ketep, merapi

The end of "Lightweight Linux" distros?

I had the chance to introduce Linux to a secretarial class in Semarang, Indonesia, recently. As part of it, I demonstrated a number of LiveCDs - i.e. Linux running from a CD (I love that feature).

Based on their initial impression, students were most taken with Ubuntu. This is no surprise - the Ubuntu project is large and relatively well-funded, and focuses on the experiences of of users, especially new users. The potential problem comes when we think about users with low-powered machines - smaller RAM and slower CPUs.

"Lean Linux," i.e. versions or "distros" of Linux designed for such machines, may not be the best solution for such users, because:
  • Such distros are generally hard to use for regular people, especially if they have the slightest problem with hardware compatibility
  • Even relatively light machines these days can run a fully-featured Linux distro - I've seen the standard Ubuntu running on OLPC's XO-1 (installed on a USB stick - this was in mid-2008, so it was probably version 8.04)
Various lightweight Linux projects are ongoing, but none really look like going mainstream. there are some useful apps like the PCManFM file manager and LXPanel, and the medium-lightweight desktop that they come from (LXDE) - but I'm not aware of any super-lightweight effort that looks like providing something usable

Given this, I think that for many of us it would be more helpful to have some instructions on how to speed up and "slim down" a fully-featured Linux distro. I.e. tweaking rather than replacing. This is probably more than enough to help it run smoothly on the kind of older machines that most people might be thinking of using.

So, for example, how to make Ubuntu lighter? I see there's a page on Ubuntu's community wiki, but it's more focused on very old systems, The basics I'd start with are: Turn off desktop effects (I do this anyway out of personal preference); and stop unneeded programs from autostarting (here's where we need a simple how to and a list of "what to turn off"). What have I missed? (Please comment.)

More advanced options might include installing a lightweight window manager such as Openbox, as long as there's no clash, and as long as the standard option is available at login. (Note that Openbox can be used as a replacement for Gnome, or can be used with Gnome - not sure whether the latter actually results in any performance improvements or reductions in RAM usage.) If a user is going to use bare Openbox, they'll need a nice clear intro - starting with "click the desktop to bring up the menu. Not for everyone, but the good thing is that you only have to restart to access the conventional, easier-to-use desktop.

Personally, I'm happy to keep using CrunchBang Statler - it's light, stable, and easy to use, in spite of its super-light Openbox setup. I love the welcome script that helps set things up, and the list of keyboard shortcuts right there on the desktop. But I haven't tried it out with real newbies - I'm sure they'd manage, with a few pointers, but they might prefer something more like Ubuntu. Once they get comfortable with Linux, if they feel themselves bumping against the limits of their RAM or just want a lighter-looking desktop, the might be ready to throw on a LiveCD of Crunchbang Statler and give it a try.
ketep, merapi

Connecting the Dots - join the Coalition of the Willing November 14

On November 14, 2010, MovementCamp2 is happening online,  on the topic of Connecting the Dots.

Coalition Movement Camp II: Connecting the Dots

November 14, 2010, 7-11pm GMT. See start time in cities around the world
The Coalition Movement Camp series brings new players and possibilities into view and allows us to connect the dots between them. Our goal is to consolidate our collective powers and prepare for a collaborative web development project unlike anything the world has seen.

The inaugural Coalition Movement Camp took place on October 10, 2010. Participants included representatives of Appropedia, OpenKollab, Metacurrency, 350, Dadamac, CoopAgora, JAK Bank, GreenTribe, and Gaia10. For eight hours, we brainstormed ideas towards a new generation of internet platforms and collaborative strategies for the climate crisis. Details of the 10/10/10 Coalition Movement Camp can be found on the Coalition blog (,

On November 14, 2010, the conversation continues.

Why are we doing this?

• The world is warming. Satellite records show that in the past two decades, the process of warming has sped up. 2010 is on track to be the warmest year on record.
• Without drastic action, we risk temperature rises of 6°C or more by the end of this century. This would be a catastrophe.
• Yet the international community is ill-prepared, if not unwilling, to reign in carbon emissions to prevent this outcome.

We have no choice but to try a new approach.

We propose using new internet tools and a renewed commitment to interoperability and collaboration to creatively impact this situation and turn it around.

The internet is rapidly evolving from a place for sharing information to a place for collaboration and co-creation. How easy it should be, given the money, talent, and need in the world, to build an online network that enables the best people from about the world to collaborate on climate action solutions.

This is our vision. It is neither radical nor extreme. It is necessary, plain and simple.

