A Look at Google’s Project Fi

Google's Project Fi is a great cell-phone service, but the data-only SIMs make it incredible for network projects!

I have a lot of cell phones. I have iPhones (old and new), Android phones (old, new, very old and funny-shaped), and I have a few legacy phones that aren't either Android or iPhone. Remember Maemo? Yeah, and I still have one of those old Nokia phones somewhere too. Admittedly, part of the reason I have such a collection is that I tend to hoard nostalgic technology, but part of it is practical too.

I've used phones as IP cameras for BirdTopia (my recorded and streamed bird-feeder collection). I've created WiFi-only audiobook devices that I use when I'm out and about. I've used old phones as SONOS remotes, Plex players, Chromecast initiators and countless other tasks that tiny little computers are perfect for doing. One of the frustrating things about using old cell phones for projects like that though is they only have WiFi access, because adding multiple devices to a cell plan becomes expensive quickly. That's not the case anymore, however, thanks to Google's Project Fi.

Most people love Project Fi because of the tower-hopping features or because of the fair pricing. I like those features too, but the real bonus for me is the "data only" SIM option. Like most people, I rarely make phone calls anymore, and there are so many chat apps, texting isn't very important either. With most cell-phone plans, there's an "access" fee per line. With Project Fi, additional devices don't cost anything more! (But, more about that later.) The Project Fi experience is worth investigating.

What's the Deal?

Project Fi is a play on the term "WiFi" and is pronounced "Project Fye", as opposed to "Project Fee", which is what I called it at first. Several features set Project Fi apart from other cell-phone plans.

First, Project Fi uses towers from three carriers: T-Mobile, US Cellular and Sprint. When using supported hardware, Project Fi constantly monitors signal strength and seamlessly transitions between the various towers. Depending on where you live, this can mean constant access to the fastest network or a better chance of having any coverage at all. (I'm in the latter group, as I live in a rural area.)

The second standout feature of Project Fi is the pricing model. Every phone pays a $20/month fee for unlimited calls and texts. On top of that, all phones and devices share a data pool that costs $10/GB. The data cost isn't remarkably low, but Google handles it very well. I recently discovered that it's not billed in full $10 increments (Figure 1). If you use 10.01GB of data, you pay $10.01, not $20.

Debian “stretch” 9.5 Update Now Available, Red Hat Announces New Adopters of the GPL Cooperation Commitment, Linux Audio Conference 2018 Videos Now Available, Latte Dock v0.8 Released and More

News briefs for July 16, 2018.

Debian "stretch" has a new update, 9.5, the fifth update of the Debian 9 stable release. This version addresses several security issues and other problems. You can upgrade your current installation from one of Debian's HTTP mirrors.

Red Hat announced that 14 additional companies have adopted the GPL Cooperation Commitment, which means that "more than 39 percent of corporate contributions to the Linux kernel, including six of the top 10 contributors" are now represented. According to the Red Hat press release, these commitments "reflect the belief that responsible compliance in open source licensing is important and that license enforcement in the open source ecosystem operates by different norms." Companies joining the growing movement include Amazon, Arm, Canonical, GitLab, Intel Corporation, Liferay, Linaro, MariaDB, NEC, Pivotal, Royal Philips, SAS, Toyota and VMware.

The Linux Audio Conference announced that all videos from the 2018 conference in Berlin are now available. You can find the links here.

Latte Dock v0.8 is now available. New features include multiple layouts simultaneously, smart dynamic background, unify global shortcuts for applets and tasks, and much more. Latte v0.8 is compatible with Plasma >= 5.12, KDE Frameworks >= 5.38, Qt >= 5.9. You can download it from here.

Ubuntu has improved the user interface of its Snap Store website. It's FOSS reports that the updates make "it more useful for the users by adding developer verification, categories, improved search".

Opinion: GitHub vs GitLab

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Free software deserves free tools, not Microsoft-owned GitHub.

So, Microsoft bought GitHub, and many people are confused or worried. It's not a new phenomenon when any large company buys any smaller company, and people are right to be worried, although I argue that their timing is wrong. Like Microsoft, GitHub has made some useful contributions to free and open-source software, but let's not forget that GitHub's main product is proprietary software. And, it's not just some innocuous web service either; GitHub makes and sells a proprietary software package you can download and run on your own server called GitHub Enterprise (GHE).

Let's remember how we got here. BitMover made a tool called BitKeeper, a proprietary version control system that allowed free-of-charge licenses to free software projects. In 2002, the Linux kernel switched to using BitKeeper for its version control, although some notable developers made the noble choice to refuse to use the proprietary program. Many others did not, and for a number of years, kernel development was hampered by BitKeeper's restrictive noncommercial licenses.

