...making Linux just a little more fun!

Reader Feedback

By Kat Tanaka Okopnik and Ben Okopnik

The following is a sampling of the responses we got to our recent Backpage. Thank you all! I've read every one of these with interest, and am considering how to integrate the best of your ideas and suggestions in order to make LG better.
-- Ben Okopnik, Editor-in-Chief

Don't die, improvise

I see linuxquestions.org is quite busy and I have found it a good place to look for ideas on related problems to mine. Similarly Google, with the right choice and order of keywords works wonders these days. I still find that I have a big need (when I try to get around to it) for well written howtos on things like setting up a simple home DNS, sendmail, IP traffic accounting per day per machine, mumble, etc. (Read: A five easy step wizard type thing for my distribution is required). Things like IPtables and sendmail configuration files, .m4 are still daunting to me. Real scary stuff. The moment I sit down, starting to read up on it, someone in the house would like to do this or that and would just like to ask...

What I would not mind is a monthly email reminder on the latest linuxgazette issue. (The LQ email is not too much spam for me.) Whenever I have come across your magazine, I never have been disappointed with the read and always tried to make a mental note to come back to it, but just like the commercial magazines sites just lay there as a possible reference for new information. (Yes, I am not a frequent reader.) I would like to know which howtos are newly updated and worth a read and which are too outdated (for the current releases of which distributions) How about more cross links to and from new and updated articles in previous and current issues - like LQ's list at the bottom of the page. I would like to know more about the kernel development (in a nutshell) that I can understand. What info is just as well documented on wikipedia? To what extend would articles already published elsewhere (commercially) be allowed to be published here later (on LG.net)?


[ We send out a monthly reminder e-mail, with the article titles and summaries, via the lg-announce mailing list; we also notify the world via a note on Facebook and Twitter (thanks to Anderson Silva). Meanwhile, funny you should mention - Rick Moen just wrote a series on DNS in issue 170. As far as links to and from old issues, our Knowledge Base has lots of links to our previous articles. Do be aware, however, that many articles drift out of scope after a while; Linux tends to grow by leaps and bounds, so relevant information changes over time.

As to republishing articles, that depends on how restrictive the original publication license was (essentially, how much of their rights to the work the author has signed away or retained.) Assuming that we can re-release it under the OPL, and the subject matter is relevant to LG's mission, I'll be happy to take a look at it. ]

Why I hope that the Linux Gazette continues to publish

I saw your Back Page letter in the December issue, asking to hear the voices of your readers. As a long-time silent reader of the Linux Gazette, I guess I am overdue in letting you know why I find the Gazette a valuable resource.

Although I could probably ramble on for quite a while, I'll limit myself to the following four reasons why I hope that the Gazette lives for years to come.

1. The Linux Gazette provides original content.

In earlier times, sites with original content were not hard to find on the Internet. A search engine might direct you to dozens of sites run by people or organizations that were actively involved, or at least well-versed, in the subject you were seeking information about. Often times these sites existed because the people that created them had a passion for the subject, wanted to share their knowledge of it, and took pride in doing so.

These days, instead of dozens of sites, a search engine might direct you to hundreds or thousands of sites. Unfortunately, most of these sites will contain information simply copied from other sites -- often sites that have already copied it from somewhere else.

The people behind such sites do not have a passion for your subject of interest, and they take no pride in presenting accurate information. These sites exist in hopes of generating advertising revenue.

The Linux Gazette, on the other hand, has roots that go back to the days when the desire to share helpful information was often the main inspiration for creating a web site. And the folks behind the Gazette have continued the tradition to the present.

When I am looking for Linux-related information, "site:linuxgazette.net" are often the first words I type into the search engine. Often I will find just what I need. And when I don't find what I need, I will soon know that; I won't have had to wade through a lot of crap before coming up empty-handed.

2. The Linux Gazette focuses on substance over style.

I don't go to my web browser because I want to look at the latest artistic creation of some overpaid web designer. I want information. And I don't want to see the latest state-of-the-art methods of distracting me from getting to and reading the information.

The Linux Gazette is mostly just good ol' HTML. (Well, these days I guess it is actually XHTML, but isn't that mostly good ol' HTML?) And that is all that it needs to be. And that means that anyone can actually read it with any browser, with no need to update to this week's version, or reading and agreeing to a long license agreement for and downloading some proprietary "helper".

While things like javascript and flash certainly have their place in the world, when they are used for content which could easily be presented with HTML they are an unnecessary complication. And I appreciate it when web sites are designed without unnecessary complications.

To say that the Gazette focuses on substance over style, certainly does not mean that it lacks style. I find the elegantly simple style to be a welcome change from the overly-busy pages that seem to predominate on the Web today.

Let's see, you go to linuxgazette.net and are presented with a list of issues. Clicking on an issue brings you the table of contents for that issue. Clicking on an article name brings you to the article. What could be more straight-forward than that? And if you are looking for something other than the content of the magazine, there is a clearly-labeled navigation bar at the top of the page.

