Saturday, November 5, 2011

On why this blog has seen a slow and agonizing death

My blogging for I' Been to Ubuntu basically stopped a couple of years ago, and it changed its tone the year before that. There are several reasons.

First, I started this blog as a way to write non-tech friendly howtos for a couple of friends who had decided to try Ubuntu. I chose to use version numbers instead of code names and GUI methods instead of CLI ones for just that reason. Once the apt: standard came, I used that wherever possible. These friends are no longer using Ubuntu, and I had no reason to keep writing generic howtos that probably already existed in the documentation, anyway.

Next, I used my need to keep up with FOSS news to write about changes in the next version of Ubuntu. This was the Digg era, and my blog got several front page placements and hit 100K visitors a month, despite the fact that I never promoted it at all (or submitted those links to Digg). I was one of the few blogs dedicated to talking exclusively about Ubuntu. I did amazing things that others weren't doing ... like checking links, verifying assertions, and proofreading my posts before they went live.

At this point, I was spending my normal three or four hours a day reading tech news, and another one or two setting topics and writing. Once OMGUbuntu and a couple other blogs (WorksWithU and Webupd8, I think) started up and knew how to play the Digg game, I realized that I had competition and needed to step up my game. I needed to learn to promote. I needed a real blogging platform. This blog was going to become another job, and I needed to go big or go home.

So I went home. I didn't want another job. I didn't even try to compete. I just wrote the same kind of stuff I had been writing before, but tried to avoid the topics that OMGU wrote on. The blog became a little more technical and I started writing about more general topics like federated social networking, dogfooding, and Ubuntu spinoffs. Oh, yeah, and then there was that "Screw Ubuntu!" phase where I renamed to blog to "I Been to Debian."

So many times, I wanted to keep this blog going, but I never felt I had anything to offer that other sites weren't already offering, and I didn't want to just add to the noise or waste anyone's time. I didn't do Twitter. I didn't submit to Reddit. When I was on vacation, though, I often still blogged, but my heart wasn't in it.

The kinds of things that I wanted to say belonged on social networks, so that's where I put them. I still put them there. I'll go so far as to say that casual blogging in general should die the same death this blog has.

I post on Google Plus now. You can follow me (edit: or follow my I' Been to Ubu page) there, if you like. I'm not saying anything extremely profound, though.

I'm going to pull the plug on this blog. The domain will expire, but the content will still be available at

Time of death: 11:18 a.m., Saturday, November 5th, 2011.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Does "Online Accounts" Do?

I've been running Oneiric (now 11.10) as my primary desktop since pre-alpha so I thought I had a good handle on it. Well, it turns out that I didn't.

This morning, I stumbled upon Online Accounts in the Me Menu. This appeared to be something that I have been asking for for some time now. Gnome 2 had the About Me dialog, which had the potential to offer all kinds of information about yourself to other applications, meaning that you potentially wouldn't have to enter your account information separately in your mail and chat clients. Unfortunately, security concerns meant that the About Me dialog was never used for that purpose.

Online Accounts came up promisingly. I happily entered my email addresses for Google (the only provider supported at this time), and left Mail, Calendar, Chat, Contacts, and Documents all turned on. I mostly live in the browser these days, but desktop integration sure is nice. I opened Empathy to check that IM was working and was prompted to enter my account details. Hmm. I Tried Thunderbird. No joy.

It turns out that Online Accounts just offers an API. There aren't any applications that actually use that API at this point. Yay! Another half feature from Ubuntu (well, officially it's GNOME's, but Ubuntu shipped it in 11.10). It gets more and more frustrating every year.

How may applications possibly connect in the future?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

140 characters and URL Shorteners -- Really?

  1. AOL
  2. Prodigy
  3. Myspace
  4. Twitter
  5. Facebook
  6. URL shortening services like

What do all these things have in common? They control(ed) the platform, and companies and individuals gladly changed the way they did business or ran their lives . Some of them are gone, and I'm certain that in another ten years, the rest will be footnotes on the Internet.

URL shorteners are kind of unique in that list -- they exist to serve Twitter, mainly. They exist so that we can talk more in our 140 bytes. Unlike the real URL, they don't last as long as the page and they break. We need special browser extensions so that we know where we are clicking through to.

URL shorteners have become the masks for phishing and spam. How awful, just so that we can get our 140 characters.

I can't help but think that in ten years, we're all going to look back on this with a collective "WTF were we thinking?!?" Right now, the average connection speed for developed countries is right around 10 Mbps. Yet, we're limiting communication more than we were in the 90s. And we're stuffing the Internet full of temporary workarounds to this artificial limit. Youtube videos at TBs a day, though? No problem.

It's all rather silly. Let's get a communication platform that allows expression and permanent, discoverable links.

If Google+ gets a real API and federation, I'm willing to back that.

p.s. Diaspora is asking for donations. O_o

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

SJVN Claims that SIP doesn't Peer and that XMPP doesn't Federate -- WTF?

Image via Wikipedia

"For example, Iptel,, and ippi are all fine SIP networks, but if youre only on one of them you cant talk to other SIP VoIP users on the other two and vice-versa. The same is true of XMPP/Jingle networks, and, for that matter all the other VoIP networks." --

Huh? SIP supports peering and XMPP supports federation. That means that different networks can talk to one another.

"No Extensions NecessaryBut what does SIP peering mean? Is there some new special protocol required for SIP peering? What problems does peering introduce that arent already covered by the existing specifications and products? Those are good questions. First and foremost, SIP peering does not require any new extensions to SIP. The ability to interconnect provider networks is built into the SIP protocol itself. There is a common misconception that SIP peering requires some kind of special profiling of SIP in order to provide interoperability. That is simply not true. SIP was designed to interoperate, even among implementations that support different extensions and capabilities. SIP networks are interconnecting today without additional extensions. SIP has built-in negotiation capabilities that allow fallback to a common baseline set of capabilities when there is mismatch between sides. As an example, SIP has an extension for preconditions (RFC 3312), which makes sure that a call proceeds only if a quality of service (QoS) reservation exists between the endpoints. What happens if only one side supports the extension? If implementations follow the specifications, they will correctly fall back to baseline operation without this feature. Now, some will argue that this is a problem. We need this feature to always be used between our networks! theyll say. The interesting thing is, the extension is implemented at the endpoints, not in the network servers. Thus, a SIP profile that mandates usage of the extension could not be applied to the SIP servers doing the interconnection. Fortunately, the SPEERMINT working group has recognized that SIP peering is not about SIP profiling. Its charter explicitly rules profiling as out of scope, in fact. So, if SIP peering is not about a SIP profile, what is it about?" --


"1. Introduction
XMPP Core [1] describes the client-server architecture upon which Jabber/XMPP communication is based. One aspect of such communication is "federation", i.e., the ability for two XMPP servers in different domains to exchange XML stanzas. There are at least four levels of federation:
Permissive Federation -- a server accepts a connection from any other peer on the network, even without verifiying the identity of the peer based on DNS lookups. The lack of peer verification or authentication means that domains can be spoofed. Permissive federation was effectively outlawed on the Jabber network in October 2000 with the release of the jabberd 1.2 server, which included support for the newly-developed Server Dialback [2] protocol.
Verified Federation -- a server accepts a connection from a peer only after the identity of the peer has been weakly verified via Server Dialback, based on information obtained via the Domain Name System (DNS) and verification keys exchanged in-band over XMPP. However, the connection is not encrypted. The use of identity verification effectively prevents domain spoofing, but federation requires proper DNS setup and is still subject to DNS poisoning attacks. Verified federation has been the default service policy followed by servers on the open XMPP network from October 2000 until now.
Encrypted Federation -- a server accepts a connection from a peer only if the peer supports Transport Layer Security (TLS) as defined for XMPP in RFC 3920 [3] and the peer presents a digital certificate. However, the certificate may be self-signed, in which case mutual authentication is typically not possible. Therefore, after STARTTLS negotiation the parties proceed to weakly verify identity using Server Dialback. This combination results in an encrypted connection with weak identity verification.
Trusted Federation -- a server accepts a connection from a peer only if the peer supports Transport Layer Security (TLS) and the peer presents a digital certificate issued by a trusted root certification authority (CA). The list of trusted root CAs is determined by local service policy, as is the level of trust accorded to various types of certificates (i.e., Class 1, Class 2, or Class 3). The use of trusted domain certificates effectively prevents DNS poisoning attacks but makes federation more difficult since typically such certificates are not easy to obtain.
The remainder of this document describes in more detail the protocol flows that make it possible to deploy verified federation, encrypted federation, and trusted federation. Protocol flows are shown for federation attempts between various combinations to illustrate the interaction between different federation policies." --

Sure, they have to be turned on, meaning that Facebpook's XMPP doesn't federate, for instance, but most XMPP networks do, and it's the same for most SIP neworks. In fact, this is from Ekiga:

"Using the SIP addressThe service accept calls to its registered users without being registered to Just call the address directly. " --

Peering and federation are the strongest selling points of SIP and XMPP. How could you miss them?

Am I misunderstanding you, SJVN? I hope so.

Personally, I'm waiting for a bunch of providers to step up and provide webmail / SIP / XMPP + social extensions all under one address.

Related articles
Beyond Skype: VoIP Alternatives (

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New video widget

Official Compiz logoImage via Wikipedia
"For the rest of the changes, we needed a video widget that was more flexible than the X-based one we were using. So from Totem 3.2, we'll start using clutter, and clutter-gst," said Hadess.

What does this mean for Unity, since it uses Compiz? Will Canonical's desktop become more and more divorced from GNOME standard, including the included apps? I'm betting it will. In fact, I've been encouraging Ubuntu to go this direction for quite some time.