In 2005, Andrew Tridgell, working at OSDL, developed a client that bypassed this restriction, and as a result, BitMover removed licenses to BitKeeper from all OSDL employees—including Linus Torvalds. Eventually, all non-commercial licenses were stopped, and new licenses included clauses preventing the development of alternative version control systems. As a result of this, two new projects were born: Mercurial and Git. Created in a few short weeks in 2005, Git quickly became the version control system for Linux development.

Proprietary version control tools aren't common in free software development, but proprietary collaboration websites have been around for some time. One of the earliest collaboration websites still around today is Sourceforge. Sourceforge was created in the late 1990s by VA Software, and the code behind the project was released in 2000.

Quickly this situation changed, and the project was shuttered and then became Sourceforge Enterprise Edition, a proprietary software package. The code that ran Sourceforge was forked into GNU Savannah (later Savane) and GForge, and it's still use today by both the GNU Project and CERN. When I last wrote about this problem, almost exactly ten years ago, Canonical's ambitious Launchpad service still was proprietary, something later remedied in 2009. Gitorious was created in 2010 and was for a number of years the Git hosting platform for the discerning free software developer, as the code for Gitorious was fully public and licensed under favorable terms for the new wave of AGPL-licensed projects that followed the FSF's Franklin Street Statement. Gitorious, also, is sadly no longer with us.

Python and Its Community Enter a New Phase

On Python's BDFL Guido van Rossum, his dedication to the Python community, PEP 572 and hope for a healthy outcome for the language, open source and the computing world in general.

Python is an amazing programming language, there's no doubt about it. From humble beginnings in 1991, it's now just about everywhere. Whether you're doing web development, system administration, test automation, devops or data science, odds are good that Python is playing a role in your work.

Even if you're not using Python directly, odds are good that it is being used behind the scenes. Using OpenStack? Python plays an integral role in its development and configuration. Using Dropbox on your computer? Then you've got a copy of Python running on your computer. Using Linux? When I purchased Red Hat Linux back in 1995, the configuration was a breeze—thanks to visual tools developed in Python.

And, of course, there are numerous schools and educational programs that are now teaching Python. MIT's intro computer science course switched several years ago from Scheme to Python, and thousands of universities all over the world made a similar switch in its wake. My 15-year-old daughter participates in a program for technology and entrepreneurship—and she's learning Python.

There currently is an almost insatiable demand for Python developers. Indeed, Stack Overflow reported last year that Python is not only the most popular language on its site, but it's also the fastest-growing language. I can attest to this popularity in my own job as a freelance Python trainer. Some of the largest computer companies in the world are now using Python on a regular basis, and their use of the language is growing, not shrinking.

Normally, a technology with this much impact would require a large and active marketing department. But Python is (of course) open-source software, and its success is the result of a large number of contributors—to the core language, to its documentation, to libraries and to the numerous blogs, tutorials, articles and videos available online. I often remind my students that people often think of "open source" as a synonym for "free of charge", but that they should instead think of it as a synonym for "powered by the community"—and there's no doubt that the Python community is strong.

Such a strong community doesn't come from nowhere. And there's no doubt that Guido van Rossum, who created Python and has led its development ever since, has been a supremely effective community organizer and leader.

FOSS Project Spotlight: Pydio Cells, an Enterprise-Focused File-Sharing Solution

Pydio Cells is a brand-new product focused on the needs of enterprises and large organizations, brought to you from the people who launched the concept of the open-source file sharing and synchronization solution in 2008. The concept behind Pydio Cells is challenging: to be to file sharing what Slack has been to chats—that is, a revolution in terms of the number of features, power and ease of use.

In order to reach this objective, Pydio's development team has switched from the old-school development stack (Apache and PHP) to Google's Go language to overcome the bottleneck represented by legacy technologies. Today, Pydio Cells offers a faster, more scalable microservice architecture that is in tune with dynamic modern enterprise environments.

In fact, Pydio's new "Cells" concept delivers file sharing as a modern collaborative app. Users are free to create flexible group spaces for sharing based on their own ways of working with dedicated in-app messaging for improved collaboration.

In addition, the enterprise data management functionality gives both companies and administrators reassurance, with controls and reporting that directly answer corporate requirements around the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other tightening data protection regulations.

Pydio Loves DevOps

In tune with modern enterprise DevOps environments, Pydio Cells now runs as its own application server (offering a dependency-free binary, with no need for external libraries or runtime environments). The application is available as a Docker image, and it offers out-of-the-box connectors for containerized application orchestrators, such as Kubernetes.

