Best Service

How often do you meet your laptop vendor in person? Last year, I picked up a KDE Slimbook, and the machine has been great, acting as my development-box-on-the-go for lots of KDE travels. It has a few stickers, and some scratches, and the screen had gotten a bit wobbly by now .. so, at this year’s Akademy I stopped by the Slimbook stand, admired the newer Slimbook II (alas, the old one isn’t written off yet), and mentioned the wobbly screen.

Photo of an envelope from SlimbookHow often does your laptop vendor say “we can fix that” and do it right there and then? So I had a nicely tightened, fast and friendly Slimbook by the end of the next talk. Not only that, but when I got home from Akademy, I found an envelope with some stickers and the right tool to fix it myself if it happens again.

Now that’s developer-friendly service! Thanks, Alejandro and Raúl, and hope to see you again next year.

One does not simply walk into Møn

It was summer, and the sun was shining, and I had posted that Calamares was going to sleep for the summer, so then I went with my family to bicycle in Denmark.

Screenshot of map

Route to (light green) and from (dark green) Møn. Map image from OSM.

We took the train to Flensburg, and headed east. Lots of ferries on the way, and at the wonderful Edible Campground on Ærø we found three messages-in-a-bottle. Denmark has mørk pålægchokolade, which is great for breakfast and lunch but needs to be purchased daily because it melts and sticks together (and four people can eat a lot of chocolate). In the 28-degrees-and-sunny weather we drank ¾ litre of water per person per hour of bicycling — getting enough water meant planning stops a little more carefully.

Photo of tents and bicyclesOn the way back we went through Germany, where “moin” is the standard greeting and the Aldi has white wheaties (breakfast of bicyclists). We camped in the Hüttener Berge, which was beautiful and quiet — previously I only knew about that area as “the last rest stop on the Autobahn before Denmark” which is neither beautiful, nor quiet.

And now after 710km on the bike I’m back in the Netherlands, preparing for Akademy and gently poking Calamares to see if it will wake up from slumber.

Going to Deventer^WVienna^WAkademy

Today I’m heading out to Deventer to say “hi” to Valorie and Boud, whom I’m be seeing again next week in Vienna, at Akademy.

Akademy is, for me, first and foremost a way to see everyone again and re-calibrate my social settings for everyone. After all, I communicate with most KDE people only electronically, though text, and it’s sometimes really important to see the faces behind the IRC nicknames. So I’m particularly excited that Michael Pyne will be there, who has been a voice in KDE for as long as I care to remember, but whom I’ve never actually met. And there will be lots of GSoC students there, new people who deserve all the support they can get — and commendations for the work they have done in KDE this year.

Personally I’m not planning anything specific at Akademy. I may chair a panel during the conference parts, and the Distro BoF is something I’ll definitely attend with my FreeBSD hat on. Other than that, it’ll mostly be spur-of-the-moment what I’m doing. Tug on my sleeve if you want coffee and a chat, about portability, installers, OEM stuff, codes of conduct, or Rick Astley.

Those top Konsole Contributors

Whenever I see a post about community growth or participation — like Tomasz Canabrava’s most recent “From Nothing to top 20 contributors of Konsole in Less Than a Month” — I reach for the toolkit written by Kevin Ottens, because that makes it easy to obtain good numbers and graphs for community measurement.

Graph of Konsole's Entire History, all scrunched up and made tinyLooking at the graph (click to enlarge, but it’s still hardly readable — I’d suggest using Kevin’s tooling directly if you want to zoom in or experiment) of Konsole development since the very beginning shows a few striking facts:

  • Konsole has been in continuous development since 1998
  • Except for a gap 2006-2009, Kurt Hindenburg has been active in Konsole since roughly 2004
  • By looking at the density of commits and the length of commit-streaks, you can guess at maintainers and co-maintainers of Konsole, alongside all the occasional committers. There’s maybe five people whose histories suggest that.

Of personal interest to me is that in 2002 I contributed to Konsole for FreeBSD compatibility, and in 2009 for OpenSolaris compatibility, but nothing else in the history of the project. And Konsole spent a year licensed as Artistic, rather than the GPL2-or-later, in 1999.

Graph of Konsole's Recent HistoryRecently, you can definitely see that Tomaz has been really active, and Kurt has slightly more quiet time. But Ahmad and Mariusz are also consistently putting in work, albeit with a lower rate of commits. Judging by the commit messages, those have gone through Phabricator. That means that their commit counts are reduced because arc squashes commits (just like Tomaz, and as pointed out by Eike elsewhere). Keep in mind that commit-counts are poor proxies for contributions — that’s something we’ve been saying for years and years.

