Thursday, May 29, 2008

Linux Day in the Danish Parliament

Yesterday was Linux Day in the Danish Parliament. The talk of the day where arranged along 4 themes: political and ethical interests, commercial interest, everyday usage and perspectives. All subjects, which I would consider important for increasing the usage of Linux in the Danish public sector.

A brief opening talk by the chairman of the Parliaments committee on science and technology emphasized the fast pace of change in our times, and the reluctancy of some 68'ers to avoid using new technology, such as mobile phones and computers (One of my high school class mates still refuse to get an e-mail account. I don't understand how he can get by without one!).

I left the seminar early quite disappointed with the ability of the open source or Linux community to arrange a professional event at which all actors take full advantage of the opportunity to sell the open source idea and the commercial products, which builds on it.

It is clear, that getting people involved in very different aspects of Linux, such as lawyers involved in issues around licencing of in-house used and developed software in connection with a business takeower, people involved in re-use of computers in developing countries, and commercial vendors trying to sell a product, to participate in a Linux Day. And on top of that deliver a clear message to the politicians.

The licensing talk left some unanswered questions. If I download a MySQL database and connect it to my commercial electronic laboratory notebook, does that mean the notebook is suddenly also covered by the open source license? My filling is no! Only the software, which I create to make the open source and commercial software work together is covered, but I am not certain.

The talk about re-use of computers in developing countries clearly showed, that using Linux on a computer could extend the life of the hardware by 2 or more years. Such extension of course have very significant impact on the CO2-footprint of a company. So maybe it is time to create such use cases showing how a company can become greener by deploying Linux.

During the commercial breaks I talked with a single person company, which promotes the usage of Linux in schools by using techology such as PXE, FreeNX or NoMachine servers, and NoMachines client software. Given a modern network card you can start openSUSE or another Linux distro from the server using PXE. This ensure, that student files are left on the server. Furthermore my using remove access tools such as FreeNX and NoMachine servers the student get the same experience whether connecting at the school or from the Windows PC at home. And as a side benefit Mom and Dad get exposed to Linux! I went right home, and installed the FreeNX server and the NoMachine client on an computer at our local church office on our 4 year old hardware. Startup is rather slow over a wireless link, but performance after start up is quite acceptable for task such as loking at or copying a small document. The beauty of this solution, is that is expand to the internet with little effort - except security! Thus church council members can be provided with electronic access to all incomming mail instead of making list of incomming mail and distributing these.

Why did the event lag professionalism? First of all the agenda was written in such a way that it was not clear when there were breaks and how lang the lasted. Secondly the announcement indicated, that a sandwich would be served at lunch time. I turned out that only the people exhibiting were supposed to get a sandwich. Thirdly if you are selling professional Linux based software, then make a professional presentation using a tool such as Impress with screen shuts. In these days were most Linux distros have tools for this build in I expect a bit more than bullet points in black text on a white background in a presentation.

Questions from the participants also indicated, that the organizing associations: DKUUG, SSLUG and KLID had no idea what the outcome of the day should be. I guess most of the participants either had played around with Linux or were using Linux as their main OS platform.

Beside the hopefully incorrect impression of the professionalism of the local Linux community I got home from yesterdays seminar with 3 live CD / DVD distros. One is MandrivaOne 2008.1 Sprig. Another is Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron), and a third is Keldix Linux 20080329. MandrivaOne and Hardy Heron you properly know if you have been around Linux for a short period of time. But Keldix is properly unknown to most people outside Denmark. This is lacal Danish distro based on PCLinuxOS, but with added features for watching our local national TV station: DR TV. All three distros are of course in Danish. This is examples of a new trend in the Linux community: Local influence fingerprints on the distros (DR TV) and a focus on national languages.

In this country like in many other computers are not as widely used among pensioners as among pre-schoolers and schoolers. If we want to interest pensioners in computers a national language Linux distro is a most. After it is installed. Updating not just of the OS, but of all application can be completely automated. This is not the case with the software, which normally comes with a PC in this country. Even if you add software to you Linux system, the automatic updating also takes care of those new applications.

Maybe it is the ease of maintenance, which is the reason behind 125.000 PC's at Russian post offices being switched to Linux these days? Or is the fact, that Russian post office can itself correct spelling mistakes in any messages the system generates? Maybe it is for the same reasons 9000 PC's at schools in the Geneve area is being switched to Linux?

I am writing this on a computer at our local church office, which is running openSUSE 10.3. I do quite a bit of install and remove of software as I learn more and more about Linux. However, since 10.3 was installed last fall I have not worried about maintenance. There is an application,which continuously monitor if updates are available from the sources I have selected during install. Usually once a week it turns red, which means click on me and install updates.

So let us promote Linux not only based on very low initial cost, but also about the very easy maintance of not just the OS, but all the software installed on the system, and also based on the native language versions available. Lets do this as professionally as the competition!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

From Daily Safety Leader to Looking for Work

In 1982 I joined Imperial Oil in Sarnia as a process control applications engineer. From the first day I was impressed by the attitude towards process safety and ethics.

The company started by sending me on several weeks of course on process control systems and process control application in beautiful New Jersey. That was a wonderful time in the spring months of that year.

As I returned to Sarnia after the courses I was informed, that before I could enter the plant area of the site I had to complete an introductory safety course, and that course would not take place for another two weeks. Until then I was asked to stay in the trailor like office building outside the plant fence.

While working in Sarnia I had to sign the company ethics guidelines every year. All engineers and managers had to do that. Each year the company also provided a summary booklet about possible ways to get in conflict with the ethics guidelines. One year this booklet contained the following three ethics guidelines at the end:

1. Is it legal? Am I maling or proposing a decision that breaks the law or runs contrary to a company policy?

2. Is it fair? Will my decision disadvantage or perhaps even bring harm to anyone - colleagues, customers, suppliers, the community? Or is it a decision that will make those affected by it feel they have been treated fairly in the long run as well as the short term?

3. Can I defend it? If I had to justify my decision to my family or the media would I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable? Or could I explain my decision with pride, believing that in making my decision I have done the right thing?

Since the middle of 1992 I had been the daily safety leader at my last place of employment, but in the spring of 2007 I was formally appointed to that position. In the fall of 2007 I together with a few safety representatives planned an evacuation exercise of one of the buildings at that place of employment. I agreed with these safety representatives, that we would monitor how fast people was comming out of the building, but that we would not report any names to the management. The exercise went quite well, and most people was out within our two minutes success criteria. One person had not heard the initial alarm - you know how knowledge workers can get really into their work - and this person did not leave the building until well after the two minutes had passed. At the next safety committee meeting, where the evacuation exercise was evaluated this was of course reported without any names being mentioned. At the safety committee meeting and after the meeting the manager demanded to get the name of the person, who was slow. I consulted with different experts, and they told me, that I had to give the name to the manager.

I saw a clear conflict with the above ethics guidelines - especially the second and third ones - and refused to reveal the name of the colleaque. About a week later I was fired as daily safety leader.

Prior to this event the manager during the last 10 years have had no complaints about my work as daily safety leader, and at several occations had praised the work being done to improve safety and the awareness of safety issues at the workplace as well as the efficiency of our safety committee meetings.

A few weeks after being fired as safety Leader, I was offered an early retirement package. Now some months later, when I think back of the events, I still think I made the right decision. I have started a small consulting company, and have had my first customers. I have also had time to improve the administrative procedures of our local church office.