Troubleshooters.Com Presents

Troubleshooting Professional Magazine

 
Volume 6 Issue 6, June 2002
Grassroots Linux Moves Mainstream
Copyright (C) 2002 by Steve Litt. All rights reserved. Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for perpetual use to Troubleshooting Professional Magazine. All rights reserved to the copyright holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise (certain free software source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided "As-Is". User assumes all risk and responsibility for any outcome.

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This shows that if you remove this block of code, other functions are degraded in the most extreme way. They no longer work --  Bill Gates (under oath 4/22/2002)

CONTENTS

Editor's Desk

By Steve Litt
Was the Golden Age of Linux really so golden? 1999 had huge Linux shows in every part of the country, where we could all whip ourselves into an Open Source frenzy. Our LUGs (Linux User Groups) were young and energetic.  We were going to take over the world.

But back then, if you walked a block from the megashow, the man on the street's opinion of Linux was "what's Linux?".

We didn't care. 1999 was the Golden Age, and we were where the action was. Judge Jackson was well on his way to breaking up Microsoft, Linux stocks were leading the way in the "new economy" which was declared by many to be recessionproof. The good guys were winning, and we were celebrating.

The years passed.

Judge Jackson talked out of school and was overturned on appeal. A disputed election brought in an administration much friendlier to monopolies, Microsoft was let off the hook, and continued monopolizing other markets and attacking Linux. The economy tanked, Internet and Linux stocks plummeted, and thousands of IT people were thrown into the street. Raleigh, North Carolina's LinuxExpo never made it into the current milleneum, and Atlanta Linux Showcase changed its name to "Annual" Linux Showcase, and moved to California in 2001.

The Golden Age is over.

And maybe that's a good thing. On May 15 and 16, Linux Enthusiasts and Professionals of Central Florida introduced Linux to more than 1000 rank and file IT people in Orlando, at the Computer and Technology Showcase. No blowout nighttime bashes. No birds of a feather sessions. No huge entry fees. Just a great booth, 9 informative speakers, distro giveaways, and the help of perhaps the greatest show promoter around, Event Management Services. And a hugely informative keynote address by one of the the premier voices in Linux, Robin Miller.

If you're a Linux user or user-advocate, this TPM issue offers assurance that Linux is very much alive, and offers a blueprint for reaching the masses. If you're a Troubleshooter, you're probably getting tired of intermittent computers and networks, and Linux just might be the answer. If you're a show promoter, this issue of TPM demonstrates the use of a local Linux User Group (LUG) as a vehicle for increased attendance and a more interesting show. Whatever your interest, this is your magazine. Enjoy!

Steve Litt is the author of "Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist".  Steve can be reached at Steve Litt's email address .

GNU/Linux, Open Source and free software

Throughtout the articles in this magazine I use the word "Linux" as a short name for "GNU/Linux", the more accurate name.

GNU/Linux is comprised of the Linux kernel originally crafted by Linus Torvalds, plus many, many utilities, a large number of which were utilities from the original GNU project. "GNU/Linux" is probably the most accurate moniker one can give to the operating system. Please be aware that in all of Troubleshooters.Com, when I say "Linux" I really mean "GNU/Linux". I completely believe that without the GNU project, without the GNU Manifesto and the GNU/GPL license it spawned, the operating system I abbreviate with the name "Linux" never would have happened.

You can read more about the GNU project and free software at the GNU website, a link to which is contained in this magazine's URL's section.

Also know that most of the time I use the terms "free software" and "Open Source" interchangably. Although they are two separate movements with very different motivations, licenses that are Open Source are usually also free software and vice versa. The Open Source philosophy stresses business practicality through source code availability and the free software philosophy stresses freedom as an end in itself. Personally, I think both are vitally important.

Vote on Troubleshooting Professional Magazine

By Steve Litt
I don't know how you feel, but for me it's starting to get awkward serving two distinct audiences with one magazine. This issue wouldn't be of much benefit to a professional Troubleshooter who happens to work in Windows and likes it. Last month's issue might not interest an Open Source person who troubleshoots by instinct and is satisfied with his troubleshooting productivity.

So I'm considering making the current Troubleshooting Professional Magazine into two magazines -- one for Troubleshooters, and one for Open Source advocates, users and professionals. The Troubleshooting mag would retain the Troubleshooting Professional Magazine name, and would be published quarterly. The Open Source mag would get a new name and would be published monthly. People could read either, or both, as they desire.

So, loyal reader, what do you think? Is this a good idea or not, and why? Please email me with feedback. Thanks for your loyal support of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine.

Steve

Steve Litt is the author of Rapid Learning: Secret Weapon of the Successful Technologist . He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address .

Orlando CTS

By Steve Litt
 
Robin Miller, up close and personal

Photo courtesy of Phil Barnett

Click picture to see full sized image.

The numbers speak for themselves. Keynote speaker Robin Miller attracted 108 audience members. The LEAP (Linux Enthusiasts and Professionals) booth handed out around 700 fact sheets. We gave away about 200 Linux distros, and another 60 IPCop CD's. Of the 5 theaters in the event, 1 was devoted to Linux and called the "Linux Theater". 8 Linux speakers gave 8 presentations in that theater, and the audience level never fell below 10, and for several presentations it was over 20 (there were only 18 chairs, so that was standing room only). For 6 of our 8 theater presentations, I walked to the other theaters for some comparative statistics. In 3 of those 6, the Linux auditorium had the most attendance. The 4th was a tie between the Linux auditorium and the Microsoft auditorium, and the Linux auditorium was second to the Microsoft auditorium for 2 of the talks. There were two talks where I made no comparison, and those two talks were standing room only with over 20 audience members. We believe over 1000 people stopped at our booth long enough to receive at least an introduction to Linux. About 5 of those people were enthusiastic enough about their introduction to Linux to brave traffic and exhaustion to attend the LEAP meeting 3 hours after the close of CTS. These would have been pretty good numbers for a local show in 1999, but in these recessional times it's spectacular.
 