Join us on November 14, 2010, as we continue this world-changing adventure. The venue is an open collaboration staging area: There will be sessions devoted to BetterMeans/Open Enterprise Manifesto, the Global Innovation Commons, and more. You’ll be able to upload image and video files and contribute to real time chat. There will be live interviews and webcasts, with an audio stream component for participants in low-bandwidth zones. Our facilitators will work to summarize developments and keep you up to speed.

Coalition Movement Camp II: Connecting the Dots will run from 2.00pm to 6pm EDT. International start times: 7.00pm London, 11.00am Los Angeles, 2.00pm NYC, 6.00am Sydney (Nov 15). Enlist here: (Local Start Times:

If you’d like to send a video shout out or presentation to Coalition Movement Camp participants, we welcome pre-recorded content. Please submit links to Vimeo or Youtube content by Friday November 12, 5.00pm Los Angeles time, and we’ll include suitable material on the Coalition Movement Camp blog. Submit these to: tropology at gmail dot com. Submitted content should include a summary paragraph, with links to more information.

If you are ready to roll up your sleeves and join in this work, see the Coalition Portal for an orientation:

The above message is based on the linked post on the Coalition Blog, and thus licensed as
ketep, merapi

A way to test climate change

Another way to test climate change - from the late Stephen Schneider, a sharp mind, author, and an influential climate scientist:

what we've done is gone to the literature and looked at a couple of thousand studies, and we simply asked, of all these observations made by these ecologists over the last, say, 20 to 50 years, how many are reporting changes in when trees flower, when birds lay eggs, when they migrate from the tropics to the high latitudes? And what we found was, although the majority of species aren't showing it yet, there is a minority of species showing change.

So then we said, okay, how many of them are coming back the way you would expect from physiological theory? Namely, if it's getting warmer, the flowering should be earlier, if it's getting warmer they should come back from the tropics earlier, and so forth. And it turns out about 80% of the species that are changing are changing in the direction you would predict. That is an unbelievably loaded coin, that's about 700 species. If you took a coin and flipped it 700 times and 80% of the times it came up heads, you'd be pretty sure that was a loaded coin, and we're pretty sure that we have a clear discernable signal of the recent temperature warming on plants and animals.

From A tribute to Stephen Schneider, on the Science Show, 31 July 2010 (audio & transcript available). Emphasis added.

ketep, merapi


An interesting idea about microblogging (notably Twitter, but I have to mention its more sophisticated open source twin, - that its most important impact is in "micro-politics," chipping away at the status quo. Makes sense that these tiny posts might erode resistance like water droplets, or build up an idea like a stalagmite through that same slow dripping.

One such idea that became stronger in this way was "It Gets Better," a message for gay youth. And ideas like this - whether empowering, questioning, informative and debunking, are being shared all the time.

See Twitter Politics, and the Folly of Focusing on the Big Bang.
ketep, merapi

Powerlessness and technology

I agree with those who say that a root cause  of  poverty is powerlessness. But political power, especially in rural villages, is inextricably tied to economic power. - Paul Polak, talking about e m powerment through treadle pumps.

Which is why economically effective technologies - appropriate technologies - matter so much, especially for the rural poor.

The quote is from Paul's blog post, The Birth and Death of Big Institutions. Paul Polak promotes the idea of "Design for the Other 90%".
ketep, merapi

Putting your work on the line

If you are working on closed source software, only your team reviews your code. Which means that if you make a bone-headed coding mistake, only a small number of people actually know it. But make that same mistake in an open source community, and it’s permanently recorded on the Web―there for anyone to Google it. That takes a special kind of developer, one who can handle that kind of open review and potentially public criticism. But that’s how peer review works in the scientific and medical communities. They’ve shown that by opening things up as widely as possible, developments happen quicker. And people themselves develop their own personal skills and programming talents much more quickly when a larger group reviews their work.

I would be nowhere near the level of programmer I am today were it not for the 20-plus years of putting my code on the line and getting really good feedback. And I’ve had the opportunity to do that for other people. -- Jim Jagielski, Chairman of The Apache Software Foundation (interview) (emphasis added.

A great principle not only for code, and science, but for knowledge in general, which is what makes wikis so powerful, as a way of creating, and as a learning experience for those able to work cooperatively within a wiki community.
ketep, merapi

500 words about our future? The Future We Deserve

In case you haven't heard about The Future We Deserve yet, here it is - and there's still a request out for submissions of 500 words (max 800 words). (There are already plenty of submissions to produce the book, but more thoughtful contributions are welcomed.)

6 days left!