Also, the application has been broken up into a series of logical microservices. Within this new architecture, each service is allocated its own storage and persistence, and can be scaled independently. This enables you to manage and scale Pydio more efficiently, allocating resources to each specific service.

The move to Golang has delivered a ten-fold improvement in performance. At the same time, by breaking the application into logical microservices, larger users can scale the application by targeting greater resources only to the services that require it, rather than inefficiently scaling the entire solution.

Built on Standards

The new Pydio Cells architecture has been built with a renewed focus on the most popular modern open standards:

Chrome Browser Launching Mitigation for Spectre Attacks, The Linux Foundation Announces LF Energy Coalition, Kube 0.7.0 Now Available, New Android Apps for Nativ Vita Hi-Res Music Server and More

News briefs for July 13, 2018.

Google's Chrome browser is launching site isolation, "the most ambitious mitigation for Spectre attacks", Ars Technica reports. Site isolation "segregates code and data from each Internet domain into their own 'renderer processes', which are individual browser tasks that aren't allowed to interact with each other". This has been optional in Chrome for months, but starting with version 67, it will be enabled by default for 99% of users.

The Linux Foundation yesterday launched LF Energy, a new open-source coalition. According to the press release, LF Energy was formed "with support from RTE, Europe's biggest transmission power systems provider, and other organizations, to speed technological innovation and transform the energy mix across the world." Visit https://www.lfenergy.org for more information.

Version 0.7.0 of Kube, the "modern communication and collaboration client", is now available. Improvements include "a conversation view that allows you to read through conversations in chronological order"; "a conversation list that bundles all messages of a conversation (thread) together"; "automatic attachment of own public key"; "the account setup can be fully scripted through the sinksh commandline interface"; and more. See kube.kde.org for more info.

Nativ announced new iOS and Android apps for its Nativ Vita Hi-Res Music Server. The new apps, available from the Google Play Store, "give customers convenient control and playback functionality from their iOS or Android Smartphone or Tablet".

KDE released the third stability update for KDE Applications 18.04 yesterday. The release contains translation updates and bug fixes only, including improvements to Kontact, Ark, Cantor, Dolphin, Gwenview, KMag, among others. The full list of changes is available here.

NVIDIA announced its Jetson Xavier Developer Kit for the octa-core AI/robotics-focused Xavier module. According to Linux Gizmos, "the kit, which goes on sale for $1,300 in August, offers the first access to Xavier aside from the earlier Drive PX Pegasus autonomous car computer board, which incorporates up to 4x Xavier modules. The kit includes Xavier's Linux-based stack and Isaac SDK."

Mozilla announced the winners of 2018H1 Mozilla Research grants. Eight proposals were selected, "ranging from tools to fight online harassment to systems for generating speech. All these projects support Mozilla's mission to make the Internet safer, more empowering, and more accessible." See the Research Grants page for more info on the grants and how to apply.

Empowering Linux Developers for the New Wave of Innovation

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New businesses with software at their core are being created every day. Developers are the lifeblood of so much of what is being built and of technological innovation, and they are ever more vital to operations across the entire business. So why wouldn't we empower them?

Machine learning and IoT in particular offer huge opportunities for developers, especially those facing the crowded markets of other platforms, to engage with a sizeable untapped audience.

That Linux is open source makes it an amazing breeding ground for innovation. Developers aren’t constrained by closed ecosystems, meaning that Linux has long been the operating system of choice for developers. So by engaging with Linux, businesses can attract the best available developer skills. 

The Linux ecosystem has always strived for a high degree of quality. Historically it was the Linux community taking sole responsibility for packaging software, gating each application update with careful review to ensure it worked as advertised on each distribution of Linux. This proved difficult for all sides.

Broad access to the code was needed, and open-source software could be offered through the app store. User support requests and bugs were channelled through the Linux distributions, and there was such a volume of reporting, it became difficult to feed information back to the appropriate software authors.

As the number of applications and Linux distributions grew, it became increasingly clear this model would not scale much further. Software authors took matters into their own hands, often picking a single Linux distribution to support and skipping the app store entirely. Because of this, they lost app discoverability and gained the complexity of running duplicative infrastructure.

This placed increased responsibility on developers at a time when the expectations of their role was already expanding. They are no longer just makers, they now bear the risk of breaking robotic arms with their code or bringing down MRI machines with a patch.

As an industry we acknowledge this problem—you can potentially have a bad update and software isn’t an exact science—but we then ask these developers to roll the dice. Do you risk compromise or self-inflicted harm?