108 lucky people learn first from Robin Miller hand how to make a profitable website.

Photo courtesy of Phil Barnett

Click picture to see full sized image.

This is a story in three parts: The Day of the Theater, The Day of the Booth, and The Night of the Weary. Here's what happened.

The Day of the Theater

This is the story about the first day -- Wednesday. Upon arrival one fact was clear -- CTS was big -- three exhibit halls. There were lots of attendees, most of whom seemed happy and excited. LEAP had arranged for Robin Miller (OSDN, Slashdot) to deliver the CTS keynote address, and Robin arrived a half hour early. In a large hall set up for 150 people, 108 audience members listened raptly as Robin discussed how to run a profitable website. 80% of the audience were not Linux fans, and you could see their eyes light up as they heard of all the Open Source software available to create and host their websites. The post talk Q and A was animated and interesting. I learned about mistakes I'm making at Troubleshooters.Com, and also some of the things I'm doing right.

I stuck around for 45 minutes after Robin's talk, and then duty called. As the Linux speaker liason, I had to introduce speaker Phil Barnett in the Linux Theater.

The Linux Theater wasn't a real theater. It was a part of the show floor, right next to LEAP's booth. It was partitioned off on two sides with light curtains, but we made sure it was visible from the floor. The plan worked -- the Linux Theater was, according to my unofficial surveys, the most attended of all the floor theaters.
 
Tony Awtrey reveals the tips and techniques of Linux interoperation.

Photo courtesy of Phil Barnett

Click picture to see full sized image.

Arriving at the theater, I saw Tony Awtrey fielding questions from a large gathering. Tony had just finished his 11:30 talk titled "How Linux works in Heterogenous Environments". If you haven't heard Tony speak, you should make it a point to do so. Tony's a partner at I.D.E.A.L. Technology, Florida's premier Linux consulting and training firm. He's the president of  Melbourne Linux Users Group, recently famous for its web audiocasts of meetings, and its work to Linux-ize St Mary's School (together with I.D.E.A.L and St Marys' personnel).

At 12:30 came Phil Barnetts "Linux in a Security Environment" presentation, which drew huge crowds. The chairs were all taken, and people were lined up wide and deep outside the auditorium. Phil's a senior P/A at Disney, and the manager of the Harbour Project -- an Open Source implementation of the Clipper XBase language. Phil developed Ecommerce apps before the word "Ecommerce" existed.
Max Lang tells a packed house how to pick the right Linux distribution

Photo courtesy of Phil Barnett

Click picture to see full sized image.

Max Lang took the podium at 1:30, and wowed the audience with a presentation titled "Linux: Which Distribution is for You?". Max is a smart, quiet guy. I've known Max for 3 years, but never saw him speak. Max held the audience spellbound as he compared and contrasted distros, and revealed the secrets of picking the right distro. Max has used Linux since 1993, and I've personally seen him put Linux on an unbelievable assortment of machinery. He's a Linux genius. Once again, it was standing room only.
Tony Becker (plaid shirt) fields questions after his presentation.

Photo courtesy of Phil Barnett

Click picture to see full sized image.

Then things got technical. Tony Becker took over at 2:30 with his "Introduction to the Bash shell" presentation. Though his audience was smaller (I counted 14), they absorbed his material like a sponge. 14 people walked out knowing about Shellscripts, history, and lots more. Tony talks softly and carries a big brain -- in his day job he writes device drivers for Siemens.

While all this speaking was going on, Brian Ashe, Mark Alexander, Tom Foster, David Lokietz, Phil Barnett, Hale Pringle, Jon Day, Brian Coyle, and several others were manning the booth and introducing hundreds to Linux. The action was constant. Brian Ashe designed the booth, and it was beautiful. Sort of a G shaped affair, 20 feet long and 10 deep, there was a wide gap where attendees could easily come inside the booth, and yet there was isle adjacent space to give freebies to those too hurried to "stop on in". Attendees tended to congregate in the isle while talking to the LEAP volunteers, but because of the wide isle and the absence of a booth on the other side, this worked out.

So the first day was characterized by overflow crowds in our Linux Auditorium, and excellent booth participation. We were just getting warmed up...

The Day of the Booth

The booth was mobbed most of the second day. Phil Barnett (tan Tshirt and dark cap) demonstrates with the help of a projector.

Photo courtesy of Phil Barnett

Click picture to see full sized image.

If the first day was the day of the theater, the second was the day of the booth. The second day Phil Barnett brought his secret weapon -- a computer projecter and a 5 foot screen. Phil demo'ed apps, installations, firewalls and much more on that 5 foot screen. If you haven't seen Phil in action, let's just say he's a natural born salesman. Phil knows the benefits people seek, and demonstrates those benefits. The result was that huge crowds enveloped the booth all day. Luckily, we had even more volunteers the second day.
Our booth Roger Sibert (blue shirt) discusses Linux with an attendee.

Photo by Barbie Souza, courtesy of Event Management Services

Click picture to see full sized image.


 
Leapsters in booth, from left to right: Phil Barnett, Danny from LEK (one of LEAP's sponsors), freebie master Tom Dyll, Roger Siebert, Bryan Smith, Tom Foster, Steve Litt, and booth guru Brian Ashe.

Photo courtesy of Phil Barnett

Click picture to see full sized image.

To work with the larger crowds, Bryan Smith, Roger Sibert, Tom Dyll, Tony Becker and Aaron Morrison joined the crew from the first day. Conversations lengthened and deepened. People asked to join LEAP. Opinions were voiced, plans were made. Frequently a smile would appeared as it dawned on someone how that free CD in their hand could solve a long running problem. Other exhibitors gave us the thumbs up after seeing the huge crowds we drew, and how energized those crowds became.