Also of interest in the history: there are 1090 commits by people not in the top-twenty; if those were grouped together they would hold second place!

So, thanks Tomaz for being noisy about what you’re doing. I think we need more of the “hey, I can improve the world” kind of noise — like KDE’s GSoC stories as well. And also, thanks Kurt and KDE community for being consistent and productive in small amounts for many years.

CMake 3.12 Update on FreeBSD

CMake 3.12 has reached rc1. That means we’re testing the update on FreeBSD, and building lots and lots of packages. And, as I’ve written previously, every CMake update triggers a bunch of interesting software findings.

As a motto, I’ve got “use it, aggressively improve it” on my website (you can hire me for odd CMake and C++ jobs, too). So hitting compile issues makes me turn to fixing software outside of KDE.

  • Spring is a 3D RTS engine, with only a minor CMakeLists fix — CMake 3.12 is strict about file(GLOB) and the FOLLOW_SYMLINKS keyword, which is documented only for file(GLOB_RECURSE). Since CMake 3.5, probably much earlier, that keyword has been ignored, and now it’s an error (this is considered a regression).
  • Coin3D is a 3D toolkit, which in the version currently available on FreeBSD, doesn’t even use CMake. It hit a bunch of Clang6 compatibility issues, and after some investigation it turns out they had all been fixed already in later releases; I put in a little time to improve FreeBSD compatibility for the next release.

What I found interesting in those two was once again the variety in CMake styles — “Modern CMake Style” still needs to catch on in many places, and the wider ecosystem. Mantis bug-tracker! Mercurial! I remember being a big Mercurial fan years ago when doing KDE-Solaris and complaining how obtuse git is. (It’s still obtuse, but I’m used to it now).

There’s another four dozen ports that have fallout from this update; amusingly Kitware’s VTK 5 and VTK 6 are among them — although a first glance tells me that’s C++ problems and not CMake problems, actually. (Generally, using NULL in places where you want to write 0; older macro definitions of NULL would re-write to something that could successfully be cast to 0, but clang6 in C++17 mode, the default, uses nullptr which doesn’t cast).

Cracking the HDD

I’ve learned that IBM Travelstar 40GB drives use glass platters. I learned this the fun way, by bending one in a vice, with a big set of pliers. It went snap, tinkle — a different sound from other drives. And after that the bendy drive was usable as a maraca!

So why was I bending drives in the first place?

Well, I volunteer some of my time at a local second-hand place called Stichting Overal. It is an “idealistic” organisation that uses the revenue from second-hand sales to support various projects (generally small-scale development, like funding the construction of sanitation in schools). Like most second-hand stores, there’s clothes and ancient kitchen appliances and books and used bicycles .. and also an IT corner.

I help out Tom, a local school kid who has run the IT corner for some time. From time to time a PC or monitors or random IT crap is dropped off for re-use, and we apply triage. Yes, that is a lovely 486DX2, but it is still going into the bin. For various reasons, there’s a mismatch between supply and demand of hard drives: we end up with piles of small ATA-33 drives, and very few 80GB-or-more SATA drives.

Machines that show up and not immediately consigned to the bin are thoroughly cleaned (’cause, eww). Some machines are cannibalized for parts for others. Working, usable hard drives are wiped, and then re-triaged. Since we don’t want to leak whatever data is on the drives (even after wiping, and customers aren’t always all that careful about what they bring in either), leftover drives are destroyed.

So that’s why I was contorting a laptop drive. Here’s a Christmas ornament I have made out of a desktop 3.5″ drive.

Machines that get through this gauntlet are dd’ed with zeroes, then installed with some flavor of GNU/Linux. Even if there’s a valid Windows license attached to the machine, getting that installed correctly and legally is way more effort for us than doing something we know is right (and Free). Lately it’s been Fedora 27 with rpmfusion, and a KDE Plasma 5 desktop (I didn’t do the choosing, so this was a pleasant surprise). Frankly, I’m not convinced we’re doing a really good job in delivering the Linux desktop PC experience to the buyers, since there’s no Linux / Fedora documentation included (now I write that down, I realise we should probably check if there’s licensing obligations we need to follow up on). What it kinda needs is an OEM installer to do some post-sale configuration like setting up a user (I can think of at least one).

The World and Calamares

This last week, my desk mostly looked like this:

Photo of desk with atlas and monitors

WQHD and even more HD on paper.

