Finding a private location check-in service

Foursquare decided that it was too hard for them to compete with location services like Yelp and split their app into two separate apps. Whilst that might make sense to the 4Square CEO and his VC masters, it makes no sense from a users perspective. Foursquare can be a bit of a battery hog already, and having 2 apps to open and “annoy” you with notifications is not an improvement by any means. And if I wanted Foursquare to be Yelp – I would have used Yelp in the first place. So no – I do not want to install another separate check-in App (called Swarm). One battery hogging location app was enough.

no checkins here by leogaggl, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  leogaggl 

The other argument used by 4Square’s CEO is that he didn’t want users confused about the “gamification” aspects of 4Square. I personally think that this is highly patronising to the Foursquare user base. I am sure most users would be able to work out what it is useful for.

Since I have always used 4Square mainly as a means to get some analytics of my movements and historic record of where I was at what time (I always downloaded my checkins to Thinkup on my own server) I was trying to find something that would fit the same use case. Meet Ushahidi (http://www.ushahidi.com/) – an excellent geo-coded “reporting” service developed in Kenya. I have been following this project for years already.

Dynamic Timeline

Track your reports on the map and over time, filter your data by time, and see when things happened and where.

Interactive Mapping

One of the most powerful ways to visualize information is to display it on a map. The Ushahidi platform give you rich information mapping tools.

Multiple Data Streams

The Ushahidi Platform allows you to easily collect information via text messages, email, twitter and web-forms.

Free & Open Source

The Ushahidi Platform is free for you to download and use. It is released under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL).

Installation information for your own Ushahidi Server can be found on GitHub – or you can use their hosted service called Crowdmap.

Whilst this is obviously not an option for everybody it works for me. I will miss some the social aspect of 4Square as I had a small number of people I was sharing my check-ins with and it did bring about some by-chance meetups & conversation about other people’s check-ins. But the Ushahidi instance can be shared between multiple people. Maybe some will come along for the ride.

So long Foursquare – it was nice while it lasted ! If you treat your users like sheep – all you will be left with is sheep…

And for those who want to delete their Foursquare account: https://support.foursquare.com/hc/en-us/articles/201065530-How-do-I-delete-my-account-.

Install FirefoxOS on Nexus S (GT-9023)

I just had one of my old hand-me-down phones returned by my offspring in a great condition (junior is very careful with his equipment – well done young man !). This doesn’t happen all too often shows that the Nexus S is a decently built phone. This is also a good example of breaking the built-in obsolescence of modern phones. This particular unit has served me well for nearly 2 years (my average is one year) and served 2 kids after that.

These instructions have been compiled on Ubuntu 13.10 64bit to allow me to re-do this process in future. It should work on any Linux based distro (see pre-requisites) – if you are using another Operating System it might be time to switch. Hopefully it might be useful for other people as well.

Installing pre-requisites

As per https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Developer_Guide/Build_Instructions/Linux_Prerequisites

wget https://hg.mozilla.org/mozilla-central/raw-file/default/python/mozboot/bin/bootstrap.py
python bootstrap.py

Ubuntu 13.10 additions

As per https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/Firefox_OS/Firefox_OS_build_prerequisites#Ubuntu_13.10.

sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends autoconf2.13 bison bzip2 ccache curl flex gawk gcc g++ g++-multilib gcc-4.6 g++-4.6 g++-4.6-multilib git lib32ncurses5-dev lib32z1-dev zlib1g:amd64 zlib1g-dev:amd64 zlib1g:i386 zlib1g-dev:i386 libgl1-mesa-dev libx11-dev make zip libxml2-utils
sudo update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/gcc gcc /usr/bin/gcc-4.6 1
sudo update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/gcc gcc /usr/bin/gcc-4.8 2
sudo update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/g++ g++ /usr/bin/g++-4.6 1
sudo update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/g++ g++ /usr/bin/g++-4.8 2
sudo update-alternatives --set gcc "/usr/bin/gcc-4.6"
sudo update-alternatives --set g++ "/usr/bin/g++-4.6"

Check out & build Firefox OS

git clone git://github.com/mozilla-b2g/B2G.git
cd B2G
echo "export HIDPI=1" > .userconfig
./config.sh nexus-s
./build.sh -j3

The config script will take quite some time depending on your internet connection as it has to download a lot of data. The build time will depend on your machine. In my case it took xx hours for the config and yy hours for build.

