[Wolves] LUG meeting summary - 20/11/2002

James Turner wolves at mailman.lug.org.uk
Thu Nov 21 21:47:01 2002

Here's a draft summary of the meeting, if anyone wants to add/change

    LUG meeting summary - 20/11/2002

Tonight's LUG meeting featured a bumper crop of new recruits attending 
the first time. The total turn-out was 11, spread across a record four 
tables. The regulars (sometimes affectionately refered to as "The 
in attendence consisted of:

  - Aq
  - James
  - Jono
  - Peter
  - Ron
  - Rob

The newbies, more about which later, were:

  - Steve and Vinny from A2RT
  - Goththing, sometimes also known as Alex
  - Richard

The meeting also featured a rare sighting of Steve Parkes, who helped 
up the LUG way back in the mists of antiquity.

Fizzy didn't turn up to demonstrate his "elite" skills, and missed out 
a chance to try out Xandros Linux. Mr and Mrs Laptop have also been
mysteriously absent for a while. Now where could they have got to?

A new venue

The high turn-out and anticipated future growth prompted talk of 
finding a
new venue for the meetings. Though they have proved adequate in the 
the Moon Under Water and Clarendon Suite are not without their various
shortcomings. The general consensus of opinion regarding our 
for a new venue were:

  - A room suitable for presentation-type events as well as more 
    discussions, equipped with multiple power points and enough tables 
    chairs for aprox 15+ people, and ideally a screen or place for a 
    for a data projector or OHP. The price should be as low as possible.

  - High quality, low cost beer, available in large quantities. There 
    some disagreement over the relative priorities of cheap beer vs.
    facilities for presentations.

  - A selection of decent food, preferably available at low cost. 
    this should include the ubiquitous LUG favourite, the cheesecake.
    (Integrated fun-size Mars bar optional).

Due lack of local knowledge, no specific decision was made as to where 
go, so if there's anyone out there with a wide experience of nearby 
we welcome your input.

The Access to Recycled Technology (A2RT) Project

As mentioned earlier we had several new members come along tonight,
including Steve and Vinny from the A2RT project (www.a2rt.org). They 
both handing us leaflets enthusiastically throughtout the course of the

They are involved in "growing" a media lab out of old/unwanted equipment
donated by a variety of companies and universities, at which members of
the public will be able to learn about computers, web site development,
various forms of digital art and of course Linux.

They have had quite a few computers donated already and amused the LUG
members by quantifying the size of their haul by the tonne rather than 
terms of the number of machines. Proposed E.U. recycling directives make
it seem likely that they will have no shortage of donations in the
forseeable future.

Their various computers, which range from humble 486s to newer Pentium
II-based models are being configured to run the Linux-Mandrake
(www.mandrakesoft.com) distribution (chosen due to its
beginner-friendly reputation), operating as thin clients (X Terminals?).
The lab should be connected to the Internet. (????) They are due to move
in and begin construction of the lab/network on Monday 25th November.

Steve and Vinny were interested in getting the LUG involved in their
activities, including as a source for technical information and
guidance. Anyone from the LUG who wishes to pay them a visit and see 
they're up to is invited to go along on Saturday 30th November (address

They are looking for advice on software to support PHP-based community
web sites, "blogging" sites and such, all of which should be fairly easy
to customise to their more specific requirements. (To Steve and Vinny -
please post any specific requests or queries to the mailing list). Jono
was approached about giving a talk on the PHPNuke (www.phpnuke.org)
content management system.

The suitability of Linux for adoptation by non-profit groups such as 
charities and so on was mentioend, allowing cost savings to be made so
that more money could be made available for philanthropic purposes 
than lining the pockets of the likes of Bill Gates. Friends of the Earth
(www.foe.co.uk) was mentioned in conjunction with A2RT.

Jono suggested that we might be able to somehow take advantage of the
nationwide LUG infrastructure/administration to raise awareness and 
support for this type of activity. Provision of training and technical
support were areas that were considered to be of particular
importance in fuelling the take-up of Linux in non-profit organisations.

