Hari's Corner

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Reverse Elitism and the Linux Community

Filed under: Internet and Blogging by Hari
Posted on Wed, Jul 20, 2005 at 14:59 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:07 IST)

Ever wondered why Linux debates are so inflammatory and seemingly so personal every time there is one in progress? Most people attribute it to the fact that Linux users are so religious about their operating system. It is said that any criticism of Linux is intolerable and the blame usually lies on the more fanatical members of the Linux community for hating new ideas and new people who bring in ideas that are contradictory to the so-called "Linux spirit". Does this point of view give us the whole picture? Not quite, in my opinion. Linux flame wars are complex phenomena and not everything can be explained merely by the "Linux is religion" angle.

In fact, I attribute it to something totally different and something totally unrelated to Linux and in fact computers. It is simply explained in a couple of words reverse elitism which is a purely psycho-social phenomenon. But instead of using big words, let me try and explain with some concrete examples.

What is this reverse elitism? Everybody has heard of elitism, which basically means assuming superiority over one's opponent in a debate and projecting oneself as an exclusive person or part of an exclusive group. Traditionally *nix users have been projected as an elitist group who are unfriendly to new members to the club and use the words "RTFM" ever so often. In fact, the whole concept of elitism in the *nix community can be easily explained in a single four letter acronym: RTFM. Times have long since changed and it's no longer fashionable to be an elitist. The community has changed a lot and elitism has generally been cast aside in favour of inclusivism and friendliness. You can easily notice elitism when you see it and generally people who show elitist attitudes are quite quickly put in their place these days.

So much for elitism. What is reverse elitism then? Reverse elitism is a new trend I see these days on bulletin boards in general and in Linux boards in particular. Simply put, reverse elitism is a strategy that is quite effective in attacking opponents in debates without seemingly using an offensive technique. Reverse elitism is a technique by which you paint yourself as a victim or paint your opponent as being part of an exclusive group and therefore implying that his opinions are not reflective of general opinion. Reverse elitism is when you paint yourself as being a representative of the so-called "masses", of the ubiquitous man-in-the-street. Reverse elitism is when you wear a mask of humility and take the moral high ground and metaphorically tear your opponent to shreds for appearing to be arrogant and elitist in attitude. All these are characteristics of what I like to call "reverse elitism". When seemingly the victim becomes the aggressor and the opponent is the bully who is put into his place.

There is a small but highly vocal group of new Linux users who don the reverse elitist role and attack the Linux community for being an exclusive group not open to new ideas or new people. They are either genuinely frustrated individuals who want to vent their anger on the rest of the community or are merely trolls who want to get a rise out of provoking you. Either way, the effect is the same. Unfortunately reverse elitism is especially successful in Linux debates because of the historical and traditional elitism attributed to the *nix community. It is no wonder then that Linux debates become so heated, because people hate being branded as elitist and hate being clubbed together as a single group with a single, uniform mindset. No wonder that people take such posts so personally and become so vehement in defending Linux when in fact, they are defending themselves unconsciously. In fact, they find themselves going increasingly on the defensive and find that they not only have to defend Linux, but preserve their own non-elitist status as well. Thus the reverse elitist quite often wins without any real arguments or logic. On a side note, in political debates, reverse elitism can be seen in the way people often don the role of the "messiah" or the "representative" of the downtrodden, the victimized and the weak. In fact, reverse elitism exists almost everywhere in the sphere of human debate and discussion.

I think that there is only one way to combat reverse elitism. After all, it is a form of anti-social behaviour just as elitism is. The problem though is that it's often much more subtle than plain arrogance and elitism. It is difficult to detect and once you fall a victim to a reverse elitist, it is much more difficult to extricate yourself. One thing to do is to detect reverse elitism where you see it and learn to ignore it. It is hard to do so, but when a debate is becoming personal in nature without having any genuine flaming, you can bet that reverse elitism is behind it. Another is to read a post very carefully and find out which points hurt you most. If you find a personal attack where there is seemingly none, ninety percent of the time it is a reverse elitist attack. The best option is not to respond to reverse elitism. This is commonly and rather loosely translated as "do not feed the trolls". Unfortunately the second phrase does not quite explain why people feed trolls all the time. It is a losing cause because the more frustrated one gets, the more one is likely to lose control and then say or write something that could easily be interpreted as arrogance and thus elitism, playing right into the hands of an opponent.