Meanwhile the surface area increases. The industry continues a steady march of automation, creating ever more software components to plug together and layer solutions on. Not only do developers face the update question for their own code, they also must trust all developers facing that same decision in all the code beneath their own.

Guido van Rossum Stepping Down from Role as Python’s Benevolent Dictator For Life

Python's Benevolent Dictator For Life (BDFL) Guido van Rossum today announced he's stepping down from the role.

On the Python mailing list today, van Rossum said, "I would like to remove myself entirely from the decision process. I'll still be there for a while as an ordinary core dev, and I'll still be available to mentor people—possibly more available. But I'm basically giving myself a permanent vacation from being BDFL, and you all will be on your own."

He credits his decision to step down as partly due to his experience with the turmoil over PEP 572: "Now that PEP 572 is done, I don't ever want to have to fight so hard for a PEP and find that so many people despise my decisions."

van Rossum says he will not appoint a successor and leave that to the development team to decide upon.

For old-time's sake, see Linux Journal's interview with Guido van Rossum from 1998.

freenode Launches New Job Board, Two More Spectre Security Holes Discovered, Debian Joins KDE’s Advisory Board, Android Malware Found in the Google Play Store and Stable Kernels Released

News briefs for July 12, 2018.

freenode has a new job board. jobs.freenode.net "aims to connect those looking to hire with the immense talent that can be found within the wider freenode communities". The job board is free to use, but companies that use it successfully are encouraged to make a donation to help support the freenode network, jobs.freenode.net and the annual freenode #live conference.

Two new Spectre-type security holes have been discovered. ZDNet reports that this affects any operating system running on AMD, ARM and Intel processors. Vladimir Kiriansky, PhD candidate at MIT, and independent researcher Carl Waldspurger found the new vulnerabilities and published a paper. ZDNet also notes that so far, no known attacks have occurred making use of these bugs, but that likely will change soon.

Debian has joined KDE's advisory board. Chris Lamb, Debian Project Leader, commented that "The KDE Plasma desktop environment is fully-supported within Debian and thus the Debian Project is extremely excited to be formally recognising the relationship between itself and KDE, especially how that will greatlyincrease and facilitate our communication and collaboration."

Yesterday Greg Kroah-Hartman released stable kernels 4.17.6, 4.14.55, 4.9.112, 4.4.140 and 3.18.115. Users should update right away. (Source: LWN.net.)

Android malware called Anubis has been found the Google Play Store. According to ZDNet, "a cyber crime group has sneaked apps onto the official Google Play Store which then serve up Trojan banking malware to Android users". In addition, "developers of the malware are regularly altering the capabilities of the malware and will slightly alter the code to ensure that it isn't detected by Google Play's security controls".

Road to RHCA–Preparation Meets Opportunity

This article is the second in my series "Road to RHCA", where I'm charting my journey to the Red Hat Certified Architect designation—a designation that's difficult to come by. As an advocate and enthusiast of Linux and open source, and more important, as someone who works as a Linux professional, I am eager to change the current state of affairs around the number of women and people of color who know Linux and open source, study Linux and work in the Linux and/or open-source space.

Things haven't changed much in general when it comes to the numbers of women and people of color who enter the IT field, but those numbers drop significantly when it comes to Linux and open source. It's my goal to convince other women and people of color to study Linux and pursue open-source projects, because diversity of thought is invaluable in the world and in the enterprise. This world is not homogeneous; nothing else ever should be either. So I'd like to see more professionals who look like me in Linux and the Open Source community, and I'm starting to see a few, but there's still more work to be done.

Joining the RHCA ranks requires significant time and effort. Nothing worth anything comes easy, nor should it, but I can say with work, family, mentoring and now writing a book for Packt publishing, finding time to study will be more and more difficult for me, but it's my highest priority. At the time of this writing, I am five exams away.

You can choose from five areas of concentration, or you can select any combination of eligible Red Hat certifications to create a custom concentration. Those five concentrations are:

  • Data Center
  • DevOps
  • Application Platform
  • Cloud
  • Application Development

I decided the best route to my RHCA is for me to customize my concentration to include these five certifications in the order I plan to take them:

  1. Red Hat-Certified Specialist in Ansible Automation
  2. Red Hat-Certified Specialist in High Availability Clustering
  3. Red Hat-Certified Specialist in Red Hat OpenStack
  4. Red Hat-Certified Specialist in Linux Diagnostics and Troubleshooting
  5. Red Hat-Certified Specialist in OpenShift Administration

If you ask Red Hat the company, it obviously would recommend paying for and using one of its subscription options. The standard option costs $5,500, and the basic option costs $7,000. Having the subscription definitely would be beneficial, especially if you are working toward an RHCA, but it's not something that everyone can afford. You might be able to get your employer to cover the costs, but that's not always possible. So how does one without such resources become an RHCA? True grit, determination and a little creativity.

