MUUG Monthly Meetings for 2007-08


Please note our meeting location: The IBM offices, at 400 Ellice Ave. (between Edmonton and Kennedy). When you arrive, you will have to sign in at the reception desk, and then wait for someone to take you (in groups) to the meeting room. Please try to arrive by about 7:15pm, so the meeting can start promptly at 7:30pm. Don't be late, or you may not get in. (But don't come too early either, since security may not be there to let you in before 7:15 or so.) Non-members are welcome, but may be required to show photo ID at the security desk.

Limited parking is available for free on the street, either on Ellice Ave. or on some of the intersecting streets. Indoor parking is also available nearby, at Portage Place, for $3.00 for the evening. Bicycle parking is available in a bike rack under video surveillance located behind the building on Webb Place.

September 11, 2007: A Survey of Open Source Geospatial Software

This presentation briefly described what open source software is and how it is licensed along with some examples of widely used open-source software. What to look for as a user of open-source software was also presented. Then the field of open-source geospatial software was described from the organization coordinating the development to the types of open source geospatial software such as map servers, database management systems and mapping clients.

Bob Bruce, P.Eng., Geomatics Support Engineer, Lands and Mapping Branch of Manitoba Conservation, was our speaker for this presentation. Bob specializes in software applications for Geomatics, in particular Property Mapping Applications. Bob is a registered Professional Engineer in Manitoba, and a member of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba (APEGM) Professional Development Committee. Bob also does web-based PHP programming and database design in his spare time. Recently he has developed a mapping interface for the Murals of Winnipeg website, where Winnipeg's murals can be viewed using a map interface.

Bob has made his presentation notes available online.

October 9, 2007: GnuCash

GnuCash is a free software accounting program for personal and small business use. It runs on multiple UNIX-like platforms.

The presentation covered some of GnuCash's features and also doubled as a fast introduction to bookkeeping. Items covered included account types, double-entry accounting, reports, invoices, bills, employee expenses, scheduled transactions, and demystifying "debit" and "credit."

The presenter, Mark Jenkins, is a recent graduate of the Computer Science Honours program at the University of Manitoba. Mark has contributed a very small bug-fix patch to GnuCash but expects to contribute more in the next year; his employer, ParIT Worker Co-operative, recently received a grant that will fund additional development.

November 13, 2007: Server Virtualization with Solaris Zones and FreeBSD Jails

Shawn Wallbridge gave a talk about Server Virtualization using both FreeBSD Jails and Solaris Zones. Shawn briefly covered what virtualization is, why to use it and then went into details on setting up Jails and Zones.

The presenter, Shawn Wallbridge, is a Systems Administrator at Frantic Films. He also runs SynAck Hosting, a small web hosting and server co-location company, in his spare time. Shawn has made his presentation notes available online.

December 11, 2007: Putting Linux on a Stick

This talk was motivated by a problem of the presenter, Michael Doob: when visiting universities in different countries, computer and internet access is invariably provided. These computers, however, come with a variety of operating systems, wildly varying hardware (for example keyboards) as well as totally differing software installations. Traveling with a laptop computer helps, but sometimes it turns out that local conditions make connecting to the internet something not be done easily. What all computers do seem to be equipped with is a USB port that can read vfat plus other file systems.

One solution to this problem is to put Linux on a USB flash drive. In this presentation, Michael looked at some of the different approaches for doing this that would allow one to make bootable systems. Michael included a live demo of the construction of a rescue USB stick, starting from a CD-based rescue-disk distribution of Linux, whose uses might include saving a crashed system or repartitioning a hard drive.

Michael has made his presentation notes available online.

January 8, 2008: Network Monitoring with Zenoss

How do you keep tabs on your equipment? Do you remember to check free disk space on a regular basis? Have you set up MRTG to monitor every single network interface on every single system? Have you set up Nagios to alert you whenever any service on any server goes down?

Most people dont have satisfactory answers to these questions. MRTG and RRDTool are time-consuming and sometimes difficult to set up, and ongoing configuration is difficult. Getting Nagios going can be an exercise in frustration for the newcomer to network monitoring, and ongoing configuration is a task best left to experts. Monitoring the dozens (or hundreds) of parameters that tell you whether a system is working properly or not is, quite simply, a royal pain.

The developers of Zenoss thought that, too. Rather than building another bolt-on front-end to an aging platform (nagios) or a limited-function tool (mrtg) they just started building a new system that worked the right way. Enter Zenoss.

Zenoss isnt 100% feature-complete vis--vis expertly- installed Nagios and MRTG, but its enough of the way there to make it a lot easier to set up and get going. Zenoss automatically discovers devices on your network, then using SNMP, TCP probes, WMI or telnet discovers what services exist on those devices, and automatically sets up polling of several relevant pieces of information.

