Linux for poets

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The support staff at Rack Force was kind enough to install Webmin (an open source system management tool) for me since I couldn’t use Plesk. It’s not as commercial or smooth as Plesk, or CPanel, or Ensim, but it provides all the services I could possibly want – and more. What’s even better is there’s a companion tool I just installed called Usermin that will allow the co-op members to manage their own information, such as passwords, files, etc.

Speaking of the co-op, I have a question: If I call the co-op the Burningbird Network Co-op, does this imply ownership? Or should we call it something else? Does being affiliated with the Burningbird Network imply both an association and a state of mind on the members? For instance, does it say that all members share my liberal political view, or that only RDF/RSS is supported?

(Heh Heh Heh – only supporting RDF/RSS. Boy that has wicked appeal to me. )

Name and RSS support considerations aside, back to the co-op server and the To Do Task List:

Rack Force installed and configured Apache, xinetd, BIND, SSH2, and MySQL 3.23, and I’ve installed and configured the FTP server (ProFTPD), and upgraded to MySQL 4.0. Now I’m about to download and install PHP support, and compile PHP in as a module with Apache. I need to disable root login, for security, and after that to look at the nameserver configuration and make a decision whether to use the box as a nameserver, or to use a well known free nameserver such as The Public DNS Service, and to disable BIND on the machine.

And as I write all of this, I can see several of my readers nodding my head going, “Yup”; but I can also see several other readers scratching their heads, going “What?” One thing about the one-button publishing enabled by weblogging software is that none of it requires that you know anything about the processes that support your pages – how they work or even what they are.

Personally, I think this is a mistake. I think that not having at least a basic background and understanding allows some hosting companies (not all) to hide system problems behind esoteric terms. For instance, you can’t see your pages and ask why, and the ISP comes back with a detailed discussion of routers and network switches, but the real problem is the ISP sucks.

Then there’s the issues of webloggers being told that they must do this, or that, in order to do the ‘right’ thing. Supporting comments comes to mind as part of this issue. So does RSS. Rodent Regatta asked the following about the recent controversy of funky RSS (see Sam Ruby’s entry on same):

Take if from one who knows; inexperienced (non-coding) users don’t know that their RSS feed is funky. After reading all the comments, those same folks have no clue what to do about their RSS feeds, if anything.

Will somebody kindly step through the fog and say, “if you want your RSS feed to be right, and not funky, go do these steps…?”

The more I think about it, the less I understand why I have a little icon in my sidebar for XML and another for RDF. I probably should be able to pick one or the other, do away with the icon and simply the link to “syndicate this site.”


Excellent, excellent point – time to cut through the bull for the “inexperienced (non-coding) users”. Question for my non-tech readers: Don’t you get tired of techies telling you what you have to do to have a ‘compliant’ weblog?

I also think that not having a basic background leaves the webloggers confused as to what they need to do to move from one ISP to another, or from one weblogging software to another, and so they tend to stay with one ISP even though they get lousy service. In fact, I’ve seen this happen too frequently lately, which is one reason why I wanted to start the co-op: to give webloggers a third option between a free but burdened service such as blogspot, and a commercial service.

The Burningbird Network Co-op (for want of a better name for now) is more than just a space to plant your weblog – it’s also a way for webloggers to learn more about the medium in which they find themselves, enough to be able to control what happens to their pages and their web sites. I’ve never been one to support the concept of the ‘passive user’, and I’m not about to start now with the Co-op.

I’m not talking about people becoming network or Linux gurus – there’s a difference between knowing how to set up a Linux web server from scratch, and knowing how nameservers and DNS works, so that you know what to do to change your domain from one ISP to another. The only problem is, most writing, online and off, about many of the concepts assumes that one’s interest is the former rather than the latter.

The view seems to be that either one wants to become a guru or one wants to be kept totally isolated from any of the mechanics. I look at many of the webloggers I read, the non-Unix guru ones that is, and I don’t buy the belief that they would rather be kept in complete ignorance of the processes that controls your access to their pages, photos, and sound files. I think that many of them would rather know something about this environment, at least enough to know how it impacts on them.

For most, understanding of basic concepts is enough. This includes basic understanding of FTP, the weblogging software, how to manage their own account, and DNS issues that surround their domains. Fair enough. Others, though, might like to go a bit further. On the Co-op box, we’ll have room to run different types of software such as a wiki, or group weblogging software such as Kuroshin’s Scoop.

Once the co-op is up and running one of the first things I’m publishing on the new site is a series of writings, including applications, under the title of “RDF for Poets”. I liked the concept of writing about technology from a perspective of ‘…for poets’, not because it’s specifically geared to poets or the poetically inclined; but because the writing is geared to the intelligent non-techie.

What a unique challenge – to write about technology for the non-tech, but in such a manner as to engage their interest. You must not only write clearly and make no assumptions, but I would think that your writing would also have to have some element of wit, and panache. After all, poets are dicriminating readers – if they wanted to spend their afternoon reading a bland, dry how-to they could dig up their TV VCR manual.

I thought that something like a Linux for Poets would also be a fun challenge to write. An attempt to answer the question, “Can one write about Linux is such a way that the writing is entertaining as well as informational?” In most of my previous technology writing, there is an assumption that the person reading it is a technologist – I’ve never tried to write about technology, seriously, for the non-technologist. Especially the type of non-technologist who lives in my neighborhood, who happens to be intelligent, artistic, well informed, curious, have limited time, and who doesn’t suffer pedantic nonsense quietly.


As I work through the co-op server technology issues, I’ll try and write about them under the premise of “Linux for Poets”, and we’ll see how I do. We could have fun. Or not. However, at least it’s something different from yet another round of “Why we weblog”.

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