Cooking with Linux (without a Net): Remote Linux System Administration Using Webmin and Virtualmin

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It's time for the "Cooking with Linux (without a Net)" show where I do cool Linux and open-source stuff, live, on camera, and without the benefit of post video editing, therefore providing a high probability of falling flat on my face. On today's show, we cover remote Linux system administration using Webmin, a web-based, do-it-all admin tool. As a bonus, we explore Virtualmin, a Webmin extension that can turn you into an ISP by making it easy to manage accounts, multiple users, domains, permissions and everything else you need. It's a completely free alternative to pricey products like cPanel. Finally, I take a shot at yet another never-before-tried Linux distribution: Trinity PCLinuxOS. Also, in case you don't already know, this is a prerecorded show of a live YouTube broadcast.

Show links:

Xen Hypervisor 4.11 Released, New Browsh Text-Based Browser, Finney Cryptocurrency Phone, GNOME Hiring and More

News briefs for July 11, 2018.

The Xen Hypervisor 4.11 was released yesterday. In this release "PVH Dom0 support is now available as experimental feature and support for running unmodified PV guests in a PVH Container has been added. In addition, significant chunks of the ARM port have been rewritten." Xen 4.11 also contains mitigations for Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities. For detailed download and build instructions, go here.

There's a new text-based browser called Browsh, Phoronix reports. Browsh can render anything a modern browser can, and you can use it from a terminal or within a normal browser to reduce bandwidth and increase browser speed. For more info and to download, see the Browsh project website.

Facebook to be fined the maximum (500k euros), and the UK's privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), has published a report called "Democracy Disrupted? Personal information and political influence" that outlines policy recommendations for how personal information is used in connection with political campaigns. According to the TechCrunch article, the report "calls directly for an 'ethical pause' around the use of microtargeting ad tools for political campaigning" and specifically "flags a number of specific concerns attached to Facebook's platform and its impact upon people's rights and democratic processes..."

Sirin Labs to launch the $1,000 Finney cryptocurrency smartphone this fall, Engadget reports. The Finney (named after Bitcoin pioneer Hal Finney) is a "state of the art mobile device for the blockchain era" and runs on a forked version of Android. It has a slider on the back where "you'll find a secondary display, called the Safe Screen, that's only used for crypto transactions....The slider also activates the cold storage wallet that is designed to hold a significant number of different cryptocurrencies."

The GNOME Foundation is hiring. After receiving a generous grant in May of this year, The Foundation is recruiting for four posts: Development Coordinator, Program Coordinator, Devops/Sysadmin and GTK+ Core Developer. See the Positions available page for information on how to apply.

Minimum GCC Version Likely to Jump from 3.2 to 4.8

The question of the earliest GCC compiler version to support for building the Linux kernel comes up periodically. The ideal would be for Linux to compile under all GCC versions, because you never know what kind of system someone is running. Maybe their company's security team has to approve all software upgrades for their highly sensitive devices, and GCC is low on that list. Maybe they need to save as much space as possible, and recent versions of GCC are too big. There are all sorts of reasons why someone might be stuck with old software. But, they may need the latest Linux kernel because it's the foundation of their entire product, so they're stuck trying to compile it with an old compiler.

However, Linux can't really support every single GCC version. Sometimes the GCC people and the kernel people have disagreed on the manner in which GCC should produce code. Sometimes this means that the kernel really doesn't compile well on a particular version of GCC. So, there are the occasional project wars emerging from those conflicts. The GCC people will say the compiler is doing the best thing possible, and the kernel people will say the compiler is messing up their code. Sometimes the GCC people change the behavior in a later release, but that still leaves a particular GCC version that makes bad Linux code.

So, the kernel people will decide programmatically to exclude a particular version of GCC from being used to compile the kernel. Any attempt to use that compiler on kernel code will produce an error.

But, sometimes the GCC people will add a new language feature that is so useful, the kernel will people decide to rely heavily on it in their source code. In that case, there may be a period of time where the kernel people maintain one branch of code for the newer, better compiler, and a separate, less-fast or more-complex branch of code for the older, worse compiler. In that case, the kernel people—or really Linus Torvalds—eventually may decide to stop supporting compilers older than a certain version, so they can rip out all those less-fast and more-complex branches of code.

For similar reasons, it's also just an easier maintenance task for the kernel folks to drop support for older compilers; so this is something they would always prefer to do, if possible.