A2RT (which is related to The Lowtech Media Lab - www.lowtech.org) is 
to open from 25th November to 20th December from 10:30am to 6:30pm at:

Unit 311F
The Big Peg
120 Vyse Street
Jewellery Quarter

See the project web site, the leaflet Steve or Vinny pressed into your
hand at the LUG meeting or call (0121) 233 4061 for more information.


Our other new arrival was Richard, a disillusioned Windows user
baulking at the cost of upgrading to Windows XP/Office XP and getting
psyched up to begin his adventures with Linux.

There was plenty of discussion and advice from Jono and Ron concerning
what his next step should be. In particular, Linux-Mandrake was
recommended as a result of its beginner-friendly reputation and the
positive experiences of several LUG members.

As a result, Richard would now like a copy of the latest version of
Linux-Mandrake (9.0?). Could someone do the honours with a CD burner
please. He has various commitments that make it difficult for him to
make trips into Wolverhampton town centre during the evenings, but he
would generally be happy to arrange to collect CDs during the day.

If anyone is able to offer a set of CDs, please e-mail Richard with the
details. (PS: We don't know the e-mail address do we?)


Goththing (aka Alex) managed to talk the bouncers into letting him into
the pub tonight and told us a little of his antics with Red Hat
7.something, in addition to briefly discussing body-piercing with Steve
from A2RT. He brought his trusty laptop along with him, as promised.
After only the briefest exposure to Aq he has decided to switch
to Debian.

Graphics and the command line

Whilst discussing the extremes of command line usage vs GUI usage that
exist within the Linux community, the topic of graphics software for
textual consoles/terminals came up. Ron put forward ImageMagick
(www.imagemagick.org) as a practical example of a powerful command-line
based graphics utility.

The AA-Project (http://aa-project.sourceforge.net/index.html) is an open
source project to develop terminal-based graphics software using ASCII
art, centering around a shared library called aalib. Some of the things
it lets you do from a humble text-based terminal/console include:

  - Convert graphics (in pnm format, or others via ImageMagick) to
    plain text or HTML files
  - View graphics files on-screen.
  - Play MPEG 1 movies and FLI/FLC animations
  - Play Quake(!)
  - Watch TV using a TV tuner card
  - Examine Mandelbrot and Julia sets with realtime zooming
  - Sit back and watch the "bb" graphics demo
  - Display the output of SVGAlib-based applications as ASCII art.

The project's site also features a small picture gallery. Even The GIMP
(GNU Image Manipulation Program - www.gimp.org) is listed as supporting
aalib in some way.


The relative merits of the various Linux magazines were discussed at 
length. The overall favourite at the moment seemed to be Linux Format
(www.linuxformat.co.uk) (especially Jono's column), while Linux Magazine
(www.linux-magazine.co.uk) was considered to be the weakest offering.

There was some discussion about Jono pulling strings in order to get
features on A2RT and Mark Elsse's school (which I think is Chase
Acadamy - www.chaseacademy.com) in the magasine.

With a little help from our very own Ron, Mark recently deployed Red Hat
Linux (www.redhat.com) on a small number of workstations at his school, 
well as using it as a file server, web server, mail server, firewall
gateway to the Internet and web cache. As far as we know the system
is continuing to run smoothly and has resulted in a useful financial
saving compared to the equivalent Microsoft-based alternative.

The LUG Web Site

A number of new features were suggested for the LUG web site, including

  - Articles on Mark Elsse's school and A2RT.

  - HOWTO-style documents relating to members' experiences of things 
    getting specific hardware working. The guys from A2RT said that they
    had some documents they could let us have to get the ball rolling.

  - Use of web site as a resource for technical queries/help, including 
    use for people who don't normally attend the LUG meetings.

Aq told us once more, in vivid detail, about his distress on the day 
the LUG's web server (www.wolveslug.org.uk) got Slashdotted (ie address
posted on www.slashdot.org), causing it to crash and fail to reboot.

The continued use of PHPNuke/PostNuke for the LUG web site was 
Steve Parkes criticised the numerous HCI/accessability limitations of
PHPNuke and PostNuke and described his lack of success in persuading the
projects' maintainers to accept patches to fix some of the problems.

Open Source vs. Microsoft

Ron brought to our attention a newly discovered vulnerability in
Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser (www.microsoft.com/windows/ie)
which could potentially cause a user's hard drive to be reformatted as
result of visiting a malicious web site.

