Nov 042010

In a way, I could say every book I've ever read has changed at least some of my views on some things. It would be a pretty piss-poor book that didn't make me question at least some of my ideas, even if the changes it brings about are minor.

But I will focus on one that changed my views fundamentally about something I thought they were already good on – and has been a guiding principle in my career and life ever since. In a break with tradition – I actually met the author of this book before I ever read any of his works. Back in 2001 I was a champion of the open-source idea. I spoke about the technical power that can be unleashed by sharing work and sharing eyeballs. I spoke about the security benefits – and even the fun of being able to customize. I avoided closed source stuff but I didn't actually think they were wrong – just… lesser.

Then I went to the first Idlelo conference to deliver a paper on a distributed educational content deliver network I had been developing. At the time it was groundbreaking stuff which is why I got invited. The keynote speaker was Richard Mathew Stallman. A man I had long held in awe for his programing skill, for founding the GNU project, for writing the GPL – but felt had lacked the bit of pragmatism that "linux" would need to become mainstream.

Sitting through his talk though, the passion with which he spoke resonated with me. I found myself agreeing with him, and coming to the same conclusion he did: that free software isn't a nice-to-have it's a right, perhaps more practically speaking it's an obligation of programmers to provide it. I was sold.  I also laughed out loud and caught every joke in the Saint Ignutius comedy routine and frankly I think those rare few young "geeks" who freaked out about it a year ago are simply proving that they are utterly out of touch with the culture that created the very movement and software they claim to be passionate about. With it's playful, anti-authoritarian nature – and that this nature is more crucial to it's very existence than all the programming skill in the world. 

If you can't take and make a joke – you don't belong in free software development, we can get better code out of a worse programmer who has a sense of humor.

Of course a lot of people wanted his time so my initial opportunities to engage with him one-on-one was limited,  Then I learned that he has a deep love of mountains, and offered to take him on a drive around the mountains of the Western Cape winelands. We spent the trip having deep and intense discussions, mostly I was listening like a student at the feet of a master but sometimes I disagreed and he could debate quite graciously (granted none of the disagreements were about software freedom issues about which I believe he is rather unyielding) .

By the end of our trip and talk, he gave me a signed copy of a book containing his collective essays. I treasure that book. I reread it every now and then. I know every argument by heart and I have spent the past decade living by them. I am in occasional e-mail contact with him. While I was leading kongoni development whenever we had to make a judgement call about a piece of software I would mail him for his input and take it as a major voice. It was by his encouragement that Kongoni included software to play DRM'd media – software that is illegal to distribute in the USA or violates patents. My country doesn't have patents and his advice was clear: do not give the bad guys more power than they have, you still have freedom from patents, you don't have a DMCA  – let the tools people need to not be ruled by it be in your system. 

A champion of open source became an unyielding advocate for free software and I can say with pride that kongoni was a fully free distribution under my leadership – and recognized as such by the FSF. That when I handed leadership over to another I did it on condition of his promise that he would maintain that status (of course – he is not under any legal obligation to – all I have is his word, but he's kept it so far). I had a look at the most recent release the other day  -it's quite sweet, he's really done good work using what I built and building on top of that.

Believe it or not, I'm more proud of what was built out of my creation than of the creation itself. That I could write the first versions of those code is a matter of pride, that somebody else could write something better because he could start where I left off – is a matter of greater pride. Newton spoke of standing on the shoulders of giants.  The giant whose shoulder's I stand on is Richard Stallman, and the values I adopted from him – has allowed me to be a giant on whose shoulders somebody else could stand. 

It really is a great book, by a great man.


May 182010

Robert Gabriel who took over Kongoni development from me has announced the release of the first alpha of the new version.
It’s actually been out for a few days but I didn’t have time to blog it before. The changes from the previous versions look quite interesting, and the new installer though lacking the old graphical dialogs looks quite impressive.

Over-all there seems to be good things happening. Robert chose to change the old versioning scheme a bit, as evidenced by there not being a slackware 12.3 – in fact this release is sync’ed to slackware-current in the form that will become slackware 13.1.