But, it's a big decision, typically weighed against the estimated number of users that are unable to upgrade their compilers. Linus really does not want even one regular (that is, non-kernel-developer) user to be unable to build Linux because of this sort of decision. He's willing to let the kernel carry a lot of fairly dead and/or hard-to-maintain code in order to keep that from happening.

Canonical Releases Minimal Ubuntu, Mozilla Launches Two Mobile Test Pilot Experiments, Google Announces Jib for Java Developers, New Ubuntu Bug Discovered and Wine 3.12 Now Available

News briefs for July 10, 2018.

Canonical released its new Minimal Ubuntu yesterday. According to the Ubuntu blog, Minimal Ubuntu is "optimized for automated use at scale, with a tiny package set and minimal security cross-section. Speed, performance and stability are primary concerns for cloud developers and ops." The images are 50% smaller than the standard Ubuntu server images and they boot up to 40% faster. Minimal Ubuntu also is fully compatible with standard Ubuntu operations. You can download it here.

Mozilla launches two new Mobile Test Pilot Experiments: Firefox Lockbox for iOS and Notes by Firefox for Android. Firefox Lockbox allows iOS users to access Firefox-saved passwords saved in the browser to log in to any online account or app. With Notes by Firefox, users can "sync notes from any Firefox browser on any Android smartphone or tablet", and the notes are end-to-end encrypted as well. These projects are experimental, and Mozilla welcomes feedback here.

An Ubuntu bug that allows anyone with physical access to the computer to bypass the lockscreen by removing the hard drive has just been made public. According to the Neowin post, the bug was tested on Ubuntu 16.04.4, and it's not certain whether it affects other Ubuntu versions or distributions.

Google announced the release of Jib yesterday, an open-source Java tool that allows developers to build containers. Jib is "a fast and simple container image builder that handles all the steps of packaging your application into a container image", and you don't need to write a Dockerfile or have docker installed to use it.

Wine 3.12 is now available. This release contains many bug fixes, and other new features include Unicode data upgraded to Unicode 11.0.0, proxy configuration dialog in internet control panel, more glyphs in the Wingdings font and more.

DIY RV Offsite Backup and Media Server

What better way to add a geeky touch to #vanlife than with a Linux server in your RV?

One easily could make the strong argument that an RV is the ultimate DIY project playground. It combines all of the DIY projects you could perform on a vehicle with the DIY projects for a home. Add to that the fact that you may spend days living in a small house on wheels navigating highways, forests and deserts, and you have a whole other class of DIY projects to make the most of that smaller space. RVs also offer a whole suite of power options from 12V deep cycle batteries to 110V shore power to generators and alternators to solar power, so there's a whole class of electrical DIY projects related to making the most of your changing power options.

And if you're a geek, having an RV introduces a whole other level of DIY possibilities. First, there are all of the electronics projects to manage switching between power sources, tracking energy consumption and keeping those batteries charged. Then there's an entire category of projects related to internet access while away from home that involve everything from mobile WiFi hotspots to cellular-boosting networks to roving satellite internet (and if you're clever, a smart router that routes you to the best and cheapest available option). Finally, there are several project possibilities related to the computer systems in the RV, including local switches and routers, personal computers that turn the RV into a mobile office, and media centers so you can watch TV and movies from the road.

It just so happens that I recently got an RV—a 1996 Roadtrek 170 to be exact. Although this purchase has spawned a huge list of DIY projects, my very first Linux-based project focuses on the media center. At home, my media center is a Raspberry Pi running OSMC, and it works great for accessing my ripped DVDs and CDs from my NAS and playing them on my living-room TV. When I got the RV, I realized that one of the first things we'd want is a way to access all of that media from the road, even if we were in the middle of the woods.

In this article, I describe all the steps I took to build a media server just for the RV that maintains an up-to-date copy of my media and even syncs up automatically when it's parked in my driveway. It turns out that in the process of building a media server, I ended up with a pretty great off-site backup solution as well. Even if you don't own an RV, you could adapt these steps to add your own semi-offsite backup to your car.

Figure 1. Introducing "Van Winkle" (Photo Credit: Joy Rankin)

Oasis Labs to Create Blockchain-Based Privacy-First Cloud Computing Platform, Elisa Music Player Version 0.2 Released, Unitary Fund Awarding Grants to Projects Developing Open-Source Quantum Software and More

News briefs for July 9, 2018.

Oasis Labs raises $45 million to create a privacy-first blockchain cloud computing platform. According to the Venture Beat post, the Oasis Labs' goal for the platform is to "overcome the performance, security, and privacy limitations that have hampered blockchain adoption to date. The aim is to make blockchain, a distributed secure ledger that powers cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, more useful to a broader set of companies."

