Archive for March, 2010

What is OpenSource Software?

OpenSource software is often confused with  Shareware and Freeware, which it isn’t. Shareware and freeware are compiled programs and the source code is not available to the user.

OpenSource is more of a concept, than anything else. It is, granted, free, but where it differentiates from Shareware and Freeware is that it comes with the source code (this is the original code in text format that anyone can see and make changes).

There are many who think that OpenSource is the future for all software and I will attempt to give an example, using smaller numbers, which hopefully illustrates the concept.

A software house called “Widget Software” sells their program for £300. They have 10,000 customers which they have to support. So they employ a large support team for this task. In addition, they have to continue to upgrade the software as requests for extra features from their clients pour in.

Then, one day, the company decides to embrace the “OpenSource” model. They release the source code on the Internet and, at the same time, set up a Forum for users to help each other. The companies user-base grows to 100,000.

They now have a fixed fee support contract which is charged out at £50 a quarter. Out of all the extra users, many are from corporates and smaller companies who are happy to pay for the support contract once they download the program and can see it will do what they want. Companies hate free as they want to be able to hold someone to task if they are not able to use a product for what it is designed for. Already they are increasing their turnover.

And, of course, they don’t need to upgrade the product because users are doing this. An OpenSource licence allows people to make changes to the software on the condition they send back the changes to the company if they wish to pass their improvements on. Which is fine all the way around. Therefore, Widget Software can reduce the number of engineers as they will have less work to do, so their profit increases.

This is the scenario that many in the computer industry think may the way to go. I will quote the example of Canonical Limited. They started using the OpenSource movement to create the Ubuntu version of Linux, who then gives their server and desktop software away free of charge, including the source code. The forums are full of very helpful people who spend ages helping newcomers to this operating system. And, after a few years, Canonical Limited who offer support contracts to larger organisations have grown their staff to over 200 people at the last count in 2009.

As an example, one of their best customers are the French Gendarmerie Nationale, who have a number of servers running Ubuntu and have recently moved 20,000 desktops to Ubuntu and the next 80,000 desktops are being moved over in 2010 and 2011. Certainly a vote of confidence.

I moved over to Ubuntu in my 70th year and, quite frankly, found it much more intuitive than Windows. Instead of the £300 Microsoft Office, I use the OpenSource OpenOffice which will read and save in Microsoft formats. I also use Firefox web browser which is so much more advanced than Internet Explorer. For Email I use Thunderbird. All these programs are available on Windows, the Mac and Linux so I initially moved over to them when I was using Windows and when I was up and running with each, I only then moved to the Linux operating system.

One thing to mention about Linux, if you have an old computer in the attic, which runs Windows at such a slow speed, you may well find it comes to life with Linux

There are thousands of OpenSource programs available (18,000 at the last count) but most of them only run on Linux alas.

As a voluntary organisation, The Finchley Arrow has made a conscious decision only to use OpenSource software with the proviso that it only uses the ones that run on all three platforms (Mac, Windows and Linux). This means that if a new volunteer arrives and wants to take a job which relies on software, they can download the software from the Internet for free, no matter what computer they own. We even produce our newspaper using an open source desktop program called Scribus.

I personally save around £500 a year using Linux. This is with software savings, hardware savings as we no longer need to change the computer every three years, and support savings as we get tremendous help on the Forums and can do it ourselves, even at age 70!


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Saturday schools

The Tories have said that they would bring back Saturday schools to help poorer children.

This is a good idea, but I came up with what I thought was a good idea a few years ago.

To have a one Saturday morning a month school for children from the age of thirteen to teach them about the things in life that schools don’t prepare them for. Things like how to plan with written goals. How a business works through project management. How to negotiate (not selling) with people such as their manager, their bank, buying a new car or home, even their parents! A little simple programming so that they can understand how algebra, trigonometry and geometry relate to programming, so they can see a useful reason behind these subjects. How to relate with others, understanding their needs and aspiration and how to interact with them. A little about national economics. Perhaps a little about all the political parties, not just the Socialists and the Conservatives.

These pointers are not a be all and end all, but are included to give the reader ideas with which to expand. A morning of three hours once a month for two years would prepare our future generation for the future. And, at the same time, enriching their lives.

But nobody thought it was a good idea so it died a natural death.


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Definition of Socialism

I first saw this quite a while ago, but it seems to be doing the rounds again. It is a perfect example of socialism!

Robbing Peter to pay Paul



Travelling tourist class

I noticed that the Government have ordered all senior admirals, generals, field marshals and air chief marshals to travel second class to save money.

However, Cabinet ministers may travel first class.

If Cabinet Ministers can travel first class, then their equal counterparts in private enterprise should be allowed to travel first class as well.

So I guess McDonalds are going to have to move their hamburger servers around the country by first class travel in future?