Crowds at the Linux Theater were a little smaller the second day, but the presentations were outstanding, as anyone fortunate enough to have seen them would tell you. Scott Porter kicked off the presentations with his trademark discussion on Object Orientation. Scott is Dean of Business and Technology for the Orlando campus of DeVry Institutes, a professional programmer for 32 years, and an acknowledged OOP authority. About 14 people listened attentively to Scott's every word.
 
Wireless guru Mark Mathews discusses the ins and outs of wireless LANs under Linux. 

Photo courtesy of Phil Barnett 

Click picture to see full sized image.

Next came Absolute Value Systems' Mark Mathews, who discussed "Linux and Wireless LANs". Mark should know -- he's the creator of the Linux WLAN project. Using Mark's software you can create a Linux wireless LAN from many popular wireless hardware components. Better yet, you can buy the hardware and software as a turnkey system from Absolute Value Systems, and get something working right out of the box. You might remember Absolute Value Systems as the company that won the Best New Product Award at the 2000 ALS. Marks talk was fairly technical, but still managed to draw about 14 people.
Steve Litt shows the audience the process of converting their business to Linux. 

Photo courtesy of Phil Barnett 

Click picture to see full sized image.

The next presentation wasn't technical at all. It was "Converting Your Business to Linux" by Steve Litt (hey, that's me). It was basically the info gained in Troubleshooters.Com's conversion to Linux. If you didn't see it, just read the April 2001 TPM for all the details. This was definitely a 20+ standing room only audience.

The final presentation was Bryan Smith's "The Gnome 2 Desktop", which played to an audience of almost 20. If you haven't seen Bryan speak, make a point to do so -- he's extremely interesting and manages to get ultra technical information across in an easy to understand way. Bryan is president of Smithconcepts, Inc.

The presentations were over by 2:45, but unlike most trade shows, attendees at all booths kept up their interest until closing at 4:00pm. And the LEAP booth was especially hard hit. At 3:30pm the 20x10 booth was actually too small to hold all the interested attendees.

At 4PM several exhausted LEAP members tore down the booth, and trudged out to our trucks with the fixtures, computers and remaining giveaways.
 

The Night of the Weary

Our booth A weary but happy Aaron Morrison chats with LEAPsters just before the meeting. CTS veterans Bryan Smith, Hale Pringle, Jon Day, Tony Becker, and Scott Porter are much more subdued than their normal selves.

Photo courtesy of Phil Barnett.

Click picture to see full sized image.

Heads spinning, weary to the bone, we CTS volunteers staggered into the monthly LEAP meeting. The last 2 days had been a blur, and many of us had been integrally involved in CTS  since the initial planning back in January. The time was 7:00 PM -- 3 hours after the close of CTS. We'd spent so much effort on CTS that we had no agenda for our meeting.

As LEAP's current president I gave the opening remarks. Facing me was a sea of almost 40 people. Many were new faces who had seen us at CTS and changed their plans to come to the meeting. Others were CTS volunteers, many for the second year. Others were rank and file LEAPsters. I quickly yielded the floor, after which Tony Becker took about 10 people to his Bash Programming introductory class, while the rest listened to an excellent impromptu Twiki presentation by Phil Barnett.

Me? I went to the back of the room, and for the first time in a week relaxed, knowing that the work was done and done well. All around were my buddies, having fun and talking tech. Several new people radiated more than enough enthusiasm to make up for the show-weary LUG leaders. It was one of those really cool moments. Anyone who says that 1999 was the golden age of Linux wasn't at the 5/16/2002 LEAP meeting.

Exhausted and unable to concentrate, my mind drifted. It drifted to the question "What is Linux?". Of course the short answer is that it's an operating system. But it's much more. Linux is the LEAP Exec Committee planning our CTS presence in January. It's the LEAP volunteers coming together to create a great booth and a lineup of can't miss speakers. It's leaders like Robin Miller travelling the land to energize the troops and get out the word. Linux is companies like Event Management Services and show directors like Barbie Souza simultaneously doing the right thing and furthering their business goals to give free booths to Linux User Groups.

Linux goes even deeper. It's the entire free software/Open Source community banding together to create superior software, and as if that isn't enough, promoting that software on almost no budget. It's big companies like IBM and HP employing Linux as part of their strategy, and giving source code they develop back to the community. It's the Linux development crew who continues to put out the best software in history. It goes back to Linus Torvalds, who against all odds created a superior kernel for 386 machines and then managed a project to surround that kernel with the best commands and utilities. And ultimately it goes all the way back to Richard Stallman, whose 1985 "GNU Manifesto" and subsequent GNU General Public License enabled Linux and free software to evolve, and prevented an otherwise certain complete monopoly by Microsoft.

But Linux goes back even farther than Stallman, because in his own writings, Stallman talks of joining a "software-sharing community" in 1971, and makes it clear that community was as old as computers.

So what is Linux? Linux is people. People who help each other. People who actually pull off "win win" deals, rather than mouthing the phrase as a smarmy sales gimick. People who make money the hard way -- ethically. These people seem so unfashionable in these days of government by corporation. And yet they push on. If you were at Orlando CTS you saw it first hand.

The people are winning.

Steve Litt is the author of " Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist".  Steve can be reached at Steve Litt's email address .

Synergy: Computer Shows and Linux Groups

By Steve Litt
The relationship between Event Management Services and Linux Enthusiasts and Professionals is certainly not unique, nor is it new. Such relationships certainly increased after the big Linux shows moved away, but a little research shows that even before the golden age, Linux User Groups and computer trade shows were teaming up. In Canada, the Victoria Linux User Group manned a booth at a 1997 show called VIEX.

It's a match made in heaven. For the show promotor, having a Linux booth drives up attendance and also provides entertainment for existing attendees. Entertained attendees are happy attendees, and happy attendees are more likely to buy, and more likely to come back next year and bring their friends.

For the Linux group, it's a chance to get out the Linux message to large numbers of IT people without large expenditures. That leads to increased membership and increased use of Linux -- prime goals of any LUG.