Firefox 61.0.1, the first minor maintenance update for Firefox 61, has been released, Softpedia News reports. The update includes performance improvements and bug fixes, and you can download it from here.

The Elisa music player team recently announced the release of version 0.2. This update brings new music browsing views as well as an improved interface and performance improvements. The team notes their goal is "creating a reliable product that is a joy to use and respects our users privacy. As such, we will prefer to support online services where users are in control of their data." See the Change Log for all the details.

The Rust programming language team has issued a security advisory for its rustdoc plugins. Here's the rundown: "The problem was in rustdoc's obscure plugin functionality, consisting of its loading plugins from a path that is globally writable on most platforms, /tmp/rustdoc/plugins. This feature permitted a malicious actor to write a dynamic library into this path and have another user execute that code. The security issue only happens if you're actively using the feature, and so this behavior will be removed from rustdoc in the near future, with patches landing for each channel over the next week."

The Unitary Fund, which was created with "personal donations from founder of security firm Lookout, John Hering, and developer of quantum integrated circuits Rigetti Computing product manager Nima Alidoust", recently launched. The fund is offering $2000 grants to projects developing open-source quantum software. According to ComputerWorld, "Any project that 'will benefit humanity that leverages near-term quantum computing' qualifies to apply for the fund.

UserLAnd, a Turnkey Linux in Your Pocket

UserLAnd logo

There comes a time when having a full-fledged Linux distribution within reach is necessary or just plain useful. And, what could be more within reach than having that same distribution on a computing device most people have with them at all times? Yes, I'm talking about a smartphone—specifically, an Android-powered smartphone. Enter UserLAnd.

UserLAnd offers a quick and easy way to run an entire Linux distribution, or even just a Linux application or game, from your pocket. It installs as an Android app and is available for download from the Android Google Play Store. The best part is that because it operates from a typical chroot environment, you don't need to root your device.

I was fortunate enough to have a chance to spin up one of the early beta builds of UserLAnd. This beta build was limited only to SSH and VNC local connections from my Android mobile device, but it was more than enough to establish a sound sense of how things are and where things will progress.

To handle the SSH connection, UserLAnd leverages ConnectBot while using bVNC for anything graphical. The beta build I used supported only TWM. Future updates will add additional window managers and a desktop environment. Both ConnectBot and bVNC are installed when you create and launch your session (see below).

Immediately after installation and upon launching the application, you are greeted with a clean environment—that is, no root filesystems and no sessions defined.

Figure 1. A Fresh and Clean Installation of UserLAnd

There isn't much to do here until you create a base root filesystem to use in one or more connected sessions. Now, because this was a beta build, my option was limited to Debian.

Figure 2. Creating a Root Filesystem

Once the root filesystem is created, you can create your session, which includes connection type and user name. For connection types, in my case, the drop-down menu listed ConnectBot for the command-line interface and bVNC for a graphical environment. Future releases will add more options.

Figure 3. Creating Your Connection Sessions

Weekend Reading: Python

python logo

Python is easy to use, powerful, versatile and a Linux Journal reader favorite. We've round up some of the most popular recent Python-related articles for your weekend reading.

  • Introducing PyInstaller by Reuven M. Lerner: Want to distribute Python programs to your Python-less clients? PyInstaller is the answer.

  • Examining Data Using Pandas by Reuven M. Lerner: You don't need to be a data scientist to use Pandas for some basic analysis.

  • Multiprocessing in Python by Reuven M. Lerner: Python's "multiprocessing" module feels like threads, but actually launches processes.

  • Launching External Processes in Python by Reuven M. Lerner: Think it's complex to connect your Python program to the UNIX shell? Think again!

  • Thinking Concurrently: How Modern Network Applications Handle Multiple Connections by Reuven M. Lerner: exploring different types of multiprocessing and looks at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

  • Threading in Python by Reuven M. Lerner: threads can provide concurrency, even if they're not truly parallel.

  • Using Python for Science by Joey Bernard: introducing Anaconda, a Python distribution for scientific research.

  • Visualizing Molecules with Python by Joey Bernard: introducing PyMOL, a Python package for studying chemical structures.

  • Novelty and Outlier Detection by Reuven M. Lerner: we look at a number of ways you can try to identify outliers using the tools and libraries that Python provides for working with data: NumPy, Pandas and scikit-learn.

  • Learning Data Science by Reuven M. Lerner: I've written a lot about data science and machine learning. In case my enthusiasm wasn't obvious from my writing, let me say it plainly: it has been a long time since I last encountered a technology that was so poised to revolutionize the world in which we live.

