The next CACTUS meeting will be held on Thursday, February 19, 2004 at 7:00pm (doors open 6:30pm for pizza and lively, informal discussion), in the auditorium of UT Applied Research Laboratories. (See end of newsletter for directions to the facility).
The topic of the meeting will be Open Source in Austin and Texas. Our presenter will be Joe Barr, an Austin freelance writer and open-source advocate.
For many years, Joe Barr has been writing about Open Source Software and Linux for publications such as Newsforge.com, LinuxWorld, and Linux Today. He has covered topics such as licensing issues between Microsoft and Texas municipalities, the OpenOffice pilot project conducted by the City of Austin, and the Open Source Software bill (SB 1579) carried last session by Senator John Carona.
This meeting will be a combined meeting for CACTUS, the Austin Linux Users Group, and the EFF-Austin Open Source Posse. So, it could get a little crowded. Be sure to get there early to grab a good seat (and not miss out on the pizza).
There were two planned items of business at the January meeting. First was the annual election of officers. Luis Basto recounts the elections in his report below.
We received a presentation from Randy Zagar that highlighted some of the concerns with electronic voting machines. These machines are deployed around the country already, including here in Travis County. Technologists are voicing some serious concerns about these machines. Randy presented slides by Prof. Dan Wallach from Rice University that discussed some of the problems. A copy of Dan's presentation is available at: http://www.cs.rice.edu/~dwallach/talks/e-voting-risks-4up.pdf
There was discussion about communications among members. At this time we have a single email announcements list that is used to distribute the monthly newsletter. The question was raised whether that list could be used to distribute other information, say technology policy action alerts. Most members indicated a strong preference to reserve that list solely for CACTUS business: just newsletters and important organization announcements. There was, however, strong support for developing additional channels for other communication needs. President Lindsay Haisley will be leading a task force to investigate this.
The publicity chair is going to spiffy up the CACTUS web site. He is going to expand the directory of members' pages. CACTUS members can setup their own pages on the web server by putting them in a ~/public_html directory. If you want to be included in the listing, send email to publicity [at] cactus <dot> org. You will be listed only if you request to be. (Tom Bodine)
A presentation entitled "Speaking C++ as a Native" will be given by Bjarne Stroustrup, the creator of C++. Sponsored by the IEEE Computer Society, this will be held at IBM, Bldg 908, 11400 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX on Feb. 25, 2004, at 6:30pm. For details, visit: http://ewh.ieee.org/r5/central_texas/austin_cs/ (Luis Basto)
The Association for Community Networking has announced an award program for open source developers. AICN has identified some common needs of community networks and is providing a cash incentive for open source developers who want to help. For more information, see their announcement at: http://www.afcn.org/opensource/ (Chip Rosenthal)
by Lindsay Haisley
It's an exciting time to be involved in information technology! The meat-grinder of progress has drawn IT very near to the vortex of social change, and as IT professionals, we're watching the stuff we work and play with, and the potentials for our careers circling the spinning spot in the middle where everything either gets thrown into the spotlight or sucked down the drain.
There's an old Chinese curse which goes something like "May you live in interesting times." As far as I'm concerned, however, interesting times are, shall we say.... interesting. I'd rather be alive now than at any time I can think of.
CACTUS is certainly feeling the heat. A lot of us feel strongly about important social issues which hinge on IT and Unix issues - electronic voting, open source software, open standards - all issues which are not only close to our bread and butter but central to our democracy and our sense of social justice. The result has been a renewed vigor in our online presence, and an open and heated debate about the purpose and mission of CACTUS in all of this, which is good, and how it's supposed to be.
I'm honored to have been re-elected to the office of CACTUS President during such a time as this, although I must say it's a bit challenging for me to balance my own (rather militant) sense of appropriate e-activism with what our various members want and what I and others feel is right in the long run for CACTUS. It's tempting to just hang loose, chair the meetings, and see that pizza is delivered in a timely fashion, but I fear than none of us has the option of sitting on the sidelines these days. I'm afraid I've already ruffled some feathers, and had to define some policies and make decisions which I'd rather leave to others, but it's encouraging to have had the support and clarity offered by other members to help me keep things in balance. Thanks y'all!! I'll do the best I can for another year.
by Chip Rosenthal
The concept is obvious to Unix users and difficult to explain to Windows people: the window manager is a service apart from the operating system.
X11 was released in 1987 with the uwm window manager. A year later, Tom LaStrange released his twm window manager. Other people used his code to develop variants. Other people coded window managers from scratch. So almost from the beginning, you had a choice of which window manger to use under X.
This is all good, because choice is good. This is also confusing, because choice can be confusing.
Over time, the choices have gotten more complicated. There are over a dozen actively maintained window managers that run on modern Unix systems. Moreover, we add a new level of complexity by introducing a desktop layer, such as Gnome or KDE, over the window manager.
But wait, there is more. Many of these window managers and desktops are themeable, adding yet another dimension of complexity. Many hours of fun and enjoyment await you, as you download and test scores of colorful themes for your window manager of choice.
Yes, it can be complicated and confusing, but I think it's valuable to look at the available alternatives. There is nothing so wonderful as an environment that is tailored just right for the way you work.
Not everything has gotten more complicated. One thing has gotten a lot easier over time: building X applications. In the bad old days we used imake to setup the builds. This process was fraught with peril and difficult to debug, thanks to the inscrutable Imakefile files. Except for some core X applications, most everything else has moved to the commonly used autoconf facility.
