[image of a Brave GNU World]
Brave GNU World - Issue #42
Copyright © 2002 Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnu.org>
Permission statement below.

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Welcome to another issue of Georg's Brave GNU World, this time with the highly symbolic number 42. Although earth may be mostly harmless, sometimes it is quite easy to get lost on it. But fortunately there is GpsDrive.


As the name suggests, GpsDrive [5] by Fritz Ganter is a Free Software navigation system under the GNU General Public License, which uses the satellites of the "Global Positioning System" (GPS).

Through a GPS receiver, GpsDrive gets the current position and displays it on an automatically chosen map in a user-selected scaling. Loading the maps can either be done directly off the internet or through a proxy; even from map servers like Expedia or Mapblast.

GpsDrive supports route planning through way points, which can be read from a file or entered dynamically with the mouse. Routes can also be recorded and played back, so it is possible to record ways you have taken and pass them on to friends, which is already being used for bicycle tours, for instance.

To avoid having to stare at the screen all the time, GpsDrive also supports spoken output in English, German and Spanish through the Festival [6] speech synthesis software.

Given that development on GpsDrive only began in August 2001, making the project just one year old, the list of features is quite amazing. One of the most unusual ones is clearly the "friendsd" server, which allows friends to share their positions, allowing to display also the positions of the others.

GpsDrive was written in C with the GTK+ toolkit and even though it is already quite stable, it is still under development. Points of interest for future development are a real street navigation and also speech input.

It works with all Garmin GPS receivers which allow for serial output, as well as GPS receivers supporting the NMEA protocol and is usually being used on laptops, where it has been tested under GNU/Linux and FreeBSD.

But of course especially PDAs would be interesting platforms for such applications and owners of the Compaq iPAQ and the Yopy may be happy, because GpsDrive has been used successfully on those.

Although GpsDrive has already been localized for 10 languages, especially translation into other languages is an area in which Fritz seeks help to make his project accessible to as many people as possible.

GNU SpaceChart

GNU SpaceChart [7] by Migual Coca, a relatively new package of the GNU Project, also helps keeping the orientation, although its practical application would be planning of intergalactic by-pass roads. IN fact it was the interest in science fiction stories and their "original locations" that made Miguel work on SpaceChart.

GNU SpaceChart is a program for star cartography that is not restricted to displaying two-dimensional images of the nightly sky or some constellations, it rather visualizes the position of stars in the sky.

The user can look at the sun or another star from a wide distance and through tunably filtzers determine, which kinds of stars are being displayed. To increase the three-dimensional impression, stars can be connected with lines and rotated in space.

For Miguel, this is one of the major advantages of SpaceChart compared to other Free Software programs, because they do not give him the same three-dimensional feeling.

Programming language used for SpaceChart is C with the GNOME libraries and it is published under the terms of the GNU General Public License. This choice makes it fast, and makes it for instance possible to display all stars within 50 light years of the sun and rotate them smoothly in real time.

Further components of GNU SpaceChart are data files created automatically from astronomical catalogs by a Perl script, and documentation, most of which has been contributed by Robert Chassell, who is also the most active beta tester and who (according to Miguel) has a never-ending supply of new ideas for further improvement.

Main audience for this project would currently be readers and authors of science fiction stories, who would like to have a better idea of how stars are distributed relatively to each other. But he would also like feedback by "real" astronomers to tell him how GNU SpaceChart might become more useful to them.

Help is also quite welcome in form of code, testing and documentation, of course.

Process View Browser - Add-On

Issue 38 [8] of the Brave GNU World introduced the "Process View Browser" (pvbrowser) project [9] by Rainer Lehrig, which allows visualization and control of technical processes.

At that time, the most severe disadvantage of the project was that it was Free Software under GNU/Linux, but proprietary on Windows and Macintosh. This also was the reason why the decision in favor of a Brave GNU World feature was a relatively close call.

But now Rainer Lehrig got in touch to inform the Brave GNU World community, that pvbrowser is now available as Free Software under the terms of the GNU General Public License on all platforms.

Also he tells us that now almost all Qt-Widgets are supported and the Visualization ToolKit (VTK) [10] has been included in the browser; so creation of professional 3D graphics is now possible.

