Yo, dogg, about those HDDs

HDD cleanup continues apace. I did like the wisecrack about semantic storage — although it’s not quite correct, since these are drives removed from otherwise decommissioned machines, or tarballs rolled of my university student account before the departmental Solaris server was decommissioned. It’s more like moving boxes never before opened (I know there’s several that I moved house with 8 years ago that are still awaiting an opening moment). In the mean time I’ve discovered a bunch of academic papers I had forgotten I had ever written and a bunch of OCaml I wrote that I no longer understand, as well as several versions of my bachelor’s thesis written in the winter of 1998.

Anyway, while futzing about with all these drives I’ve set up my main machine as FreeBSD 9.2-STABLE, running KDE 4.10 (which is as new as the KDE-FreeBSD ports are — 4.11 introduces some interesting new breakage which hasn’t been dealt with yet). I could repeat what I wrote several years ago: with KDE on top, noone knows what you’re running underneath and the applications and environment do all you need. And it’s nice having a very-close-to-vanilla-upstream desktop.
I bunged some more memory into the machine, and now I get the interesting effect that a VM plus its root disk image can fit into main memory. OpenSUSE has an amazing boot time if /dev/sda is secretly already in RAM.

But the niftiest thing I have discovered recently is VirtualBox raw disk access. This means I can (hot-) plug a drive into my machine and boot that physical drive in a VM. The setup is relatively painless, requiring only a little care with permissions and a complicated command-line. Here’s a screenshot of, left-to-right, FreeBSD dmesg showing me that I’ve switched on /dev/ada2 — a 200GB drive with Kubuntu 11.10 on it from when I was briefly a Python/Qt contract programmer — with VirtualBox and then the running Kubuntu session with its own idea of the physical disk. Hearing the physical disk rattle when I do something in a virtual machine is kinda cool, and this makes it much, much easier to figure out what files are interesting on any given drive.
But this bumps me into an interesting corner regarding KDE desktop settings and configuration. I’ve got a new desktop here. I’ve got an old desktop in the VM, and there are a bunch of settings that I’d like to transfer from the old desktop to the new one. Let’s disregard whole-desktop settings right now. Aaron Seigo recently posted something on his Google+ about Plasma-desktop settings transfer, which is promising next time I want to move my settings (focus follows mouse, yellow-and-orange wallpaper, no activities, 4 virtual desktops) to a new installation. I’m talking about application settings. For instance, I have a working Blogilo in the VM — what do I need to do to get the same Blogilo settings in another machine? That means copying the blog configurations and the passwords. So where do they live?
The userbase page for KMail has information about moving settings around; that’s the only instructions I could find for moving application settings. Those instructions are also somewhat incomplete, since passwords are probably stored in kwallet, and figuring out which stored passwords need to be copied over is a pain in the neck. Or take Blogilo. It  has a blogilorc file, but it doesn’t seem to record anything useful in there: no blog URLs, no usernames, nothing. Everything seems to be in kwallet, which exports whole wallets at a time. In other words, I can get at my blogilo configuration by exporting the wallet (unencrypted, plain XML), editing it to remove all the bits I don’t want (such as my IMAP passwords) and then importing it on the other machine. This seems error-prone and tedious — this time, it was actually just as straightforward to simply do all the configuration anew. It strikes me that there would be a market for a menu item Settings->Export all of this application’s meaningful configuration. As the computing experience becomes more fluid, moving from device to device, that might become more important — if I have configured something on my desktop, I want the same KDE application on my tablet to easily, seamlessly, take over the configuration from elsewhere.
.. and, hey, it turns out when I moved house last I used XFig to draw a plan of the house so as to juggle furniture (also in XFig) more effectively. These drives are a veritable trove of joy (and KDE configuration questions).
Posted in FreeBSD, KDE | 2 Comments

HDD Cleanup

Last week I sat down with a pile ‘o hard drives of varying vintage (although all of them SATA-era), ranging from 80GB to 500GB, which had been used in machines over the past ten years. The idea being to sort out what’s where and why and to consolidate the interesting bits. First order of business on each drive was figuring out what partitioning scheme and filesystems were on there. I suppose if you stick to one OS over time that’s a simple thing, but I have fdisk+ext2 filesystems, gpt+zfs, gpt+gmirror+gstripe+ufs and other things in the mix. Reconstructing the path from two physical drives labeled “Comice” and “Anjou” to a readable filesystem can take a while.

Anyway, interesting bits have been recovered, like an older mp3 collection of mine ripped from CDs I can no longer find (they must be somewhere in the house, in a box labeled “beware of the leopard” or something like that).
Some of the drives were once in various KDE servers or machines I gave acces to for KDE purposes, so it turns out there are various personal home directories that aren’t mine on these drives, too. This provides a bit of a memory lane. One drive, last accessed in 2007 and presumably part of the original English Breakfast Network machine, has logins for myself, and Allen Winter, but also a bunch of other users, not all of whom I can place. There are sad memories, such as /home/claire/ (empty, unused), and good times like last.fm-player-1.0.1_3.tbz  (get Last.fm with Amarok nowadays).
Anyway, if you are one of aacid bertbram bhards bille danimo dannya dfaure dhaumann fremy frerich gamaral gousiosg harald ingo jaison joerg kerian lofi padams pgquiles phil reinhold schuster scott sebas winterz zecke zenithar, and you think you might have left stuff behind, drop me a note and I’ll send you a tarball of your home directory. I’ll try to notify those logins I can still map to an email address as well.
After some grace period, I’ll destroy whatever data is left so we can say that those machines are well and truly tidied up.
Posted in KDE | 4 Comments

Cycling (with a few bits of KDE)

So while y’alls were frolicking at Akademy (with Dot coverage), I was on vacation. The choice between vacationing with my family or attending Akademy was a tough one: we also spent some time looking into getting the whole family to the conference, but the price tag and “what will the kids do there” tipped the scales. Maybe next year Akademy will be somewhere that fits in my summer vacation and is amenable to cycling.

Anyway, I picked up an Asus Fonepad before leaving on the trip and left my trusty N900 behind. Battery life and screen real-estate were the motivations there, and I wanted only one device to take along. The whole “you’ll look like a tool making calls with it, but it works” thing appeals to me as well. It’s mostly a fine device and served its purpose well. I’ll gripe about it elsewhere — suffice to say that I’d be quite happy to have something other than Android running on the Intel Atom inside it.
I didn’t use the Fonepad as a GPS tracker while riding around — it spent most of the travel days neatly packed away, while an Amaryllo GPS logger (writes to an SD card) was strapped to the handlebars with a bunch of elastic bands.
The logger writes NMEA sentences to the SD card, which I convert to KML with GPSBabel (because the tracker is occasionally flaky and I leave it on all day, even when taking a nap in a ditch, I use a filter set to position,distance=10m,time=120 to compress the log). That gives me something that Marble can work with. I can import the tracks for each day (File->Open will read KML) and that zooms to the area I’ve biked through. After every load I need to switch off “places of interest” in the Legend tab, though, or I get a gazillion meaningless tags (numbered) cluttering the view. This may be an artifact of my KML generation; I’ll have to look at the GPSBabel manual more closely some time. Once loaded, Marble’s “export map” feature produces a nice PNG so I can show you where I went on my summer vacation:
That’s about 440km total, which the kids biked with nary a complaint (almost). There’s gaps where the GPS flaked out or ran out of battery. Just to reinforce your preconceptions of the Netherlands: along the entire route it was flat, there were tulips, windmills and cows.
Another KDE angle, though: most of the trip I wore the KDE hoodie that I bought at FOSDEM — blue and snuggly an warm it is, and emblazoned with a big KDE logo. At one campground, a dad sitting out front of his tent asked me, “hey, that K-thing, that’s a Linux desktop, isn’t it?” Bringing the number of times someone “in the wild” has recognized KDE stuff to two, for me. (“In the wild” means not a KDE person, not at a Free Software conference, and not a university CS student) So don’t get the KDE hoodie for the recognition it’ll get you in the train, get it to support KDE (and to be warm and snuggly).
Posted in Bla Bla, KDE | 3 Comments

Badges? We don’t need no badges.

It’s one of those yearly things, scheduled for less than two months from now. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that no one else — Paul Adams is a usual suspect — has bunged up some badges for this year yet. So here’s my entry for Akademy 2013 in Bilbao, showcasing, as always, my most excellent kolourpaint skills. And, like it says on the tin (brass? what material are badges made of anyway), Akademy doesn’t fit my schedule this year either. My only remaining hope is to integrate the conference with a three week train-and-bicycle vacation for two adults and two kids.