That of course is his choice – but I just thought it would be useful to point out to those who were used to the old scheme, as they would expect it to have been 2.13.1 and I wouldn’t want them to assume that his is on an outdated base.
I had very little to do with this release, I initially helped Robert to get his working environment set up, and later helped to fix some bugs but the vast majority of the work is his credit and I applaud him for a job well done.

Feb 162010

Most of you probably know this by now, but just over two weeks ago – I announced the end of my involvement in the kongoni project. The reasons were stated in the original post so I won’t be rehashing them here. I did however state that if somebody volunteers to take over the leadership – I will gladly pass it on, and help the person to get going.

The good news is, less than 48 hours later, such a volunteer emerged. We’ve been working together quite hard over the past
few days as I taught him the structures and set up access for him to the various pieces of infrastructure that make up the build systems for Kongoni. By mid-week he had done his first ISO build and by yesterday he was starting to get ready to do git commits and publish his first changes to git-current.

He’ll have a steep learning curve still to get to know the system’s many ins-and-outs like I do but he’s at a working level and progress can once more begin. I am very happy to be able to tell you all this as it means that my greatest regret about leaving kongoni – that it left the users without an upgrade has been resolved.

So I am happy to announce that Robert Gabriel is the new leader of the Kongoni project, he has already launched a rather
spiffy new Kongoni website which I urge you to check out.

For myself, this by no means ends my involvement with free software, least of all with the fully-free-distribution movement, it
merely shifts my direction to something more feasable for me as a person with my particular practical considerations at this time. I have, in the time since the anouncement, accepted an invitation to become a contributor to the gnewsense project. I am slowly learning the ins-and-outs of the gnewsense ideas and my initial progress has been slowed by dedicating time helping Robert get started – but I have as an initial step taking responsibility for adding and maintaining a chromium package for Gnewsense. In the future I intend to get quite heavilly involved – and possibly take over most of the maintenance on gnewsense-KDE as currently there is very limited work done there (largely due to lack of manpower).

So, here’s to the future. The kng is dead, long live the kng.

Dec 072009

This weekend  I started out with one goal – rest, relax, chill-out. I wasn’t going to the killers concert. I wasn’t going to a movie or a tweetup or to meet friends. I wanted to do do one thing – sleep and read. Oh and work on kongoni, since I really wanted to get started on the real Cicero stuff.
As it turned out – I only achieved my goal about halfway – but what intruded was wonderful. I did a lot of work on kongoni from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. The very tricky challenge of dealing with the change from bw64 to slackware64 makes the 64-bit version difficult, so I took a new approach. I would do the 32-bit version to the point where the package list was near-final, then I would build a new 64-bit version from scratch – using the 32-bit version to give me a premade list of packages (so I wouldn’t have to do everything all over).
Most config files etc. are shared anyway so it’s a good start. There’s still a lot to do on KISS and the installer in particular to get where I want to be, but at least the package upgrades had to happen.
Upgrading kongoni even on 32-bit to slackware13 packages took only about 30 minutes, that was the easy bit. Getting it upgraded to the kongoni-currennt tree was another matter. During the process I uncovered and fixed about 5 different bugs, all fairly small but enough to stop the work dead when they popped up and trigger a fix first. All in all, for kongoni a productive start to the real work on Cicero.
Where I ended on Sunday afternoon, the upgrade to current was very nearly complete.

The time in between while waiting on slower builds was mostly spent reading Dresden files books. I loved the TV-series before I even knew it was based on a books – as it turns out, those books are very, very good – I’m utterly hooked. Almost as hooked as I was the first time I read a discworld novel (though granted, these do not have that deep social satire, they are just really good, engrossing fiction). Thanks to Arno and Christel for turning me onto them.