Usually both sides are grateful to have the other, and bend over backwards to make sure the other party is pleased. The show often gives the LUG an on-floor theater, a nice booth, and plenty of advice on how to navigate such challenges as proper booth decoration and getting electricity for the booth, as well as publicity for the LUG's speakers.

The LUG typically fields a large number of speakers, often including at least one famous one. The LUG provides a large and skillful booth crew, often gleaned from various LUGS over a 100 mile radius. The LUG usually publicizes the event to other LUGs within a 100 mile radius. Sometimes the LUG is able to get its participation published in the mainstream media.

The Show contributes a booth on the main part of the floor, and places the LUG's information in their promotional materials. This gives the LUG high visibility and access to the rank and file IT community. This is exactly the type of people the LUG needs to access, if they want to move beyond preaching to the converted.

The LEAP/Event Management Services project serves as a great template. Event Management Services director Barbie Souza offered the booth to LEAP, answered their questions, and guided them through some unfamiliar territory including the procurement of booth electricity and how many speaking slots there would be. When LEAP secured a committment from Robin Miller to speak, Barbie procured a large hall with 150 chairs, and publicized Robin as *THE* keynote speaker for CTS Orlando. The result was an audience of 108, 80% of whom were not known Linux people. These people were very impressed, and they'll remember which show presented Robin.

LEAP publicized the show to most LUGs within 100 miles, attracting several out of towners. There's a common stereotype that Linux users don't buy anything, and in their personal life maybe that's true. But most Linux people are still Windows people in the office, and in that capacity they have a huge capacity to recommend and/or approve products. LEAP got the event publicized in a couple Linux publications. LEAP also tried, and failed, to get CTS publicized in the Wall Street Journal, Infoworld, and the Orlando Sentinel. Such publicity is difficult, but perhaps next year we'll be more successful. I look forward to the day when LEAP can hand CTS an extra 500 visitors at the event, and another 500 at other later CTS events stemming from goodwill born of LEAP publicity. Why? Because LEAP likes CTS, and CTS gives us a chance to show off Linux to people not already using it.

The future of LUG/Show cooperation is bright. It's already shown itself to work in all economies. It was done in the boom times of 1999, when Linux represented an untapped opportunity. It's done in 2002, when show attendance is challenging and giving visitors something pleasantly unexpected boosts attendance.

In these cynical times the word "win-win" seems a callous marketing slogan, but in fact it happens monthly at shows throughout the country.

Steve Litt is the author of Rapid Learning: Secret Weapon of the Successful Technologist . He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address .

LEAP and Orlando CTS: The Inside Scoop

By Steve Litt
LEAP used the formula set forth in the July 2001 TPM "Rolling Your Own Linux Event" article. You may have also seen this article on Newsforge. The LEAP Exec committee divvied up the jobs like this:
 
JOB PERSON COMMENT
Show promoter liaison Steve Litt As president, I was the best person to communicate with the show's top person.
Speaker liaison Steve Litt/Phil Barnett Because I was the publicity person, I was in a great position to recruit speakers. Phil Barnett's leadership capabilities made him a great onsite liason.
Freebie supplier liaison Tom Dyll Tom was picked because he could do the job and do it well. Tom got tons of great freebies.
Booth planner Brian Ashe Brian Ashe was picked because of his artistic and design capabilities. Everyone  felt he could design a great looking and practical booth, and he came through with flying colors.
Publicity person Steve Litt I'm pretty good at publicity, and I'm well known throughout the Linux community, so I was picked.
Booth volunteers A cast of 10's Boothmeister Brian Ashe recruited some booth volunteers, and others just showed up. Some out of towners helped man the booth.
Team leader Max Lang/Steve Litt Max was picked to lead the overall effort, but then got hit by a huge workload at his company. I filled in by occasionally asking everyone if they needed any help or resources. They didn't. 

Tom Dyll succeeded spectacularly in procurring freebies. This ain't the summer of Linux. With the rotten economy, freebies are very hard to get. Tom got distros, boomerangs, books, posters, and lots of other great stuff. LEAP threw in about 80 Mandrake 8.1 distros left over from our Hamcation event, and Tony Becker burned 115 Mandrake 8.2 single disk distros and 65 IPCop distros. We also had 800 LEAP brochures (we gave away about 700 of them), and brochures of two of LEAP's sponsors, DeVry Institutes and LEK Computers. Tom did all this very independently. We asked him to do it, and he delivered. Tom's a network/Cisco guru at a large hospital chain, and a Linux Ninja.
 
Here's the LEAP booth, with booth designer Brian Ashe, before the attendees came in.

Photo courtesy of Phil Barnett.

Click picture to see a bigger image, or click here to see  a full sized image.

Booth Planner Brian Ashe hit one out of the park with his booth design. The booth was set up in a 20' x 10' G shape:

*            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~         ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~         *
*                               ~         ~                                  ~         *
*                               ~         ~  X  X    X    X                  ~         *
*                               ~  ISLE   ~    X    X    X   LINUX THEATER   ~         *
*                               ~         ~   X    X    X                    ~         *
*            ~   Back of        ~         ~       X    X                     ~         *
*     ISLE   ~   another booth  ~         ~      X    X                      ~ ISLE    *
*            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~               X    X                       ~         *
*                                                   X                        ~         *
*              I S L E                             X                         ~         *
*                                                 X                  Spkr    ~         *
*  #############          ########                                           ~         *
*    other    ~#                 #    '                                                *
*    booth    ~#  L E A P        #   '                                                 *
*             ~#  B O O T H    ' #  '^                                                 *
*             ~#              '  # ' |                                                 *
*****************************'*******|**************************************************
  L E G E N D              ^         `-- Leap sign
                           |
  ****  Concrete wall      `--Projection screen
  ####  Table
  ~~~~  Curtain (tildes)
     X  Chair
The large opening invited people to walk into the booth, and many did. The frontmost table facilitated demonstration, handouts and SWAG. We placed the 5 foot projection screen in the back corner nearest the theater, and our 8 foot high LEAP sign just outside our booth on the theater side. Brian created five large posters, each with on letter in the word LINUX, and each describing Linux with that particular letter. The effect was outstanding. The video projector was placed on the front table, shining on the screen in the back theater corner. Computers were on all our tables. Our booth was a work of art, and the result was a continuous crowd in and around our booth..

As publicity person and speaker liason, I sent a lot of email and made a lot of phone calls. Most big name Linux speakers asked the same question -- can you pay my transportation and hotel bill? This is not at all an unreasonable question, especially in these tight times, but unfortunately, doing that would have taken most of LEAP's assets and left us vulnerable to bankruptcy. It couldn't be done.

Bless his heart, Robin Miller agreed to come. And man, did he give a great presentation. But that's discussed in a later article.

The one thing Robin made clear was he wanted enough publicity from us to draw a crowd. I promised to do my best, and called Barbie Souza. Barbie said she could put Robin in a large auditorium, and, are you ready for this -- she said Robin could be THE Keynote Speaker for the show. And she quickly placed Robin as the keynote speaker on the show's literature, tickets, and the website. Now the ball was in my court.

Following the frequencies recommended in the "Rolling Your Own Linux Event" documentation, I emailed several nearby LUGs. In each case Robin's keynote got top billing. I managed to get Sourceforge reporter Tina Gasperson to commit to covering the event. My attempts to get the upcoming show mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, Infoworld, and the Orlando Sentinel failed. Publicity is harder than you would think. Luckily I have an in with the management of Troubleshooters.Com, and a link to CTS info appeared at the top of the Troubleshooters.Com home page for several days before the event.

Publicity is much harder than it looks, and my efforts, while not a failure, weren't a huge success. I'd estimate that my publicity brought maybe 50-75 extra people to CTS. It would have been nice to get10 times that number. If anyone reading this article is a publicity expert, I'd appreciate any tips you can provide.

My efforts as speaker liason were much more rewarding. Robin Miller gave a spectacular keynote, and eight other speakers gave truly informative and entertaining presentations in the Linux Auditorium.

Thanks For The Freebies

LEAP would like to thank the following companies for freebies donated for the LEAP/CTS event:
  Know that your contributions furthered the cause of Linux, and are much appreciated.

Summary

It went almost exactly according to the script laid out in "Rolling Your Own Linux Event". Preparation consisted of the speaker liason recruiting speakers, the freebie person obtaining freebies, the publicity person getting publicity, and the show promotor liason nailing down details and making sure the booth had electricity. About a week before the actual event, overall leadership of the event was handed over to Brian Ashe, our booth planner, while the rest of us continued working behind the scenes. Brian continued to lead until the booth was torn down. After the event, all that's left is post-event publicity, and that's what you're reading right now.

If you're in a LUG, by all means contact a promotor and offer to man a booth and pack an auditorium. Remember that what the promotor wants is attendance, publicity, and happy attendees. Go the extra mile to give it to him or her.

If you're a show promotor, know that in every town there's a LUG, and that LUG represents potential for attendance, publicity, and happy attendees. The LUG doesn't have the money to rent a booth, but if given a booth they'll do an extraordinary job manning it, and if given an auditorium they'll provide outstanding speakers. If the LUG is inexperienced with shows, point them toward a copy of "Rolling Your Own Linux Event" (see URL's section of this magazine).

Steve Litt is the author of Rapid Learning: Secret Weapon of the Successful Technologist . He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address .

Suggested Changes to "Rolling Your Own"

The following copyright applies only to the article titled "Suggested Changes to "Rolling Your Own"" by Steve Litt, originally published in the June 2002 Troubleshooting Professional Magazine at http://www.troubleshooters.com/tpromag/200206/200206.htm, and does not apply to other articles in that magazine.

Copyright (c) 2002 by Steve Litt. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, version  Draft v1.0, 8 June 1999 (available at http://www.troubleshooters.com/openpub04.txt/ (wordwrapped for readability at http://www.troubleshooters.com/openpub04_wrapped.txt). The latest version is presently available at  http://www.opencontent.org/openpub/).

No options are elected, so this document may be modified and/or commercially distributed, subject to the terms and conditions of the Open Publication License.

By Steve Litt
As you know, LEAP followed the recipe spelled out in the "Rolling Your Own Linux Event" article (URL in URLs section) almost to a T. But with another year under our belt, we found some improvements that can be made on the formula.
 

Bigger Publicity Committee