Nobody likes to face personal attacks even when clothed in philosophy and seemingly not targetted. It is a fact that indirect attacks tend to sting worse than an open insult. While you can combat an opponent who faces you with the sword, you find it infinitely more difficult to combat somebody who avoids your blows and plunges a dagger in your back when you're not looking.

Reverse elitism is a form of anti-social behaviour pure and simple. Linux flame wars are not always about Linux but about people, their motives and their behaviour under stressful circumstances. Reverse elitist strategies in debates are simply designed to provoke negative emotions in human beings and to lure unsuspecting opponents into a trap and leave them metaphorically beaten and bruised without letting them know what hit them.

There is only one answer to reverse elitism. Learn to ignore it.
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Choosing a web hosting solution

Filed under: Tutorials and HOWTOs by Hari
Posted on Fri, Jul 15, 2005 at 17:04 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:00 IST)

Any member of any online technical community will tell you that the one question that gets asked on a fairly regular basis is the question: help me choose a web host or where can I find cheap/free web hosting?

Both these questions come up fairly often and the answer often is a brusque "google it!" Well, out of personal experience I can assure you that finding a good, reliable shared web hosting service on the web can be a fairly nerve-wracking experience and finding one that suits your pocket as well as your requirements can take quite a while, especially when you see so many sites that offer "cheap" or "absolutely FREE" web hosting.

This is where it gets really challenging to sort out the chaff from the wheat. Inevitably most of these web hosting providers do not display a full listing of features available on their hosting package and they allow the customer to "assume" quite a bit which might turn out to be false in the end. Consider the fact that one web hosting service that I found on the web offered a whopping 1000 MB of space for as low as $10 per month, but the moment you click on their feature listing, it strikes you that all is not as sweet as it seems. In a quiet corner, you find the words:
MySQL databases: 1 MySQL database storage: 15 MB

In essence, what this means is that if your website is a dynamically driven database size (which typically require a lot more space than normal, static HTML driven sites) you get only 15 MB of space to work with. Too bad about the remaining space: you can upload all the pictures and photos you want, but none of that space is "smart" space: space that counts towards making your site what it is: a dynamic content-driven website.

Paradoxically, it is the content-driven, dynamic sites that require a hell of a lot more disk space than the static ones for fairly obvious reasons. Databases aren't static entities. You can work with them: add, remove, delete, update content and this is what this generation of websites are all about. Dynamic rather than static. The web hosting provider essentially says: "you can take all the disk space you want, provided they're not used as database storage space. Have fun!" But since you don't need all that space but you need the extra database space which comes with a more expensive package, you end up paying the full amount for a fraction of the usage. In short, "you're screwed."

And what's worse, many of these hosting providers don't provide an iota of information about their true connectivity speeds, their server capacity or their uptime to maintenance ratios. Most of the genuine information is usually buried beneath heaps of unimportant details or even simply absent. Of course you should use their "contact form" and clarify all this, but then how many of us do it? It's just too much hassle to send an e-mail and then wait for a response for a few hours or in some cases, days. Many people just go ahead.

While one might argue that new or basic customers would not require the dynamic database-driven features, it is a wrong assumption. While an inexperienced user would not know what a MySQL database is or what server-side scripting implies, he sure wants to start an online club or forum, a blog or a even large content-management system. All these applications require a combination of database/server side scripting. And all these users stand to lose more when they realize one day that their disk space has run out and what the hell! They've paid for 1000 MB! Of course, it's that 15 MB of database space that has run out but then they saw the space advertised on the front page and jumped on the deal.

That is why it pays to do research. Finding a good hosting service that provides you a honest deal takes a lot of time, research and questioning. If you cannot find these answers on the website at least take the time to ask some questions like:
  1. What is the total speed of your connectivity? How many servers do you provide and how do you share it?
  2. What kind of domain/subdomain limits do I have? What is the cost of registering a domain name through you? How many subdomains am I entitled to on my account?
  3. What is your server uptime normally? How frequently and how long can I expect downtimes?
  4. Do you provide database support? If so, how many databases and how much space of it can I use in my total hosting account space?
  5. What server side scripting languages support do you provide?
  6. What server do you have? Is it Apache/Linux/Unix or is it a Windows server? What kind of backups are taken (if any) and how frequently?
  7. What kind of front-end you provide for me to access my hosting account? (most professional hosting packages should come with cPanel at least and full FTP support).
  8. Please provide me with a full list of your terms and conditions of use.