This makes it pretty easy to build X applications, even ones as significant as a window manager. I wanted to try the Gnome desktop (which is included in Fedora Linux) on top of the icewm window manager (which isn't). It took me about fifteen minutes to download, build, and install icewm. Your mileage may vary--particularly if you use a modem.
So, don't be intimidated. Try out some of the desktops and window managers available to you. Not sure where to begin? Matt Chapman has a very nice web site that maps out some of the choices available: http://xwinman.org/
by Luis Basto
We neglected to recognize some recent new members because yours truly was absent. So, let us welcome our newest members to CACTUS: Judith Haller and Beatrix Fortanely.
We also thank Thomas Bodine and William Hill for renewing their memberships.
Here is a short recap of the CACTUS officer elections in January. As tradition beckons and bylaws require, new officer elections were held. Never before had every position been so actively and vocally challenged, making the recent Democratic primaries look like Girl Scout meetings. As tradition dictates, James Johnson was nominated for several positions in absentia, but again failed to win any, fulfilling the famous campaign promise of "If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve." The results appear later in this newsletter.
To renew your membership, please send check or money order payable to CACTUS ($25/yr for regular membership and $96/yr for corporate sponsorship):
PO BOX 9786
Austin, TX 78766-9786
You can also pay in person at the general meetings. Please direct any inquiries or address changes to membership [at] cactus <dot> org.
by Randy Zagar
Are we living in the cyberpunk future, or what? I think it's the "or what", but there are certainly some similarities. Fifteen years ago the idea that someone could make a living as a free-lance journalist posting stories on the Internet was something that you could only find in a Bruce Sterling or William Gibson novel. People like Joe Barr, presenting at this month's CACTUS meeting, are living proof that the cyberpunk future is now.
As programmers and sys-admins, though, the real question is how does this all work? How do you run a website that your cyber-journalists can submit articles to? How do you get the content on a web page? And how do you get others to pay attention to what you've written?
So far, I've been looking at two different methods for approaching this problem...
For very simple web-publishing needs you can set up something called a web-log, or blog for short. It's a very simple way to publish short "diary" entries on the web without needing anything except your standard web browser to publish.
For instance, I have a CACTUS blog set up at http://www.blogger.com/. It's a private blog, meaning it's not visible from the blogger.com site, but I can invite other people to be part of that blog and let them post their submissions. I can even invite other people to be blog admins, so I don't have to do all the admin work myself.
With blogger.com, you can publish two ways. The usual way is to let blogger.com publish your stuff through their site. The other way is to have blogger send your articles somewhere else. Right now I've got this blog configured to "publish" my blog on the Cactus.org site: http://linux.cactus.org/~blogger/blog.html
It sends the updated web page to a dummy "blogger" account using SFTP (standard ftp over ssh). Using a dummy account like this prevents me from having to type my password into a third-party web form...
All the HTML generation is handled by blogger.com, and the page layout is handled through Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Blogger.com has several CSS templates to choose from, or you can write one of your own. Once you've chosen a CSS template, you never have to think about HTML tags again...
At the other end of the spectrum are Content Management Systems. CM systems are the kitchen-sink of web-publishing, and are meant to cover everything from simple blogging, to collaborative authoring (e.g. a large group writing some documentation), and content syndication.
One other feature you frequently see in Content Management Systems is workflow management. You can have lots of people making changes to an online document, but you might not want those changes to be published automatically without having them reviewed (and approved!) first.
One CMS that has seen lots of activity is Drupal. Drupal is Open Source (GPL) and is being used by many many sites, including the Howard Dean presidential campaign at http://www.deanfortexas.org.
Although it hasn't seen much activity lately, there is a Drupal test site at: http://drupal.cactus.org
The Drupal software needs to be upgraded (there's a bug in how it handles embedded quotation marks), but anyone can log in and see what the software is all about.
Both of these systems are based on good ole LAMP technologies: Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl/Python/PHP...
Maybe it'll be BAMP technologies, if you need/want to use *BSD, but the idea is the same... With a little open-source technology, anyone with the time, know-how, and an Internet connection, can do a little online journalism.
|President:||Lindsay Haisley (fmouse at fmp.com)|
|Treasurer:||Johnny Long (longjy at thecb.texas.gov)|
|Programs:||Randy Zagar (jrzagar at cactus.org)|
|Membership:||Luis Basto (basto at cactus.org)|
|Publicity:||Thomas Bodine (tbodine at cactus.org)|
|Newsletter:||Chip Rosenthal (chip at unicom.com)|
|Scribe:||Ron Roberts (ronro at bga.com)|
|Mark Scarborough (mscar at cactus.org)
M.H. Khan (mhk at cactus.org)
CACTUS meets on the third Thursday of each month at the Applied Research Labs (ARL) in the JJ Pickle Research Campus (JJ PRC). We'll meet in the main auditorium located directly behind the guard's desk and main lobby.
Please do not show up earlier than 6:20 pm on the specified day. Enter through the main entrance at 10000 Burnet Road for ARL:UT. Tell the guard that you are here for the CACTUS meeting. You will be required to sign a log book, but not required to wear a badge. The guards will direct you to the auditorium entrance. Limited parking in the front of the building is available, but more extensive parking is available in the large parking lot just north of the ARL building. After 6:30 pm, all entrances to JJ PRC, except for the Burnet Road entrance, are closed and locked. You can still enter the parking lot in front of the ARL building. No parking tags are necessary after 6:00 pm. See map for further details.
Online maps are available at:
As always, please leave the facility as you saw it when you arrived.