Dell Precision 7530 and 7730 Mobile Workstations with Ubuntu Preinstalled Now Available, Linux Ultimate Gamers Edition Launched Its 5.8 ISO, Feral’s GameMode Coming Soon to Fedora, CentOS 6.10 Released, Security Upgrades for Ubuntu and More

News briefs for July 6, 2018.

The Dell Precision 7530 and 7730 Mobile Workstation Developer Editions are now available via Dell's online store with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled, Softpedia News reports. The Mobile Workstations are powered by the latest Intel Core or Xeon processors, and "feature blazing-fast RAM, professional AMD or Nvidia graphics cards, and are certified for the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.5 operating system". Prices for the "world's most powerful 15" and 17" laptops with Ubuntu pre-installed" begin at $1,091.14 for the 7530 and $1,371.37 for the 7730.

Linux Ultimate Gamers Edition launched its 5.8 ISO, which you can download from SourceForge or Softpedia. Ultimate Gamers is based on Debian and Ubuntu, with the MATE desktop environment. According to the Appuals post, "it comes with out-of-the-box support for nearly any kind of multimedia file that a gamer would ever want to play....It also comes with dozens of applications gamers and A/V fans will need. Most importantly, it comes with Wine pre-loaded, which is extremely important for those who want to run popular online games."

Feral Interactive's GameMode is coming soon to Fedora Linux, Phoronix reports. GameMode is "a new open-source project that provides a Linux system tuning daemon for optimizing the system's configuration for gaming when firing up Linux games while reverting to stock behavior when outside of supported games". Phoronix notes that it has been working its way into various Linux distros' package management systems, and that as of today it "has been submitted as the newest package for Fedora Rawhide as the development version ultimately leading to Fedora 29."

CentOS announced the availability of CentOS Linux 6.10. In this release GCC now supports retpolines for Spectre variant 2 mitigation. See the release notes for all the changes.

Canonical has released new kernel security updates for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (Bionic Beaver), Ubuntu 17.10 (Artful Aardvark), Ubuntu 16.04 LTS (Xenial Xerus), as well as Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (Trusty Tahr). According to Softpedia, the updates fix 22 security vulnerabilities, and users are urged to update their installations as soon as possible. See the Ubuntu wiki's Upgrades page for instructions.

The Linux Foundation recently announced new blockchain training options. Blockchain: Understanding Its Uses and Implications is a free edX course beginning on August 1, 2018, and there's also an option for a professional certificate for $99. According to the post on Linux.com, the new program provides "a way to learn about the impact of blockchain technologies and a means to demonstrate that knowledge. Certification, in particular, can make a difference for anyone looking to work in the blockchain arena".

FOSS Project Spotlight: ONLYOFFICE, an Online Office Suite

OnlyOffice

ONLYOFFICE is a free and open-source office suite that provides an alternative for three major MS Office apps—Word, Excel and PowerPoint—working online.

ONLYOFFICE's main features include:

  • Text, spreadsheet and presentation online viewers and editors.
  • Support for all popular file formats: DOC, DOCX, ODT, RTF, TXT, PDF, HTML, EPUB, XPS, DjVu, XLS, XLSX, ODS, CSV, PPT, PPTX and ODP.
  • A set of formatting and styling tools common for desktop office apps.
  • A set of collaboration tools: two co-editing modes (fast and strict), commenting and built-in chat, tracking changes and version history.
  • Ready-to-use plugins: Translator, YouTube, OCR, Photo Editor and more.
  • Macros to standardize work with documents.
  • Support for hieroglyphs.

Figure 1. ONLYOFFICE Formatting and Styling Tools

Ways to use ONLYOFFICE:

  • Integrated with a collaboration platform: for teams, ONLYOFFICE can be installed together with a set of productivity tools designed by ONLYOFFICE that includes CRM, projects, document management system, mail, calendar, blogs, forums and chat.
  • Integrated with popular web services: for users of popular services like Nextcloud, ownCloud, Alfresco, Confluence or SharePoint, ONLYOFFICE offers official connectors to integrate online editors and edit documents within them. Some web services, like the eXo Platform, provide users with their own connectors or offer instructions like Seafile for integration with ONLYOFFICE.
  • Integrated with your own web apps: for developers who are building their own productivity app, no matter what kind of application they provide to users or which language they use to write it, ONLYOFFICE offers an API to help them integrate online editors with their apps.

Figure 2. Co-Editing with ONLYOFFICE

To use this online office suite, you need to have the ONLYOFFICE Document Server installed, and you can choose from multiple installation options: compile the source code available on GitHub, use .deb or .rpm packages or the Docker image.