Open floor plans in office space: more loss than gain

in hardware on (#2VJW)
story imageThe open floor plan of modern offices has its roots in ideas first conceived in the 1950s. In essence, removing barriers and ensuring the continued proximity of workers to each other was expected to facilitate communication and idea flow. But a growing body of evidence suggests that the open office undermines the very things that it was designed to achieve.
In June, 1997, a large oil and gas company in western Canada asked a group of psychologists at the University of Calgary to monitor workers as they transitioned from a traditional office arrangement to an open one. The psychologists assessed the employees' satisfaction with their surroundings, as well as their stress level, job performance, and interpersonal relationships before the transition, four weeks after the transition, and, finally, six months afterward. The employees suffered according to every measure: the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome, and, instead of feeling closer, coworkers felt distant, dissatisfied, and resentful. Productivity fell.
The research and analysis continues. The New Yorker provides an interesting look at what we've learned about this new trend in workplace organization.

Podcasting software still needs some improvements

in code on (#2VJS)
story imageThere have been lots of apps developed and released that facilitate listening to podcasts. Amazingly though, the software used to create podcasts hasn't evolved much over the years.
Many podcasters have spent the last week sharing how they record their shows, and while the hardware is fun to argue about, the software story leaves a lot to be desired. Casey Liss describes his software setup for recording ATP: Skype, Piezo, Skype Call Recorder, and Google Docs. Jason Snell recommends getting a microphone with a heapdhone jack to compensate for Skype's lack of local input monitoring. If you can stomach it, you can listen to Dan Benjamin describe the ridiculous lengths he's gone to to record multiple guests in real time, and he still ends up dealing with Skype artifacts. This is a professional podcaster with a half-dozen Macs dedicated to the task of getting reasonable audio from remote guests. Ugh.
Allen Pike has some interesting thoughts on the subject, as well as a previous article detailing the "fall and rise of podcasting". As an avid podcast listener, I agree the field is ripe for improvement. What do you think? And which podcasts do you enjoy listening to?

Geopolymer concrete like the Romans

in science on (#2VJQ)
story imageHackaday is reporting on an interesting advance in the science of producing geopolymer concrete:
For all the things Romans got wrong (lead pipes anyone?) did you know we're still using a less advanced concrete than they did? Consider some of the massive structures in Rome that have passed the test of time, lasting for more than 2000 years. The typical concrete that we use in construction starts to degrade after only 50 years.

Researchers at Berkeley think they've finally figured it out with thanks to a sample that was removed from the Pozzuoli Bay near Naples, Italy. This could vastly improve the durability of modern concrete, and even reduce the carbon footprint from making it. The downside is a longer curing time, and resource allocation - it wouldn't be possible to completely replace modern cement due to the limited supply of fly ash (an industrial waste product produced by burning coal). Their research can be found in a few articles, however they are both behind pay walls.

Lucky for us, and the open source community at large, someone from MIT has also been working on perfecting the formula - and he's shared his results thus far.

Debian is forked. Meet Devuan

in linux on (#2VAR)
Well, they said they would do it, and they did. A group of Debian loyalists took great issue with the systemd issue in Debian, and threatened they'd fork it if Debian moved forward with its plans to replace trusty old System V init script with the new systemd system developed by RedHat's Lennert Poettering. A week ago, the Debian board voted to move forward with systemd, and the trigger was pulled.

World, meet Devuan. It's pronounced "Dev One" and is backed by a team of "veteran system admins" who prefer the stability and simplicity of the System V init scripts, and frankly aren't overly pleased with a lot of the other recent decisions made at Debian either. They state recent decisions have been too overly influenced by RedHat's developers and are prioritizing Linux desktops over Linux servers, which is not smart given Debian's huge lead in server systems and its relatively small desktop market share.

Forking Debian is no simple matter, and a simple glance at serves as a reminder Debian is the underpinning of a huge number of other distros out there. Where to begin? Here:
Devuan will derive its own installer and package repositories from Debian, modifying them where necessary, with the first goal of removing systemd, still inheriting the Debian development workflow while continuing it on a different path: free from bloat as a minimalist base distro should be. Our objective for the spring of 2015 is that users will be able to switch from Debian 7 to Devuan 1 smoothly, as if they would dist-upgrade to Jessie, and start using our package repositories.