If you are interested, you'll find more information in the feature [8] and on the home page [9].

GNU EPrints

Christopher Gutteridge of the University of Southampton is working on GNU EPrints [11], a project to create online-archives, with support by Mike Jewell.<(p>

Especially in the scientific field, literature research is an incredibly important part of the work and publications are only useful if they can be found. Making this easier is the goal of GNU EPrints, although it can theoretically be deployed in any situation where articles or documents of a research area, project or institution are to be archived.

Professor Stevan Harnad, who is the political force behind GNU EPrints, drew his motivation for the project from the idea to reestablish unencumbered access of science to its results and also to give financially weaker institutes and countries the chance to participate in the scientific exchange.

Despite being Free Software under the GNU General Public License (GPL), GNU EPrints also offers the advantage of being geared towards supporting different languages from the start.

A web page can be provided in different languages and it is also possible to select languages per field. This has already found practical application when some French archives required to have abstracts in English and French simultaneously. But EPrints isn't restricted to European languages, thanks to Unicode, almost anything should be possible.

EPrints was written with an object-oriented approach in Perl, keeping it as understandable as possible, because the design philosophy assumes that it can never be perfect, so it will require changes to adapt it to the local situation. To do this, EPrints employs the concept of "Hooks," which call custom scripts that do useful things.

This makes for a highly customizable system, which sometimes creates the problem of finding the right option or understanding the different functions. In order to help new users on the right way with this, HOWTOs are provded that address frequently arising questions and needs.

In real-life practical deployment, the technical side is the minor problem, as far as the experience of the author is concerned. Getting to a solution for archive policy or agreeing on the structure is much more difficult.

There are places, where it took several months and committees to determine the structure of an archive that now contains 20 entries. This once more demonstrates that social problems cannot be solved with technology. In these cases, Christopher Gutteridge uses "carrots and sticks" as the adequate tools.

But once there is agreement on the structure and once users have been educated to provide sufficient amounts of metadata, GNU EPrints can provide an extremely valuable tool.

Since it fulfils the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) [12] standard version 1.1 and 2.0, it is even possible to share archive metadata with other archives, so entries can be searched over multiple online archives simultaneously.

According to Christopher Gutteridge, he doesn't really need help at the moment. The code base seems to be sufficiently stable and thanks to external funding, good documentation is currently under development.


The Koha [13] project also deals with making written information accessible and findable - but this time in form of an (analog) library management software.

A central component of Koha an the most obvious use is of course the catalog-card similar interface called OPAC, which allows searching for many different parameters. But also acquisition of new books, circulation and information about members of the library are being managed by Koha.

Among the extended capabilities of are reading-lists for members, which allow finding the interesting book you read last year and are a very popular feature in the Horowhenua Libraries, but of course they can be turned off if collecting such data is considered critical.

Management of new acquisitions also allows maintaining budgets and price information of different vendors including exchange rate calculation. This allows complete control of all ordered and received books at all times.

Koha also is not isolated from the internet, it allows including web sites as entries.

Being in use since January 2000, Koha is currently the most encompassing, most active and best-supported Free Software solution for small to medium libraries and scaling it for large libraries (state- and country-libraries) is almost complete.

A very interesting part of this project written in Perl is its history, because it was originally written as contract work by the company Katipo Communications Ltd. for the Horowhenua Library Trust in New Zealand.

Reacting to a call in 1999, when the system in use then was expected to break down soon, Katipo submitted a concept based upon Internet, GNU/Linux, MySQL, Perl, HTTP and telnet.

The task at hand was to write the new software and install it on the old hardware within 16 weeks, because the library was planning to switch to the new system January 3rd, 2000.

As usual, the most difficult problem was to transfer the knowledge of the internal workings of a library, because these are usually unknown to developers while librarians often do not know enough about programming.

In order to solve the problem at hand, a team of developers and librarians formed itself who worked together very closely throughout the 16 weeks. That team spirit also went on after the end of the project, so Koha is being developed and maintained by an interdisciplinary team until today. This is quite probably one of the reasons the project become so successful.

The other reason is that it was published as Free Software under the GNU General Public License. When Katipo Communications Ltd. originally suggested this, it was hard to explain why this would be a good idea, but in the end they managed to convince the Horowhenua Library Trust.

