Maintaining multiple websites

As we have just finished upgrading the Beijing GNU/Linux User Group website I was realising that I actually maintain around 10+ community sites using various pieces of software (and plug-ins) and I was curious to hear how people in the same position were keeping track of all this. I currently use a mixture of emails, Gjots, Firefox built-in password manager (which loses password every now and then) and of course, my neurones. I am in fact wondering how the tasks could be optimised to make sure you get to track every single piece of software used, security announcements, new releases, special custom job done here and there, “watch-out lists” when you’re doing a server move or re-install, know which site to update when there is such a need to upgrade and probably more. So what are you tips or experiences on the matter?

Software Freedom International 2010 Presidency

Catching up with life since my return from GNOME.Asia Summit as a lot of things have happened as well last month. On December 1st the SFD General Assembly was held (IRC meeting) and as our former president Robert Schumann stepped down I was elected the new president for 2010! This is definitely a big responsibility and I will try to keep up the good work that has been carried out since 2004. The good thing is that we have more board members this coming year (some new ones and some older ones) which hopefully will help us to do more. I want to thank everyone for their support and more specifically my colleagues from SFI, our sponsors, the members of the Beijing LUG and all the SFD team leaders around the world without whom we would never have done so much. so, Thank you all!

New baby born…


While getting ready to leave to the office and quickly spreading water over our day geckos terrarium as we do every morning (one need to keep humidity levels rather high since they’re originally coming from Madagascar), I noticed an extra small gecko inside the enclosure. Since we live in a typical Beijing courtyard we do have a central yard which gets full of local geckos from spring to autumn. The fact that we keep crickets at home to feed our own reptiles, and that those crickets easily escape, do attract all the neighboring geckos for free food (they probably have planted gecko signs offering “Open Food Services at Fred’s yard”). So, I thought for a moment it was one of those little guys that made it through our living room and into the terrarium.
Well I was wrong, our female phesulma did actually lay eggs since she was given to us by the Beijing Zoo (actually they gave both a male and a female), but we carefully took care of her first clutch (2 eggs each time, 1 clutch a year found 2 more eggs this morning, so obviously that was wrong. Maybe it was an Easter egg celebration?), removing the eggs from the terrarium and placing them in a special container, measuring and respecting required temperature and humidity levels and hoping we would get babies. That didn’t work and we kind of gave up on the idea.

Seems nature has decided otherwise and that leaving the eggs in the terrarium itself (Pockey now knows why they do hide their eggs 😉 ) and not bothering about it was a much more successful way to get baby phelsumas. So welcome into our world little guy (or girl), and we’ll do our best to give you a happy life!

Gdium wikipedia entry…

Just came to read the Gdium entry on wikipedia and since wikipedia is definitely not the place to answer to the controversy section, I guess my BLOG is a good place to start. I will also not amend that section since it wouldn’t be ‘fair game’ for a Dexxon employee to delete what some people believe to be facts (?).  So let’s tackle each point one by one.

Gdium was originally planned for release in September 2008[2], but after multiple hardware and software glitches, the product was delayed until end of February 2009 for its soft launch. Gdium’s soft launch was on the Belgium market and received a mild user acceptance. The product delays are attributed to a number of factors, but the choice of a MIPS CPU and its Linux implementation is one of the main factor that impacted the product stability.

I personally have problems to see how this fits into any controversy section, most IT products come out late anyway. The product was delayed, that’s a fact that no one is denying. Whoever wrote that is definitely not involved in the project. There were 2 reasons that delayed the product launch: non-working keyboard due to some firmware issues and white plastic quality (we wanted something really white and it took more time than expected to reach this quality). So no MIPS or Linux port issue.

One Laptop Per Hacker (OLPH) marketing campaign draw numerous concerns from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) foundation, and it was seen as a pale copy of OLPC own marketing campaign. While the OLPC fundation is a non-profit organization, Gdium is a for-profit commercial project managed by private company Dexxon. The OLPC foundation argues that Dexxon campaign is confusing the market and enticing people towards a commercial project. Dexxon has yet to provide a clear explanation on those allegations.

