Capital Area Central Texas UNIX Society
CACTUS Newsletter

Volume 23, Number 1 - January 2007

From: CACTUS Newsletter Editor
Subject: CACTUS Meeting Announcement / Newsletter
Date: Mon, 15 Jan 2007 14:58:34 -0600

IMPORTANT:  During the upcoming CACTUS meeting we will hold elections
for the officers.  These are the people who handle the newsletter,
obtain and coordinate speakers, run the web site, assure that we  
continue to have a meeting place, manage the money, and so on.

WE NEED YOU to be at the meeting, take responsibility for one of
the officer duties, and steer CACTUS in a positive direction.

The next CACTUS meeting will be on Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 7:00pm at:

     Mangia Pizza - Gracy Farms
     12,001 Burnet Road at Gracy Farms Ln.
     Austin, TX 78758
     (512) 832-5550
     http://www.mangiapizza.com/33/Gracy_Farms.html

For detailed directions, see:

     http://www.cactus.org/meetings.html

-- Editorial --

As the exiting newsletter editor, I cannot stress enough how important
it is that new people start assuming the officer positions.  I have
been a part of CACTUS for a little over 10 years and the same people
are essentially running the organization now that were doing so back
when I started.  Speaking as one of those people, I'm burned out.
The organization needs a serious jump-start, and the best way for that
to happen is for new people to get involved.

To those new people who will hopefully assume this role, here are
a few of my own opinions on how to keep CACTUS working well:

  1.  Quality over quantity:  Every few years (or sooner) the officers
      lament over the low number of CACTUS members.  They inevitably plan
      for a prominent speaker to come (usually at a sizeable expense)
      with the thinking that this will attract new members and make
      the organization grow.

      You don't want to grow an organization that doesn't have a solid
      foundation or direction.  It is far more important to get the
      existing membership to participate and to get quality relevant
      material to discuss or present than to have a one-time speaker
      to lure-in new people.  Trust me, most of those people will not
      come back, and those that do will quickly become bored if they
      see that there is nothing interesting going on.

  2.  CACTUS is NOT an ISP:  The subject of services we provide comes
      up over and over again and there is always someone (usually more)
      that feels that we should create redundant mail servers or provide
      other high-availability Internet services to its members.  After
      all, many of us are sysadmins, right?  This can't be THAT hard.

      The truth is that many of us ARE sysadmins by profession, and as
      such we're overwhelmed just maintaining our employer's systems
      and keeping them running smoothly.  When the people who recommend
      these "simple" redundant or high-availability solutions are
      pressed to implement them, the subject usually dies quickly.

      There are many good (and cheap) providers of web, dynamic/secondary
      DNS, and mail services out there.  CACTUS doesn't need to be
      one of these.  If you think so, consider how much time you will
      need to spend providing these services, and who will be able to
      continue maintaining it when you won't/can't anymore.

      This same comment extends to the NUMBER of systems CACTUS has.
      One good system to test on is worth far more than 5 mediocre ones.
      Mediocre systems can be had by just about any CACTUS member by
      taking a cheap system from the Goodwill Computer Store and dropping
      FreeBSD or Linux on it.

  3.  Salespeople Aren't Speakers:  While it's nice to have an occasional
      marketing/sales person from a company come by and describe their
      product, in general these are not nearly technical enough to hold
      members' interest.  Even the best systems engineer describing
      products becomes really boring really quickly.  Most of us get
      enough of this kind of thing at work.

      A great speaker is one that can challenge our thinking or present
      a new way of doing something we never thought about before.  I
      constantly use Lindsay Haisley's presentation on Debian GNU/Linux
      as an example.  It was his presentation and the ability for him
      to answer tough questions that encouraged me to try out that
      distribution and use it at work.  Simple?  Yeah, but it was
      darn useful.

  4.  We don't just eat pizza:  The running joke is that CACTUS is really
      a "Pizza Eating Organization."  Sometimes this is less of a joke
      than we'd like to admit.  Let's face it, CACTPEO is very hard 
      to pronounce, and most of the membership (myself included) really
      could stand to do less pizza eating and more knowledge sharing.

  5.  Share knowledge:  The key word here is "share" - which, by
      definition, implies a two-way exchange.  I have seen great
      computer-related user groups fall completely apart because
      it was comprised of three or four knowledgable people that were
      sucked-dry by a room full of lazy people who's idea of learning
      was to have someone spoon-feed them information.
      
      It doesn't take much for a newbie to throw together a cheap PC 
      and put some Linux distribution or FreeBSD on it.  A good newbie
      will STFW (search the fine web), RTFM, and try some stuff out
      before coming to a CACTUS meeting asking for help.
      
      It sucks, but at one point these information vacuums must be
      asked to step-aside and listen instead of ask questions about
      every word that exits someone's mouth.  Be particularly afraid
      of the person who comes to a CACTUS meeting with Windows XP on 
      their laptop asking how to install Linux.  It is very tempting to
      use this opportunity (and an entire meeting) to evangilize Linux,
      but it's obvious by this person's behavior that they didn't do
      any research before coming to CACTUS, and may never again.
      
      A good newbie is a knowledgable person who is still learning the
      ropes.  It's amazing how much I've learned from some people who are
      learning Perl for the first time.  These beginners are referencing
      esoteric items in the O'Reilly book and I haven't thought to
      try anything new after using Perl for over 10 years!
      
I think that CACTUS in general is a unique group of extremely talented
people.  It's a good thing to have the ability for all of us to meet
in one place once a month, even if it only means "throwing the bull"
about stuff we're doing for a couple of hours.  It would be great if
we could put a little more coordination into this and bring-in some new, 
interesting material (preferably from our own members).  This is the
best, and only, way to attract new long-term members and maintain
the existing ones.

-- Gil Kloepfer, CACTUS Newsletter Editor, <e-mail address removed>