Welcome! You've arrived at award-winning author Marcel Gagné's personal Website. I am the author of the "Moving to Linux" series of books, a regular columnist for several tech magazines, a public speaker, radio and television personality, and a well known voice in the Linux and open source universe. I created the famous (perhaps infamous) Cooking With Linux which ran for ten years in the Linux Journal. I'm also a published science fiction author and editor, a onetime Editor in Chief, a pilot, a former Top 40 disc jockey, and I fold a mean origami T-Rex.  This site is home to my insights, opinions, gripes, brags, tech stuff, and whatever else comes to mind when I have the time or the inclination to publish it. 

05
Mar

2006 Pipe Down from Organized Crime

This past weekend, a friend dropped in with an interesting bottle of wine she picked up while driving through the Niagara wine region (thanks, Genine). The 2006 Pipe Down is a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Syrah, and 10% Petit Verdot, aged 16 months in French oak casks.

21
Jan

We will restore science to its rightful place . . .

Allow me to once more use that word, historic. Yesterday was indeed an historic day as Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America. Watching from Canada, where there was never much love for Dubya and his policies, there is much hope for the future under the new President. And a great deal more cautious optimism. During the noontime celebrations, I was busy feeding my son his lunch, so I caught the show later that evening. Even distanced by the sound bites and analysis of the nightly news, it was still powerful to watch.

28
Nov

Satan In The Mirror

This is a story about the devil. You know. Satan. The guy with the pitchfork, horns, bad breath, and the red underwear. Oh, and it's about me, too. When I was just a small child, my parents, good Catholics that they were, did what all good parents of religious upbringing did. They did their best to instill the fear of God into me. After all, hard to worship the big guy if there's no fire and brimstone to tip your kids back in the other direction when they transgress. Right? My parents, like every other set of parents, were brought up with a collection of stories taught to them by their God-fearing parents. Remember kids. You can love God, but you must also fear him. Now, I don't remember exactly how old I was, but it was before my great revelation which happened when I was seven years old, so it had to be a couple of years before.

I had been bad that day. Sure, what kid isn't bad at some point? I hadn't killed anyone or help up a bank, but I might have taken a cookie, not come in immediately when called, or talked back to my Mom or Dad. Whatever the crime, it was a one of those petty crimes of childhood, the kind every 4 or 5 year old kid commits on a regular basis. Whatever the transgression, I remember my mother telling me that bad boys would be punished by God in this way; when looking into a mirror at night, in the dark, that boy (or girl) would see Satan staring back at them from the mirror.

Well, it worked. I was terrified. For months, anytime I did anything remotely bad, I would go to bed avoiding my reflection in the mirror, should Satan be standing there staring back at me. Getting up to go to the bathroom, I carefully averted my eyes from the mirror. Once I had finished my business, I jumped back into bed being careful to avoid the mirror in my bedroom. In the winter, when it was dark early, I was careful to avoid dark or dimly-lit rooms that might have a mirror.

Then, one night, after I had been bad . . . again, I decided to face the devil once and for all. I have no idea what made me so brave or cocky that night, but I was ready to face old Nick and take what was coming to me. I crept up to the mirror, slowly looked toward the shadowy reflection, and saw only myself. There was no Satan. No devil with a pitchfork waiting to skewer my bottom. Just me. Standing alone in the dark.

My mother, I realized, had lied to me. I wasn't sure why exactly, but I chalked it up to just one of the many veiled threats parents make. "I brought you into this world. I can take you out!" That sort of thing.

More importantly, from that night on, I was pretty sure there was no devil. Not a hundred percent sure mind you, but awfully close.

Finding out there was no God would take considerably longer.

19
Aug

Avril Lavigne is too sexy . . . for Malaysia

Commenting on this story in the Globe and Mail, I feel like it's just too easy to make fun of some people. You know, fish-in-a-barrel easy. Apparently, the Canadian pop superstar was to perform in a concert in Malaysia later this month, but the concert was canceled amid complaints. What kind of complaints? Well, it seems that Avril Lavigne is just too darn sexy for Malaysia. Say what? Could these people, the ones complaining, possibly even remotely be Islamic Fundamentalists? Let's check the Globe for clues.