That’s a funny one. In fact I believe this can only be written by OLPC itself since no one else mentioned it. We did receive a letter from OLPC to contact them, which we did, but no one was available to take our call. Finally the latest I’ve heard is that we have a ‘gentleman agreement’. So much for it… Now OLPH is a friendly reference to OLPC except that it’s targeting hackers and not children and without any aim of educating them. Gdium also happens to be a foundation (non-profit organization) which goal is to provide a mean for every child to exercise its right to education. As the Wikipedia introduction describes it very well “Gdium is a brick inside a wider environment dedicated to knowledge“, which is a very different approach from OLPC. We also target a different age range (secondary and high school) being complimentary to OLPC and we’ve been working with teachers from the start, not governments, to reach our goals. We sell to anyone who wants a Gdium, and not only the countries that have decided to buy into the program and we have very little chances to be corrupted by Microsoft, running on a MIPS CPU 😉 . We probably need to improve on our communication about the project itself, but I believe that like every Open Source project we focus on getting our solution out and not just talking about it.

The target price of the Gdium at Euro 379[3] makes the Gdium one of the most expensive netbook on the market related to its hardware configuration. Analysts [4] have wondered if a market actually exist for it.

Last but not least, some negative and false comments about our pricing and market taking a poorly written engadget article, poorly in the sense that the author doesn’t see what’s exciting about coming up with a non-x86 compatible architecture and bringing real competition to the market. For the pricing part, we do have monthly market survey and for what it’s worth, in Europe at the time of this article 10″ netbook where priced between 299€ (Advent 4211) up to 599€ (Asus EeePC S101) with the bulk being around 400€. But that would be probably asking too much to the author of that section to verify his sources…

I, of course,  remain open to answer any related question the community may have. I felt I had to at least provide an answer. This is now done.

Starting to get SFD schwag samples

Thanks to our successful Software Freedom Day event last year I am now a Software Freedom International board member. SFI is the non-profit organization behind Software Freedom Day, the group of people helping each of the now 400+ teams worldwide making the event happening at the same date (3rd Saturday of September – 20th this year) every year since 2004!

And every year SFI, thanks to the help of its sponsors, sends schwags to each team for free. This year I was the lucky one picked to manage the making of those schwags. As you can see we are starting to receive samples, comparing them to last year schwag, making sure the balloons inflate well, that colors are right and printing is on par with our expectations. A big thank you to Pockey and Jennifer for their help on managing this, and Jason for helping out with artwork modifications.

In about a week time I hope we’ll be able to start shipping and I’ll ask for the generosity of my preferred community, the Beijing LUG, to give a helping hand to count and pack the almost 300 boxes we’ll be sending all over the world!

Meeting with Mozilla Europe

As mentioned previously I had the opportunity to meet and discuss with Tristan Nitot, Mozilla Europe President, while in Paris. We exchanged views and tactics about web standards promotion and Firefox adoption in different markets.

Tristan like some of us at the Beijing LUG is a man who does what he believes in, no matter what it takes, and started Mozilla Europe as a volunteer. He invested his time (and therefore money) where his heart was when AOL got rid of Netscape and fired everybody. Since we don’t hear much about what’s happening in China with Mozilla Online, I asked him what he thought helped Mozilla in Europe and if there was a “magic recipe” for success…

When starting the Mozilla Europe Association, Tristan and other members of the Firefox community tested the most visited 1000 sites in each European country, analyzed what was not working well under Firefox and emailed the fixes to each webmaster. Definitely a long and tedious process, but worth doing if you care about the web. The second step, Tristan said, and probably a very important one too, was market share. With currently 28% market share in Europe any webmaster with a bit of brain will care for standards.

Another significant detail I liked about Mozilla Europe, is that they share their office with Mandriva (a Linux distribution) and are definitely close to all things community and Linux – a bit too much sometimes admitted Tristan.