There was a bug report for Calamares that Reykjavik was misplaced. And once I started looking at that, it was pointed out that Johannesburg was misplaced as well, and then I did some serious clicking around and found that most of the southern hemisphere was subtly off in Calamares.

Why?

The timezone-selection widget in Calamares was borrowed from some distro installer a long time ago, and at some point the images were resized, and some math corrected to map image points to latitude and longitude on the map. The resizing introduced some aliasing artifacts, and then the math moved locations far north — where a typical map projection is “stretched out” to the wrong spot. Some time ago I fixed up things above 65 degrees north or so. Reykjavik is at 64-and-a-bit north, so wasn’t handled then. And it was a bodge anyway.

Screenshot of timezone selection widget

Your Reykjavik is in another timezone

So this week I sat down with an atlas (because that provides a much nicer overview than any online map, and has latitude and longitude lines) and a list of places to test. The selection works better now, much better far south, but it’s not right yet. Basically, I’m going to have to re-draw this stuff, so I’m learning a little qgis to try to get this done (and otherwise I’ll ask a friend in Nijmegen who does GIS stuff professionally).

The atlas nearest to my desktop was Velhagen & Klasings Kleiner Handatlas, printed in Leipzig, Germany, in 1922. I didn’t feel like walking downstairs and grabbing a newer atlas. I figured the continents haven’t moved that much in the past 96 years.

What I hadn’t counted on was how much the world has changed. When I realised that, I kept the atlas open as an education.

It’s not really visible in the photograph above, but in 1922 Africa was almost entirely under the yoke of colonialism. What wasn’t “owned” by Europe, was blank. Germany had recently lost its colonies. Long-range air travel didn’t exist (although the Atlantic had been crossed by a non-stop flight by then). The number of telegraph cables across the Pacific ocean could be counted with a two-bit integer.

Photo of pages from atlas

Colonies and Steamship Routes

Remember that: the world wasn’t always as it is today, and needn’t be the way it is today, tomorrow. Strive to make it better.

Clicking around, I selected Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. It’s been Harare since my earliest memories (insofar as I thought about cities in Africa as a child). Knowing the latitude and longitude I could look it up in my atlas (to check that its visual place on the map matches where it should be). Unfortunately, there’s only Salisbury in South Rhodesia there. Lagos, now 20 million people, is a small dot at six degrees north. All the struggles for independence are yet-to-come on this map. Almost everywhere I looked, a world that is very different.

So the thing I set out to fix in Calamares has been fixed, but the atlas is still on my desk, as a reminder to me of things that have changed, and things that haven’t.

Other People’s Work

Most of my writing on this blog is about FreeBSD, KDE, or Calamares. So it gives a bit of a one-sided view of what I do. There’s lots of pictures of rhubarb crumble, for instance, that never see the bloggy light-of-day. But I can build more than just software! Two months ago an unusually heavy storm blew down part of the fence in my back yard, which wasn’t really good for the privacy of that yard.

Photos of fence

I could pretend this fits into the KDE privacy goals, but really I just want to show off that yes, I can dig post holes, cut lumber, hammer and fasten. While doing so I also found tomatoes, cilantro and dill growing in the yard like weeds, so that’s a bonus.

Software thingies:

Since Daniel Nicoletti keeps writing about Cutelyst, I took a stab at a FreeBSD port, since web-frameworks should be plenty portable. Well, except for the logic failure that UNIX AND NOT APPLE means LINUX. After a half-hour or so of trying to get FreeBSD’s libepoll-shim to be used, I noticed that the shim API is incomplete, so I just punted LINUX out of there. After a minor code update to deal with implicit includes, I’ve got a port file for it that needs some polishing for porter’s-handbook compliance. Expect Cutelyst in the FreeBSD ports tree within a few days.

Atelier and AtCore are active, so here’s a blue-blobs picture of what’s going on (since january). Plenty of commits from the core developer, and some incidental contributions. Lays is less visible in the contribution blobs recently, but that’s probably because of fun Free Software events.

Screenshot of activity-blobs

So that’s what everyone else has done (well, some of everyone else; I’ll leave broader coverage to Nate). Next week, come back for bicycle repairs and Calamares releases.

Watching the Detectives

There are many ways to understand a community.

For instance, Kevin Ottens has been writing about understanding the KDE community by the “green blobs” method, showing who is active when. Lays Rodrigues has written about using Gource to show Plasma growing up. Nate Graham describes the goings-on in the KDE community nearly every week.