The subject of Microsoft having been brought up, there was a discussion 
the relative merits of open vs. proprietary file formats and protocols.
Jono is involved in such matters in an official capacity as part
of the government's Open Source Special Interest Group, where he is a
representative of the KDE project.

Jono treated us to a detailed account of the efforts of the charismatic
Peruvian senator Dr. Edgar Villanueva, who has put forward legislation
favouring the use of Open Source(TM) software over proprietary
(predominantly Microsoft) software for government systems.

For those who arn't yet familiar with the Peruvian suituation,
following announcement of Villanueva's Open Source proposals, 
PR department (www.microsoft.com/presspass) put together a document
spelling out what a disasterous mistake it would be to use Open Source
software rather than Microsoft's own high-quality products. Villaneuva
responded with a detailed point-by-point rebuttal of the Microsoft
document, a rebuttal that is now viewed as a seminal example of 
FUD demolition.

The Peruvian story is now a few months old, since which government after
government (including Germany, Australia, Britain, France, Finland, 
and Japan) have announced strategies to evaluate, use or recommend Open
Source software. The European Union have recently awarded a E250,000
contract to a UK company to evaluate the benefits of Open Source 
within and between EU governments.

You can read an interview with Dr Villanueva for Linux Journal at

Current themes in Microsoft's PR strategy include:

  - Giving up trying to argue that Linux costs more than Windows and
    related software, either in terms of up-front costs or TCO. They 
    realised that most people don't believe them, causing the rest of
    their sales pitch to lose credibility.

  - Bombardment of government organisations with freebies in order to 
    to dispel the risk of a high-profile switch to Open Source software.
    This has recently occured in India, which was honoured by a visit 
    large charitable donation by William H. Gates III himself. Scrutiny 
    other "donations" has found them to be something of a trojan horse:

  - Warning of the supposed evils of investing in software development 
    or for Linux, the use of the GNU General Public License (GPL) and
    software covered by it. There are numerous documents on the Internet
    citing such behaviour.

  - Spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about possible patent
    infringement issues present in Linux, distros and Open Source 
    in general. I am not aware of any specific examples being
    cited/threatened recently, though I am aware that certain Microsoft
    patents may well be being infringed by the SAMBA project

There was the usual prolonged bout of Microsoft-bashing, of which I'll
spare you any further details.

Ron's Words Of Wisdom (WOW)

It was a fairly quiet night for Ron, with a comparatively small number 
acolytes in search of technological enlightenment compared to previous

He did, however, grumble for a while about the removal of mp3 support in
Red Hat 8.0 and launch into an interesting and informative reverie about
the murky origins of DOS.

Humour - Some of it Clean

There were no dirty jokes from Aq this week, though the topic of
conversation still managed to get a bit dodgy at times.

Jono mentioned Lesbian GNU/Linux (www.lesbian.mine.nu), a parody of the
Debian GNU/Linux distribution (www.debian.org) optimised for the
acquisition and viewing of pornographic material. The distribution was
praised for its utilitarian porn-get command, equivalent to Debian's
famous (thanks to Aq) apt-get.

A humourous comparison was made between Wolves LUG and our neighbours, 
South Birmingham LUG (www.sb.lug.org.uk) based on observations made 
when a
number of us visited them a while back. In stark contrast to ourselves,
the Brummies seemed to be of a generally very formal, serious and 

One of the more statistically-minded people among us proposed the
hypothesis that the amount of code posted to the SB-LUG mailing list may
well be significantly higher than that posted to our own (which has 
as far as I can remember). Furthermore, aspersions were made that people
might communicate entirely in code on the SB-LUG list - but would they 
C? Perl? Python?, or the altogether more hardcore Assembler? [editor's
note: Of course, all technically-minded people write their e-mails in

Our visit to SB-LUG was supposed to have been to provide moral support 
Jono, who was giving a talk on KDE (www.kde.org). Jono ended up getting
playfully heckled by a rabid GNOME (www.gnome.org) enthusiast, while we
sauntered over to Staff House for a drink or two and listened to members
of SB-LUG discussing such hot topics as common coding mistakes when
programatically constructing ODBC (www.microsoft.com/data/odbc) query