Devuan will make an effort to rebuild an infrastructure similar to Debian, but will also take the opportunity to innovate some of its practices. Devuan developers look at this project as a fresh new start for a community of interested people and do not intend to enforce the vexation hierarchy and bureaucracy beyond real cases of emergency. We are well conscious this is possible for us mostly because of starting small again; we will do our best to not repeat the same mistakes and we welcome all Debian Developers willing to join us on this route.
The Devuan distribution will make an effort to improve the relationship with both upstream and downstream and, particularly in its gestational phase, will do its best to accommodate needs of those downstream distributions willing to adopt it as base. We look forward to statements of interest from such distributions, as well involvement in this planning phase.

Devuan will do its best to stay minimal and abide to the UNIX philosophy of "doing one thing and doing it well". Devuan perceives itself not as an end product, but a starting point for developers, a viable base for sysadmins and a stable tool for people who have experience of Debian. Devuan will never compromise for more efficiency at the cost of the the freedom of its users, rather than leave such concerns to the independent choices made by downstream developers.
They've got a lot of work ahead of them, and are happy to receive both donations and developers. Want to know how you can help? Check them out on Github and the Freenode IRC network, for starters.

Ask Pipedot: small office collaboration/messaging

in ask on (#2V33)
Here's the situation: you've got a small office of 8-20 employees who work in a consulting business and whose main products/deliverables are reports, spreadsheets, occasional CAD drawings, Gantt charts, project plans, and the like. Not only do they produce those things, they receive reports for which they produce comments/observations. Much of what they produce is collaborative or iterative (ie, not necessarily 'live editing' of spreadsheets, but several people must all contribute to a doc over the space of a week or so). To do so, they need efficient means of communication, discussion, versioning, etc.

Needs: document repository, shared editing of many types of documents, a messaging system for internal office communication, "sharing" system that permits clients to upload or download large files, a managed-content "front page" web site, an internal intranet, shared calendars, contacts lists, some sort of system to produce and maintain office policies and procedures, and otherwise manage internal communications and office admin. Some considerations for discussion, so I'm intentionally not specifying: (1) ideally, systems are usable by different OSes. Obviously there are going to be problems ensuring total OS independence. (2) ideally, the system doesn't require full-time online presence. Should a consultant wind up in a basement office with no internet, he won't be totally lost (again, not perfect). Note: no obligation for Free/Open Source software, although they are preferred. The goal here is an office that communicates and collaborates efficiently.

Ten years ago, you'd be sitting in a cube farm, using Microsoft Office and a shared drive and emailing documents back and forth. Later they'd have added Sharepoint. These days, there's been a ton of innovation in these areas, and there's consensus that collaboration-by-email is not fun. And there are lots of new approaches to these age-old problems.

So, how would you do it?

Philae lander: touchdown on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

in space on (#2V0N)
story imageWe live in amazing times. Ten years after the mission was conceived and set into motion, European scientists have landed a spacecraft on the surface of a comet. Despite the fear stemming from the unknown consistency of the comet's surface, which could have ranged from powdery to tarry frozen to anything in between, Philae sank only 4cm into the surface, which indicates perhaps a slight coating of dust.
Over the coming months as Philae piggybacks on the comet and Rosetta maintains orbit, the data they send back could be key to unlocking answers about the formation of the Solar System, the origins of water on Planet Earth and perhaps even life itself.

Rosetta selfie with Comet 67P in background
The challenge for the flight team operating Rosetta from back on Earth was to land Philae on a rotating, duck-shaped comet travelling through space at 18km/s (40,000mph).
The BBC has tons of coverage of the event. Amazing, simply amazing. If you checked my productivity and web-browsing habits today, you'd discover I checked into the BBC's live coverage this morning and was glued to it for the rest of the day. I wasn't around when we landed on the moon, but this is an even more impressive, technical feat. Congrats to everyone who made this happen!

FreeBSD v1.0 announced 21 years ago today

in bsd on (#2TW4)
Wow, we're getting old. FreeBSD v1.0 was announced 21 years ago today; it was considered the first "production ready" version of the now popular operating system. The original announcement is here.
From: (Jordan K. Hubbard)
Newsgroups: comp.os.386bsd.announce
Subject: FreeBSD 1.0 RELEASE now available
Date: 1 Nov 1993 16:12:20 -0800

The first "official" release of FreeBSD 1.0 is now available, no more greek letters - this is the "production" release.

While a fair number of bugs were also whacked between EPSILON and RELEASE, the following additional features deserve special mention:

A dynamic buffer cache mechanism that automagically grows and shrinks as you use the memory for other things. This should speed up disk operations significantly.
The Linux sound driver for Gravis UltraSound, SoundBlaster, etc. cards.
Mitsumi CDROM interface and drive.
Updated install floppies.
More fail-safe probing of devices on the ISA bus. This makes it much harder for devices to conflict with each other.
Advance syscons support for XFree86 2.0.
Of course, Jordan Hubbard is still with us and still helping make FreeBSD awesome. But we've come a long way since XFree86 2.0 and the Intel 386 architecture. Where were you in 1993? What's changed in your computing lifestyle since then?