Those are, roughly: a metric-, a visual-, and a story-based approach to understanding the community, over different timescales. But understanding of a system doesn’t come from a single dimension, from a single axis of measurement. It comes from mixing up the different views to look the system as a whole.

To that end, I’m going to apply Kevin’s and Lays’s approaches to .. well, not to something Nate has written, but to a recent this-week-in-Elisa post by Matthieu Gallien. The relevant period is april 22nd (the release of Elisa 0.1.1) to may 16th (latest post on Elisa progress).

ComDaAn is the toolbox Kevin has come up with for dealing with activity and centrality. It’s a Python3 application — it almost works with Python2, except that timestamp-formatting in Python2 does not support the %z flag (in spite of the documentation). No strange dependencies, and easy_install or system packages get everything (even on FreeBSD). The green-blobs tool is called activity.py and can take a date range to limit what is shown, for instance ComDaAn/activity.py -f 2018-04-21 -u 2018-05-16 ~/src/kde/elisa/ , which gives us this (image links to an actual HTML page with all the fanciness).

Image of contributions to Elisa

Elisa Contributors, 2018-04-22 — 2018-05-16

Gource is what Lays used to show off Plasma development. I used the same video (regenerated locally) as a blinkenlights show at the KDE booth at FOSS-North. Gource also takes a date range, for instance , which gives us this (image links to the video).

Elisa Gource Screenshot

A moment in Elisa time

The time period here is short; it’s unwise to draw any conclusions from any of these visualisations. They do support the story that Matthieu tells, and the natural order of things is that the main developer does the most commits, with features and fixes coming (ir)regularly from others. The movie shows that the structure of Elisa (or the source code, at least) remains stable over this period. Together, the visualisations along different axes enliven the story of Elisa — and running those tools over a longer period of months can help understand how the community around that application grows and changes.

[[ As an aside, there’s a really neat use of Gource out there: instead of visualising source-code changes, use it to watch other kinds of events, like those that DTrace can provide from a running system. FreeBSD users can enjoy Devin Teske’s dwatch-gource, which uses dwatch to produce logs suitable for gource, and then make a movie of what their system is doing. Maybe not great for parties, but excellent for figuring out why the desktop is suddenly slow while building Qt, LLVM and GCC in parallel (all three with -j8). ]]

Calamares on Krypton

Calamares is a Linux system installer (and some day, a FreeBSD system installer, but that is a long way off) which is distro- and desktop-independent. OpenSUSE Krypton is a live CD and installer for the latest-and-greatest .. but it already has an installer, so why try Calamares on it?

Well, sometimes it’s just to show that a derivative could be made (there is one, called GeckoLinux), or to experiment with tools and configurations.

Calamares has a script called deploycala.py, which like every gaping huge security hole is expected to be downloaded from the Calamares site, then run. It is recommended to only use this in a VM, with a live CD / ISO image running. What the script does is install a basic dev environment for Calamares, install up-to-date dependencies, and then it builds and installs Calamares. That then gives you a way to experiment, installing with Calamares from an already-set-up live CD.

The deploy script supports many different package managers and host systems, so it’s just a matter of running python3 deploycala.py -n to get started (and then wait for a while as packages are installed, Calamares is cloned, and then built). Calamares builds with no issues on Krypton (at least today, when I tried it).

Screrenshot of Calamares in Krypton

Calamares in Krypton (Qt 5.11)

Screenshot of Calamares in Manjaro

Calamares in Manjaro (Qt 5.10)

Having built Calamares, there’s a few bits I notice:

  • Esperanto isn’t supported in Qt applications (neither in Krypton, nor in Manjaro, nor in anything else I tested); QLocale has a constructor that takes an enum value specifying the language, but for a bunch of languages in that enum, it then creates a “C” locale. This is documented with the wriggly description “… if found in the database …”, but is rather unsatisfying.
  • Manjaro (Qt 5.10) does a better job of displaying Indic scripts than OpenSUSE Krypton (Qt 5.11), although this might be an artifact of installing updated packages into the live system.
  • The keyboard-layout picker displays no keycaps. It also doesn’t provide any useful debugging output. This is probably a combination of missing packages in the live system, and Calamares not providing enough useful feedback when the live image isn’t quite right. The latter, I can fix.

So, by briefly switching distro’s today, I’ve found one bug of my own, and one configuration thing for myself to document. And then from this not-using-Calamares distro, I can move on to another one.