LJ Archive


Choice of Words

I am a longtime subscriber to Linux Journal and generally am very happy with the magazine. Unfortunately, I was very sick in December and early January and only got around to catching up now.

In Shawn Powers' mini-article on Pixlr in the December 2013 issue, I was surprised and disappointed to see his casual use of an epithet used against the disabled. I have always lived with the name of The GIMP because it purports to be an acronym. The use of the word gimp or gimpy is offensive to many who live with physical disabilities and their friends. This is especially true of the manner in which it was used here to suggest something that is weak or worthless.

However appealing the matching sounds might be, I suggest you resist the temptation much as you have so far managed to do with nigger, jew, fag and retard.

Keith Nunn

I appreciate the letter, and hope you know I meant no offense. I can see at the end claiming Pixlr wasn't “gimpy” was perhaps a poor choice of words. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I far prefer to hear about such things than to remain ignorant.—Shawn Powers

Cat Photos Encryption

First of all, I am very grateful to Shawn Powers for his tips and tricks, which always are fun to read and interesting, especially his latest article about encryption, which is very well explained and crystal clear, as understanding how encryption actually works behind the scenes is not trivial. [See Shawn Powers' “Encrypting Your Cat Photos” in the January 2014 issue.]

This helped me to encrypt my USB sticks successfully. However, I ran into an error regarding the formatting command:

mkfs.vfat /dev/mapper/my_crypto_disk -n my_crypto_disk
unable to get drive geometry, using default 255/63

I tried again with the option -F 32 for a fat32 partition type:

mkfs.vfat -F 32 /dev/mapper/my_crypto_disk -n my_crypto_disk
unable to get drive geometry, using default 255/63

This is not harmful, and the USB drive is encrypted and can be mounted after the passphrase is entered. I just wanted to mention it to see if anyone had an explanation. Maybe it's a bug from my distribution (Kubuntu).

Keep up the good work.

Patrick Wolf

I haven't seen your exact error, so I'm completely guessing (always dangerous), but I suspect it might be the USB drive itself, or more specifically, its embedded controller. Perhaps the controller itself doesn't give the geometry when queried. I'm curious if it would give the same error if encryption were taken out of the picture. Either way, thanks for the letter.—Shawn Powers

Ubuntu vs. Fedora—a Reader's Test

In testing Fedora against Ubuntu, trying to be unbiased, I used the full Ubuntu 64-bit on what could be labeled an under-powered machine: a 1GB of RAM Gateway media tower from 2005 with a 512MB NVIDIA EVGA card and a Sound Blaster Audigy 2ZS. In terms of speed and boot up, Fedora is the winner, but in terms of stability and in staying with gaming, the Ubuntu blows it out of the water—no hangups, no slow downs and even when loading the comprehensive OpenSUSE, full KDE, my system still stays with it. As unimpressed as I am, the Internet browsing through Midori was far worse then anything I've seen since Windows 98. In switching to Google Chrome, it hits on usability until it experiences far too many out of memory errors. If this is an LXDE release for Fedora 20, it seems like it's not ready for prime time, and they may want to create long-term support options before they go through with systems that are hurt by less time in working situations. This entire release review was done on Fedora 20, and I'd really like to, well, like Fedora again, having used it since Fedora 13. But all in all, it's not really an operating system as much as it is becoming an exercise in futility.

Joseph Ziehm

I don't have any experience with LXDE on Fedora, but in general, I think the desktop manager isn't quite as mature as its counterparts. Although not quite as efficient (depending on whom you ask), I've been very impressed with recent releases of XFCE. My main operating system currently is Debian with XFCE.—Shawn Powers

Mars Needs Older Women

I would like to weigh in on the discussion involving the lack of women in the Linux field (and IT in general). I found a rare contemporary in Rose Dlhopolsky's letter in the February 2014 issue. We are both females in our fifties who have been using Linux for a long time.

