Call for UbuCon Speakers at SELF

Ubuntu is sponsoring the South East Linux Fest this year in Charlotte North Carolina, and as part of that event we will have a room to use all day Friday, June 12, for an UbuCon. UbuCon is a mini-conference with presentations centered around Ubuntu the project and it’s community.

I’m recruiting speakers to fill the last three hour-long slots, if anybody is willing and able to attend the conference and wants to give a presentation to a room full of enthusiastic Ubuntu users, please email me at mhall119@ubuntu.com. Topic can be anything Ubuntu related, design, development, client, cloud, using it, community, etc.

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Working from my Ubuntu Phone

Ubuntu has been talking a lot about convergence lately, it’s something that we believe is going to be revolutionary and we want to be at the forefront of it. We love the idea of it, but so far we haven’t really had much experience with the reality of it.

image20150423_164034801I got my first taste of that reality two weeks ago, while at a work sprint in London. While Canonical has an office in London, it had other teams sprinting there, so the Desktop sprint I was at was instead held at a hotel. We planned to visit the office one day that week, it would be my first visit to any Canonical office, as well as my first time working at an actual office in several years. However, we also planned to meet up with the UK loco for release drinks that evening. This meant that we had to decide between leaving our laptops at the hotel, thus not having them to work on at the office, or taking them with us, but having to carry them around the pub all evening.

I chose to leave my laptop behind, but I did take my phone (Nexus 4 running Ubuntu) with me. After getting a quick tour of the office, I found a vacant seat at a desk, and pulled out my phone. Most of my day job can be done with the apps on my phone: I have email, I have a browser, I have a terminal with ssh, I can respond to our community everywhere they are active.

I spent the next couple of hours doing work, actual work, on my phone. The only problem I had was that I was doing it on a small screen, and I was burning through my battery. At one point I looked up and realized that the vacant desk I was sitting at was equipped with a laptop docking station. It had also a USB hub and an HDMI monitor cable available. If I had a slimport cable for my phone, I might have been able to plug it into this docking station and both power my phone and get a bigger screen to work with.

If I could have done that, I would have achieved the full reality of convergence, and it would have been just like if I had brought my laptop with me. Only with this I was able to simply slide it into my pocket when it was time to leave for drinks. It was tantalizingly close, I got a little taste of what it’s going to be like, and now I’m craving more of it.

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Corrections to community donations reports

A couple of years ago the Ubuntu download page introduced a way for users to make a financial contribution to the ongoing development of Ubuntu and it’s surrounding projects and community. Later a program was established within Canonical to make the money donated specifically for supporting the community available directly to members of the community who would use it to benefit the wider project.

During the last month, at the request of members of the Ubuntu community and the Community Council, we have undertaken a review of the this program. While conducting a more thorough analysis of the what was donated to us and when, it was discovered that we made an error in our initial reporting, which has unfortunately affected the accuracy of all subsequent reports as well.

What Happened?

Our first report, published in May of 2014, combined the amounts donated to the community slider and the amounts dispersed to the community during the previous four financial quarters. In that report we listed the amount donated from April 2013 to June 2013 as being a total of $34,353.63. However, when looking over all of the quarterly donations going back to the start of the program, we realized that this amount actually covered donations made from April 2013 all the way to October 2013.

This means that the figure contains both the amount donated during that Apr-Jun quarter, as well as duplicating the amounts listed as being donated for the Jul-Sep quarter, and a part of the Oct-Dec quarter. The actual amount donated during just the Apr-Jun 2013 quarter was $15,726.72. As a result of this, and the fact that it affected the carry over balanced for all subsequent reports, I have gone back and corrected all of these to reflect the correct figures.

Now for the questions:

Where are the updated reports?

The reports have not moved, you can still access them from the previously published URLs, and they are also listed on a new Reports page on the community website. The original report data has been preserved in a copy which is linked to at the top of each revised report.

Where did the money go?

No money has been lost or taken away from the program, this change is only a correction to the actual state of things. We had originally over-stated the amount that was donated, due to an error when reading the raw donation data at the time the first report was written.

How could a mistake like this happen?

The information we get is a summary of a summary of the raw data. At some point in the process the wrong number was put in the wrong place. All of these reports are manually written and verified, which often catches errors such as this, but in the very first report this error was missed.

Are these numbers trustworthy?

I understand that a reduction in the balance number, in conjunction with questions being raised about the operation of the program, will lead some people to question the honesty of this change. But the fact remains that we were asked to investigate this, we did find a discrepant, and correcting it publicly is the right thing for us to do, regardless of how it may look.

Is the community funding program in trouble?

Absolutely not. Even with this correction there has been more money donated to the community slider than we have been able to use. There’s still a lot more good that can be done, if you think you have a good use for some of it please fill out a request.