Notes

I had the following error with the config script: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=956098 (workaround contained in comments).

Install on the phone

NOTE: Before doing this you obviously want to backup your phone & data if you have anything useful on there (in my case not necessary).
NOTE: Before doing this step you need to ensure that the Nexus S bootloader is unlocked

  1. Reboot the Nexus S into bootloader mode by pressing volume up + power buttons simultaneously until you see the bootloader screen
  2. Connect the device to the PC via the USB cable
  3. Check the line “LOCK STATE – LOCKED”

If the unit is locked you can unlock it by issuing the following command
fastboot oem unlock
And use the VOLUME key to select + the POWER key to confirm/

Flash the phone

./flash.sh

VOILA !

FirefoxOS Home Screen

Or you can do it manually by using fastboot to copy the images

fastboot erase boot
fastboot erase system
fastboot erase userdata
fastboot flash userdata userdata.img
fastboot flash system system.img
fastboot flash boot boot.img
fastboot reboot

For the people that don’t want or can not (time to upgrade your OS!) build I have uploaded the resulting images (Build Date: 2014-01-20) to GoogleDrive. As usual this comes with a warning – proceed at your own risk !

If you want to return back to the factory Android ROM you can find the Google images here: https://developers.google.com/android/nexus/images

Now this unit will serve as a secondary phone (being compared against Ubuntu Touch on a Nexus N4) while Overseas where I generally need 2 phones.

Thank you Mozilla foundation for all the work and making it available fully in Open Source ! If you haven’t done so it’s time to join here: https://sendto.mozilla.org/

FirefoxOS Browser

Thank you to Google for NOT making it harder than necessary to extend the usefulness of their NEXUS range of phones and tablets. And in the same breath curse you SAMSUNG, APPLE, … ! The reason for me moving phones actually was the fact that the Galaxy S4 is such a P.I.T.A. to get upgraded and get rid of the Samsung bloatware. Back on the Nexus range – in hindsight I should have never left.

Open Source creative tools

Since I am tired to constantly recite this list whenever one of these designer-type people tells me that they need Adobe’s Whatever Suite to do some basic task here is a summary that I can point them to.

Vector Graphics

Inkscape (http://inkscape.org/)
Xara Extreme (http://www.xaraxtreme.org/)

Raster Graphics

Gimp (http://www.gimp.org/)

Desktop Publishing

Scribus (http://www.scribus.net/)

Photo Editing

Gimp (see above)
Darktable (http://www.darktable.org/)
RawTherapee (http://www.rawtherapee.com/)
Luminance HDR (http://qtpfsgui.sourceforge.net/)
Layout Tools (DTP): Scribus (http://scribus.net/canvas/Scribus)

3D Modelling & Animation

Gimp (see above + plugins)
Blender (http://www.blender.org/)

Video Editing

CinelerraCV (http://cinelerra.org/)
OpenShot (http://www.openshot.org/)

Audio Editing

Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/)
Ardour (http://www.ardour.org/)

Before anybody thinks this is to start a flame-war – I don’t have a problem with a creative professional whose livelyhood depends on this work needing a professional package such as Adobe Creative Suite. I do however have a problem when some graduate or work-experience kid dabbling in graphics tells me he can not do this with anything else. Hopefully this list helps to open some minds ….

Installing the latest stable version of LibreCAD on Ubuntu

I have recently been looking at different CAD options on Ubuntu and LibreCAD (http://librecad.org/) is looking like the best option for my needs at current (apart from the wish there would be some DWG support).

Since the main Ubuntu repositories are usually a fair bit behind the lastest stable realeases of LibreCAD you need to add the LibreCAD Dev PPA Repository

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:librecad-dev/librecad-stable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install librecad

Darktable – Photo Management under Ubuntu

Whilst I am by no means a photographer I do end up taking quite a few photos (these days pretty much exclusively on my phone) and the management of these photos can be a pain. So far I have never found an program worth the pain over plain old file management.

But having stumbled across Darktable (http://darktable.org/) I think I might have found a worthwile package.