Adam Thompson, who's with the Divisional IT Department of the St. James-Assiniboia School Division, was our presenter for this month. Adam covered the fundamentals of how Zenoss works, how to get Zenoss up and running on your network, and demonstrated some of its features on a live network.

February 12, 2008: KDE 4.0

KDE consists of an international technology team that creates many software products. KDE is one of the largest open source projects in existence, with several thousand contributors worldwide. On January 11th, KDE 4.0 was released to the world after several years of redevelopment which includes a number of major advances in technology and portability.

Many of the features and capabilities of KDE 4.0 were demonstrated, with special attention being paid to those features which are interesting to those in attendance. KDE's history and community organization were discussed, including information sources for those that are interested in tracking the development of KDE.

Troy Unrau presented on behalf of the KDE project. Troy is a part-time coder and a member of KDE's Marketing Working Group. During the day, he is an undergraduate geophysics student at the University of Manitoba.

March 11, 2008: Rockbox

Montana Quiring and Jeff Green presented this month on the open source firmware for MP3 media player, called Rockbox. It aims to be considerably more functional and efficient than your device's stock firmware while remaining easy to use and customizable. It runs on a plethora of hardware platforms and frees the user from the shackles of DRM. Please visit www.rockbox.org for more info on the players it supports.

Montana and Jeff's presentation included demos of Rockbox running on an emulator, as well as on two media players, an Apple iPod Nano, and a SanDisk Sansa e200. They have made their presentation notes, in both OpenDocument Presentation and PDF format, available online.

April 8, 2008: The OLPC XO Computer

Father-and-son tag-team, Michael and Brian Doob, gave us a demonstration of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) computer at this month's meeting. This laptop is meant to be a low-cost, perhaps $100, computer to be used by students in third-world countries. It is being developed by an organization headed by Nicholas Negroponte (from MIT) and, in his words, "It's an education project, not a laptop project."

Several members of MUUG bought laptops under the G1G1 (Give One, Get One) program, and this allowed us to demonstrate them at the meeting, by setting up a meshnet of four of these units.

Here is a brief description of the laptop: it is really small (25cm by 23cm by 3 cm) with a high-impact plastic case and a membrane-covered keyboard. It looks like it came from Toys-R-Us! The release catches for opening the display are actually two antennae that allow wireless access. The display itself is surrounded by two speakers, two microphones, a camera, as well as power, battery and activity buttons. There is a variety of software that comes with the laptop. It includes a web browser (which also reads PDFs), a python interpreter, and programs for creating audio and video files. It also has journaling software that is user-accessible. This acts like a history that allows the user to jump back to a previous session. There is an installed window manager (called sugar) that is really different from what we are used to on a Linux machine. In addition and not surprisingly, the laptop comes with yum; there is a huge repository of files that may be transferred to this laptop.

May 13, 2008: NAS Smackdown!

FreeNAS is freely-downloadable software based on FreeBSD which turns nearly any old PC into a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) device with a web-based management interface. It supports software RAID, disk encryption, can be an iSCSI target, implements CIFS, FTP, RSYNC, and much more. NexentaStor is a very similar commercial product which is available in a free 1-terabyte-limited version. NexentaStor is based on OpenSolaris.

Kelly Leveille and Kevin McGregor compared and contrasted FreeNAS and NexentaStor, and showed how to turn an old computer running Windows 2000 into something useful! They have made their presentation notes, in both OpenDocument Presentation and PDF format, available online.

June 10, 2008: Django

This month, Bill Reid discussed and demoed Django, a high-level Python Web framework that encourages rapid development and clean, pragmatic design. It has many of the same advantages as Ruby on Rails.

Bill has made his presentation notes available online.

July 2008: No meeting this month

August 2008: No meeting this month

Please note our meeting location: The IBM offices, at 400 Ellice Ave. (between Edmonton and Kennedy). When you arrive, you will have to sign in at the reception desk, and then wait for someone to take you (in groups) to the meeting room. Please try to arrive by about 7:15pm, so the meeting can start promptly at 7:30pm. Don't be late, or you may not get in. (But don't come too early either, since security may not be there to let you in before 7:15 or so.) Non-members are welcome, but may be required to show photo ID at the security desk.

Limited parking is available for free on the street, either on Ellice Ave. or on some of the intersecting streets. Indoor parking is also available nearby, at Portage Place, for $3.00 for the evening. Bicycle parking is available in a bike rack under video surveillance located behind the building on Webb Place.