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¶: Greetings From Heather Stern
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(¶) Greetings from Heather Stern

Hello, and greetings once again from the world of The Answer Gang. I'm sure some of you are wondering why we're so late - fact is, we actually managed to get some of us together for lunch, having had the odd chance of being close enough in the same state to drive the rest of the intervening distance.

Real Life also has its interventions. Not all bad - but the timing, well, that can be.

I'm pleased to say one of my own interruptions of the outer world here probably won't bore you to death -- and now it's revealed...

Running an internet lounge

For fun and profit? Fun, absolutely! Profit, um, no. My Star Trek Crew (http://trek.starshine.org) runs an internet lounge at a handful of science fiction conventions around here, and we either bring our own older and not-so-valued equipment, or we use whatever is donated. These being the old grey mares of the computing world, it's inevitable - so far at least one monitor or computer has gone on the fritz each time. The one time we thought we were unscathed, a monitor died near the end, it was wellll.... sort of usable... we shut it off. Within the span of an hour it got so bad the working blind really was better, or you'd be a candidate for blinux afterwards.

The most spectacular failure was a power supply glitch, all the magic smoke leaked out, luckily it didn't incite anything else. California has this no-smoking indoors policy you see...

The first of these lounges fit Battlestar Galactica more than Star Trek - a rag tag fugitive fleet, some can jump to light speed, and some, well, they can't. What distro, I hear you ask! Well, since different members of my crew - and a neighboring LUG - provided setups, we had:

We've not run nearly so large a lounge since. 6 or 10 machines total is more like it.

That was a pretty big conference, and people enjoyed the variety. I was surprised at why a particularly slow Sparc was enjoying such popularity, but apparently it had the best selection of chat clients...

There's the key. If you want to run a netlounge, know your audience, and give them what they want. In my experience, they mostly care very little about the OS. What they want are features:

They want to get at things too. Handicapped access, icons NON geeks can figure out (or else a big ol' icon map on the wall for this number one FAQ, where's the $whatsit) and room to scootch the chairs around (yeah, a technical term). In other words, make sure there's some lounge in your net lounge.

In earlier lounges the word processor was not really a big hit. The glitz was too good too early, abiword felt right, then crashed at the worst moments. It's better now - but some people have a rotten opinion of it. :( StarOffice did better - but needs a machine with some oooooooooomph. Java...

Live CDs really made the thing take off nicely. Now if the cords would learn to telekinese themselves.... or the computers all came with wheels like luggage... mmmmmm case mods. Yummmmm. (No I haven't done it. But it's a thought.) We've been using Knoppix in the last few lounges, customizing it with our own art. We might try Ubuntu, too.

Make sure you've enough people, that they stay fed so they aren't cranky, that they occasionally get to run off and do other things (eyestrain makes people cranky too). Your silicate lifeforms will be easier to keep happy when Murphy's Law isn't able to get your goat when it strikes... because troubleshooting that fist through the case would be much easier, but, umm, that's not the kind of disk first aid I had in mind!

Plan that setup and teardown will take double the time it takes to setup and teardown in the otherwise perfect conditions of your geeky home. Those cords get tangled, the upstream DHCP looks askance at you, whatever. Expect delays - just get the Express Lane up and have a wild guess at your estimated full-service time. That solves desperation and hovering.

If the event is of any decent size, have an Extra Special Express Lane for the people who make things happen. It'll make them feel like it's a special benefit - and those moments when a piece of the event is about to suffer if they can't find some important reading that happens to be online, will not involve kicking someone off a machine who doesn't already kinda behind the scenes already.

This weekend's convention will be a fun filled time of music and getting together with good friends. Maybe a few will wish me a happy pre-dated birthday. That's the scoop this month folks - above all else, have fun!

This page edited and maintained by the Editors of Linux Gazette
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Published in issue 112 of Linux Gazette March 2005
HTML script maintained by Heather Stern of Starshine Technical Services, http://www.starshine.org/


Copyright © 2005, . Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 112 of Linux Gazette, March 2005

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