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The GNOME Outreach Program for Women

December 13, 2012

Gee, where to start??  I have so much news to share!  (It just won’t all sound like good news at first, heh.)

I suppose I should begin by saying that the ongoing dearth of jobs within my traditional line of work (sysadmin and computer repair, mainly) has caused me to do quite a bit of soul-searching regarding my chosen career path.  These days, I’m expected to know a lot more and do a lot more than I did in the 1990’s, often for less pay than I got back then.  (!)  Despite years of hacking away on Commodore 64 BASIC as a little girl, and a couple of classes on the LAMP stack and web programming in college, I’ve never really considered myself much of a programmer.  Some recent discussions with a programmer who is near and dear to me, however, made me realize that I’ve probably underestimated my skills in this department.  I decided to give it another look.  After some in-depth research on job prospects, pay scale, necessary skills, and so on, I decided it was time to make a career change and go into programming.

I soon began looking into what kinds of internships and scholarships there might be for women wanting to study computer science (CS).  When I did, I was amazed, pleased, and bewildered to discover that there seem to be plenty.  Why bewildered?  Because CS is apparently crying out for more women, offering abundant aid in an attempt to improve the lopsided gender ratio… and meanwhile, there are almost no women in my own field and no one seems to care much.  Strange, that.  Maybe female hardware/network geeks are so rare that there aren’t enough of us to decry our own rarity with sufficient volume. Maybe people see the lopsidedness here to be so far gone it’s beyond repair.  Maybe too many people just take it for granted that all such geeks are bound to be men.  I don’t know.  What I can say for sure is that when the bubble burst in 2000-2001, it took many of our would-be jobs with it.  Perhaps it’s a moot point, at this stage.  In any case, the apparent wealth of programs to get women into CS was and is very encouraging.  I began joining mailing lists for female developers and taking an online CS class from Harvard University.  (I’ll post the link for this and many other free online courses in a separate post in the near future.)

On a mailing list aimed at women programmers interested in FOSS (which must unfortunately remain nameless due to privacy rules), some members posted information about full-time internships available through the GNOME Foundation called the Outreach Program for Women (OPW).  It’s a worldwide competition for a limited number of internships.  If you win, you get $5000 USD for a 3-month internship from January 2 to April 2.  In order to apply, you have to submit a small contribution to a FOSS project with one of the participating organizations.  The description said you don’t absolutely have to have coding skills to complete a project and apply.  Unfortunately, what little background I have is mostly obsolete (C64 BASIC, anyone? {cue crickets}), with a smattering of PHP and some mostly-forgotten JavaScript. Knowing this, I decided I’d likely have to start off with a web design or documentation task instead, and perhaps that would open up an opportunity along the way to take on a minor programming-related task or two, should I happen to be awarded an internship.

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Life is a Non-Maskable Interrupt

December 12, 2012

Well, it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve shown my virtual face here.  To those whose questions remained unanswered, I’d like to extend my sincerest of apologies.  There are a number of very good reasons, but suffice it to say that sometimes life is a non-maskable interrupt and one has no choice but to put everything else on hold for a time.  While I’m still having to juggle several important obligations, the time has come to resume, as best I can, the applications that were running before the unanticipated core dump.

I have much good news to share, and – as ever – some technical information, as well.  I’ve been doing a bit of writing lately on these topics, and will be posting the entries shortly.  There’s also some updating and tidying to be done sitewide, which will be taken care of in short order.

And now for a bit of tech blog necromancy.

{tap tap} Is this thing still on? … {minor audio feedback} …Yep.

Ahhh, so nice to be back!  🙂

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Origin of Ctrl-Alt-Del

October 12, 2009

Okay, this is just too darn funny.  I don’t know when it happened – I imagine some time back already – but it’s too awesome not to share.

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Use a simple download manager – wget

October 3, 2009

(Side note: This is based loosely on a previous tutorial about getting PCLinuxOS, which was lacking some important detail and needed to be adapted to more general purposes.  This is the improved result.)

One very common operation in the GNU/Linux world is downloading of the ISO (CD or DVD image) for a given GNU/Linux distribution. Typically, this is around 650 or 700 MB – a sizable download. One of the biggest wastes of bandwidth – not to mention your time and patience – happens when an ISO download (or any other large download, for that matter) is interrupted or mysteriously quits… especially if it occurs when your download was almost complete. If you’re not using a download manager, you’re stuck downloading it all over again from the beginning.