The Arts, Culture and Heritage Ministry said it had decided not to permit Lavigne's planned Aug. 29 performance because it is unsuitable for Malaysian culture. The decision came after complaints by the youth wing of a fundamentalist opposition party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic party.

Odd, how fundamentalists are never any fun. In the end, you must judge for yourself.

Decide for yourself. Maybe they're right. Maybe Avril Lavigne is just too sexy . . . for Malaysia.

15
Aug

Open Source Licences Are Legally Enforceable

The legal power of open source licencing has won a major victory, upheld by the United States Court of Appeals. I hope you will read the whole thing over at InformationWeek, but the following quote is particularly interesting:

The lower court ultimately ruled that Jacobsen could not sue Katzer and Kamind Associates for copyright violation because the Artistic License is "intentionally broad."  The appeals court dismissed that argument in its ruling, and said that open source software developers have the right to dictate the terms under which their products can be used or modified (bolded emphasis is mine).

That's right, folks. The person who wrote the software has the right to decide. Other takes on this story, for those who are interested, include Groklaw, ZDNet, and the BBC News.

There are plenty more sources out there, but this gives you a sampling of what will inevitably represent a major sea change in how open source and open source licensing is viewed.

14
Aug

CNN Can't Count

Last time I checked, the number 10 was a higher number than the number 8. While that might seem terribly obvious to those of us who managed to make it past elementary school, this is a bit tough for CNN to grasp. At least it's tough for their Website. The screenshot you see below (click the small image for a larger picture) is the result of me trying to follow up a story link posted by Tim O'Reilly, which turned out to be a dead end. I did manage to find the story and the associated video, but I, apparently, need a different kind of math to view it.

A reader writes in with a dilemma. He wants to run Linux desktops in his office, but still needs access to one or more Windows applications. What he wants (and needs) is a solution that does not require him to have a Windows license for each desktop that needs this application. What can he do? In this video, I discuss one possibility.

This story is one that is both a bit frightening, if you happen to travel to and from the United States, and incredibly stupid on so many fronts, it's downright laughable. Let's start with frightening . . . Michael Willems, in his Unreasonable Man blog, led me to an interesting and scary story regarding US border searches. this CBC article. You should still read it, but here's the short version.

In order to protect us, the United States government has given its border guards the power to seize your notebook computer, cell phone, digital planner, documents, pamphlets, hard drives (you name it), etc. They can then make full copies of this information in whatever form it takes, and share it with a number of government agencies. Keep in mind as you read this that they do not need just cause to do this, nor do they even need to suspect you of anything. At a later, more convenient time (to them, not you), they can look over the information, presumably to uncover terrorists, but also to ". . . help authorities detect possible instances of terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography and violations of copyright and trademark laws."

30
Jul

Font Conference

Maybe it's because I'm a writer and perhaps writers are the only ones who are going to find this funny, but I seriously thought this was hilarious. Seriously.

If you aren't a writer and you thought this was funny too, let me know.

24
Jul

Scripting for Interactive Sessions: expect

At first glance, it would seem that you are out of luck if what you want to automate requires human intervention. There are things that need someone to pick from menu options, enter passwords, or make decisions based on the information presented. Interactive applications require a user’s reaction, don’t they? The answer for the cleverly lazy system administrator is “Not always” thanks to a little program called expect.

While I had heard of expect sometime before, I discovered a few years ago just how useful this language is. My partner and I were developing a Web-based system that required regular updates from the main computer’s database, a database that would not allow command-line scripting. The data we needed required the execution of an SQL statement that could only be entered through the vendor’s menu interface. That SQL statement would then generate the data file we needed for the Web interface. The whole process hinged on writing something that mimicked a user sitting at a terminal entering information as the various prompts were presented to him or her. Expect, a software suite/language based on Tcl, was the answer to our dilemma. Later, Expect would make it possible to stretch our Web-tool well beyond what we, ahem, expected at the time.

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