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Free Software’s Fifth Freedom

Way back at the dawn of the open source era, Richard Stallman wrote the Four Freedoms which defined what it meant for software to be free. These are:

  • Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

For nearly three decades now they have been the foundation for our movement, the motivation for many of us, and the guiding principle for the decisions we make about what software to use.

But outside of our little corner of humanity, these freedoms are not seen as particularly important. In fact, the fast majority of people are not only happy to use software that violates them, but will often prefer to do so. I don’t even feel the need to provide supporting evidence for this claim, as I’m sure all of you have been on one side or the other of a losing arguement about why using open source software is important.

The problem, it seems, is that people who don’t plan on exercising any of these freedoms, from lack of interest or lack of ability, don’t place the same value on them as those of us who do. That’s why software developers are more likely to prefer open source than non-developers, because they might actually use those freedoms at some point.

But the people who don’t see a personal value in free software are missing a larger, more important freedom. One implied by the first four, though not specifically stated. A fifth freedom if you will, which I define as:

  • Freedom 4: The freedom to have the program improved by a person or persons of your choosing, and make that improvement available back to you and to the public.

Because even though the vast majority of proprietary software users will never be interested in studying or changing the source of the software they use, they will likely all, at some point in time, ask someone else if they can fix it. Who among us hasn’t had a friend or relative ask us to fix their Windows computer? And the true answer is that, without having the four freedoms (and implied fifth), only Microsoft can truly “fix” their OS, the rest of us can only try and undo the damage that’s been done.

So the next time you’re trying to convince someone of the important of free and open software, and they chime in with the fact that don’t want to change it, try pointing out that by using proprietary code they’re limiting their options for getting it fixed when it inevitably breaks.

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My SCaLE 13x and UbuCon review

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the thirteenth Southern California Linux Expo, more commonly known at SCaLE 13x. It was my first time back in five years, since I attended 9x, and my first time as a speaker. I had a blast at SCaLE, and a wonderful time with UbuCon. If you couldn’t make it this year, it should definitely be on your list of shows to attend in 2016.

UbuCon

Thanks to the efforts of Richard Gaskin, we had a room all day Friday to hold an UbuCon. For those of you who haven’t attended an UbuCon before, it’s basically a series of presentations by members of the Ubuntu community on how to use it, contribute to it, or become involved in the community around it. SCaLE was one of the pioneering host conferences for these, and this year they provided a double-sized room for us to use, which we still filled to capacity.

image20150220_100226891I was given the chance to give not one but two talks during UbuCon, one on community and one on the Ubuntu phone. We also had presentations from my former manager and good friend Jono Bacon, current coworkers Jorge Castro and Marco Ceppi, and inspirational community members Philip Ballew and Richard Gaskin.

I’d like thank Richard for putting this all together, and for taking such good care of those of us speaking (he made sure we always had mints and water). UbuCon was a huge success because of the amount of time and work he put into it. Thanks also to Canonical for providing us, on rather short notice, a box full of Ubuntu t-shirts to give away. And of course thanks to the SCaLE staff and organizers for providing us the room and all of the A/V equipment in it to use.

The room was recorded all day, so each of these sessions can be watched now on youtube. My own talks are at 4:00:00 and 5:00:00.

Ubuntu Booth

In addition to UbuCon, we also had an Ubuntu booth in the SCaLE expo hall, which was registered and operated by members of the Ubuntu California LoCo team. These guys were amazing, they ran the booth all day over all three days, managed the whole setup and tear down, and did an excellent job talking to everybody who came by and explaining everything from Ubuntu’s cloud offerings, to desktops and even showing off Ubuntu phones.

image20150221_162940413Our booth wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of Luis Caballero, Matt Mootz, Jose Antonio Rey, Nathan Haines, Ian Santopietro, George Mulak, and Daniel Gimpelevich, so thank you all so much! We also had great support from Carl Richell at System76 who let us borrow 3 of their incredible laptops running Ubuntu to show off our desktop, Canonical who loaned us 2 Nexus 4 phones running Ubuntu as well as one of the Orange Box cloud demonstration boxes, Michael Newsham from TierraTek who sent us a fanless PC and NAS, which we used to display a constantly-repeating video (from Canonical’s marketing team) showing the Ubuntu phone’s Scopes on a television monitor provided to us by Eäär Oden at Video Resources. Oh, and of course Stuart Langridge, who gave up his personal, first-edition Bq Ubuntu phone for the entire weekend so we could show it off at the booth.

image20150222_132142752Like Ubuntu itself, this booth was not the product of just one organization’s work, but the combination of efforts and resources from many different, but connected, individuals and groups. We are what we are, because of who we all are. So thank you all for being a part of making this booth amazing.