Publicity must start early, and must involve several persuasive LUG members. Just because we Linux people think a Linux booth at a show is big news doesn't mean the Wall Street Journal or the local newspaper will see it that way. Speaking of the local newspaper, be sure to find out early how to place a public service announcement (not an article, just a public service announcement) in the local paper and the radio at the right time. It's not easy to find the right contacts, but it's doable. LEAP worked with a publicity committee of one. Four would be a much more realistic number, with one person overseeing the other three to make sure multiple people aren't contacting the same media contact.

Photograph Czar

As far as I know, LEAP never got a photograph of Barbie Souza standing next to LEAP members. Bad oversight! Post event publicity, even if done only on the LUG website, is very important. One LEAPster perportedly got a shot of a huge crowd jostling to catch a glimpse of Phil Barnett's talk. I'm still trying to track him down.

The photograph czar needn't be onsite all the time. All he or she needs to do is make sure there's always someone with a digital camera onsite, and that he or she receives all pictures within a couple days after the event and transmits them to the publicity person.

Projector and Screen

If at all possible, have a projector and screen so that you can show off apps you're describing. For instance, when an attendee asks if Linux runs Quicken (it doesn't), show him or her GnuCash, but show it on the projection screen so every attendee in a 20 foot radius sees it and becomes curious. The result is huge crowds.

Cheap Distros in Tough Times

There was a time when a LUG with a Linux booth at a show like CTS could procure 1000 distros from the various distro makers. Those days are gone. At the Hamcation show in February LEAP bought 200 Mandrake 8.1 double CD sets from Cheapbytes for $2.18 a set. It was a real bargain. The LEAP executive committee went over all the options, including burning our own, and concluded that was the cheapest alternative. But for CTS, LEAPster Tony Becker showed the Executive Committee they were wrong.

Tony shopped for CD blanks and ultimately got some that were free after rebate. He managed to get jewel cases for $5.00/50 after rebate. He found CD labels for $49.95 for 300 (16.5 cents apiece). A label applying kit was $15.00. Tony calculates his expense for a labeled and cased CD at $0.22, making a 3 CD set $0.66. You can't sell anything at CTS, but you CAN sell 3 CD distros for $5.00/apiece at events like Hamcation and MarketPro Computer Shows. So if you make 1000 3 CD sets it costs you $660. You can sell 200 at a single Hamcation, grossing $1000. With expenses thrown in, you'll probably break even selling 200, meaning the other 800 are free, and you can give them away at CTS. Better yet, you needn't burn all 1000 at once, so that if CTS is later than Hamcation, you can burn the latest distro for CTS.

I personally feel the procurement of the raw materials should be done by the LUG -- not by the individual member burning the CD's. That way if a manufacturer welches on his rebate, the LUG picks up the slack, not the volunteer. If the CD's are bad, it's the LUG's responsibility, not the volunteer's. It' s important that the volunteer not be blamed for trying to save the LUG money, and it's also easier if the LUG's treasurer doesn't need to account for individual expenditures.

Speaking of cheap blanks, Tony found that the cheap blanks produced coasters if burned at over 16x, even though the media was 40x and the burner was 32x. At 16x, 90% of the burns were successful.

Tony feels strongly that several volunteers should do the burning and md5sum verifying. He felt that the 180 CD's he burned was a little excessive for a single individual, but he did it as a proof of concept because the LEAP Executive Committee had rejected the idea of burning our own.

One individual should do the labeling. Otherwise there's a problem with shipping labels all around, and purchasing multiple stamping machines. I believe the best logistics would be to give a single verified master to each volunteer, and have the volunteer burn and mdsum 50 CDs. That's about 5 hours work, and there's minimal chance for mistake because he or she is making only one kind of CD. The verified CDS are put on a spindle, and the spindle case is clearly marked with the version and disc number. Then, at the next meeting, the spindle is given to the person doing the stamping. The stamper stamps the CD and places it in the jewel case. I'd recommend that the stamper stamp all the disc 1's before going on to the disc 2's. This minimizes the opportunity for error. Once they're stamped and jewelled, collation is quick and easy.

Tony came up with a killer idea -- co-branding with sponsorship. Each disc was marked something like "Courtesy of LEAP and Tony Becker Consulting, with contact info for both. Although Tony will be getting reimbursed for the materials he used, this would be a good way to get volunteers, and possibly even have the volunteers pay for the materials. A 3 distro set could have 3 second branders (obviously the LUG must be on all 3 discs). The front disc would be the most valuable place to co-brand.

Tony was a little concerned about liability with the branding. I'd suggest a short "no warranty, see GNU GPL" disclaimer on each disc.

Booth Shape

I'd have liked to see our booth a little more open. The few times I went by the booth (I was mostly involved with the speakers), there seemed to be a reluctance for attendees to step into the booth, due to the fact that the single front table made the 10 foot opening seem like a door. The table sort of marked our territory.

The only need for a front table is to mount the projector. The back tables can house the SWAG and handouts. After all, we want people in the booth. So I'd recommend a small 3 foot table in front just to hold the projector, and leave the rest open.

Transition of Project Leadership

The booth planner should take executive control of the project starting a week before the show. LEAP did this, and it worked great. The booth planner is the critical path, so his requests for help should be direct. By that time the other volunteers will be good and tired anyway, and welcome handing over leadership to the booth planner. Once the show is complete and the booth, fixtures, computers and frebies are loaded on the truck, the publicity volunteer can take control of the remainder of the project.
Steve Litt is the author of Rapid Learning: Secret Weapon of the Successful Technologist . He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address .

Robin Miller

By Steve Litt
Robin Miller was the keynote speaker at Orlando CTS. Most of us associate Robin with Slashdot, probably because he stood up to Microsoft's DMCA lawyer letter and refused to remove 11 Slashdot posts which Microsoft said illegally (via DMCA) divulged Microsoft's proprietary modifications to the Kerberos open standard. Robin calmly told the world's mightiest tech company "no", thus becoming the hero of those who love freedom. That was in early 2000.

Robin's gone on to other great works since then. He's the Editor in Chief of the Open Source Developers Network, an umbrella for websites such as Slashdot, NewsForge, Linux.com, DaveCentral, LinuxGram, GeoCrawler, SourceForge.net, Freshmeat.net, Freecode, MediaBuilder Network, Animation Factory, PowerMedia Pro, 3D Text Maker, GifWorks, Postcardmaker, ThinkGeek, and Animation Factory. If there's anyone who knows how to make a profitable website in this post .com world, it's Robin.

