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My FAQ

Of course, these aren't really questions I'm asked frequently. If I made a real FAQ, it'd have questions like "Are you in the office?" and "Is there food in the fridge?" or "Are you not cold?" but no one comes to my website for answers to those questions, so here's a bunch of other questions instead.

  1. Got any advice for people giving talks?
  2. What's the difference between free software and open source software?
  3. What text editor should I use?
  4. What Mail-reader should I use?
  5. What should people know when beginning with GNU Emacs?
  6. What should current GNU Emacs users try?
  7. What should advanced GNU Emaccers know?
  8. Know any guides to mailinglist etiquette?
  9. Is the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) v1.3 a good licence?
  10. What's the deal with the whole SCO thing?
  11. Can I see your .emacs/.bashrc/.gnus/whatever?
  12. How many hits does your site get?
  13. Is there a pirated version of this page?
  14. Should I send emails while drunk?
  15. Are open standards important?
  16. How did you get your homepage to rank highly in search engines?
  17. Can I link to a page on your site?
  18. When is the big party?
  19. Got any advice for someone that wants to be a diplomat/politician/ambassador?
  20. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
  21. What does "yous" mean?
  22. How do I get to Au Bon Vieux Temps?

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Got any advice for people giving talks?

Write out your talk before giving it, and practice it at least once on your own while timing yourself. This is a must. You'll be surprised how much content you need to talk for an hour.

Bring a printed copy with you. You shouldn't read straight from it, but you'll need it there to remind you of what you have to say and the order you wanted to say it in. Use a font that you can read from three feet away. Use all capitals for quotes, and use a bold font to highlight two or three key words in each paragraph so that you can quickly find where you are when you glance at it.

Try to obtain recordings of any talks you do. Your mistakes will be very obvious and usually correctable.

Find audio recordings of speeches other people have given on similar topcis. Copy some of their words, especially their examples and jokes. Check the Information Resources section of my homepage, and listen to as many recordings as you can. No matter what topic you will be speaking about, it's worth listening to recordings of Richard Stallman, Lawrence Lessig, and Eben Moglen. They are experts and each has a different style.

Bring a watch and put it on the table in front of you, so you can glance at it to see how you're doing for time. Not knowing how much longer you have to talk for makes it more nerve wracking, and when you're at the top of a room, any wall clock will be behind you.

If you're new to giving talks, involve the audience early on. When you get to the end of a section, ask the audience for questions. Experienced speakers like Stallman can keep an audience entertained for two hours on their own, but for less skilled speakers, 30 minutes of non-stop talking is all an audience can pay attention for. Once you get the audience involved, they wake up. They actually sit up straighter, I've seen it.

If your speech is being recorded, be careful about what you are saying, make sure you can stand by it at a later date. Don't say that Bill Gates has made it harder for Africans to get AIDS treatments, unless you can also state your reasoning and evidence.

Accept that people have to yawn, it doesn't mean that you're boring them. You will probably know every times someone yawns. Faced with a room of flesh tones, the red insides of a yawning mouth will attract your gaze. I've had my eyes fall closed before while listening to a talk I was interested in. So long as the audience doesn't leave, you're OK.


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What's the difference between free software and open source software?

Except for a few rare situations, these terms are interchangeable.

"Free software" is the term used by Richard Stallman since 1983 to refer to software which comes with permission to study, share, modify, and redistribute either without or without your modifications.

"Open source software" is a term popularised by Open Source Initiative (OSI) in 1998, hoping to be a more marketable name for free software. Unfortunately, OSI is less firm in it's criteria and it's interpretation. There are some projects which are open source software but do not qualify as free software.

In practice, these projects are rarely widely. GNU software is free software, and it is open source software, and the same is true for the Linux kernel, Mozilla, OpenOffice, GNOME, KDE, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, ViM, Perl, Python, etc.

The Open Source advocacy line is that "software is developed better when the code is open". This is often true, but it tells people that convenience is the reasonf for choosing the software. Thus, if a non-open source program is superior, or becomes superior, the user has no reason to stay with the open source program. In this way, the Open Source movement may not create a lasting value.

Free software advocates say that people are entitled to freedom, and should expect freedom. They point out the harm that non-Free or proprietary software does to individuals, businesses, and society.


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What text editor should I use?

GNU Emacs. GNU Emacs is an extensible, customisable, self-documenting text editor that has been in development since 1984. It was a rewrite of the original Emacs, which was written by the same author in 1976. So after almost thirty years of customisation and extention, it has reached a really advanced level of usefulness.

I've been using GNU Emacs since sometime in the summer of 2002. Before that I used ViM for five years, but there are limits to how many things you can learn to do with ViM. With Emacs, I found that most of the macros I used to hack with ViM are already part of Emacs, so I've moved up a notch to extending my editor in more useful ways.