It's not an exhaustive list, but I think these should do to begin with. Of course it's our duty to do our research before paying the money. Since there are a dazzling array of choices on the table it is wise to consider all the choices carefully before making a final decision.

Remember that it pays to take your time to find out. Otherwise you may find some nasty hidden thorns along the way! Happy hosting!
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EU parliament rejects software patents... for now

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Wed, Jul 6, 2005 at 18:19 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:47 IST)

I must admit that I was nervously awaiting the result of the software patents voting in the EU parliament and I heave a huge sigh of relief and satisfaction at this result.

I just read the story here.

It is with great relief that I note that for now this new law has been rejected. That vested interests have lost and common wisdom has prevailed. For software patents would have signalled the beginning of the end for FOSS and innovation in the software line. It was well known that the large corporations supported this bill because they had the most to gain from it while small companies, individuals and independent programmers would have suffered badly as a result of restrictions on software ideas. The very concept of patenting software is restrictive and such an implementation would have effectively put an end to the smaller players in the software industry. It is good to know that people at the EU had enough common sense to put an end to it.

But all is not over. I still believe that danger still hangs over our head and it requires constant vigilance on the part of every concerned citizen. Let us wait and watch developments in this issue in the coming months. But for now, all I can say is: Phew!!
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A flurry of activity

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Sat, Jul 2, 2005 at 08:47 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:51 IST)

Another edition of the LiteraryForums.org newsletter! And this comes at a very auspicious time indeed for we've seen some good activity in the month of June. It has been a good period for LiteraryForums and I'm glad to be back after a period of illness. We've had quite a few new members join up as well and this is quite an encouraging sign.

Changes? The most obvious change is the change in colours and design. To an extent, this was prompted by the unfortunate loss of data which ruined all my good work earlier. I was truly disappointed that a lot of painstaking work was lost because I hadn't taken any backups. Now I have decided to make some changes anyway although these new changes aren't as comprehensive as the changes I had made and planned to implement earlier. However, changes were long overdue and I'm glad to have made some of them at this point. On a minor note, there has been a forum security upgrade as well.

Another aspect is the forum look and feel. It has been my desire from the very beginning to try and change as much of it as possible to give LiteraryForums.org a unique touch and in this regard I have decided that the forum images need complete replacement. Needless to say, this will take some time, but the effort will be worth it. The advantage here is that the new images will match the new theme quite well.

On a general note, I hope that this is just the beginning of all the activity! There was a perceptible increase in forum activity last month and I hope this continues. With more users submitting original content, reviews and discussions, LiteraryForums.org can only become richer. And we're getting closer to reaching 100 members! A significant milestone!

A big 'thank you' to all those members who have made this possible!

Yours Sincerely,

Hari (Forum Host)
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More on Slackware and Debian

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Tue, Jun 14, 2005 at 14:49 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:08 IST)

I had earlier posted my comparison between Debian and Slackware (see this article). All I left out in the comparison was covered by another appreciative member of LinuxQuestions.org, imitheos, who wrote this very interesting comparison and filled up most of the gaps left by me. I am much obliged to this member for granting me permission to use his post in my blog. Here are the main points comparing Debian and Slackware. I have reformatted the post for readability, but essentially the material has been pasted verbatim. Again, many thanks!
1) Package Manager Slackware has pkgtools. They are some shell scripts that untar the .tgz files and also write the contents of the package in /var/log/packages. It doesn't handle dependencies.

Debian has apt-get/dpkg I have used Slackware, Mandrake, Suse, Redhat, (Free/Net/Open) BSD, AtheOS, DGUX, Solaris, CRUX, YellowDog It is imo the best package manager that exists in the unix world. Many will say that RPM is good. First RPM doesn't handle dependencies well. For the majority of People who use Redhat/Mandrake/Suse/etc RPM is good For people like me who mess with the OS to see how it works, i have broke RPM many times and even render my system unusable (glibc :P)

I have yet to break apt/dpkg. Whatever i do it simply works. Gentoo's Portage/Emerge is also very good and handles dependencies, but apt is 10 laps ahead in F1 terminology.

1 point to Debian

2) RC System Slackware uses BSD init scripts. That is some scripts in /etc/rc.d Debian Uses SystemV init scripts. That is the scripts are in /etc/init.d and there are symbolic links of them in /etc/rcX.d for the X runlevel.