So it's no wonder that Financial Times Press is publishing Robin's latest book, "The Habits of Highly Effective Internet Companies", which is due out in September. Just from knowing Robin I might have bought the book. But after hearing his keynote speech, titled "Building Profitable Web Sites With Free Software", I'm going to buy it the first day it comes out. Robin's keynote speech contained tons of great information. I mean information I wish Troubleshooters.Com had 6 years ago. As a 6 year webmaster of a 2000+ visit per day website, I can tell you positively that Robin's info is correct and logically consistent.

Robin, thank you so much for speaking at Orlando CTS!

Steve Litt is the author of "Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist".  Steve can be reached at Steve Litt's email address .

Event Management Services

By Steve Litt
What company has done the most for Linux users? Red Hat? IBM? MandrakeSoft?

If you live in Florida you'd better add another company to that list -- Event Management Services of Portland, OR.

Who the heck is Event Management Services?

They're a show promotor who years ago discovered the value of a Linux booth, and almost singlehandedly revived grassroots Linux outreach in Florida by having Linux booths at their CTS shows:

9/2000: CTS Tampa (SLUG)
5/2001: CTS Clearwater (SLUG)
5/2001: CTS Orlando (LEAP)
10/2001: CTS Tampa (SLUG)
10/2001: CTS Jacksonville (JaxLUG)
5/2002: CTS Orlando (LEAP)
9/2002: CTS Ft. Lauderdale (FLUX (presumably))
10/2002: CTS Jacksonville (JaxLUG)

Remember how you felt when the big shows closed and/or moved away? Here in Florida, Event Management filled the vacuum by offering CTS booths to local Linux groups.

CTS shows are professional and well done. Everything's organized, and everyone's happy. CTS shows have very little of that trade-show-cynicism that seems to plague other shows. The booths are good looking and have Internet connectivity. There are lots of auditoriums, each with interesting talks.

CTS quality is no accident. Event Management Services knows what they're doing, and field a group of expert event directors. Here in Orlando, Event Director Barbie Souza works with the exhibitors to make sure everything is smooth. She has a way of making you think you're the only exhibitor in the place, and throughout the show I saw that all the exhibitors felt that way. She listens to your ideas, then finds a way to work them in.

So I have a piece of advice for every tech business within 50 miles of a CTS show. Consider a booth. Yes, I know these are tough times, but these are shows full of happy people, and happy people listen to what you say. Media advertising is great, but it doesn't get you in front of people. In these tough times, face to face meetings are critical.And if you want a lot of traffic, ask to be near the Linux booth.

If you're in a Linux group within a 50 mile radius of a CTS show, consider asking for a booth. Your responsibility will be to man the booth the whole time, give interesting demonstrations, publicize your booth, and provide some speakers. Publicity consists primarily of telling the LUGs within 100 miles. Be sure to email their lists several times so it sinks in. Many LUGsters are desperate to attend a Linux event -- any Linux event. They'll drive miles. Interesting demos include installations, desktop apps, and server apps (Samba, Apache, DHCP, email).

Event Management Services consistently does things right. I've heard it from several LUGs. If you've never worked with Event Management Services, contact them now so you don't miss another show.

Steve Litt is the creator of the Universal Troubleshooting Process.  Steve can be reached at Steve Litt's email address .

Life After Windows: My New Time Accounting System

Life After Windows is a regular Troubleshooting Professional column, by Steve Litt, bringing you observations and tips subsequent to Troubleshooters.Com's Windows to Linux conversion.
By Steve Litt
What do you do if you need a time tracking app RIGHT NOW? If you're in the Windows world you probably spend the day comparing advertising claims of apps, and then buy one. Proprietary software typically doesn't come with a money back satisfaction guarantee, so if you choose badly, it's just too bad. However, you'll probably end up choosing the Timeslips brand timekeeping program, and Timeslips is excellent.

Timeslips doesn't run on Linux, so if you're a Linux user you'll likely spend some time on Freshmeat and Sourceforge trying to find a timekeeping app, read about them, and try them. Trouble is, that takes time, and it was time I didn't have. I needed an app immediately. So I coded it.

And what an interesting concept it turned out to be. I wrote a script (call it time.pl). Here's the syntax:
 

time.pl BEGIN "client name" "task text"
or
time.pl END
or
time.pl CREATE "client name" "task text"
The BEGIN syntax ends any ongoing task, and starts the new task at the current time. The END syntax ends any ongoing task. The CREATE syntax allows you to create a start and end record for the named client and task at any time you input. The script asks you for the time (YYYYMMDD HHMM), and then asks you for the duration (H:MM).

Of course you can't type a command like these every time you get a phone call from a different client. The script needs a front end. Did someone say UMENU? I made a menu with an END item, and menu items for each client likely to call. Each client specific menu has a BEGIN and CREATE item, both of which use prompted argument substitution to ask for the task (the third argument). Lightning fast, works like a charm!

The captured data is kept in a text file which can easily be parsed by any report or time accounting program I want to create. It's also trivial to export the captured data to any format for any accounting system.

A Few Days Later

One of my Java buddies regaled me of his difficulties getting the focus and the keyboard and mouse listeners to work right in his app. I commented that back in 1986 I went to the emergency room, where the admissions person quickly input all my info in a program that simply rotated through fields, prompting and accepting at the bottom of the screen. Crude, but very effective. Considering all the effort modern programmers expend just for a pretty interface, I lightheartedly asked if we've really progressed since 1986. We both chuckled.

Riding my bicycle home, it occurred to me that maybe rapid application development could be accomplished by doing something like what I did with my timekeeping app. Make a bunch of tiny programs that do one task, and glue them together.

Use UMENU for the app's menu. Create a small program that does nothing but accept an SQL statement and return the data via stdout. Have another small program that throws up fields, checkboxes, buttons and lists, based on data in a file. It keeps a stack of forms and picklists, so that you can drill down from field to list to form to field, and then after completing each come back up the way you went. That program interacts with the database program. As far as reports, those are probably easiest simply writing a script to pump out the data. I don't have it all clear yet, but it sounds to me like once some of these programs are written, one could build an app for a business in one day. Sure, it wouldn't be a B2B enterprise app, but it would be a way to bring automation to long deprived mom and pop businesses, and make some good money doing it.

If you're a long time TPM reader, you might remember my wishing for something like this in an article called "Linux Log: The Lesson of the Artist" in the August 1999 TPM. I haven't yet fulfilled those wishes, but I wonder if the ideas in this article bring me closer.

Life after Windows? It's a life of possibilities.

Steve Litt is the author of the course on the Universal Troubleshooting Process.  He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address .