Also, because GNU Emacs is self-documenting, it's very easy to learn about the functionality available to you.

Wikipedia contains a good history and description of GNU Emacs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emacs


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What Mail-reader should I use?

Short answser: one of the Emacs options, but not Gnus.

As a rule, if GNU Emacs can do something, you should try doing it with GNU Emacs. But GNU Emacs has many mail user agents, so it's a good idea to look at the people that have been using emacs for a long time. They will have tried and tested what's available, and may be contributors to whatever mail reader they're using, so their chosen mail reader is probably very good.

Richard Stallman, the ultimate emacs user, uses emacs rmail. He wrote emacs rmail more than twenty years ago and is still maintaining and using it, so it must be very good. Gnus is the choice of many hardcore emaccers like Georg Greve, Thomas Bushnell, Jonas Oberg, and Bob Chassell. So I went with Gnus.

(Update: After six years of trying to like Gnus, I've now abandoned it. Gnus is a source of misery. Give Gnus to your enemies. I have nothing good to say about Gnus and I regret having used it for six years. I now use rmail..)

Switching to Gnus is not a lunchtime activity. You'll have to learn how to use it, and you will have to solve problems when trying to configure it. And you will have to wonder where your mail is going while you're sorting out these problems.

Tip: I stuck
alias gnus='cat /var/mail/coriordan >> ~/backup/mail.text; emacs -f gnus'
into my .profile (sourced from .bashrc). This is only a half-ass backup solution, but it was good enough for the few days that I spent repeatedly restarting Gnus to see if my configuration worked yet.


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What should people know when beginning with GNU Emacs?

RTFM. Really, it's a great manual. Here's a list of commands that should allow you to use Emacs. The notation is pretty obvious, but it's explained in the manual anyway.

That's enough to edit text. And if you think: "I wonder if there's a quick way to...", the answer is yes, and it'll be explained in the manual.

Note: Emacs has been in development since 1976, that's why it kicks so much ass, but it also means it's steeped in history - which is a nice way of saying that it comes with bagage. You don't "copy" and "paste", instead you "kill" and "yank". Killed text gets added to the kill ring, then you can yank it off the kill ring. Windows are not called windows, they are called "frames". When you split a frame, you then have two "windows" (yes, confusing today). And it has "desktop" functionality, which is nothing to do with graphical interfaces or even screen appearance.


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What should current GNU Emacs users try?

You should be using frames and abbrevs. Also check out the "desktop" feature. You should be answering mail with Emacs. Maybe registers as well, but I haven't started using them yet. Your .emacs should probably be 50 lines or more and should include a few simple functions attached to mode hooks etc.


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What should advanced GNU Emaccers know?

More than me. I'm using GNU Emacs since some time before August 2002, and after the release of GNU Emacs 21. I haven't tried to learn emacs lisp, but I'm beginning to pick it up accidentally. I suppose an advanced emaccer should accidentally be quite competent with emacs lisp.


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Know any good guides to mailing list etiquette?

There's an email by FreeBSD hacker Poul-Henning Kamp that should be read by everyone.

And Richard Stallman wrote a good mail about mailing lists quarrels, and why you should know when to let it drop.


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Is the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) v1.3 a good licence?

No. I use it and recommend it, but I wish it were different and I hope it will be changed as I describe here. There are a few small problems that little people like to make big deals about, but the real problem is "Invariant Sections".

The GFDL allows an author to mark certain off-topic sections as being "Invariant". These sections cannot be altered or omitted from altered versions of the book. FSF added this clause so that people publishing FSF books could be required to retain their section titled "Free Software needs Free Documentation" in printed and digital copies.

That's a good idea. But what about people that add Invariant sections such as "Why the US were right to invade Iraq". I wouldn't be able to distribute such a work. Or what if IBM decided to improve the content of a book I was working on, but their work included an Invariant Section titled "IBM is a great company because...". If I wanted to add their technical improvements to my copy, I'd also have to add their Invariant Section which I might dissagree with, and I'd have to require that others don't alter it.

Because of the Invariant Sections clause, the GFDL is open to abuse. But even with these problems, I still use the GFDL for my book "Learning GNU C" (the book's on hold while I learn some human languages). I use the GFDL because there are no documentation licences that don't have problems, and I trust FSF to fix this licence, hopefully in the near future. If I had to use a different licence for my documentation, I'd use the GNU GPL.

For more discussion, see a statement from a debian developer. He originally wrote it as a draft postition statement for Debian, but it was never taken up. (Watch out for little problems being blown out of proportion, and if you know how to turn off style sheets in your browser, you can make the page more readable). Other good points can be found in this email by David Kastrup.


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What's the deal with the whole SCO thing?

This issue makes a lot of headlines and big numbers get thrown around, but it's a contract dispute between two or three companies, it's not a big threat to free software, or software development in general.