Screenshot

Install on Ubuntu:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:pmjdebruijn/darktable-release
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install darktable

Open Governance Index – measuring openness

This is an interesting report and info-graphic by the folks at VisionMobile on a new way of measuring the openness of some mobile open source projects.

The Open Governance Index measures the true openness of eight open source projects – Android, Qt, Symbian, MeeGo, Mozilla, WebKit, Linux and Eclipse – and analyses how governance, and not licenses, tell the full story of a project’s openness, across transparency, influence and control.

The Open Governance Index – A new way of measuring openness

The full report can be downloaded free (email required) here.

Facebook – good riddance !

Finally I made the effort to completely get rid of my Facebook Account. After initially getting a Facebook Account in the very early days (as an ‘occupational hazard’ to investigate the potential of Facebook Applications) I have always been suspicious of the companies motives and decided not to use such a closed system as a base for application development.

Recent developments have only confirmed this suspision:

Instead I will concentrate all of my content inside this blog (including as a backup for other social services I create). I believe the control over my own content is important enough for me to warrant the extra effort.

Facebook Delete

Facebook Delete

As the saying goes: ‘You are not a Facebook User – you are the Product’

OpenSource e-book creation

After recently researching the available software for e-book creation for some of our clients (in the education sector) I came across quite a number of options.  However after some further look into the option and trying some I was able narrowed the field down to 2 options that seem to be reasonably user-friendly and matured. The two are using a very different approach and will suit different types of users. One is a native e-book writer which will give better low-level control for the more technical types. The other is a plugin to the popular OpenOffice (or LibreOffice) Office Suites.

SIGIL – a native e-book creator

Sigil comes with installers for Linux, Windows and MacOS (http://code.google.com/p/sigil/downloads/list)

Installation on Linux :

wget http://sigil.googlecode.com/files/Sigil-0.4.2-Linux-x86_64-Setup.bin
 chmod +x Sigil-0.4.2-Linux-x86_64-Setup.bin
 ./Sigil-0.4.2-Linux-x86_64-Setup.bin

(64 bit install – change appropriate download file if on i386)

Sigil Screenshot

Writer2ePub – OpenOffice (or LibreOffice) Plugin

Users of LibreOffice or OpenOffice might prefer a plugin to there text processing software rather than a native solution. The installation is very easy – just download the extension (http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/en/project/Writer2ePub) and double-click the downloaded file.

Extension install:

Don’t forget to restart Writer after the install. After the restart you should see new buttons in the toolbar.

Hope this helps somebody.

Running your business (mostly) on Open Source Software

The release of the latest Ubuntu Version has been seen by a number of commentators as the most end-user friendly yet and signals another milestone in the readiness of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for more widespread (and business) use.

As a long-term user of a number of different Operating Systems and as SME Owner for the last 15 years I have overseen the gradual replacement of a number of proprietary software solutions with FOSS Alternatives. With the beginning of the new financial year however, we are planning to go another step further and are starting to change our default Operating System to Ubuntu (from MS Windows).

It is worth pointing out that I don’t have an issue with paying for software (after all we are partly in the software development business). We also happily pay quite a number of SaaS suppliers for their services (see list below) and support. My main issue is why I should pay license fees for standard software (i.e. Office Productivity Tools) when there is so many excellent community developed products out there that do the same (in some instances better, in some instances just adequate) job ? It is hard enough running a small business in the current climate.

One major benefit of changing over to a web-based (FOSS) approach to our back-end systems has been the ability to operate from anywhere. This has dramatically increased productivity for myself as well as staff being able to work from home more often. This is mainly due to changing back-end systems to browser based software, but also due to the fact that you can access the web-based software also on personal devices (such as phones).

Since licensing fees are only one part of the cost of running software it has to be said that support for users in the early days is certainly higher than just keeping the ‘stuff they know’ and have been taught at University / TAFE / Schools. Different tools will always require some learning curve to get familiar with the new environment.  However in the long run we have not seen a significant difference to the previous scenario.

For Software development reasons we still have to maintain a license for some of these systems for testing purposes, however it has been quite a while since we have actually done so for actual production purposes.