The Choice of AMD is Rewarded and Go Ahead with AMD64

Image representing AMD as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBaseThe last couple of laptops I've bought have been AMD machines, largely from my desire to get the best performance to price ratio, but also because the integrated graphics chips are much better than Intel's. That choice is being rewarded with 11.04. The open-source drivers work extremely well for daily desktop use, though they have half the performance of the Catalyst driver.

Phoronix recently also benchmarked 32-bit, 32-bit PAE, and 64-bit systems, and the 64-bit systems were significantly faster in almost all tests.

The takeaway? If you're going to run 11.04 on a laptop, AMD's Fusion is a good choice, and you'd be best advise to install the AMD64 version.

Friday, April 1, 2011

eOS 0.1 (Elementary Jupiter) Released and Reviewed

As I've written before, I've been using Natty and Unity for about three months straight now, and I'm extremely happy with how it's shaping up. I'm always interested in other projects, though, especially ones with a philosophy which includes consistent look and feel. Elementary is a project like that, so I leapt on the release announcement and torrented the 614MB .iso.
Two words described the distro -- fast and elegant.
I first ran the live CD in Qemulator under Natty, but I knew the video drivers were holding me up so I wrote out a USB drive for it and rebooted. Even running from the drive, everything is extremely responsive. It works as expected.

  • Fast
  • Limited, very consistent applications
  • Midori is awesome and is  all that I wanted Epiphany to be for years
  • Postler only asks for your e-mail address and password to set up common mail options. Amazing and easy
  • Looks amazing and the applications take up little vertical space
  • Abiword and Gnumeric instead of OO.o or LO
  • Traditional GNOME app menu
  • I like that the Elementary devs have standardized on Vala and GTK+
  • Postler had trouble connecting to my GMail account and gave no feedback for about fifteen minutes
  • Dexter doesn't use my webmail coontacts
  • Empathy's setup screen isn't at Postler's level yet (and why should I have to input my GMail account again?
  • Inconsistent configuration options for the non-eOS apps. I assume that they will be modified later
  • Midori lacks installed extensions (edit: open the sidebar to find them) and doesn't work with some web apps (e.g. Picasaweb)
  • There is a lot of turmoil about the installed apps and that has to be getting in the way of work
This is a 0.1 release, but it's based on Ubuntu 10.10 so it's already quite stable. If the choice of applications settles down (Elementary Nautilus or not?), eOS should be great by 0.2. Who can ask for more than that?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Unity Holds Promise, but Needs Work

Unity ApplicationsImage by Andrew Currie via FlickrFor those of you who have had every Ubuntu news site blocked at the /etc/hosts level for the last ten months and have no idea what Unity is, I'll tell you that the Ubuntu train has jumped the GNOME tracks and gone even further out on its own (just as I called it) by creating its own desktop, called Unity, due to be released with 11.04.

In order to give a proper review, I began using Unity on Natty for daily work almost two months ago, pre-Alpha, and have watched the furious pace of development. Unity's design is brilliant; the implementation isn't. There's still time to fix most of the bugs, but I don't expect to see Unity hit its stride until 11.10 or so, (and 12.04LTS should be solid).

Ayatana didn't follow my suggestion of keeping the UI intact and change the backend. Instead, the team went for a completely different look in order to differentiate Ubuntu from all other OSes. The design is unique and beautiful.

 Despite completely changing the UI, Unity is remarkably discoverable (not intuitive), especially for power Windows users. These users are probably very used to using the super key to get things done, and unity handles that very well. Press super, and the launcher appears; hold the button down, and the shortcuts for the launcher are overlain on the dock buttons themselves; double-press the key, and Unity's search interface comes up. Within fifteen minutes of this overlay feature appearing on my computer, I was using the keyboard shortcuts and saving myself a bunch of time over mouse-keyboard context switching.

Like I said -- "good design; needs work." Stability is a huge problem for my AMD / Radeon laptop. I can't alt-tab without crashing Unity. NVidia has a similar known bug. Even avoiding switching apps this way, which is quite annoying, Unity still crashes once or twice a day on me, leaving me with nothing until I ctrl-alt-F1, login, and enter DISPLAY=":0" unity, then switch back. I don't understand why there's not a process monitor to restart Unity after a crash.

Unity's search system is also painfully slow and inconsistent. Sometimes it returns nothing for an exact application match (e.g. "software" might not give you the Software Center), but pressing backspace to delete a character or two might match the same word (e.g. "softwa" does match). The screen overlay may or may not appear or disappear depending on what you type. Your cursor might be focused in the search box, or you might continue to type and click in the application you just left -- there's no way to know, and that lottery isn't one I want to play with my important documents.

The recent implementation of Places and an API for it mean that not only do we have easy access to apps, files, and people, we could get extras like web search or Google docs integration. As long as it doesn't get overloaded with features, and those stay as optional extensions, all should be good.

Overall, Unity shows great promise, but it's definitely not ready for the average user's desktop ... yet. Give it six months.  

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