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Ubuntu LoCo Team Global Jam Packs

For a long time now Canonical has provided Ubuntu LoCo Teams with material to use in the promotion of Ubuntu. This has come in the form of CDs and DVDs for Ubuntu releases, as well as conference packs for booths and shows.

We’ve also been sent several packages, when requested by an Ubuntu Member, to LoCo Teams for their own events, such as release parties or global jams.

Ubuntu Mauritius Team 14.10 Global Jam

This cycle we are extending this offer to any LoCo team that is hosting an in-person Global Jam event. It doesn’t matter how many people are going, or what you’re planning on doing for your jam. The Jam Packs will include DVDs, stickers, pens and other giveaways for your attendees, as well as an Ubuntu t-shirt for the organizers (or as a giveaway, if you choose).

Since there is only a few weeks before Global Jam weekend, and these will be shipped from London, please take your country’s customs process into consideration before ordering. Countries in North America and Europe shouldn’t have a problem, but if you’ve experienced long customs delays in the past please consider waiting and making your request for the next Global Jam.

To get an Ubuntu Global Jam Pack for your event, all you need to do is the following:

  • Register you Global Jam event on the LoCo Team Portal
    • Your event must be in-person, and have a venue associated with it
  • Fill out the community donation request form
    • Include a link to your LoCo Team Portal event in your request
  • Promote your event, before and after
    • Blog about it, post pictures, and share your excitement on social media
      • Use the #ubuntu hashtag when available

You can find all kinds of resources, activities and advice for running your Global Jam event on the Ubuntu Wiki, where we’ve collected the cumulative knowledge from all across the community over many years. And you can get live help and advice any time on the #ubuntu-locoteams IRC channel on Freenode.

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Community Donations Report, Q2 2014

Whenever a user downloads Ubuntu from our website, they are asked if they would like to make a donation, and if so how they want their money used. When the “Community” option is chosen, that money is made available to members of our community to use in ways that they feel will benefit Ubuntu.

I’m a little late getting this report published, but it’s finally done. You can read the report here: https://docs.google.com/a/canonical.com/document/d/1HrBqGjqKe-THdK7liXFDobDU2LVW9JWtKxoa8IywUU4/edit#heading=h.yhstkxnvuk7s

We pretty consistently spend less than we get in each quarter, which means we have money sitting around that could be used by the community. If you want to travel to an event, would like us to sponsor an event, need hardware for development or testing, or anything else that you feel will make Ubuntu the project and the community better, please go and fill out the request form.

 

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Android is not going to be a desktop OS

A while back Bryan Lunduke wrote about using Android on a desktop and he gave it a pretty good review. While I felt that the article was light on details, he defended his position and insisted that Android was, in his words, “a pretty typical desktop environment”. By the title of this post, you can probably guess that I disagree with that.

It’s not that Android is a bad OS, or is simply in need of additional features to make it a good desktop OS, it’s that Android has fundamental design decisions that worked well on mobile but will not translate to the desktop. One that I want to highlight, because I experienced it today on my tablet, is the problem of Android’s Activity Stack.

Android doesn’t deal with navigation in the same way conventional desktops do. Rather than each application managing it’s own (and only it’s own) state and navigation, Android uses a shared stack that can have a mix of Activities from different applications.

activity_stacks

I found the image above on an MSDN page that shows the difference between Android and Windows 8, but Ubuntu and other conventional desktops work in much the same way as Windows. Illustrated here is the fact that you can have an Activity from App2 on top of (and seemingly a part of) Activities from App1. Modern versions of Android have tried to keep separate stacks for apps that are started independently, but they will still mix Activities that are started from inside an app.

To show why this causes problems I’ll demonstrate what I ran into today. While browsing Google+, using the native Android app, I came across a link to Reddit.

Screenshot_2014-12-30-14-34-07Screenshot_2014-12-30-14-34-14Screenshot_2014-12-30-14-35-23As you can see, I have a native Reddit app called reddit is fun so Android asks if I want to open the link in that, rather than Chrome, which is nice and works as expected. So far so good. However, rather than opening the Activity in the reddit is fun activity stack, it opens it in the Google+ activity stack. So that when we look at your open apps, you see what looks to be two instances of reddit is fun, when in fact one of those is actually Google+ according to Android.

Screenshot_2014-12-30-14-34-50

Now this is confusing enough on it’s own, but it gets worse. You see, even though Android thinks this new reddit is fun Activity is part of Google+, the Activity itself does not. So what happens when you navigate “Back”? Well that depends on which control you use. If you use the softkey “Back” button, Android pops the reddit is fun Activity off of the Google+ stack and returns you to where you were. But, if you use the “Back” button in the ActionBar of the reddit is fun Activity, you go “back” to the Subreddit page for the article you are viewing. Not only was this page never part of your navigation, so I shouldn’t go “back” to it, but it’s still in the Google+ stack!