Advantages

  • No license and reoccurring upgrade fees (other than service fees)
  • Community support

Downsides

  • Drivers (some drivers for Graphics Cards can still be a bit of a challenge)
  • Accessories / devices (if you run a lot of (b)leading edge devices such as USB accessoroes, it can be a challenge to get appropriate Linux support)

It generally pays to check user forums (for Ubuntu there is a list of certified hardware) before buying accessories. However most common hardware (such as major phones and personal audio devices) have good support.

Show-stoppers / Challenges

In previous attempts when contemplating the phasing out of Windows as the Standard Operating Environment in our business we were faced with some show-stoppers such as our Accounting Package that was not available at all in a non-Windows environment. However we have since migrated all of our mission-critical applications into web-based & off-site hosted environments. With these changes the need for client-based software has rapidly diminished and the focus has shifted to web-browser support of critical systems.

Some challenges remain with new staff needing to be trained and sometimes convinced that there is other things out there than the packages they are familiar with. I have been advocating for changes in our Schools to teach the concepts of software rather than certain tools – ie. teach the concept of Word Processing rather than Microsoft Word. But I am realistic that these changes will not be implemented soon if at all.

One area we have not been able to change is Graphic Design. Whilst I am personally not convinced that GIMP/Inkscape are not able to replace the Photoshop/Illustrator combo I do not have the personal knowledge in that field and have hence given up trying to change this. Life is too short to be wasted listening to Graphic Designers whining to you daily that they need Adobe for XYZ. ;-)

Myths

I very often hear the following arguments:

“If you use this FOSS stuff that is owned by nobody you will not be supported”

One of the longest standing arguments and the easiest to answer. Most FOSS operating systems now have a number of commercial operations supporting.

As for community support there is an extremely active community around Ubuntu with a local Australian Team and literally thousands of community volunteers world-wide. And for those less comfortable relying on community support there are a growing number of commercial operations willing to support Open Source OS’s.

“If everybody can see the source code – isn’t that insecure ?”

Again one of the oldest FUD arguments. There is a detailed Wikipedia entry that explains the concept of Open Source Security and why most independent experts will assert the exact opposite.

“Proprietary OS’s are streamlined and much more efficient”

We found this one to be correct in some areas and completely false in others. To the contrary a number of tasks (such as adding network printers or network connections) are much more efficient on Ubuntu. Whilst the User Interfaces on proprietary systems are much more polished (eye-candy) they are not necessarily contributing much to an effective work practice. And when it comes to setting up new equipment there is no comparison whatsoever. It generally takes up to an hour to have a developer system configured with Software installs and other config tasks thanks largely to Linux package management tools (such as apt-get) which can be completely automated with a few lines of script. A similar developer system on Windows can take hours of idle install time and reboots galore.

“You will not save any money”

This point is the least exact and hardest to answer as it will largely depend on individual circumstances, in-house IT knowledge and support. For our part we have certainly saved cost in software licensing. However we generally have invested this in either being able to afford additional IT work done (custom workflows) or being able to invest in systems that would have been outside of budget.

Project Listing

As a practical exercise I thought I would share our Standard Operating Environment (SOE). Whilst not all of the software listed is Open Source (as the title obviously suggests) a substantial majority is.

Operating Systems

Others
  • Fedora 14/15 (mainly for our Sysadmin purposes as most of our Servers run on RHEL / CentOS)
  • Windows (XP & W7) for hardware that can not be utilised on Ubuntu
  • (OSX (single machine for testing & iOS compilation purposes))

Browsers

Directory Services

  • OpenLDAP
  • Samba

Office / Productivity

  • GoogleApps (with local backups)
  • Webmail (nobody actually uses a desktop mail client these days)
  • Webcalendar (shared calendars & resources)
  • Open / Libre Office - http://www.libreoffice.org/

Multimedia

Graphics

Utilities

Development

Backend Business Systems

Sysadmin

 

Open Source Content Management Comparison

This is an interesting info-graphic comparing the 3 most popular OpenSource Content Management Systems.

While I don’t really agree with some of the metrics (such as the web-service stats) it is never the less a very good visual overview. As a long-term user of WordPress and Drupal there are some good points to give a quick overview.

CMS Comparison

Original: http://deviousmedia.com/infographics/devious_cms.png