I installed Linux for the first time in 1999. I didn't know anyone else who used it, so I had to figure everything out myself. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. I avoided the local LUG because it seemed to be filled with young men who didn't take this old gal too seriously. In fact, there are almost no women my age in IT.

I fell in love with Linux and technology. I taught myself Web design and hosted my own Web server for many years. I learned Python and wrote/released a program I'm proud of. I taught computer apps in the public schools and in private institutions. I am proud to be a self-taught geek, but I still feel like an oddball at Linux conventions and gatherings where I see no one who looks like me.

I grew up in a different world. In the 1960s in the US, women were not expected ever to work outside the home. Girls were not allowed in the shop classes, but were required to take Home Economics (cooking and sewing). The only vocational-type class the girls could take was typing, because, you know, they might be secretaries. (Luckily, keyboarding turned out to be a useful skill a few generations later.)

Women were not allowed to have credit in their own names, and they could never buy a car, a house or have a credit card without a man to co-sign. Birth control became available, and for the first time, women could control when and if they got pregnant.

Somewhere while I was growing up, the rules changed. Suddenly, women were expected to work, although girls of my generation had never been prepared for that world. Economics forced most families to require two incomes. Most women gravitated toward traditional fields: secretaries, teachers and nursing.

Somehow, I found and nourished my inner geek, but my community is on-line where my age and sex doesn't matter, and is usually unknown. But in the real world, it is a lonely place for an older, female geek.

Michelle Blowers

In Response to Okay, Google

Regarding Shawn Powers' “Okay, Google” piece in the February 2014 Upfront section: yes, Star Trek IV was awesome. To this day, I still mimic Scotty picking up the mouse and speaking to it when I find that a PC or Mac's performance is slower than what I feel it should be—especially when assisting clients/customers with computer issues and their patience is wearing thin, it helps to lighten the moment. Using my Nexus 10, I use voice commands occasionally but have found its use limiting or wanting still. Eventually, this will be improved but not for everyday use yet. Not to mention that talking to my Nexus has had the effect of causing my cube neighbors to have a phone in hand ready to call security.

This brings me to the point that I find voice interaction with a device as archaic, and it tends to disturb others around me (imagine doing that on a plane)—at least as a sole or primary way of interaction. I believe it has its uses, but I would find it annoying and limiting after a while. Our interaction with “people” is more than voice and listening. It also includes visual body language. So, not only do I want to be able to “talk” to my computing device, I want it to “see” my body language and cues, and with that ability, I want to be able to give it commands with hand gestures or even facial expressions (brings a whole new definition to the “cube-dance”). The computing device should not always respond back audibly or visually but also with perhaps some robotic gesture—whatever is an appropriate (based on programming/user preference) response to indicate that the device understood and is carrying out the command.

However, so that we don't turn whole offices into dance clubs, the gestures detected should be relatively small. The voice commands given should be almost whispers, and the visual cues limited to the display devices in the immediate location of the user and the robotic device limited to a certain area. Privacy is of concern here too. This brings up how to detect such small gestures and hear nearly inaudible commands. Today's devices (mics, Kinect and so on) are limited to detecting only loud voices or exaggerated gestures (I do not want to have a Minority Report-like special room or office either).

Science-fiction author, Vernor Vinge, in the book Rainbows End, has a vision of nano-technology that is embedded in clothing, small hearing-aide devices and contact lenses. The computing device is no larger than our current cell phones. Clothing contains all the “detection” devices to read body language and gestures. Hearing aides hear your voice as well as respond with audio. Contact lenses have embedded nano-technology that polarizes light to make visual responses “part of the user-acute vision” without giving the feeling of looking through a heads-up display, but rather the visual cues become part of what you are looking at. The contact lenses also serve as a camera, detecting the focused image on the back of the retina. The computing device and nano-technology/devices are able to communicate wirelessly (in a close proximity) in a mesh network fashion.