But what if SCO win?
It's not the end of the world. Their issue is with Linux, one component of the GNU/Linux operating system. Like most components, it's replaceable. Robert Millan has nearly completed porting the GNU OS to the FreeBSD kernel. More information on this can be found at the Debian glibc-based GNU/KFreeBSD port page. But this doesn't mean that Linux isn't important, it's a great kernel, and it's worth fighting for. But don't let the number of headlines fool you into thinking that this is the most important issue to work on. Software patents are a much greater threat to free software. The EUCD and the DMCA are also bigger threats. Lack of public awareness, regarding software freedom, is a bigger threat. etc.

For me, the most interesting thing to come out of this whole SCO thing is The Grinch Who Stole Linux.

For some interesting info, you can read FSF's Position regarding SCO's attacks on free software. Four essays by Eben Moglen and one by Richard Stallman, the guys that wrote the GNU GPL.


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Can I see your .emacs/.bashrc/.gnus/whatever?

Unfortunately not anymore. My config files were all online but the links broke when I reorganised the site. Fixing the links is somewhere low down on my todo list.


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How many hits does your site get?

(Answer written some time in 2005 and not updated since.)

It depends on whether I'm posting regularly to forums like slashdot. If I am, I get 20 to 100 hits, and occassionally I get a lot more. When I'm staying away from forums, I get 10 hits per day.

I once got 1332 hits in 24 hours after I posted this comment on slashdot in response to some stupid story about personal homepages.


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Is there a pirated version of this page?

Not any more. There was once, but he stopped maintaining it.


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Should I send meail while drukn?

no. (durnk right now, remembering a ramblling meail I once sent to stallman while drunk.


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Are open standards important?

Yes. Royalty-free, published standards permit free market competition. Without common standards, monopolists can use lock-in tactics to take ownership of a field of computing. When a field of computing is ruled by a monopoly, a standard exists but it is a secret proprietary standard. As we break down each monopoly, we must replace there file formats with royalty-free, published formats so that companies can't use secret file formats to enforce future monopolies.

Where public standards already exist, we must realise their value, apply them to our own work, and also mandate that software companies adhere to them. The W3C web standards are a great example of public standards.


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How did you get your homepage to rank highly in search engines?

For info of my current status, and what I've done, check my Search Engine Optimisation page.


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Can I link to a page on your site?

Yes, please do. I've put a bit of work into the site, so I'd like it to be seen by as many people as possible.

I rarely move the pages on the site, and when I do, I put a small redirect in place of the old page, pointing to the new location of that information, so I won't break your link.


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When is the big party?

If you don't know, you're probably not invited.


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Got any advice for someone that wants to be a diplomat/politician/ambassador?

(I don't know why I wrote about diplmats etc. I don't know how to do their work. I should probably merge this into the question on advice for people giving talks.)

Here's the thing: you can't learn in private.

Anyone can learn to be a computer programmer in private, they won't have to put up with being ridiculed, and they can spot their mistakes themself. But if you want to be a public speaker, you have to go through the whole learning process in front an audience.

You have to stick your neck out and make a fool of yourself for a while. Be wrong, be rebutted, but continually analyse your mistakes and analyse the good moves made by people you respect. Read other peoples speeches and debates, and most importantly, watch recordings of yours.


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Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The egg.

A chicken can produce a non-chicken, that's how evolution works. So by extension, a non-chicken can produce a chicken. On the other hand, a chicken egg can't grow up to be anything but a chicken, and a non-chicken egg can't grow up to be anything but a non-chicken. So the chicken must have come from an egg, but the egg doesn't have to come from a chicken, so only the egg could have come first.


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What does "yous" mean?

It's a plural form of "you". When you say "What do you think?" to a group of people, especially by email (because no body language hints are possible, it's a problem that English doesn't provide a word to show that you mean "you (plural)".

We can see it's a problem because every English speaking region that I can think of has developed a local solution to it. Some use "ye", "yee", "you lot", "you guys", "y'all", etc. In Ireland, particularly in Dublin, we say "yous". Others in Ireland say "yee".

It's like the Polish guy designing the grounds of university: when he was finished, everyone liked the plan but they said it had too much grass and not enough paths to walk on. "Of course," he said, "rather than guessing what people want and making something that's hard to change, just let the students walk on the grass for a few months, and then I'll come back pave the places where their walking has worn the grass away. Then you'll have paths where people want paths." A word for "you (plural)" is a part of English that needs to be paved.


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How do I get to Au Bon Vieux Temps?

Here's a map: http://www.openstreetmap.org/?lat=50.84814&lon=4.35215&zoom=18&layers=M

Here are three pictures, which I hereby release to the public domain, that I took of the outer entrance:

When you walk in through that little door-sized archway, you will be in a small alley and the door of the bar will be about 10 metres in front of you on the right.

Here's a website with their phone number and a description: http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/4993/


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