There are a number of graphical download managers available at no cost. Ease of use varies, and importantly, so does freedom of use. That is, some of them are free/libre (also known as open source) software and some are not. The free/libre applications are safer security-wise to use on your system, since their source code is available for the public to scrutinize and ensure that they don’t do anything they shouldn’t be (such as collecting your information and sending it to someone without your knowledge or permission.) But the simplest one of all, in my opinion, is wget from the GNU Project, a well-trusted organization dedicated to producing and promoting free/libre software.  It is safe and also very simple to use, even for those who are scared of the command prompt. There are no unnecessary frills, nag screens, advertisements, registration forms, restrictions, or user agreements in legalese.  It comes with your GNU/Linux distribution and is almost always installed by default.  That makes it very convenient to use.

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Merge multiple PDF files into one file

September 30, 2009

One excellent feature of the XSane scanning application is that it can save your scanned documents to Adobe Acrobat PDF format, merely by saving them with a .pdf extension, as in examplefile.pdf . But one not-so-nice feature is the fact that there’s really no expedient way to save multiple scans into a single PDF file.  If you do 3 scans, you have 3 PDF files.  What now?  You need something that can merge (also called “join”) these files into one big beautiful file.

Enter pdftk, or PDF Tool Kit.  This is a comprehensive set of tools that can – among other things – merge, split up, encrypt/decrypt, password protect, rotate, and repair PDF files.

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Disable tapping and scrolling on a Synaptics touchpad

September 28, 2009

If you have a laptop and run GNU/Linux, you’ll frequently find that certain settings are enabled by default for your built-in touchpad… ones that will either strike you as a wonderful convenience, or drive you up the wall.

“Tapping,” if you’re not familiar with the term, means the computer registers a click on the left mouse button if you tap the touchpad with your finger.  Unfortunately, this touchpad is almost always far too sensitive, which translates into many accidental “clicks” if you don’t move your finger with a feather touch.  (In case you can’t tell by now, I wish they’d disable tapping by default.)

“Scrolling” encompasses 3 types of scrolling:

  • Vertical scrolling means a strip along the right side of the touchpad is used as if it was a scroll wheel.  If there is room to scroll in the existing window, you move your finger up and down along the right-side edge of the pad and the window will scroll up or down accordingly.  This is enabled by default.
  • Horizontal scrolling means a strip along the bottom edge of the touchpad is used like a horizontal scroll wheel.  Again, if there’s room to scroll side to side in the existing window, you move your finger left and right along the bottom edge of the pad and the window will scroll left and right.  This is enabled by default.
  • Circular scrolling will be familiar to many users of mp3 players.  Making a circular motion acts as a scroll wheel.  Clockwise scrolls down, counterclockwise scrolls up.  This must be manually enabled.

Again, these are all features I’d rather disable.  The areas of the touchpad for vertical and horizontal scrolling are designated by invisible lines (whose location can be adjusted), and if you accidentally cross them you’ll be doing a lot of accidental scrolling.

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Tunnel VNC over SSH through the internet

August 7, 2009

One of the things I find most fulfilling about learning technology is the ability to pass along what I’ve learned.  I can also help loved ones migrate from Windows and other proprietary software, to free/libre software like GNU/Linux, and learn how to use their improved system.  This can take the form of looking over their shoulder and showing them how to do things, or temporarily unseating them while I work on things too advanced for their current skill level.  But what if I’m far away?  My father lives on the other side of the continent, but he is very much a computer novice.  When he gets stuck, or needs some administration done, it’s much easier to show him or do it for him than it is to put him through trying to describe what he’s seeing and then attempting to understand my instructions over the phone.

VNC is an excellent solution to this problem.  In combination with a phone call or VOIP call, it’s the next best thing to being there.   It allows me to see his screen, take control of his mouse and keyboard, and show him – “See this?  <wiggling mouse>  Click here.”  It also allows me to zip through administrative tasks myself, and once I’m connected, he doesn’t even have to be home.  I can do what needs to be done and then shut down his computer for him.

But VNC is not a complete solution.  It is, unfortunately, inherently insecure.  A cracker (notice I did not misuse the word “hacker” as the mass media so often does – because an ethical hacker would never do this) could use VNC password cracking software to get your password(s) and then wreak havoc on your computers, or steal personal data from them.  So we need something more secure than VNC so we can use strong encryption, greatly reducing the likelihood of getting victimized by the bad guys/gals.

Enter SSH, or Secure SHell.  We can create an SSH connection between the two computers and then tunnel the VNC data through that connection.  In this way we have a fully encrypted connection with all the advantages of VNC.

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