Recently discovered bug means most or all Drupal sites have been compromised

in internet on (#2TW2)
story imageDrupal is an open source content management system and more that powers millions of websites worldwide. Liked for its configurability and endless extension through modules, Drupal is a huge part of Web 2.0. And it's been thoroughly rooted. The BBC is reporting:
In its "highly critical" announcement, Drupal's security team said anyone who did not take action within seven hours of the bug being discovered on 15 October should "should proceed under the assumption" that their site was compromised. Anyone who had not yet updated should do so immediately, it warned. However, the team added, simply applying this update might not remove any back doors that attackers have managed to insert after they got access. Sites should begin investigations to see if attackers had got away with data, said the warning.

"Attackers may have copied all data out of your site and could use it maliciously," said the notice. "There may be no trace of the attack." It also provided a link to advice that would help sites recover from being compromised.
This one is nasty. Security researcher Graham Cluly reports:
According to the company, "automated attacks" started to hit websites running Drupal version 7 within a matter of hours of it disclosing a highly critical SQL injection vulnerability on October 15th.

Automated attacks began compromising Drupal 7 websites that were not patched or updated to Drupal 7.32 within hours of the announcement of SA-CORE-2014-005 - Drupal core - SQL injection. You should proceed under the assumption that every Drupal 7 website was compromised unless updated or patched before Oct 15th, 11pm UTC, that is 7 hours after the announcement.

If a site using a vulnerable version of the Drupal CMS is attacked, hackers could steal information from the site or open backdoors to allow them continued remote access to the system.
If your site has been compromised, This Drupal help page gives you an answer to the question Now what do I do? But here's a tip from your friendly editor zafiro17: Step one is "pour yourself a nice glass of scotch and drink it. You're going to be wiping the site and starting over." No charge for that advice.

[Ed. note: This just in from Joomla: "Nyah nyah!"]

Halloween Friday Distro: Ubuntu Satanic Edition

in linux on (#2TTH)
When I proposed a Linux Distro every Friday, I'd hoped to mostly avoid distros that are simply "Ubuntu plus a theme and/or windowmanager choice" but this week it's impossible. World, meet Ubuntu Linux Satanic Edition, the most appropriate distro for a Halloween Friday. Linux for the Damned is their subtitle, and if you're planning on going off to hell after this and listening to all sorts of awesome death metal in the afterlife, this is probably for you.

So what is it? It's Ubuntu, with a special selection of wallpapers, and a pre-configured Eternity Screensaver set to play the "Eternal Damnation" ray-traced screensaver when it kicks in. I looked around a bit to figure out if there's anything to Ubuntu Satanic other than the screensaver and wallpapers and found something unique: this distro also comes preconfigured with a ton of metal music! I think preloading a soundtrack on a distro might be unique; at least, I am not aware of any other distros that take this approach. Install U/S and you too can enjoy dozens of tunes by the likes of Severed Fifth, Blueprint for Disaster, Music for the Damned, Frontside, Taste of Hell, Holy Pain, and ScapeGoat. To my surprise, most of the artists are French and all of it is licensed freely via Jamendo.

All of this supports U/S's motto: "Ubuntu Satanic Edition is dedicated to combining the best software with the heaviest music." U/S connects you to Ubuntu's own repos, so no worries about the best software consisting of a reduced subset. To those of you who are offended by the presence of a Satanic distro, no worries: there are Ubuntu Muslim Editions and Christian editions as well, all using the same repos - just think about that for a second.

Happy Halloween, Pipedotters! Next time, we'll go back to distros that offer more than superficial skins (although hopefully we'll find some more distros with awesome soundtracks).

ChromeOS and Android to remain separate for now

in mobile on (#2TS3)
CNET just interviewed Brian Rakowski, Google's vice president of product management for Android, who has confirmed that the two teams in charge of the Android mobile device software and the Chrome OS software for PCs [should] work together much more. But that won't mean sweeping changes, at least for now.

"There's no plans to change the way the products work," said Rakowski. That might be disappointing to fans of Android who were hoping to see convergence of the two product lines as a result of internal reorganization that sees both Android and Chrome being developed under the same division.
Android and Chrome, both headed by Google Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai, are important businesses to Google. The company's cash cow is still search and advertising -- now a $50 billion a year business -- but Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page has called Android "the future" of the company.
There's some more, related commentary at OSNews.