By contrast the current fashion seems to be to provide multiple lists of links -- on the left side, on the right side, in the middle, at the top, at the bottom, wherever links can be placed to allow you to go directly to almost any other page on the web site and half a dozen other web sites as well. Never mind that I came to the page for some specific content (perhaps one of those many lists) and don't want to spend time looking around the page to see where it is hiding.

Give me a nice hierarchical layout like LG uses any day.

Centuries ago, newspapers realized that text was easier on the eyes if the lines were not too long. Because the Gazette minimizes its formatting, I can (as I prefer) use a small window for my browser and the text, being HTML, will be adjusted into lines that are a length which is easy to read.

By contrast, many sites these days override this wonderful feature of HTML, and force me to read lines of a length that have been hard-coded by their web site designers. And these designers have not had a good conversation with newspaper publishers, so I am forced to read long lines in a wide window or do a heck of a lot of horizontal scrolling.

Anyway, I'm not just saying that I appreciate the style of the Gazette. I'm also saying that I appreciate the fact that you spend time on the content that might otherwise be wasted designing a complicated style (and probably redesigning it every year when you got tired of it).

3. The Linux Gazette is a serial publication.

I know that early in every month I can go to linuxgazette.net and find new content. I also know that if I am busy and don't visit until late in the month (as was the case this month), the new content will still be there waiting for me -- I don't have to keep checking frequently to ensure that I don't miss something.

Many web sites that host Linux information seem to be forever in a state of flux. Sometimes that is because they are for ever being redesigned ("what are we paying our web designer for if the web site never gets redesigned?"), and sometimes it is in the nature of the the design to be forever changing: new information replaces the old; old information vanishes or goes into hiding.

With the Linux Gazette, I know that if I find a useful article today, it will still be available tomorrow, next week, and next month. Even next year it will still be available in the archive. And -- except on the rare need to correct some gross error -- the article will not have changed from the time I first read it. I won't have the aggravation of trying to track down something that no longer exists. (Much as I like Wikipedia -- at least for its links to _real_ sources -- its dynamic nature can leave one wondering about one's rate of advancing senility when revisiting a page read in the past.) The Gazette has a solid feel to it -- not quite as solid as a stack of paper magazines sitting on a shelf, but much better than the vast majority of what is found on the Web these days.

4. The accuracy of information at the Linux Gazette is well above average.

People, organizations, and corporations can mix varying amounts of fiction into the factual content of their web sites. In many, perhaps most, cases the authors do not even realize it is fiction.

While the Linux Gazette is certainly not totally immune to this, I believe it has far less of a problem in this department than many other sources.

Firstly, as touched on in item 1, above, when people take pride in what they write (which I believe is a main reason that LG authors write -- they certainly aren't doing it for the money), they are more likely to spend time getting their facts straight.

Secondly, LG articles are read by someone other than the author before publication. And while the editors may not yet have achieved infinite knowledge, there is more of a chance of misinformation being caught at this stage.

Thirdly, LG has an auto-immune system known as Talkback. When mistakes are made, there is a good chance that someone will spot it and point it out, as readers are encouraged to do by the availability of the Talkback link. Sometimes, even when no mistake has been made, this encourages a reader to clarify something, or add additional information that was not in the original article.

(The advantages of multiple people reviewing the content, be it before or after publication, extends to the area of LG beyond the articles, such as The Answer Gang and Two-cent Tips. Hearing multiple voices adds to the confidence level the reader has in the information (except, of course, in those rare times when nobody can agree on anything).)

Okay, so there is one man's view of some reasons why the Linux Gazette has certainly not "outlived its usefulness to the community".

If the Gazette ceased to publish new issues, the archives could still exist. However it would be a shame to let the archives get moldy with no fresh input. In a short time they would be of more interest to historians than people looking for current information.

I hope that many other readers will share their thoughts with you, and let you know that the work that you and everyone who contributes to the Gazette is certainly not for naught, and is well appreciated.

Yours truly,
and thanks,
Norm Pierce

[ Norm, thank you for your detailed and thoughtful input! It's nice to know that our various editorial choices are appreciated. That is indeed why we have a serial presentation, and a relatively simple layout. I like your description of Talkback as "an auto-immune system" - it's become one of my favorite features. ]

Write about it!

Hallo, I've just finished reading your Back Page in the last issue of LG. It made me feel like I just _had to_ jump to Thunderbird and write you an e-mail!

Your article is really inspiring and makes one really want to think about one of the thousands ideas that come to mind during a week of work with Linux and write about it...

I have wanted to do it some times. I also know myself enough to be sure that when I'll calm down, a few minutes from now, I'm likely to forget about all this and never write anything.