SystemV are not difficult and with the rc-update and some RC editors, they are very easy, but I (my opinion) prefer Slackware's

1 point to Slackware (Subjective Point)

3) Completeness Debian is a complete os (especially good for a desktop system) for example. You install the "elvis,vim" packages in both Slackware,Debian. In Slackware vi symlinks points to elvis and if you want you change it to vim. Debian has the "alternatives" system. Thatis /usr/bin/vi -> /etc/alternatives/vi -> /usr/bin/elvis There is the "update-alternatives" command which changes the symlink to which one you like. Very good solution imo.

Also, the scripts of every program are very complete. For example, sendmail' script (/etc/init.d/sendmail) even checks if i have a dialup connection and when it is up it configures the sendmail.cf with my new dynamic hostname.

1 point to Debian.

4) Dependencies As i said, Debian honours dependencies while Slackware does not. This good both good and bad.

The good of dependency checking is that when you check a program in Debian all its dependencies are calculated automatically and installed too. With Slackware you must find what they are and install them (from the website or Readme or ./configure ) The bad thing is that sometimes you get to install some things that are not necessary. For example, when i tried to install mjpegtools it needed the libdv library which is not absolutely necessary for the program to work and in Slackware i didn't compile it. This is again because Debian wants to be complete so it enables all the dependencies of each program when compiling.

I guess 1 point to Debian for most people (although i prefer to have an option like Slackware gives me)

5) Point of view Debian is a complete os (have i said it again ? :P). It has an awful large amount of packages (15490 according to Debian Website, but more if you count the "unofficial" packages in www.apt-get.org)

Slackware is a minimalistic os with the point of view that i give you a simple os and you install only what you want from there (NetBSD is the same)

1 point to Debian for desktop system. 1 point to Slackware for server system (Also subjective. Some may disagree)

6) Installation Difficulty and Time Both use simple ncurses interfaces with description and everything so they are very easy to install. (I don't know why many people say they are hard)

Debian Installer is more complete and it has many translations (Although many computer terms are always english it feels good to install in your native language) Debian takes more time to install because of the huge amount of packages you have to choose from (for a custom installation)

7) Packages Update Debian is updated very frequently (Testing/Unstable). Slackware was being updated very frequently too,but now due to Pat's health reasons it has fallen behind a little.

Slackware tends to be among the first distros to include something. Debian wants to be stable than to be bleeding edge, so some packages take a little longer to be included. (Also, for a package to be included it must be stable for all architectures is mentioned in the policy i think, so that takes time) for example Debian Sarge uses Xfree86 4.3.0 while Slackware uses Xorg 6.8.2

1 point to Slackware
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A look at Slackware and Debian - part two

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Fri, Jun 10, 2005 at 09:49 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:09 IST)

I had originally intended the second part of this article to cover the differences between Gentoo and Debian, but recently I had posted a comparison between Slackware and Debian at LinuxQuestions.org in response to a thread and I thought I should post it here as well, since a kind member responded appreciatively to it. It's rare when you get such praise in a competitive, highly knowledgeable community like LQ, so I thought it would be a good idea to blog it. Feel free to leave your own comments and thoughts as well. I'd be very grateful if you could.

Here it is:
If you are big into the "manual configure" thing and you don't mind the down-and-dirty, often repetitive tasks of installing dependencies by hand, editing configuration files manually and so on, use Slackware.

Slackware is the "hacker" oriented approach to Linux. It's clean and is tailored to allow you manual configuration of your system. GUI tools are minimal for most configuration tasks. There are 3d party package manager tools for Slackware, but your success will be 50-50 with automated tools.

It's logical approach can be easily learnt though, though you might start wearing of installing dependencies by hand as your system builds up ;)

With Debian, you get convenience and power (if you choose to use it). Apt package management will give you 99.99% success if you choose to use only the official repositories and are relatively conservative the chances of breaking your system are nil.

As with Slackware though, system administration can be done manually, but you do have the choice of installing *a lot* of tools from the huge repositories of Debian and this might help to administer a Debian system more easily than Slackware.

Debian == Easier to maintain, upgrade and manage. Suited for general purpose power users with a wide range of needs. If you are the kind of user who wants to constantly keep installing/uinstalling/upgrading/removing software from your system, choose Debian.

Slackware == Suited for tweaking and learning, can be more involved when you upgrade. Suited if you don't need too many applications and if you aren't going to constantly install/upgrade/delete applications. Tailored to be lightweight, configurable and yet powerful.

Both are excellent mainstream distributions each focussed in different areas and each following a different set of priorities and philosophies.
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