Linux Log: I'm a Troubleshooter: Why Should I Care?

By Steve Litt
If you're an operating system agnostic professional Troubleshooter, why should you care about Linux?

The one word answer is modularity. The three word answer is modularity and license.

The popular modern operating systems are UNIX, BSD, Mac OS X, Linux and Windows. UNIX is a 30+ year old OS created by computer professionals (at AT&T Bell Labs)  for their own use. These computer professionals knew first hand the design, quality and troubleshooting benefits of modularity, so made UNIX extremely modular. The computer system interface (kernel), graphics (X), and networking are totally separate code. So if one goes down the others stay up, and you simply restart whatever went down. This is why UNIX does not require reboots upon reconfiguration.

The high quality BSD UNIX was created at the University of California, Berkeley in the late 1970's. Today it's called BSD, and comes in several Open Source variants. BSD is UNIX. A few years later the GNU project created a UNIX workalike, without any code from the proprietary AT&T UNIX. Unfortunately the GNU project could not come up with a workable kernel. Linus Torvalds created a UNIX workalike kernel called Linux in 1991, and combined it with free software compilers and utilities from the GNU project and other sources to produce the GNU/Linux operating system, whose name is often abbreviated "Linux". In 2001 Apple computer wrapped various apps and services around BSD to create the Mac OS X operating system. If you buy a modern Macintosh computer, your core operating system is BSD.

Like UNIX, BSD and Linux were created by computer professionals for computer professionals, and therefore retained the quality and modularity. Although Apple created Mac OS X for commercial purposes, they remained faithful to the modular architecture. UNIX, BSD, Linux and Mac OS X are high performance, high reliability modular systems.

Contrast the preceding with Windows, which was created by Microsoft for the purpose of commodity sales and profit. Commodity  design requires a high features to price ratio, even if that ratio decreases quality and maintainability. This is not true only of operating systems. A trip through your local consumer electronics store reveals shelves full of cheap equipment with voluminous features. This equipment is basically irreparable, which isn't bad because it costs only $69.00 to replace your 1 year old VCR that breaks.

Unfortunately, replacing a broken operating system is not cheap. Just the labor of reinstalling an operating system is more than that, and when you throw in business interruption and the fact that reinstallation does not always cure the problem, it can cost hundreds or thousands. You're a Troubleshooter so you know this already.

Windows is non modular, and therefore difficult and sometimes uneconomical to repair. The video drivers are in the kernel. Some other subsystems are in the kernel. In Windows 98, the last Windows version I used, a simple network configuration change required a reboot. Application programs are tightly integrated with the operating system and other applications via the Windows registry and .dll files.

Windows has even incorporated the Internet Explorer web browser into its monolith. According to a Seattle Times article (see URL's section of this magazine), Bill Gates testified about IE integration like this: "This shows that if you remove this block of code, other functions are degraded in the most extreme way. They no longer work". Amazingly enough, nonmodular design may help Microsoft fight off punishment for what Judge Jackson and the Appeals Court ruled were Microsoft's illegal business practices.

Destruction of modularity destroys ability to enhance a product without introducing bugs. It destroys the ability to troubleshoot the system. It makes it difficult to replace a component without introducing bugs. It creates security risks.

If it seems like your day is spent firefighting, perhaps you're trying to fix monolithic, irreparable systems. In such a case, Linux, BSD, UNIX or Mac OS X will be a breath of fresh air.

User Friendliness

Windows advocates often say that UNIX, BSD and Linux are not user friendly, and are not "ready for users". They often bring up the fact that UNIX is 30 years old, the implication being that it's obsolete. This is all propaganda. All UNIX versions and workalikes come with modern GUI environments and apps. For brevity, let's limit the discussion to Linux.

Linux has a GUI environment called XFree86, and many user friendly desktop environments such as Gnome, KDE and my favorite, IceWM. Linux is just as point-and-click as Windows. Most Linux distributions come with the outstanding OpenOffice office suite, and if they don't, you can download and install it free of charge. You can also purchase office suites from Sun (StarOffice) and Applix. My last book, the 110,000 word,  317 page "Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist" was written using the LyX styles-based typesetting program. Spreadsheets include those in the office suites, as well as Gnumeric and KSpread. Quicken enthusiasts will appreciate the GnuCash money manager. Linux comes with the intuitive KMail graphic email program, and an assortment of excellent browsers including Mozilla, Konqueror and the beautifully rendering Galeon.

So when you hear that Linux "isn't user friendly", "isn't ready for the desktop", or "doesn't have apps", be aware that you're hearing propaganda.

Licensing Issues

A moderately detailed discussion of licensing ramifications could take 50,000 words. So let me make it brief.

BSD and Linux come with licenses stating that it's perfectly legal for you to copy them to every computer in your organization, or copy it to every one of your customers. These licenses remove the need for expensive and time consuming license tracking and auditing. They eliminate the delay of procuring an additional license before installing a needed system. They eliminate the need to warehouse proof of purchase paperwork and CD "key numbers". Unlike Windows XP, these licenses do not force registration nor shut down if too much hardware is changed. And these licenses mean that you pay nothing for additional copies of the OS.

None of this has anything to do with troubleshooting, but things like copy restrictions, license procurement delays, license tracking and auditing, proof of purchase paperwork, CD key number retention, forced registration, hardware recognition based license enforcement, and per-computer licensing costs consume valuable time you could otherwise use to do your job: Troubleshooting.

What's In It For You

Which would you rather fix -- a huge black box that's intermittent and non-modular, or a system of tested, high performance and highly reliable modules? This distinction will affect your life on a daily basis.

Which would you rather work with -- systems requiring license audits and red tape to slow down your work, or a system that can be freely and legally copied at a moment's notice?

Linux isn't perfect, but it's much better than the press or the Microsoft publicity machine let on. Are the development, troubleshooting, performance, modularity, and legal freedom  advantages of Linux worth the hassle of transition? I think so. I converted my business to Linux in March 2001.

Steve Litt is president of Linux Enthusiasts and Professionals of Central Florida (LEAP-CF). He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address .

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