One argument was that neither the Norowhenua Library Trust, nor Katipo Communications Ltd. were willing or capable of marketing or distribution on a larger scale. But more important was to secure the project against potential problems of Katipo Communications. As Free Software, it became a secure investment.

The project was then dubbed Koha, which is the Maori word for gift, because the library had the vision to also allow other libraries to benefit from the work done.

In return, they received a project that surpassed all expectations and which is being maintained by a very active international community that formed around the project.

There are two easily recognizable lessons to be learned from this. First: Heterogenous teams may be more difficult to coordinate, but if the merger succeeds, the result will be more satisfactory for everybody.

Second: Companies or people paying for development of software should in their own interest consider having it released as Free Software. This not only secures the investion and independence, it also generates additional value through international cooperation that is impossible to achieve with proprietary projects.

By the way: internally, the Koha team is organized democratically and recently Pat Eyler, who also filled out the Brave GNU World questionnaire, was elected Kaitiaki (project leader), Chris Cormack is release manager for the 1.2 series, Paul Poulain is responsible for the 1.4 version tree.

For further development, the Koha team is looking for more members, especially Perl developers, web designers and documentation authors, all of which would ideally be somewhat knowledgeable in the library background.

I can only recommend that those of you who visit libraries regularly or are somehow connected to libraries, make them aware of Koha, because besides the gain for the library, it should making using the library much more comfortable.

Further information about Free Software in libraries can also be found online. [14]


GCron [15] will replace the currently used Vixie Cron within the GNU System, because the Vixie Cron has not been maintained since the early nineties and has developed several security problems, which the different GNU/Linux distributions try to address with house-internal patches. Thanks to gcron, this will hopefully soon become unnecessary.

Even though cron is clearly one of the "classics" of any Unix system, some readers may not have heard about it yet - so a very brief introduction might be useful:

Cron is a program which allows execution for programs i.e. scripts at specific times (week days, times, dates, and so on). This allows automating the periodically necessary tasks, for instance. Cron is being used for system maintenance tasks on almost all installations of Unix-like systems.

Ryan Goldbeck now works on gcron, a security-aware new implementation, which will then be used on all GNU/Linux distributions.

First goal is completing support of the POSIX standard and make the files backwards-compatible to Vixie Cron to allow for painless migration.

Afterwards GNU/Hurd specific extensions and additions for better information about executed programs like running time or resource usage are planned. Also it would be possible to include better means for controlling system resource usage by the executed programs.

It is not very surprising that gcron is published as Free Software under the GNU General Public License; C is being used as the programming language.

Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish!

That's it with the "A Tribute to Douglas Adams" issue, who formed the thought worlds of Physicists and Computer Scientists like few people and who died too young little more than a year ago.

And as usual, I'm asking everyone to not be shy providing ideas, comments, questions, inspiration, opinions and information about interesting projects to the usual address. [1]

[1] Send ideas, comments and questions to Brave GNU World <column@brave-gnu-world.org>
[2] Home page of the GNU Project http://www.gnu.org/
[3] Home page of Georg's Brave GNU World http://brave-gnu-world.org
[4] "We run GNU" initiative http://www.gnu.org/brave-gnu-world/rungnu/rungnu.en.html
[5] GpsDrive home page http://gpsdrive.kraftvoll.at
[6] Festival home page http://www.cstr.ed.ac.uk/projects/festival/
[7] GNU SpaceChart home page http://www.gnu.org/software/spacechart/
[8] Brave GNU World issue 36 http://brave-gnu-world.org/issue-36.en.html
[9] Process View Browser home page http://pvbrowser.sourceforge.net
[10] Visualization ToolKit (VTK) home page http://public.kitware.com/VTK/
[11] GNU EPrints home page http://www.eprints.org/
[12] Open Archives Initiative (OAI) home page http://www.openarchives.org
[13] Koha home page http://www.koha.org
[14] Free Software for libraries http://www.oss4lib.org
[15] GCron home page http://www.gnu.org/software/gcron/

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Copyright (C) 2002 Georg C. F. Greve

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Last modified: Sat Jun 1 16:31:14 CEST 2002