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Everybody knows your name at the corner LUG

Joe Barr goes on the road to San Antonio & visits a Linux User Group

(LinuxWorld) -- There is something exciting about visiting a LUG for the first time. It's like finding a group of friends you didn't know you had. I had the opportunity recently to speak at a SATLUG meeting. SATLUG is the San Antonio Linux Users Group. The URL for the group is given in Resources below. Although it was my first visit to SATLUG, it was also a homecoming of sorts. I was born in San Antonio and lived there several times while growing up.

San Antonio has changed considerably over the years. Not just in size, though San Antonio today certainly dwarfs the town I remember. It is still a unique American city, but there is much more to it these days than just the rodeo at Joe Freeman, the Alamo, and its rich Hispanic culture. I suspect there are more white-hat security types in San Antonio than almost any other place on earth. At the meeting, they told me it was because San Antonio is home to the AIA, Air Intelligence Agency.

That made it even more of a homecoming. While in the Navy, I was part of a detachment stationed with the 6922nd AFSS (Air Force Security Service) Squadron at Clark AFB in the Philippines. If I have the genealogy correct, the AFSS evolved into the ESC (Electronic Security Command), then became the AFIC (Air Force Intelligence Command), and finally shape-shifted into the AIA.

Evidently, not everyone who is into testing Internet security in San Antonio wears a white hat, though. The LUG's server was rooted last week and the mailing list is still down as I write this story. As of the night of the meeting, who the guilty party is and how they accomplished their cracking was still not known. The intrusion was detected in less than an hour, and if the LUG admin responsible had not been so eager to secure the system again, they very well could have simply watched and caught the bad guys.

Until recently, SATLUG met at a Cisco corporate site on the north side of town. When one of the sponsoring employees left Cisco the group had to find a new location. Up stepped a strong booster of Linux in the community, Professor Steve Kolars, who just happens to be the Department Chair of Computer Information Systems at San Antonio College (SAC). That's how the meeting I attended happened to be held in the Nail Technology Center on SAC's midtown campus.

Before I started my talk, I watched as several members of the LUG installed Lycoris on a machine. This particular install was not for a newbie needing assistance, but for a dry run of sorts. SATLUG ponders contacting Walmart with an offer to install Linux gratis for Walmart customers who buy a "naked" PC. Lycoris is on the short list of distributions being considered for the task. The Lycoris install, by the way, at least as much of it as I could see over the shoulders of Walt DuBose and others nearby, seemed to be relatively painless, completing in about half an hour.

Talking to new old friends

I'm always a little nervous before I speak, but once I got rolling I was fine. I talked mostly about how much Linux has changed my life, and how much I enjoy writing about it. Even though all the glitter and gold of the pre dot.com bust has gone away and I have to do substitute teaching in addition to writing to pay the bills. Good money or no, I'm doing what I really want to be doing, and I've been around long enough to appreciate how rare that is.

I talked about some of the Linux luminaries I've met. I talked about sitting at the same table while de Icaza and Tiemann discussed CPU architecture, how I bribed Torvalds for an autograph, and how nervous I was interviewing Stallman. I talked about how my friend Jep Hill started the Austin Linux Group by hosting weekly meetings in his law office, and how amazing I find it that the ALG still meets on a weekly basis and seems to thrive.

The SATLUG'ers present were a little kinder to me than some in my local LUG. None of them pointed out how my recent column on Evolution complained about the time it takes to mark a message read without being aware that this is a configurable option.

Before long the talk became a two-headed question and answer session. They asked questions about my experiences or opinions and I asked them questions about what sort of activities the LUG was engaged in and its plans for the future. I've already mentioned that they intend to contact Walmart to volunteer installation assistance. I found they more than anything else SATLUG wants to help further the adoption of Linux, whether for individual or enterprise use.

I also gained a better appreciation for how far Linux has come since the first LUG meetings I attended. Almost everyone present at LUG raised their hand when I asked how many ran Linux on their desktop at home. They laughed when I told them that they don't exist, because I had just read that the Linux desktop was dead.

Perhaps even more significantly, when I asked how many had jobs working with Linux, six hands went up. It's only been a couple of years since the days that everyone wanted to do so but it was very rare that anyone actually did.

One member asked about a list, or a site, dedicated to Linux success stories that could be used as a resource by those working to get Linux into their own workplace. That certainly seems to be a good idea, and if anyone knows of such a site, please let me know and I'll forward that information to SATLUG. Places like Key Largo, Florida, and firms including Burlington Coat Factory, Amazon, and Google are well known in the Linux community. It only makes sense to gather a list of these and others into a single resource.

In the past, SATLUG and San Antonio College collaborated on installfests, and have plans for more in the future. Kolars told me that SATLUG hopes to conduct classes for introductory Linux use in conjunction with the next installfest scheduled for May. He mentioned one problem they were having was in finding a book to use for the class. I pointed him at Dr. Phil Carinhas, who provided the curriculum used by ALG volunteers teaching a continuing education class (an introduction to Linux).

I was pleasantly surprised to learn how popular Linux is at SAC. All department PCs are configured for dual booting between Windows and Linux, and a variety of Linux-oriented courses are offered. Kolars said the demand for Linux training in the San Antonio area is greater than SAC can meet. Hotspots are in the areas of security, networking, and system administration.

I came away from my SATLUG visit with good feelings and a couple of ideas to share with the local LUG. It certainly was nice to see such a vibrant, thriving Linux community in place and focused on expanding the user base. It was also good to see evidence of Linux sinking itself deeper into collegiate education. If you feel yourself longing for a little bit of community, get in touch with the Linux root system. You can find it at your local LUG.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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