Sunday from 4pm onward was photography time. I did a shoot with a womens-group whom Ani knew from twitter – they wanted to try their hand at modeling – and I was their chosen photographer. At a very nice location under the half-build eaves of the new highway bridges in Maitland we found a dirty, ugly background against which to play off the beauty of five very gorgeous girls who had all dressed up and done their hair and make-up – ready to play model.
Boy did they play well, it was glamorous, it was sexy, it was stylish and it was a huge amount of pure fun. I’ll be processing the photos over the next few days and delivering to them during the week – and I did ask permission to post some of the best so expect a photoblog with some highlights from the shoot.
Over-all I took more than 200 pictures, various poses and positions, group-shots, individual poses and a set of headshots for each, a few of them even eagerly sat down and looked up at me for cleavage-focus shots. Of course, it was quite the privelege to get to take those.
A special word of thanks to Ani here, not only did she get me the shoot – she assisted me during it, keeping my gear handy – helping to pose the girls and handling the reflectors, it was such a pleasure to work with her and she excelled. She also has a very good eye for beauty and more than once her suggested poses completely outdid anything I could have thought off. I think we made a good team.

Nov 202009

Well, as I’ve started getting better and work became slightly less hazardous, I’ve begun to ease back into Kongoni work. So far, new code has not been a major feature of the work done, instead, I began by updating the most important ports to their latest versions (meaning a released port of KDE 4.3.3 and Amarok 2.2.1 for example) as well as adding some new and interesting things.
I’ve also started playing around with the new chromium builds and this is going well, more work will need to follow over some time to get a fully working version there however. Quite a lot of bugs were fixed as well – PyQT for example can finally build as a normal port.

So without working too hard, things are moving along. One nice new port is ibdriver – which provides a kernel module for the USB modems used by iBurst wireless, I would very much like to ship Cicero with this driver included. IBurst is a major network in South Africa and we’re a South African distro, supporting it would be a good thing. Right now the module builds just fine – but since I am not an iBurst customer and don’t own the hardware – I cannot test it.
If anybody would volunteer to either do the testing for me (it should build fine on Nietzsche) or alternatively to loan me their equipment/account for a few days that would be wonderful.
Of course, if iBurst themselves could make a loaner available to me to get this done – that would be a nice and awesome bit of corporate assistance to their own customers with due public recognition.
I’ll give updates on this as/when I have something.

In the meantime, I’m thinking my way through a few things, most crucially is that I have basically decided to drop the soft-upgrade-to-cicero option, the differences are just too big at this time – especially on 64-bit platforms. I’ll write up a howto as usual with as many options as possible for upgrades and try to make it as flexible as can be to meet as many people’s needs as we can, but the simple reality is that trying to upgrade to Cicero using nothing but ports will involve way too many variables I cannot predict.

Oct 212009

We are, rapidly, approaching the one-year anniversary of my initial announcement that I am starting the kongoni project. Today, I can look back at that year as an achievement, what was a vision has been realized into a released project with a solid and growing userbase. We’ve had an amazing hackfest where a lot of the core work toward our next release was done – and that was great.

However, 2.13.0 is going to be a little later than expected, in fact I won’t promise anything before early in 2010. The reason is very simple – right now,  I can’t work on it, there are other people working on their parts, but the big “put-it-all-together” task is going to have to be postponed. I have at the same time during this year gone through terrible emotional events. A divorce was just the start, and it’s been building up.
Right now, I’m clinically depressed, I have very little energy and my sleeping patterns have gone straight to hell, what energy I have needs to go into my dayjob – to keep the bills paid. I feel no shame about saying: my limits right now are reduced, I cannot perform at my usual level and I need to cut down a bit.
I need to get home, eat a healthy meal and go to bed at a reasonable hour. I need to focus on dealing with practical matters-of-life on a one-at-a-time basis, solving them and preventing them getting out of hand, and I need to take care of myself a bit.

I have been through depression before, I know my way out, this is not a permanent thing, nor is it regular, in fact I haven’t had full-on depression like this in nearly 5 years, my normal techniques for preventing it… well they just couldn’t keep up with the sheer amount of things to deal with in the last few weeks.