That sort of technology, while it maybe a ways off, is sounding more plausible each day. I believe Vernor Vinge is on to something here. This type of interaction with computing devices is much more preferable to me. I can ride in a subway and do work or communicate with someone across the country or in another country doing nothing more than tapping my knee or whispering to myself (along with old lady beside me). I also can stare blankly at the floor and see what my next stop is or read the news. I'd like to look out over a landscape and have the name of mountains or even buildings in a cityscape appear or have the name of some specific landmark appear. Or, I'd like the automatic translation of a foreign language that I can hear but the person speaking cannot. And when I am wearing this technology, I do not want to look like Iron Man or RoboCop. In fact, most people should not be able to see or detect that I am wearing/using it. I just want the technology to be an augmentation to my daily life.

Although a “cranial implant” may sound like a cool way to interface, I find that “invasive” (not to mention that many science-fiction authors have been able to envision its abuses). Of course, all technology has the potential for abuse, but the above nano-technology has fewer risks of being “invasive”, as it uses less power and doesn't actually penetrate the body. And, it wouldn't turn the office place into a dance club or make me look like Iron Man. I am sure this technology could be set up for abuse, but it is more palatable and compatible with everyday life, in my opinion.


I do often tease about a cranial implant, and part of me would like some sort of direct interaction, but really my feelings are similar to yours, especially when it comes to speaking out loud to/from devices. In all honestly, I hope sub-vocal communication can be perfected so we can silently interact with a computer system. You played the nerd card with Vernor Vinge, so I'll do the same—the “jewel” Ender used to communicate with Jane in Speaker for the Dead I think was an idealistic evolution of the current Bluetooth earpiece. We really do live in an awesome time, no?—Shawn Powers

Electronic vs. Paper

It strikes me that those people who prefer to read a paper edition of Linux Journal could print out their PDF version (two sides, two pages/side) much more cheaply than Linux Journal could print and mail it. You could even keep them in a loose-leaf binder.

I myself find reading the PDF on a Xoom tablet quite satisfactory except for the time it takes Xoom to load the pages.

Eric Beversluis

It is admittedly not as nice to read a printout as opposed to a regular paper magazine. That said, tablets are making digital magazines far more enjoyable to read than they were even a year ago. I also like the potential for interactive features and clickable links that the paper version just doesn't support. Like I've mentioned before, however, there certainly are options if people want a physical copy, it's just not a service we offer ourselves.—Shawn Powers

Linux Journal iOS App

I've been an LJ subscriber for about six years now. I really grew tired of reading all of the negative feedback when LJ went digital. At the time, I was downloading the PDF versions and reading them in a PDF reading app on my iPad. Somehow, I just now discovered the iOS app. I primarily use my iPad for reading, and I am quite pleased with the LJ iOS app. I'm impressed with the ability to switch to text mode, the options for zooming in and out, and increasing the font size when in text mode. Overall, I believe it gives me an even better experience than reading the PDF version. It also gives me the closest experience to reading it the “old-fashioned way” (on paper) as possible. Keep up the good work!

Jonathan Calloway

The “app” was a bit rough around the edges at first, but I agree, it's getting nicer. I enjoy the one-click download feature the app provides, as opposed to somehow copying the PDF/ePub to your tablet. I must admit, however, I do still look at the PDF fairly often, as it has a familiar layout for me.—Shawn Powers

Jim Hall's Usability Article

Jim Hall's piece on usability in the December 2013 issue was dead on and important. I recently learned that the success of Apple is in part a function of allowing a small number of highly talented designers make most of the major decisions in development. That is a top-down approach that seems to have merit, even if it needs to be washed down with a slug of kool-aid now and then. In OSS, usability needs to be more bottom-up, which is why it is like folding the laundry. Since you are just going to wear the clothes and wash them again, it hardly seems worthwhile. In community-driven projects, one hopes we can see more recruitment of people who like to fold the laundry.

One problem, though. I've heard usability testing was done for Unity. That's hard to explain.

Greg Laden

LJ Archive