Now where does this put us, poor “Chinese mortals”? Mozilla China is in the same building as the Microsoft MSN team, Netease, Google and Sun, has very low market share and often manages to cancel (at the last minute) when invited (and confirmed) at open source conferences or community driven events. Mozilla is after market shares even in China and therefore I really wonder what is their current strategy.

To conclude it was really refreshing to be able to discuss about real problems and find out what worked in Europe. I sincerely wish Mozilla China can learn from this openness and apply some of it in our middle kingdom.

The past 3 days

If you were looking for me on the BLUG website, through email or IM you probably had a hard time to see me anywhere. Well this is because the Beijing LUG helped to organize the Linux Developer Symposium held in Beijing on February 19th and 20th.

Thanks to the Linux Foundation and COPU normal people like you and me (well almost normal…) had access to guys like this for over 2 days. Attendance was exceptional, there were cool Linux devices all over the hall (including some belonging to BLUG) as well as Linux books, and Linux people. Everybody was discovering, listening to the words of wisdom from International AND local Linux Masters (some also from the BLUG 😉 ) chatting, even hacking the whole first day. The second day was more relaxed and oriented towards opening a dialog between developers and experts. Knowing a little bit of China, I was a bit afraid that the BOF session wouldn’t be so successful, I was so wrong! We talked about all kinds of topics (Linux related), developers could directly address their issues and get instant reply. I spent a lot of time at Andrew Morton’s table and topics ranged from stable kernel choice strategy for embedded devices, patches submission processes, Google Summer of Code in China and how to get the word out (and I am sure Andrew will notify Google about developers suggestions), I could event ask for a ‘Google Summer of Code for seniors’ (there was not such thing in my young age) but I don’t think we’ll see this one anytime soon (you can’t blame me for trying) .

Last but not least, Linux Foundation and COPU agreed to “give us” all the speakers for a dinner on the last night, just for our Beijing LUG members (some of us couldn’t make it to the conference because of work) and I really want to thank Jim and Angela from the Linux Foundation for being so nice to give us this opportunity and sponsoring it.

At the end of those 3 days (it actually started on Monday for us) I can see how this has helped to create bridges between communities – western and Chinese or within China – to help gurus and apprentice developers to better cooperate. On top of that the whole conference was very well organized thanks to COPU and the volunteers from AKA-Embedded Linux and Beijing LUG. I really want to thank in no specific order our members as well as Sun China who has been very supportive. Without Alex Lau, Anthony Fok, Anthony Wong, Wang Lei (Ray), Gabriel, Hou Zhengpeng (Freeflying), Sun Liantao, Annie Li, Emily Chen, Alfred Peng, Alex Peng, Coly Li, Pockey Lam, Ollo Schwan (ling yao yao ling), Poly Wang and whoever has contributed without telling me, this event would not have been what we achieved.

Also a very special thinks to Song Kewei from COPU for his devotion to open source, his sense of humor and his kindness, to Angela from the Linux Foundation for her professionalism and patience with my bad jokes, to Jim for his good jokes and the idea of maybe starting a beer fund, David Neary from the Gnome foundation for his duty-free bottle of Single Malt that we killed while waiting for Jeff Waugh Monday night (get well soon Jeff), and also his great sense of humor, Amiram Hayardeny from Sun for his fast positive response to support us if we had budget problems on the dinner we organized, and some of the staff of the Park Plaza hotel for getting us all the Yanjing beers from the other tables.

I also want to thank Professor Lu for his work behind the scene throughout the government to get Open Source where it is today in China, and his stamina at every conferences he attends. We sometimes tend to forget that Professor Lu achieves things for Open Source that none of us could ever dream of. Thanks to Professor Lu and Song Kewei’s help I have understood lots of things about China and how to get things done here and it’s been a fantastic ride!

One more time thanks to all of you!

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 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) – 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! 😉