IRC this morning: “the FSF appear to have come up with the perfect plan for how to look like a bunch of annoying, smart-arse tossers“. Has the Free Software Foundation gone nuts?

Update 13:30: I don’t seem to be alone on this: popey, mgdm, ZDNet, Slashdot.

I’ve been saying for a while that the more zealous methods used by proponents of Free software have been somewhat over-the-top, and do more to detract from the FOSS public image than to build upon it in a constructive way. Now they’ve taken a sip from the poisoned Kool-Aid. The FSF, via it’s Defective by Design campaign, is advocating that people block-book sessions at an Apple Store’s Genius Bar, a sort of drop-in and bookable repair and support centre. “Having lots of slots booked will get Apple’s attention and ensure that the Geniuses have done their homework”, says the ‘Apple Challenge’ page, posted by FSF employee Matt Lee. The rationale apparently is that Apple is now the enemy, since Vista is doing more damage to itself than anyone else can from outside Microsoft, and the first target are the Apple Store’s Genius Bars.

My employer purchased both AppleCare and ProCare for my MBP, which has come in extremely handy when the ‘O’ key snapped off (keyboard replaced overnight), my battery failed to hold a charge (replaced immediately upon attending pre-booked Genius Bar session) and my motherboard GPU failed (motherboard replaced in 90 minutes). Now imagine any of the following scenarios: you’re unsure how to use your newly purchased Macbook; you’re trying to connect a camera to your Mac to transfer photos to iPhoto and print them to send to relatives in a frame; your machine has failed in some way and urgently needs repaired, as you use it for your business. You try to book a session at the Genius Bar to resolve any of these issues, and … it’s fully booked. For days. Wow, they must be busy.

Well, no, it’s actually a bunch of uber-asshole Free software zealots thinking they’re “special”, attempting to monopolise a consumer resource in an attempt to “educate” or “catch out” Apple Store employees, some of whom may have used Macs for years, others may have had a crash course in Apple products so that they know as much as they can about the stuff they sell, but little else. Why harass these people? It’s like having a constant stream of people going up to the counter at McDonald’s and espousing the benefits of a low-carb, high-fibre diet to the person who can do the least about it. Genius Bar employees may know all about FOSS, but critically it’s not their job to promote it. It’s not a “product” to be “sold”, but a philosophy to be shared.

A plea to the FSF: stop harassing Apple staff, and stop alienating the very people you’re trying to “save”. There are better, more ethical, more agreeable methods to promote FOSS. What you’re doing is none of those things. In the meantime, you’ve virtually guaranteed I will never promote, condone, contribute or donate to any FSF body, project or campaign. I’ve had a “Warning, DRM” defectivebydesign.org sticker on my Macbook Pro for a while now, mainly for comedic value. It’s gone now. I no longer want to be seen to be promoting these idiots in any way. As much as I love the thought of Free and Open Source Software being used everywhere and anywhere, this is just not the way to be going about it.

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