I'll bookmark this article and put it at the top in my list, so next time an idea comes to me I'll remember I'll _have_ to at least try and write about it. And send it to LG!

And by the way, I've been and LG reader for some months now and I've never said thank you for your work. I do it now.

Marcello Romani

And who are our readers?

I finally had time to catch up on LG and the Back Page #169 requested a little feedback.

Consider this it.

Who am I (And where have I heard that before?)? I'm a retired Industrial Electronic Tech, one of those twigits with dirt under the fingernails. We were stuck with that M$ creature at work, but at home, I ran Linux. I currently have 5 boxes networked at the house and all but one are Linux - PCLinuxOS 2009, to be exact. The one Windows machine is my wife's HP laptop (Vista) that is dedicated to her embroidery machine, which can dual boot to SimplyMepis.

I've been distro hopping since the around 1995. Geez, I was on the Internet when it was all text and you had to go thru a bulletin board that had Internet access. Then you had to know a few Unix commands to find your way to a server and log in. Remember when the search engines were named, 'Gopher', 'Archie', 'Veronica' and the like? My God! I think I'm old... I started with FreeBSD way back when, then Debian and the whole schemer. My favorite was the Debian based Kanotix. But when it went under the bus, I didn't care for the replacements: Sidux and the re-dazzled Kanotix, which seemed pretty much a step-child.

When I hit PCLos, I found what I was looking for. A tool that just works, like a good table saw or a solid lathe. The reason the wife's laptop has Mepis is it was the first distro that would configure that machine's Broadcom 43xx wireless chip out of the box.

I'm also a Ham Radio operator - AI4KH - and refuse to use MS for anything Ham related. Although, DXLab's suite, is my favorite, I've given it up rather than go thru the pain of opening and, especially, closing any MS operating system. I get by with the Linux apps for digital operation and logging,

If I was a programmer like my daughter, I'd be helping with some of the Linux apps. Alas, I'm also a woodworker, shooter, and Scottish Country Dancer besides being active in US Submarine Veterans (USSVI). I retired from the Navy in '74, so I'm not a kid anymore.

Yes, I do touch base with LG when I have a chance, just too see what's going on. There is just sooo much stuff out there, it's nice to know I can still count on LG for honesty.

I hope this wasn't too long-winded for you. I tend to run on at the keyboard.

Ron Gemmell
Canton, GA

[ Great to hear from you, Ron! In fact, it would be nice to find out who some of our other readers are: Who are you? Where are you? How did you start reading Linux Gazette? How did you get started with Linux? What distro are you using now? What are some of your favorite things about using Linux? Click on the Talkback link below and let us know, please. ]

Talkback: Discuss this article with The Answer Gang

Kat Tanaka Okopnik

Bio picture

Kat likes to tell people she's one of the youngest people to have learned to program using punchcards on a mainframe (back in '83); but the truth is that since then, despite many hours in front of various computer screens, she's a computer user rather than a computer programmer.

Her transition away from other OSes started with the design of a massively multilingual wedding invitation.

When away from the keyboard, her hands have been found wielding of knitting needles, various pens, henna, red-hot welding tools, upholsterer's shears, and a pneumatic scaler. More often these days, she's occupied with managing her latest project.

Ben Okopnik


Ben is the Editor-in-Chief for Linux Gazette and a member of The Answer Gang.

Ben was born in Moscow, Russia in 1962. He became interested in electricity at the tender age of six, promptly demonstrated it by sticking a fork into a socket and starting a fire, and has been falling down technological mineshafts ever since. He has been working with computers since the Elder Days, when they had to be built by soldering parts onto printed circuit boards and programs had to fit into 4k of memory (the recurring nightmares have almost faded, actually.)

His subsequent experiences include creating software in more than two dozen languages, network and database maintenance during the approach of a hurricane, writing articles for publications ranging from sailing magazines to technological journals, and teaching on a variety of topics ranging from Soviet weaponry and IBM hardware repair to Solaris and Linux administration, engineering, and programming. He also has the distinction of setting up the first Linux-based public access network in St. Georges, Bermuda as well as one of the first large-scale Linux-based mail servers in St. Thomas, USVI.

After a seven-year Atlantic/Caribbean cruise under sail and passages up and down the East coast of the US, he is currently anchored in northern Florida. His consulting business presents him with a variety of challenges such as teaching professional advancement courses for Sun Microsystems and providing Open Source solutions for local companies.

His current set of hobbies includes flying, yoga, martial arts, motorcycles, writing, Roman history, and mangling playing with his Ubuntu-based home network, in which he is ably assisted by his wife, son and daughter; his Palm Pilot is crammed full of alarms, many of which contain exclamation points.

He has been working with Linux since 1997, and credits it with his complete loss of interest in waging nuclear warfare on parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Copyright © 2010, Kat Tanaka Okopnik and Ben Okopnik. Released under the Open Publication License unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 171 of Linux Gazette, February 2010