The Future We Deserve
is a new book project about collaboratively creating the future we deserve. We will be working together at internet scale on internet time to brainstorm and barnstorm our way towards an image of a world we all believe in, a world of fairness, collaboration and living within a harmonious balance with nature. The book is open to all contributions — essays about technology, politics, working examples of better ways and fantastic ideas which just need to get done.

The print edition will be created together, as we collaborate to select and coordinate what goes into the final book. We'll use open licenses and crowdfunding to lower the barriers to collaboration, and do our level best to make the book the start of a ongoing journey together into the future we are shaping with our lives.

This is creating The Future We Deserve. 

- from The Future We Deserve - a curated collaborative collection of 100 essays about the future

ketep, merapi


Harnessing social activism with the power of open source. Bringing together creativity, science and web geekery to make an impact.

I've been talking a lot with the people behind this, and excited to see their commitment to collaboration and doing things the open source way is deep and genuine. For one thing, they've recognized early on that a logical solution to the proposed "Green Knowledge Trust" is a green wiki, and so we've been talking about how Appropedia fits in.

But enough from me - roll the film!

Coalition Of The Willing from coalitionfilm on Vimeo.

Or watch the video (larger size) at Vimeo

See also the Coalition homepage and blog.

If this excites you, watch for ways to get involved. One way is through the online and local MovementCamps - the first of which is online in 4.5 hours - sorry for the short notice! That's 2pm GMT, 10/10/10.
ketep, merapi

Linux is getting shinier and shinier

Linux in general is getting much better - looking more and more like a real contender in the marketplace against Windows and OS-X. That's just for usability - it's already way ahead on security (who needs anti-virus software? I don't), generally lighter in resource use (so you don't need a computer upgrade), completely free, gives much, much more freedom in how you use it, and

I'm using a Debian-based system now (CrunchBang Statler, still in alpha - easier to set up than super-geeky Debian) and it's light, fast, much lower in power usage (judging by my CPU temperature). 1 GB RAM feels like heaps - even with my bad browsing habits (many, many tabs) lots of programs open, and a second browser open for a different email account, I'm around 650 MB.

Improvements in software help. I'm using Firefox 4 Beta - it's also very good, & stable. And there's now a good lightweight HTML editor, with GUI, called GWrite (I keep drafts and boilerplate there for anything I write in HTML).

Though I'm not an Ubuntu fan, I hear Ubuntu's also getting better, and faster. This is all good news.

I recommend having a Linux geek on hand if you install it, but I know people who've managed by themselves.

Btw, there are a couple of ICT for development projects coming soon... for now, do you have anything to add to Information and Communication Technologies for Development, both the article and the category?
ketep, merapi

Linux, microblogging, & keeping it lean

This is a little off topic, but Linux users may appreciate it.

I'm trying out social media tools on my Linux laptop. In particular, I've tried two microblogging clients that should make it easier to manage linked and Twitter accounts.

Unfortunately, neither of them look like real lean code. Gwibber (made for GNOME desktops) uses 56 MB of RAM on my machine, and Choqok (for KDE desktops) uses about 33 MB. YMMV. Note that you can run either on any Linux desktop, but you just might have to install many MB of "dependencies" - especially for the KDE option. Bottom line: Installation of Choqok will use a lot more disk space if you're not a KDE user, but Gwibber looks like it's heavier in RAM usage, which is a bigger issue for me.

Choqok would have been a huge install if I hadn't already installed some KDE apps on my laptop. KDE applications are like that - they require lots of libraries to be installed, but don't necessarily use a larger amount of RAM than a non-KDE equivalent. Choqok also has a bug where I can't use OAuth without crashing, so I can't login to Twitter - the newest version (version 1.0) apparently fixes this, so I'll wait for that to become available in the Debian repositories.

Which do I prefer? Hard to say:
  • Choqok has the lower RAM usage, and it seems to work more smoothly. It can show the context of your messages, at least for, without opening a separate tab or browser window. I'm still waiting for the bug-fixed version 1.0, though.
  • Gwibber has one big advantage - it offers access to many social media accounts rather than just and Twitter.
I'm tempted to have both running, Choqok for Identica and Twitter and Gwibber for other social media sites. But I'd rather not have about 100 MB of my 1 GB RAM used up just for this. Hoping someone can blend the strong points of these two apps, and make the code leaner, preferable without needing the KDE libraries (more like the LXDE modular approach).

Open Source microblog gives you more than Twitter

On a related note - the open source microblog site Identica looks to be way in front of Twitter - its "in context" feature is awesome, showing the whole conversation as a tree on one page. Integration with Twitter works. You can also set up your own microblogging server with the same open source software, and still connect with others using the same software, including Identica itself. Some winning points there for open source software, and a case for software freedom.