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This warrants wider distribution

Here’s a guide on how to deal with the Police from Spyblog

Spy Blog Hints and Tips for attending this sort of anti-surveillance state public event:

  1. Tell all your friends and family about the meeting, eben if they are not interested in attending themselves, at least have someone worry about you if you are late home from such a meeting.
  2. Although there will obviously be journalists at this particular event, tell any other journalists or broadcast media contacts you have about it – these issues affect them and their readers / audiences, it not not just a a London thing.
  3. Switch off your mobile phone(s) when you are within, a couple of blocks, or Tube or train or Bus stops from Euston. Even if you do not make or receive a voice call or send or receive an SMS text message or use your mobile phone internet connection, then your phone will register its Location every 10 minutes or so with the nearby mobile phone Cell tower base stations, simply to be ready for any such normal mobile telephony uses.This will generate Communications Traffic data including Location Based Services data, which will be trawled through, en masse, by various police and intelligence units with an interest in trying to identify and track some or all of the attendees of this meeting.
  4. Take note and photographs if possible, of anybody seeming to record or photograph vehicle number plates of nearby parked cars or the people entering or leaving the meeting rooms / building etc.
  5. If you are “stopped and searched” under the Terrorism Act 2000 section 44, you do not have to give your name and address (although this can be demanded if you are actually arrested under the vast swathe of other legislation ).
  6. Remember that Police Community Support officers have no powers under the the Terrorism Act 2000 section 44, unless they are being physically supervised by a real , sworn, Police Constable in Uniform (plain clothes or undercover police also have no section 44 powers)
  7. Neither Police Constables nor PCSOs can demand that you delete any photographs or video you have taken on your camera or mobile phone (that is potentially “destruction of evidence”) .
  8. This is a peaceful meeting, but just in case you are arrested, or stopped and searched etc. do have the contact details of a firm of solicitors who deal with criminal law and human rights etc. Say nothing until you have access to proper, independent legal advice.
  9. Do not rely on keeping these solicitors details in your mobile phone – that is one of the first things that will be taken away from you by the police – memorise them and / or keep them on paper as well.
  10. Set a security PIN code on your Mobile Phone. This will not prevent the police from examining it forensically if you are actually arrested, but it may be enough to prevent casual, illegal, snooping by Police Constables or by ill trained Police Community Support Officers.
  11. Delete all your stored SMS text messages (sent, received and draft). These can be forensically recovered or reconstructed from central records, but again, there is no need to give anything private away to nosey snoopers who might have your phone in their possession.
  12. Ideally, do not take your normal mobile phone to such a meeting – use a cheap / disposable, prepaid, unregistered mobile phone, with little or no Friendship Tree history or stored contacts or SMS messages.
  13. Since this meeting will be in the run up to the General and Local elections, do please make very clear your views on the creepy Labour Surveillance State and its counterproductive effect on innocent people, to any politicians who might be trawling for votes at or near the meeting.
  14. If you are going to publish any photos or articles or emails or blog entries or tweets or other reports about this meeting, especially if you are inspired to participate in or plan some sort of peaceful action against the Labour Government or Whitehall, or other tentacles of the surveillance state, then please bear in mind our – Hints and Tips for Whistleblowers etc. – Technical Hints and Tips for protecting the anonymity of sources for Whistleblowers, Investigative Journalists, Campaign Activists and Political Bloggers etc.


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Hang ’em high!

I always assumed that the “best before” dates on food were written by companies scared of being sued. For example, with fresh food, they had to assume that some people were too poor to have a fridge, and some of those people would store the food in a hot kitchen.

I have now read, in today’s electronic Telegraph that “The Food Standards Agency” (FSA) fears much of the food is being wasted because people do not understand labels.”

The latest figures show almost 3 million tonnes of food is thrown away because consumers think it is about to go off, and that the biggest problem is people throwing away food because they think that the ‘best before’ date means the food is no longer safe to eat. This is just not true!

Take steak: It is said that the best steak has to be “hung” for three weeks. Being “hung” in domestic premises just means you leave it in the fridge before eating it.

If you are like me and like your steak “bleu” then you must sear both sides first as germs only rest on the outside of a steak, and the intense heat of searing will kill them off. For the same reason, as mince has too much contact to the air, hamburgers should always be “well done”. This is bad news if, like me, you like your steak “bleu“. And even those who prefer rare or medium should choose well-done when given the choice.


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Labour concede they are wrong to keep harping back to Thatcher days

When Cameron mentioned that Gordon Brown’s decision to sell our Gold was a disastrous move (it has now quadrupled in price since then) Labour spinners insinuated this was ancient news and he was wrong to bring it up.

Forgive me if I am wrong, but wasn’t Margaret Thatcher the Prime Minister before Gordon Brown was Chancellor? In fact weren’t there several Prime Ministers between her and Brown?

So we can only assume that Labour will no longer mention the Thatcher years.



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