Switched to Mandriva…

Mandriva Linux

I finally did it! Been talking about ditching Ubuntu for ages and never found the time (you know… backup, new install, restore, get familiar, etc.). It turns out that last Thursday while extending my /home partition with a LiveCD, for some reasons something went wrong and I ended it with my bigger partition having the same remaining free space as before being extended (I had a 20GiB unused space on the disk initially). Thinking I had been lucky not to lose anything, I backed up and installed Mandriva One. It’s a bit like going back to my first love Mandrake (second actually, started Linux with Red Hat when it was free many years ago)! Of course I preferred the name back then, but for obvious reasons they couldn’t keep it.

So Mandriva has actually a specific ISO file for Asia which can be downloaded from a Chinese mirror maintained by our good friend Funda. It includes all the necessary files to support Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Malay and a few more languages I think. Installation was almost ok, couldn’t do it in 3D mode but hey, I can live with that (the install button just wouldn’t click).

The first 6 hours using Mandriva where a bit challenging in the sense that I had to get familiar with urpmi and how to do things. They do have a great Linux Control Center (mcc) where you can find all the things to be configured in one single location. Their network manager is also very powerful and has all the options one should expect from such a tool. Had a little rendering problem with my Chinese fonts (using English desktop with Chinese enabled) which was due to a conflict with the Japanese fonts. Well in short after two days of discussion with Patrick who visit us regularly, Funda and Freeflying on #mandrivacn I got everything fixed, missing applications from the repositories backported and a service that really impressed me: Kudos to Mandriva and its community.

Now an other reason for supporting Mandriva is that they’ve been trying to build a community here, have hired people to improve Chinese support and are even building the operating system that will run on the Gdium (the Loongson based general purpose Chinese CPU). So definitely an interesting distribution worth following and encouraging.

I again extend a big thank you to Funda, Freeflying and Patrick for their help, and recommend everyone to give it a try.

Localizing HTML documents

Continuing my search into internationalizing and localizing the 48 lessons for RUR-PLE and asking all around I have raised a few very meaningful feedbacks from my community: it’s a lot of work to recode HTML pages and insert language tags, it also makes authoring a lot more complicated and not for everyone. Imagine a teacher wanting to add lesson No.49, he’ll have to understand the technique behind it and thus learning a bit of HTML is probably a lot easier. So what you gain from simplifying the work for translators is lost in hindering authoring.

Well actually NO! A big THANK YOU to Elly for pointing out this great Java application to me: OmegaT. OmegaT let you open XHTML, HTML, Microsoft Office 2007 XML, OpenOffice.org/StarOffice, XLIFF (Okapi), MediaWiki and plain text files and hides the code to the translator. Translators just see what needs to be translated, can use shared memory per project (you create projects inside the application) and thus avoids you to re-translate something you already translated, and export in the same format as the original document without touching the markup. I’ve tried with HTML and presentation files and wow it just works as it should. Great gain of time, no need to internationalize anything for your project (and mine) and anyone can now generate new lessons without having to worry about the translators.

This is also going to help me in my daily work, where I get presentation files in different languages all the time and spend hours editing them slide by slide. On top of that, this is Open Source Software (GPL) and cross platform (using Java). What else could you ask for? I just regret to have discovered it so late. πŸ˜‰

First stone to the edifice

RUR-PLEJust as I am talking about my new project, last weekend, Pockey and I have already localized a great educational application called RUR-PLE. RUR-PLE is an environment designed to help kids learn computer programming using the Python language. Teaching kids algorithm are without any doubts going to enhance their problem solving abilities, analytical skills and passion to create things out of nothing.

The whole process of localizing this application took half a day as the author, AndrΓ© Roberge, had already internationalized its software. So basically it was just a matter of installing PoEdit, finding the po files in the right directly and just providing the Chinese version.

There are 48 lessons (not all are online, but they come with the package) bundled with RUR-PLE which are in HTML format. Now those have not been internationalized and we have so far only localized the main pages and the documentation. I am therefore starting to dive into the process of HTML internationalizing and I have much to learn. From what Freeflying told me I had to look into XML and DocBook for that. At first sight it does appear fairly complicated, so if anyone has the time to give me a crash course on the ABC’s of HTML internationalization and localization, please feel free to contact me.

What you can remember of this article however is that to port something as useful as RUR-PLE only took one afternoon! So if you want to help and join our efforts do come and visit our group.

Riding the small dog

For those of you regularly reading the Beijing LUG site (or even participating in our events) you might remember our Old PCs Refurbishing Party lead by Ben from BISS and held early March of this year. After struggling with various flavors of Ubuntu because of bad Chinese support and heavy resource usage, we settled on 256MB of ram as a minimum requirement and had to manually customize every single install we did.

Not satisfied we decided to study other options such as mastering our own light-weight derivative distribution with the right packages and good Chinese support. We did get a lot of positive supporting offers from ThizLinux, Mandriva and Novell and it’s nice to feel you’re part of a group of great people.

After a few weeks, Ben pointed out a few Puppylinux variants and I am now playing with it: IMPRESSIVE! I am testing it on an old Thinkpad X30 with 256MB of ram with a Pentium III: so fast, so flexible. All the necessary applications are available, it’s very easy to make your own build (actually 2 ways of doing it) and you can even install deb packages (experimental feature).

We still have a long way to go, but it really seems we’ve solved our first issue: small footprint and easy setup. Puppylinux has also a very active IRC channel on freenode (#puppylinux) and a fairly good documentation. I’m almost considering using it as my full time distribution!

So whatever distribution we use at the end, I’m quite pleased to have had to dive into Puppylinux. It’ll give us a base to chose the right applications and do our own customization in order to get the project rolling!

Golden Bull Award

For those of you reading the Beijing LUG site you already know we received an award last Saturday: the Golden Bull Award. I tend to be overly emotional in these kind of situations (no, I didn’t cry but hey, it was intense) and really felt proud to be representing our community, what we have done during the past year together and how fun it has been. It’s also a good feeling to be acknowledged by the leading Chinese IT community and developer magazine, us, a bunch of “laowai” who initially just wanted to have a couple of beers together and talk about Linux. We’re now a very mixed group of both Chinese and foreigners doing our best to continue to have fun while making a difference. On top of that there is a great article on ZDNet Asia front page where Peter blogs about Open Source and China, the direct link to this article is here and it talks about what we did in 2007 under the BLUG and basically why we got this award. I could add a lot to the article such as the Chuan committee, the openLibrary, the quadcopter group and all the guys who help us for each and every single project. It’s going to be soon a year that I am the BLUG President and I am so proud to be a member of this group – you guys are so easy to represent! I wanted to let you know that I wouldn’t have done it without all of you, all the work, passion, energy and support you showed. That really helped me to continue giving time (and money sometimes), and I truly hope you will give me more of the same this year πŸ˜‰ A proud Beijing Linux User Group member.

A weekend with Matt MacKall

Once in a while you meet these rare individuals who remind you where you’re coming from. Following the Linux Developer Symposium a few speakers stayed a couple of more days to visit the Great Wall, the Forbidden city and other Beijing Landmarks. I helped organized a visit into a training center for embedded Linux on Friday together with Matt and this is how it all started.

I’d say Matt is a very reserved individual at first, very serious and focused (that’s just my impression). The Friday morning visit gave me a chance to listen more closely to his presentation to a class of 50-60 Chinese students and exchange ideas about attracting more people to Linux. I would honestly say that the whole trip was very successful, the class had Jonathan Corbet book on every single desk (Jonathan was also a speaker at the conference) and Matt motivated every one of us. Afternoon was free and we met again for dinner.

The next day, Matt being into art (something I discovered), we visited 798 factory and discussed about art, Burning Man ,how Matt has been attending the event for the last 8 years, what kind of technology he uses for his art and all sorts of things. Then a bit of food shopping, famous Chinese Hot Pot, more talks between during and after, and off to bed.

Matt happens to be a vegan as well as a Linux user and contributor (and an artist, and probably many other things). Why? Because he cares. In fact the whole 2 days discussion was about caring, and how you can transform your principles into actions, how you live up to your believes and how even small contributions can make a difference.

As I mentioned in my introduction I was really glad to have these talks, re-energize myself with someone who could explain himself with passion about what he believed in and would take the time to share his views without forcing them on me.

We all believe in something, but what do we do about it? And is it enough to make that difference we were talking about? I often ask myself this question…

Some good, some bad…

The last two days have been hectic and not very peaceful for my mind. Maybe I should start with the bad: I deleted the wrong partition and install a new system on it. Yes! That bad! When I realized the “ouch!”, I think I wanted to just disappear from the surface of this planet.

Luckily my business partner has a better tolerance to screw-ups than me and she didn’t kill me. Two days later, the whole thing is not as terrible as I initially perceived it, but I am still trying to recover the data. I actually found a few tools that I am experimenting with such as systemrescueCD which include photorec (recommended by my good friend Young Yu) and pyflag which I discovered through a Google search.

SystemRescueCd is a Linux system on a bootable CD-ROM for repairing your system and recovering your data after a crash. It aims to provide an easy way to carry out admin tasks on your computer, such as creating and editing the partitions of the hard disk. It contains a lot of system utilities (parted, partimage, fstools, …) and basic tools (editors, midnight commander, network tools). It is very easy to use: just boot the CDROM. The kernel supports most of the important file systems (ext2/ext3, reiserfs, reiser4, xfs, jfs, vfat, ntfs, iso9660), as well as network filesystems (samba and nfs).

FLAG (Forensic and Log Analysis GUI) is an advanced forensic tool for the analysis of large volumes of log files and forensic investigations.
PyFlag features a rich FeatureList which include the ability to load many different log file formats, Perform forensic analysis of disks and images. PyFlag can also analyse network traffic as obtained via tcpdump quickly and efficiently.

I’ll update you guys in a few days about both. I might even find more tools later, who knows. I also wanted to thank Alex Li, Sysadmin at Google China for following up and calling me everyday to know how I was doing. Alex also send me a link to other tools which I will explore as well.

We also bought a low-end machine to mirror the disk and process the whole thing: cheapo AMD, 1GB of RAM and 2 x 500GB for 3,000.- RMB. That makes me wonder how the Lemote box fits into this market. I don’t have any update on their pricing, but if not for the price I don’t quite see the attraction of running any MIPS based CPU when an i386 can do the job (and provide more flexibility as to OS choice).

Now, to the “good”: we got a call from the Beijing Zoo during the weekend as 2 of their new chameleons are having problems to feed. My friend Adrien, the chameleon expert (he has 25+ at home) was only available Tuesday or Wednesday morning, and the reptile keeper was off on Tuesday. So easy choice, here we go (we = the reptile team composed of Adrien, Pockey and myself) wednesday 9am, Beijing Zoo! There was a few easy fixes to do in the set up of the enclosure but one of the big issue is that they no longer had any UV-B light. Reptiles, in particular diurnal species, do need UVB to transform vitamin D3 and combine it with the food calcium to use it for the body (bones and other organs) . I stole a nice graphic (got the approval and a very nice email as well) from uvguide.co.uk to give more details on the process without long boring sentences. The whole site has tons of information for people interested in the topic.

UV-B and reptiles

(c) uvguide.co.uk – reproduced with authorization.

UV light can also brings other positive effects such as the well-being feeling and the desire to live. No UV means death for sure (for the diurnal species that is) and is characterized by a famous disease called MDB or Metabolic Bone Disease.The Beijing Zoo is a government run zoo and has, as you can easily imagine in any state owned enterprise (in China and elsewhere I have heard), a lengthy administrative process for anything. So here we go, the “noisy”, “not-afraid of layers” laowais, talking to the manager of the manager of the manager of … well you get the picture… and explaining how important it is for those poor lizards to get their daily dose of UV-B TODAY! And it worked! The keeper got a 1,000.- RMB budget that same afternoon, went to buy 6 UV tubes and some extra needed stuff and we felt useful! It doesn’t mean that the chameleons are going to eat right away, but for sure they will feel better. Note that it’s also winter here, and the temperature are relatively lower even inside the reptiles area. It’s also normal for some lizards to have a “winter shut down” which is a period where they eat a lot less because of the temperature drop. This of course highly depends on the species and where they are originally from.

At the beginning of those two days I thought I was having just another bad week, it turns out not everything was bad. In fact even the mishaps might bring more good in the short term than bad: I’ll get to discover cool Linux apps! πŸ˜‰