Screenshot_2014-12-30-14-34-24

If you use the ActionBar’s “Back” action, you can find yourself browsing Reddit for quite some time while still inside the Google+ app. Now imagine what this would be like on a desktop, where you will regularly have multiple application windows visible at the same time and inter-mixed in different stacking orders.

If this were all just a bug then it could be fixed, and I would have no reason to say that Android won’t be a desktop OS. But this is all working as intended, it is a part of Android’s fundamental design. There’s not good way to fix this, other than a major refactor and workflow change, or a bunch of hacks to try and make use cases like this one behave differently than the standard workflow dictates. I don’t foresee Google wanting to invest a significant amount of developer time on either option to make Android a good desktop OS, especially when they are already investing that time into making Chrome OS for the desktop market.

 

 

 

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On Democratic Republics and Meritocratic Oligarchies

There’s a saying in American political debate that is as popular as it is wrong, which happens when one side appeals to our country’s democratic ideal, and the other side will immediately counter with “The United States is a Republic, not a Democracy”. I’ve noticed a similar misunderstanding happening in open source culture around the phrase “meritocracy” and the negatively-charged “oligarchy”. In both cases, though, these are not mutually exclusive terms. In fact, they don’t even describe the same thing.

Authority

One of these terms describes where the authority to lead (or govern) comes from. In US politics, that’s the term “republic”, which means that the authority of the government is given to it by the people (as opposed to divine-right, force of arms, of inheritance). For open source, this is where “meritocracy” fits in, it describes the authority to lead and make decisions as coming from the “merit” of those invested with it. Now, merit is hard to define objectively, and in practice it’s the subjective opinion of those who can direct a project’s resources that decides who has “merit” and who doesn’t. But it is still an important distinction from projects where the authority to lead comes from ownership (either by the individual or their employer) of a project.

Enfranchisement

History can easily provide a long list of Republics which were not representative of the people. That’s because even if authority comes from the people, it doesn’t necessarily come from all of the people. The USA can be accurately described as a democracy, in addition to a republic, because participation in government is available to (nearly) all of the people. Open source projects, even if they are in fact a meritocracy, will vary in what percentage of their community are allowed to participate in leading them. As I mentioned above, who has merit is determined subjectively by those who can direct a project’s resources (including human resource), and if a project restricts that to only a select group it is in fact also an oligarchy.

Balance and Diversity

One of the criticisms leveled against meritocracies is that they don’t produce diversity in a project or community. While this is technically true, it’s not a failing of meritocracy, it’s a failing of enfranchisement, which as has been described above is not what the term meritocracy defines. It should be clear by now that meritocracy is a spectrum, ranging from the democratic on one end to the oligarchic on the other, with a wide range of options in between.

The Ubuntu project is, in most areas, a meritocracy. We are not, however, a democracy where the majority opinion rules the whole. Nor are we an oligarchy, where only a special class of contributors have a voice. We like to use the term “do-ocracy” to describe ourselves, because enfranchisement comes from doing, meaning making a contribution. And while it is limited to those who do make contributions, being able to make those contributions in the first place is open to anybody. It is important for us, and part of my job as a Community Manager, to make sure that anybody with a desire to contribute has the information, resources, and access to to so. That is what keeps us from sliding towards the oligarchic end of the spectrum.

 

Posted in Community, Economics, OpenSource, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Big improvements come from small changes

After I implemented infinite scrolling in uReadIt 2.0, I found that after a couple of page loads the UI would start to be sluggish. It’s not surprising, considering the number of components it kept adding to the ListView. But in order to keep the UI consistent, I couldn’t get rid of those items, because I wanted to be able to scroll back through old ones. What I needed was a way to make QML ignore them when they weren’t actually being displayed.

Today I found myself reading about the QML Scene Graph, which led me to realize that QML wouldn’t spend time and resources trying to render an item if it knew ahead of time that there wasn’t anything to render. So I made a 1 line change to my MultiColumnListView to set the opacity of off-screen components to 0.

 

One line change to make off-screen items transparent

One line change to make off-screen items transparent

I also found these cool ways to visualize what QML is doing in terms of drawing, which are very helpful when it comes to optimizing, and let me verify that my change was doing what I expected. I’m pretty sure Florian Boucault has shown me this before, but I had forgotten how he did it.

After change, only visible items rendered

After change, only visible items rendered

Before change, all items being rendered

Before change, all items being rendered

Posted in Programming | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment