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Web Log

PyBackPack 0.4.3 - One Small Step For Man

By Andrew Price, 2006-11-18 04:58:59 in Pybackpack. (Permalink)

It's happened. I finally got off my lazy arse and made a new release of pybackpack - my first release since I took over the reins from Dave.

It's only a minor release but I needed to break the ice and learn the release process. There have been a few small changes and two showstopper-ass-kickers, including another update to account for the nautilus cd burning API changing since the last release.

There are plenty more bugs to be worked out so don't be surprised if it throws a wobbly at some point. If it does, make sure you let me know the details.

The Codename Of The Next Ubuntu Release...

By Andrew Price, 2006-09-18 03:24:43 in Silliness. (Permalink)

...will probably not be Fursty Ferret, for obvious reasons.

Thanks to Graham for pointing out the humorous side of this ale at my birthday party :)

Marketing Open Source To Universities - A Brain Dump

By Andrew Price, 2006-09-08 11:27:08 in Geekdom. (Permalink)

Having been on the exec committee of SUCS for two years I've come to realise how much potential there is for organisations to utilise student computer societies to advocate and spread awareness of free/open source software at a local level and to a demographic which would find some of the principles surrounding open source attractive. Students, that is. Google has already exploited this font of publicity with their pizza ambassador program.

For example, student computer societies annually attend some kind of "freshers fayre" at which all of the societies in the university try to attract and sign up new members or just increase awareness of what their society is capable of. To attract new members, societies give out enticing freebees to any passing students, sometimes society-branded to market the society or sponsor-branded because the freebees were funded by outside organisations.

If student societies were offered the opportunity to get sent some freebees, like OS installation CDs, branded pens, small notepads, wall planners, etc. I'm sure they would take it up without hesitating. In return, the organisation that helped the society out would get some free targeted publicity and the pleasant side effect would be happy students who don't have to eat into their student budgets to buy commercial software.

Unfortunately the life of a computer society is an unstable one. From year to year the executive committee changes, and with that so does the society's priorities. Personalities and levels of motivation also fluctuate annually. So I think that some proactivity (</buzzword>) from the open source organisation could help it a great deal should they think it would be a worthwhile strategy.

Unfortunately, in the UK at least, there doesn't seem to be a single point of contact for all university computer societies. Compsoc.org.uk was set up to gather all UK computer societies together but it has been dormant for quite a while, not all UK computer societies have participated in it and there doesn't seem to be as much interest in getting it on its feet as there probably should beĀ¹.

I guess I could be accused of being lazy and told that I should contact a possible sponsor for these things under my own steam instead of just hinting about it in my blog, but this entry isn't for the sake of my computer society, I thought i'd just get my insight out in the open so that organisations such as Canonical and computer societies in general might benefit from it.

_______________________
1. I hear someone is creating a new CMS-based website for them, but it'll need to be publicised sufficiently for it to work.

Andy += Ubuntu Membership

By Andrew Price, 2006-09-06 12:21:45 in Ubuntu. (Permalink)

It's my birthday soon and what a great birthday gift I have been awarded - Ubuntu membership. I'd like to thank all the people who came to the Community Council meeting and put in a good word for me. I'll try not to let it go to my head.

Now if you'll excuse me I have bugs to triage and packages to wrestle with :)

Softly, Softly, Catchy Snakey

By Andrew Price, 2006-09-03 18:52:35 in Pybackpack. (Permalink)

Admittedly, my progress on pyBackPack has been somewhat slow to materialise. I have two main excuses:

  1. I want to be careful to avoid turning pyBackPack into a horrible mess of code that is unmaintainable in the future. This involves learning the existing code and the interfaces to the libraries it uses so that I know all of its intricacies before I make any drastic changes to it. It also involves looking at other (good) python projects and absorbing clue from how they're structured;
  2. I've been looking into some limitations of the libraries that pyBackPack uses which might effect its usefulness quite drastically unless some big changes are made. Luckily the limitations don't seem to be as threatening as I had first feared and one of them will certainly be fixed for the next release.

That said, I have done some work tinkering with pyBackPack's trac and subversion repository. The repository is now organised into the traditional trunk/tags/branches structure which will allow me (and any other contributors that might come along in the future) to do some experimental work without worrying about screwing up the main trunk of development. I have also scoured the tickets in the trac and reassigned them all to me, closed ones which didn't apply any more and asked for more feedback on some of the more ambiguous ones. Oh, and deleted comment spam (sigh).

I must remember to figure out what revision Dave released as version 0.4.2 so I can tag it. There will certainly be some compatibility issues with the next release due to the nautilusburn API being a moving target and I'm keen to avoid falling behind with the latest developments in nautilusburn, rdiff-backup, glade, etc.

Speaking of releases, I'm open to suggestions for a release strategy. I know the old saying goes "Release early, release often" so I'll probably use that as a guideline.

Rocking And Rolling

By Andrew Price, 2006-08-23 02:32:31 in Geekdom. (Permalink)

It's been a fun couple of days. I spent a lot of Monday and Tuesday doing some geeky Ubuntu-related things. Inspired by a couple of challenges from Barry deFreese on #ubuntu-motu I've been learning how to write man pages and roll packages for Ubuntu. So far I've written a man page for a wireless packet sniffer called prismstumbler (which I've never even used before). I also rolled a Ubuntu deb package of the latest version of GNU Smalltalk because the package in Debian unstable was getting a bit old and consequently, so was the one in Ubuntu.

Packaging GNU Smalltalk took me a while to get my head around because GNU Smalltalk uses its own package installer called gst-package and it uses autotools so it was hard to see where the install scripts wanted to copy files to without running a test build of the original package but it built properly in the end, with some help from the older package's deb scripts. Not too bad for my second ever attempt at rolling a deb package (He says...). My package is now in REVU, waiting for some kind MOTUs to help me fix the inevitable packaging bugs before passing it for inclusion into the universe Ubuntu repository. It feels good to be giving something back to the open source community and learning some new useful skills.

Update: My gnu-smalltalk package made it into the Ubuntu universe repository. Rock.

Back To Scrobbling

By Andrew Price, 2006-08-17 14:58:23 in General. (Permalink)

Good news - my lastfmsubmitd sync request got sorted out and I have returned to the world of the scrobblers on last.fm, managing to pass 7000 tracks played shortly after my return. I haven't used lastfmsubmitd and lastmp for a while - since around version 0.21 when I did a bit of debugging for it - and since then it has reached version 0.32.1, gotten into Debian Sid (Unstable branch) and subsequently into Ubuntu Edgy which I have installed for testing on my PC. I'm rather impressed with how smooth it's installing and running these days.

So if you're crazy enough to be running Ubuntu Edgy or Debian Sid at the moment and have a last.fm account (and you like to use the terminal), I'd recommend the following:

$ sudo apt-get install mpd mpc lastfmsubmitd lastmp

mpd 0.12 is due to be released later this month and it's the first new release for quite a while. It's looking quite shiny. I hope it gets into Debian unstable fast enough to be synced into Edgy.

$ if [ food_of_love "music" ]; do mpc play; done

Apologies to Mr. Shakespeare

I've Bagged pyBackPack

By Andrew Price, 2006-08-16 22:48:41 in Pybackpack. (Permalink)

As I mentioned in my previous entry, Dave had given me the opportunity to take his 2005 Google Summer of Code project, pyBackPack, off his hands and carry on its development after he had just about abandoned the code. Today the handover was made and pyBackPack is now my first ever real open source project. I'm very excited about it.

pyBackPack is a pretty nifty file backup manager written in python with a GUI built with Glade2. I have dabbled in python/GTK+ programming before so it should be pretty easy to get to grips with the code. Some new underlying concepts such as rdiff, mkisofs, cdrecord and programmatically transferring files over SFTP, parallel concepts such as rolling .rpm and .deb packages and general package maintenance will be new aspects to me but I'm sure my enthusiasm will plug those gaps in my skillset soon enough. My development will be mostly done using Ubuntu (I have 6.06 and Edgy to test it on) and I have an Fedora Core 5 install to test it on too but I'm hoping others will get involved and take some of the distro-centric tasks off my hands.

To keep you up-to-date with pyBackPack development and download releases, code and screenshots I've started a pyBackPack page which I'll make pretty and add more to in good time.

So, thanks Dave, I'm sure I'll be badgering you to explain some of your more eccentric coding decisions for the next few weeks :)

Downsizing

By Andrew Price, 2006-08-14 15:38:33 in Website Updates. (Permalink)

I've finally gotten around to mucking out the rest of the old, purple junk from my website. With the PBF getting its own RSS feed and Dave offering to give me maintainership of pybackpack, I decided it was about time to scrap the old pages, scripts and programs that made up the "Geekiness" section of the website and replace it with a slightly more grown-up Projects section that will contain details about things that I've been hacking on or just taking part in. At the moment the list isn't very impressive but once I've embedded myself deeper into the open source world I expect it will grow and get less waffly.

I still haven't gotten around to implementing comments for my web blog but then I haven't yet figured out the best way to handle comment spam. I don't want to add verification images that bots can't read and I'm not keen on the idea of comment moderation. But I'm open to suggestions.

Oh, I've also ditched the Links page. I mean, who reads them?

The Frog That Came To Visit

By Andrew Price, 2006-07-18 23:55:40 in General. (Permalink)

The slightly-too-hot weather has kept me indoors for the majority of today. When evening came and it started to become colder outside than inside I grabbed a book and a cold beer and put my feet up in the back garden to enjoy the cool air.

A photo of the frog that came to visit

As I reached page 232 in low light I heard a quiet, yet sudden, sound of rustling coming from the patch of grass in the middle of the garden (it's too small to be classed as a lawn in my head). I looked down to see a frog sitting still about a yard away from me on the grass. After staring for a while and feeling distinctly David Attenborough-esque I slowly got up and went to grab my parents' camera. After a few blurred attempts and much fiddling with the camera to find the up-close setting, I managed to get one decent photo[Original, 926KB] of it before it hopped off into the overgrown undergrowth.

A bit of research tells me that It's a common frog or rana temporaria and was around 5cm from feet to nose (total guess) with bright green speckling on its belly. I hope it finds somewhere cool/moist to shelter before the hot weather hits again tomorrow.

Birthdays, Barbecues and Large Balls of Plasma

By Andrew Price, 2006-07-18 18:04:38 in General. (Permalink)

Cor, it's been a scorcher the last few days. I was planning on meeting up with some old friends in Cardiff and going into town to do some shopping before I leave but the hot weather has made me a bit lethargic and sleep deprived and I'm inclined to stay at home in the shade wearing as little as common decency will allow. The idea of heading back to Swansea has been made all the more appealing by the temptation of heading down to the beach and swimming in the sea. So I'll probably go back tomorrow.

My mum's birthday party went very well. Lots of people turned up, we all got very happily drunk, I got to see and catch up with members of my extended family and the food was tasty and plentiful. Especially the 5 or 6 desserts I managed to fit into a small bowl and polish off between pints of Murphy's whilst my cousin's daughter continued her physical assault on my skull with party balloons. Good fun.

A silly photo of Andy the BBQ chef

The day after the party we had a barbecue for which I was dubbed chef. Much food was eaten, mostly of the meat variety, and for dessert we had barbecued bananas with old-fashioned style vanilla ice cream. Delicious. I received praise for my cooking skill and two days later everyone is still alive and well so I think I can conclude that it went well.

So, back to Swansea tomorrow and I hear it's going to be hotter still. Someone reserve me a spot in the sea at Rotherslade!

New Phone! Well, Sort Of

By Andrew Price, 2006-07-13 23:54:58 in General. (Permalink)

Anyone who has spent some time with me in the last couple of years or has tried to phone or text me will have noticed that I use an old, chunky Nokia 3510i which has little memory, no camera, has a tendency to forget about receiving messages until you power cycle it and only picks up signal in a few scattered cubic inches of my house.

Due to my mother's impending 0x3C'th birthday I've been back at home-home in Cardiff since Monday. When I got here, mum excitedly showed off the new mobile phone that my dad had bought her - a rather nifty flip-up Panasonic with lots of crazily unnecessary features such as Sonic The Hedgehog on it. It eventually occured to me that mum's old phone was just lying around doing nothing and that it was a hell of a lot better than my old 3510i. So today I nabbed it and plonked my SIM card in it to give it a test and it seems that there's not much wrong with it.

Now, I'm not one to let old hardware die while there's still life in it (especially when it means I get a free upgrade) so I asked my mum to let me have it and she happily obliged. A bit of fiddling later and a call to Orange's customer service line and I've now got the ability to send and receive MMS messages, with the first 30 photo messages free. The photos aren't of a wonderful quality though:

A low quality photo taken with my new phone

So now I'm the owner of a nice and almost-shiny Nokia 7250. The acid test will be to get it back to Swansea and see how well it works in the low-signal environment that is the House of Geek.

Warning: Time Wasting In Progress

By Andrew Price, 2006-07-13 01:42:29 in Silliness. (Permalink)

Via Dave Neary (Well, planet Gnome), I found this brainteasing number game.

I pasted the link into milliways at 22:16 and a good handful of us are still working on it at 01:42. I'm working on number 27. Could be a long night. Have fun.

Spreading Some Good

By Andrew Price, 2006-06-20 11:18:25 in General. (Permalink)

I notice that my friend Kat is doing the charity run The Race For Life this year with her mum and sister. A few years ago I manned a Sports Council information stall at the Cardiff Race For Life event which saw an awesome number of women and girls (over 10,000 I think) congregating in Bute Park to raise money for cancer research by going on a long run, or walk, should they prefer it. It was touching to see that a lot of them wore t-shirts and things with the names of loved ones that they lost to cancer printed on them.

Anyway, it's a great event and a very worthwhile cause so go and sponsor Kat online. Good luck with hitting your target, Kat, and have a nice jog :)

Google And Open Source Software

By Andrew Price, 2006-05-27 21:59:34 in Geekdom. (Permalink)

I've just been reading hub's slightly bitter entry about how Google's new Linux version of Picasa isn't really a Linux version at all but a WINE version. That maybe be so, but it's really just a question of semantics and I think hub is missing the point completely with regard to how Google is approaching (or seemingly failing to approach) open source software. Google's apathy towards directly producing open source software is probably for the best in the long run.

From Google's point of view, the main competitors are Microsoft, Yahoo, and other similar companies offering similar services to them. Google's main focus is to make money, competing with these companies as best they can (and they seem to be doing that well so far). Despite their use of open source software on their computers, and their indirect contributions to open source, actually engaging in and devoting man hours to producing open source software is not going to be advantageous.

Instead Google contributes to the open source community in more subtle ways which help the open source community to grow as a whole. One example that comes to mind is the Summer of Code, which some of my friends are participating/have participated in. Another example is the $10,000 donation that Google made to the OpenBSD project to help with its financial problems. These are among the contributions to open source that Google sees as being worthwhile since they are going to help Google in the long run. By donating to projects like OpenBSD, Google helps to keep the open source community afloat and help the people who develop important software packages such as OpenSSH. By running the Summer of Code scheme, Google gets to bring students with programming skills into the open source world and - more importantly for Google - not into Microsoft development, where young developers can get trapped and become blinkered from the alternatives. It can also lead to Google finding some great programming talent before they leave university. It's the old "Catch 'em while they're young" strategy. It takes time to bear fruit, but it works. Google has also hired open source developers such as Sean Egan, the lead developer of Gaim, who was employed to work on the interoperability of Google Talk and has not been prohibited from working on Gaim by his contract (as you'd expect from some other software companies).

The effects that these contributions have on the open source community are more stability through financial backing and more talented young hackers fresh out of university getting involved. The effects on Google are that it can recognise possible new employees early, the quality of open source software that Google runs on its computers increases (long term), the computer science students who might have been scooped up by Microsoft are attracted by and inducted into the open source community instead (e.g. educated to think that python hacking is more fun than .NET hacking) and its overall reputation is boosted by the publicity generated (this is also a lesser advantage gained by open source). By employing people like Sean Egan, Google is both gaining ready expertise and paying a person to do what he likes doing, meaning that he will most probably become very good at what he does. This in turn obviously has a great effect on Gaim and how Gaim and Google Talk interoperate with each other and other Instant Messaging clients. It seems that despite Google's understandably self-centred motivations (it is a commercial business after all) both Google and open source win.

So given that Google is actually making some pretty decent contributions to open source whilst also staying out of its way and letting it get on with things as opposed to aggressively fighting it and spreading FUD about it, I think I'm willing to overlook the fact that Google didn't write a proper Linux port of Picasa. Instead of grumbling about why they haven't done so, I'd look to see what the open source community can come up with to answer the challenge that Picasa brings. F-spot, gPhoto - they're all out there. But if they're not as good as a WINE version of Google's Picasa then they should be inspired and challenged to improve. Chastising Google and telling them to listen to the open source community isn't going to help at all because Google are listening to the open source community already and providing us with inspiration and open APIs to use. They just aren't going to rush to develop open source software because it's a low business priority. I don't see a problem with that.

Updates:
- Thanks to Will for casting his his eye over this entry for typos.
- Thanks also to Graham for pointing out that Gaim development isn't that wonderful with Google behind it after all.

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