Posted in KDE | 2 Comments

FOSDEM 2013 (Legal Quotes)

“Minimal compliance vs. abundant compliance” “It is imperative that Free Software becomes visible in App Stores” “Morally wrong is sometimes practically convenient” “Clarification is difficult” “Bastards”

Last time I was at FOSDEM was three years ago, I think. Part of the venue has moved to a new building — it’s much bigger and airier. I must say that I don’t miss standing next to the drafty exit at the lower end of the H building, but it did have its charm. Plenty of interesting stands to visit. GNOME still have their nice round 2″ foot stickers. KDE is well-stocked with T-shirts, but our hoodies and bags have sold out already. Postgres has very nice frosted-glass mugs. Oracle has no mention of Solaris at all — drat, I was vaguely hoping they might still have Solaris beer mugs. For once, I’ve got some time to visit talks, the legal devroom in particular.
The legal devroom is just packed — has been all day.  I think that’s an amazing change (for the better) from a few years back when legal was still a tiny niche topic.
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Keeping SSDs fresh

With a new SSD the laptop is quieter and feels faster than before. I want to keep it that way, which (still) means keeping the number of writes to it down. OpenSUSE has some tips, as does Fedora, but they leave a few bits untouched which might be useful, so I’m taking note here.

 – Make /tmp a tmpfs filesystem. This means no longer relying on /tmp across reboots, but those are pretty rare since I usually just suspend-to-RAM.
 – Make /var/log tmpfs, too. This is an agressive optimization, but I think it’s acceptable for a laptop.
 – Disable scheduler on disk sda, force syslog to write to /var/log in RAM.
 – Set syslog to log warn and above only.
The hard part is getting rid of a .xsession-errors that keeps growing (and getting written to). KDM can be configured to write the file elsewhere (and that’s documented) but you still need to hack the Xsession script to stop X from (re-)creating that file. I kept meaning to write down what I did, but .. good intentions and all.

Speaking of good intentions: I’ll be at FOSDEM, mostly at the KDE booth (everyone at the booth has also written “but I hope to attend some talks, too” on the schedule, so we’ll see. It’s been quite some time since I remember sitting with Anne-Marie at the bar across from Manneken Pis, ordering all the beers we couldn’t pronounce.

Posted in Bla Bla | 10 Comments

Activity Blobs

Albert’s item about Okular contributors (a great idea to thank those who contributed their time over the past year — and I’ll say thank you to all the Okular developers who make my document-reading-life a nicer place) and also Seif writing about Mozilla contributions spurred me to quickly hack together a tool to give an idea of the activity in one of KDE’s git repositories. It’s much like the venerable green-blobs graph that Paul Adams makes. It’s just an indicator — I’ve written about this time and time again, the graphs from one repository cannot be compared with other repositories, and the best you can quickly conclude based on these pictures is whether development activity in a repository is carrying on “as usual” or has changed.

So here’s a graph of Parley, a small program that is probably considered feature complete.
This is three different graphs mashed into one. There’s no dates on the graph, but it covers roughly the past year of development.
  • The green blobs indicate that the named contributor committed in that week. So for Albert (the same one) there’s a single commit at about week 40 in this view. Christian (Muschick, I was lazy in coding up the labels and just cut off the string at 10 characters) was active about half a year ago, and there are incidental commits from others. Script Kid is our own translation commit-bot, who shows up everywhere. Anyway, the green blobs give an idea of who’s active, when.
  • The red line is an indicator of how large the active contributor community is. The bottom of the image is 0 (up to a maximum of all the contributors). In the past, we defined all kinds of complicated metrics to do so, with exponential decay applied to each contributor’s “activeness” and such. This one is dead simple: a participant is an active contributor if he or she has a commit in a given week or in the previous week. That is, each person is considered active for at least seven days after their last commit. This is easiest to see at the beginning of the graph, where Jan’s single commit shows two weeks of “active community size is 1”, and right in the middle, where Scripty counts for two weeks and then drops away.
  • The top black-ish line gives an indication of “temperature” in the repository, mapping the number of commits that week to a color, where pure red is “the maximum number of commits” and black is “none at all”. Since this repository has a maximum of three commits in a week, the color scale shows few different levels. This is another way of looking at the activity of the repository. Instead of number of active contributors, look at the average commit-churn.
Each of these indicators in itself isn’t all that interesting. And they’re naturally correlated in Parley, with the most active week with the most contributors coinciding. It’s possble for that to be otherwise, though.
(The temperature graph, in particular, is something I’m not really happy about as it doesn’t give a good feel for activity; most of the weeks are way too dark even when something is happening, and you can hardly tell #000000 and #230000 apart in small boxes like this. I’d like to have something more sophisticated than a linear interpolation between 0 and 255. Ideally something that goes from “cold” to “hot” in a colourful fashion, but I don’t know about color curves and things like that.)
So how about Okular?
I hope that’s the same list of contributors as what Albert — who you can see is almost always active — mentions in his thank-you note. You can see who the “regulars” are in Okular, who drops in occasionally, and who seems to be a one-off occurrence (which means a bug fix, or a single contribution — those too are appreciated!). On average, there’s five, maybe six people active. You can see some “hot” weeks commit-wise, even weeks uncorrelated with increased contributor numbers. (O yeah, Ivan: the Python Imaging Library doesn’t like Unicode when used with its default font, so your name and others get short shrift).
Supposing you’re a community manager (or a project leader, or just concerned about the activity in some particular application) then you might watch one of these graphs to detect changes. Although given the implementation here, you’re always a week late (and again: you’re then looking for explanations a posteriori).
I’d show the kdelibs repository as well, but it’s mostly very tall. because there’s lots of names in it in total, and an average active contributor count of sixteen or so (by my primitive definition of “active”). There’s something weird going on with the distinction between “authored date” and “committed date”, but that’s for a different time.
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Over the Christmas season we bought an electronic drum kit so that my daughter can practice at home; she’s 9, but I hope that some day we can play “Ace of Spades” together. But the most exciting item in the large box was the empty box! I have not opened it up to ascertain if, indeed, the box is empty. Who knows, it might even contain KDE 4.9.3 packages for FreeBSD.

ObKDE: I found David Narváez post about the term “real-life” intriguing. Way back, Sebas and I used the terms “work-work” and “kde-work” to distinguish between “the time spent developing software for which (time) we are paid” and “the time spent developing software which is fun”. That seems a little less pejorative (and sometimes the two overlapped). But there’s another angle, not one pitting “KDE time” against “useful time” like David suggests. It may be that people writing about “real life” use that as a contrast to “that portion of life spent in virtual environments”, i.e. that it’s about computer-vs-non-computer related time with no value judgement on the value of either. But I feel he makes a good point: the words we use to describe the effort we put into KDE makes an emotional difference.
(Edit: somewhere the combination of Blogilo and WordPress makes a mess if you fill in an HTML element like <div/> in the post title — you can help out Blogilo and KDE-PIM here.)
Posted in Bla Bla | 1 Comment

Eerie silence

The Samsung 840 SSD drives have dropped enough in price that I bought one (for this year’s combined sinterxmasbirthday). Then I pulled my older AMD machine out of the storage closet and installed OpenSUSE 12.2. Which in itself isn’t much of a story, except that installing from a silent USB stick, onto a silent SSD, with a energy efficient low-power CPU and a silent fan is an eerie, creepy experience. A machine that, within the limits of my hearing and against a background of one humming hard disk in a NAS box, is totally silent while doing work — that just doen’t fit with my ideas about how machines work. Kind of like electric bicycles and cars need some kind of noisemaker to announce their presence, otherwise they are scary as well.

The difference an SSD makes is amazing; those little starting-up fireflies from OpenSUSE buzz around like they’re cooked up on amphetamines and cold-start to KDE (with auto-login) is something like 15 seconds. It’s moving into my laptop, where I hope it will also have a positive effect on battery life.
And for noisy working machines, I can always stick to my Core i7 with three bricks full of spinning rust; that really sounds like it’s doing some work, especially when building KDE in a FreeBSD VM.
Posted in Bla Bla | 1 Comment

New year

Ah, new years. A time of (sometimes planned) changes. Inge, I hope your hand gets better, or whatever it is. Me, I’ve resolved to quit being such a wuss with respect to git and actually use it a bit, and so after a long absence put something into the KDE source repositories again. I’ve contacted some maintainers for a little guidance. David’s post from two months back is going to help, too, since SVN fits in my brain (as do some distributed VCSses, but not git so far — not without violence).

Posted in Bla Bla, KDE | 2 Comments