So, though it saddens me, I have to say – a fundamental reason why kongoni is not only non-proprietory but crucially non-commercial is this: I don’t do deadlines. Kongoni was set up this way, so that if somebody needs a time-out they can take it, so that it will always be fun – never work.
Right now, it’s not fun, because I simply don’t have the strength. In a few weeks or months, this will change – and I’ll be my old self, of this I’m fairly certain – in the meantime, I ask you to bear with my. My fellow coders, keep up on your side, if you think you can handle some of mine, please do ask – I’ll try to help you get started. To the users, I know you’re all anxiously waiting for Cicero,  and it will come, I will be back in the saddle as soon as I can.

But I don’t want to give you a rushed half-job, I want to give you the best next version I can – and that requires me to be the best I can be, and right now, I’m not.

So, for medical and personal reasons – I am taking a time-out from kongoni, for at least the next month or two. I will see where I stand in December and update you on when I expect to resume it (or perhaps that I already have).

Oct 052009

So, Saturday was the grand Kongoni hackfest. We had about 5 people on-site and a bunch more online, and people were hacking code. It was quite an event, one of those extra hot Cape Town days with a bunch of people (interestingly – men and women in roughly equal amounts) sitting around a coffee table with their laptops and hacking on code files – it just worked, beautifully.

It took us approximately 4 hours in all to do all the work we had set out to do, it falls on me now to merge all the code changes into the real tree and get it all tested (not everybody was able to test their own work – and of course, I have to test the integration of the work as well).
Lots of beer and potato chips were consumed during the day, and near the end a significant amount of meat was braaid and hand-eaten while the other hand kept on modifying code.

In short – kongoni_current should be slackware64 and bluewhite64 upstream compatible fairly shortly. We may yet be unable to do a soft-upgrade from Nietzsche to Cicero however, because unfortunately there are a number of other more difficult problems to fix first (primarily with trying to keep the current system working once the library directories are changed so that we can get the upgrades in).

At this stage, kongoni_current will install right if you upgrade your system to bluewhite64-13 using slackpkg or portpkg (though I haven’t tested the latter), slackware64 support will still take some work. At this stage I am tempted to skip the soft-upgrade work for Cicero (it only affects 64-bit, 32-bit works already) and do it for a second alpha or beta version, so we can start getting something new out.
I may go so far as to release Cicero only for 32-bit in order to get the rest of the stuff tested – and do 64-bit one release later again, this is something I will be discussing with the developers over the next few days and more will follow.

For now just- a big thank you to everyone who participated, I took some pictures which I will be processing tonight and the best few will join a news story on the kongoni site about the event.

All in all, there was also a consensus among those present that we should do it again – more hackfesting to come, of course as people get more proficient, the tasks can get ever more complex. Next one will be announced soon and planning commenced – and I know exactly what we ought to do with it…

Sep 222009

The big Kongoni Hackfest: Saturday October 3rd from 11am SAST onward.

Kongoni is planning a major hackfest event that will coordinate both an online and offline code-sprint. The purpose of the work is to modify our
kongoni_current ports tree to be compatible with the new FHS-compliant slackware64 structures so that we can migrate to it as an upstream for kongoni Cicero.
The code work is quite simple and even beginner programmers can join in – we will explain everything that needs to be done in detail and senior developers
will be ready to help out with any questions.
All you will need is a running kongoni Nietzsche of some sort, this could be a live-cd (if you have enough memory), a virtual machine or a full install, we
will provide everything else. The work is simple but there is a lot of it -so the plan is quite simple: many hands, less effort.

The offline event will happen at lead developer A.J. Venter’s house in West Beach, Cape Town (please e-mail for directions and to
RSVP), and will be at least 50% social, bring something to drink and something to throw on the fire. We’ll provide bandwith, snacks and the fire itself.

Online attendants (e.g. those who cannot be in Cape Town on the day) can join in over IRC. Connect to channel #kongoni, we will
have on dedicated person who will coordinate the IRC and face-to-face meetings and keep everybody on the same page.

This is expected to be a major, fun and very geeky chance to make a major contribution to a free software project that anybody can join in with, so please
feel free to join us on the day.
For more details and updates, keep an eye on our website: or the facebook event: