Month: February 2006

Namur Linux Days 2006: March 18-19th

On the 18th and 19th of March, 2006, the Namur LUG will organise the “Namur Linux Days 2006“. Despite an English title and this post in English, all the talks will be held in French.

On the 18th (Saturday), there will be two main keynotes: an introduction to Free Software by Maxime Morge and a presentation about intellectual property and free software by Philippe Laurent. Between these two keynotes, there will be a lot of talks about office, multimedia and internet free software for the general public. I will give a talk about Impress. The complete schedule is here.

On the 19th, there will be a more “classical” Linux Install Party (LIP). If you intend to attend the LIP, they ask you to register.

Some thoughts on Saturday session at FOSDEM 2006

I went to FOSDEM 2006 on Saturday 25th (schedule here). This year, I went with my brother Laurent (as usual) and my wife, Nandini. This was the first time at FOSDEM for her, it was also the first time she saw so many geeks and I am not sure she enjoyed her day…

In the morning, after a small introduction, Richard M. Stallmann gave his keynote on software patents. Of course, he was preaching to a converted audience (i.e. everyone is against software patents). And, even if we didn’t learned new information on what’s going on, it is always interesting to hear someone else’s opinion (event if it’s the same opinion as us) and a formal presentation on the subject. Two things turned Nandini against Richard Stallman… At one moment, RMS rudely asked that someone “removes this source of noise” (talking about a baby making some noise). Then, during the question, RMS roughly replied to someone trying to ask his questions because he was not talking louder enough (from the middle of the assistance) and because he “dared” to use the words “Open Source” in from of “Him”. I must say that she’s right: we seemed to easily forgive his behaviour because we know the character. But, imho, you can still be a great man, father of the GNU project and be polite.

At the end of this keynote, someone from the FFII (I think it was Hartmut Pilch) took the microphone for a short, 10 minutes speech. Unfortunately, a lot of people was leaving the room at this moment and we were not able to hear a lot. An indicator that really few people were listening to his speech (or could’nt hear it): at one moment, he made a small joke (something like “politicians aren’t used to listen to peole wearing geek T-shirts, so I am wearing a business suit” but it was more funny) and no one laughed!

We skipped the discussion about GPLv3. In the afternoon, we followed the talks about voice-over-IP (VoIP) in the Chavanne room.

We first listened to Jan Janak talking about SIP Express Router (SER, a SIP server). It was a good talk, a bit too technical for me.

Then we listened to Mark Spencer talking about Asterisk, an Open Source PBX (a PBX is a privately-owned telephone switch). If the room was quite full for Jan Janak’s talk, there wasn’t enough seats for Mark Spencer’s one! His talk was sleek-looking, full of acronyms I even don’t have a clue about their meaning and full of humorous audio clips from a (hopefully false) PBX. But it was still accessible to non-technicians.

Finally, we listened to Jean-Marc Valin’s speech about Speex, an Open Source/Free Software patent-free audio compression format designed for speech. We were about only 30-40 people to listen to his great, technical-but-not-too-much talk. From the human speech specifities to the different compression samples, Jean-Marc Valin explained us how speex processes human speech without too much technical details (even Nandini understood how speex worked in spite of the fact that she is a molecular biologist and have less interest in computer-related things). With simple audio samples, clear charts and block diagrams, his talk was a good one.

As usual, besides the official talks and tutorials, they were “dev rooms” and stands held by some free software projects (*BSD, Debian, Mozilla foundation, Fedora, …). We didn’t had too much time to have a look at them, this year. I guess you’ll find more information on the webpages dedicated to the dev room (or on blogs like Laurent Richard’s one, since he was co-organiser of the GNOME room). A last thought? I think that the free software scene is slowly evolving because, besides the usual geek men in T-shirts, I noticed more 30-40 years old people and more women than in previous editions.

Yes, Trusted Computing is used for DRM

In this blog, Andy Dornan takes us from a simple demonstration of Lenovo laptops new “abilities” to the fact that the real owner of documents with DRM is the software company and not the owner/creator of the document.

You can create a document and claim ownership on it with DRM systems. Unless you can open it with or export it to a software coming from another company, you’ll be dependent on one company to open your document. Imagine you create a text file and protect it with sofware X. If you cannot open it in another text processor/editor and that the maker of X decides that you cannot open your document anymore (for whatever reason: you live in a dangerous “terrorist” country, your name sounds too different, you didn’t pay your monthly fee on time, etc.), your are stuck.

Why do people needs to control who can access to their documents?

I have not lived a long time on this earth but I can’t find a good reason to control access to a document. The documents-themselves do not need to be protected. The protections need to be enforced at the physical access (and/or at the network level).

I thought that one good reason was to restrict access to confidential data/documents regarding health of patients in hospitals. But even at that level, the document is the wrong target. In the real, still paper-based, world, hospitals don’t encrypt data in the medical files. They simply don’t give the key that open the door to archives to anyone. Of course, a malicious key-owner can give/lend his key or lose it ; it’s exactly the same in the computer world: I can give you my passwords or lose the small sheet of paper where it’s written. You can even reproduce my fingerprint (I’m not saying it’s easy).

Finally, I think there are actually enough tools that are free and do not force you to use proprietary tools to encrypt your data (cryptoloop, dm-crypt, GnuPG, …).

Carpool for FOSDEM (from Liege, on Saturday)

FOSDEM is the annual Belgian meeting of free software developers. Like in 2005, I would only be able to go there on Saturday (Sunday, we are preparing experiments for Monday, in the lab). A car will thus do the journey from Liege to Bruxelles, on Saturday morning (8.00-8.30) and it will come back in the evening (at around 18.00-19.00, except if we stop in a nice Indian restaurant in Leuven). There are 2 or 3 seats left. If you are interested, please contact me.

MS-Visual Studio 2005 for Indians and Asians? :-)

I installed MS-Visual Studio 2005 this evening (I had to). The installation took around one hour. During this time, three persons are telling you the new tools and advantages integrated in their product. One is Indian and the two others are Asians. With a Vietnamese mother and an Indian wife, it’s a strange feeling when an occidental product takes Asians to advertise their product.

the three people

(Well, even if you are not Indian nor Asian, you can still use VS2005 ; it’s just a post at 00:21)

New stylesheets for my website

screenshot of current website Since a long time, I decided to provide a better stylesheet and organization for my website (the previous one was too simple but quite ugly). Now, you have a menu on the left and a RSS feed for the last changes. In fact, I use two stylesheets: a “big” one for displaying pages on your screen and a very small one that your browser will call if you decide to print a page (it removes the menu – useless when printing a page – and also removes most of the fancy styles). It is still simple but I hope it’s more beautiful.

Why do we need to stress?

image from the film Yesterday evening, I watch “Le Voyage des femmes de Zartal√ɬ©” (Zartal√ɬ© women’s journey), a film from Claude Mouri√ɬ©ras, on Arte TV (description in French). We didn’t initially plan to watch it. But it was worth. In the Afghan village of Zartal√ɬ©, half of the community suffers from tuberculosis. There is only one small hospital nearby (a journey of at least a couple of hours). Classes are given in the fields by the mullah. The film depicts the calm conflicts between traditional values and modern ones (medications -vs- prayers, illiteracy -vs- literacy, …) and the importance (or influence, if you like) of religion.

They do not have electricity, car, heating systems, … These items seems “essential” for us. They live in a beautiful landscape (for us) and don’t seem to notice. They are maybe dreaming of our “modern comfort”. We can dream of their surroundings, calm, etc. (because we maybe can afford holidays over there: living there is very hard). All this to say that we may worry about proteins related to memory, prions, light that experimental animals are receiving, etc. There are other things in life.

Again, some toys for geeks

After the IR camera, I bought a dB meter and a light meter for the laboratory. They were the cheapest ones available (but they are still costly, around 150 euros, knowing money is coming from my own pocket).

The dB meter measures noise level. In my office, it measured 62 dB (approximately). According to the Wikipedia article on Decibel, it’s between “Office or restaurant inside” and “Busy traffic at 5 meters”. The problem is that I am exposed to this continuous environmental noise everyday, at least 8 hours a day. Now I can put a number on the reason why I appreciate silence and calm. Fortunately, I only have a few months left, here.

And, in fact, I didn’t bought it for me. I bought it to measure noise level in the room where we are keeping rats. Same number: around 66 dB. It’s high but still below the recommendation of 83 dB. And we cannot do anything to reduce this noise since it comes from the ventilation (we must keep this level of ventilation to maintain an adequate temperature, relative humidity and to renew the air).

A light meter is a device used to measure the intensity of light. It shows results in lux (a measure of the perceived intensity of light). All our activities are influenced by the amount of light we receive (cfr. Seasonal Affective Disorder, e.g.) and light is also a powerfull zeitgeber (time giver) for our circadian clocks (yes, we all have many ones!).

In my office, with only 2 neons on the ceiling and my computer screen, my eyes receive 65 lux, which is far from acceptable! When I switch on my desk lamp (a “lamp” to see radiographies, in fact), I receive 260 lux (that’s ok for an office: recommendation states between 700 and 2000 lux). Outside, just in front of the lab, there are 455 lux (it’s 16:00, cloudy, foggy (and cold!). You can imagine how much you eye should receive if it was sunny …

Once more, I didn’t bought the light meter for me but for the rats. Rats that are ready for experiments receive 406 lux and rats that just entered our animal housing unit receive 260 lux (they are placed one rack below the first ones). 400 lux can be considered as a lot of light: the average light intensity in the litterature is around 200 lux. I think I will reduce the light intensity in their room.

What’s wonderful is that some people found that the more a rat receives light, the more it will sleep. Moreover, light has an influence on body posture and wall contact. But it has no influence at all on eye closure nor cage position. So, the next time you’ll go to sleep, pay attention to the light and your own behaviour (provided there is a direct link between rats behaviour and humans one).