Older blog entries for mbanck (starting at number 47)

Tutorials at the Garching Debian Stammtisch

Munich traditionally used to have a lot of Debian Developers, but over the last couple of years quite a few of us who used to be students graduated and moved elsewhere or became very busy with their day jobs. We still meet for having a beer and a chat, but not as much as some years ago. We used to meet about once a month, but in 2009 we only managed to meet four times (however, we organized a Bug Squashing Party in November and had a special meeting as Lenny Release Party in February)

As the meetings are really rather informal and not necessarily very Debian related, it is difficult to attract new people this way. So Johannes Wiedersich and I decided to try a more hands-on approach by having a second meeting in Garching, in the student-run bar on the campus of the Technische Universität München (TUM). The idea was to get more of the local science, mathematics and computer science students (as well as possibly interested faculty members) involved.

We tried a first time about a year ago, but after two or three meeting in late 2008 and early 2009, we lost momentum. However, we began organizing the meetings again with the start of the winter term, and had two rather successful meetings so far. For the first meeting, we basically handed out some information on how to get involved locally (the Debian-Munich list, its subscription address, the wiki etc.) and discussed Debian in general and Debconf11 in Munich in particular. About half a dozen people showed up, and two of these attended the Bug Squashing Party later that month, and another one (a faculty member) got very active in Debconf11 organization. Thus, I was quite happy with the outcame of that meeting.

Some days ago, we had another meeting, and this time I was doing a live-tutorial on Debian package building. As Johannes was ill, we did not manage to announce or publicize the meeting well in advance, so only three people showed up. Still, I think it went rather OK, and we will be doing another Debian package-building tutorial for the next meeting, and possibly other turorials/workshops afterwards (ideas so far include library maintenance, Debconf, how the Debian community is organized and how to get involved in it). As doing a live-tutorial on one notebook is a bit difficult if you both have to type on it and people should see what happens, we will either use some extra hardware next time, or move to some nearby seminar room with a projector, this will be announced in advance.

So if you are on Garching campus or nearby and interested in Debian development (and Debian package-building in particular), come to the next meeting on January 13th! We decided to meet on the second Wednesday of each month, at 18h. Subscribe to the Debian-Munich list to get the invitation or watch out for the flyers on the campus.

10 Nov 2009 (updated 11 Nov 2009 at 11:10 UTC) »
Bug-Squashing-Party in Munich

We are organizing a BSP in Munich on the last weekend of November (28th/29th). It will take place in the (new, they are moving to the neighboring building this week) LiMux office on Sonnenstr. 25, between U-Bahn stations "Stachus" and "Sendlinger Tor".

If you are from outside Munich and want to attend the BSP, please let me know (mbanck@debian.org) so we can maybe arrange something like limited travel sponsorship or lodging (some of us can offer crash space at least). We specially invite people from within 150 km, like Nuremberg/Erlangen, Salzburg, Ulm, Augsburg and Innsbruck.

We probably start the BSP at some point on Friday evening already, but the main action will be on Saturday and Sunday. As usual, people should bring their notebooks and possibly an ethernet cable. Wireless will be present as well, but a certain bandwidth cannot be guaranteed.

18 Aug 2009 (updated 18 Aug 2009 at 15:31 UTC) »

Debconf was as awesome as expected and the days in Madrid afterwards were great as well.

My two sessions went alright in my opinion, I am especially glad that so many people showed up to the debian-devel session as early as 10 AM! I have now posted a summary of the session to the debian-project mailing list.

The key points of my short presentation were:

  • Traffic on debian-devel has decreased compared to a couple of years ago, and is currently around 1000 messages a month (Gentoo/OpenSuSE/Ubuntu have less messages on their development lists, Fedora has a lot more)
  • Fedora has recently started to moderate their development list
  • Ubuntu's development list is subscriber-only-others-moderated, while they have a very chatty development-discussion list
  • OpenSuSE has a seperate list for packaging and general development
  • Gentoo considers moderating their lists to some extend as well as introducing a code of conduct
  • GNOME's development list mostly works by self-moderation/peer pressure, though it took them a couple of iterations and lists to get this right

I also summarized the various code of conducts the above distributions/projects employ and they are somewhat different each:

  • Fedora has a very simple one: "Be excellent to each other"
  • GNOME has a slightly more verbose one (loosely based on the one from Ubuntu)
  • Ubuntu has some added guidelines more targetted at users as well, as well as a second set of guidelines for people in leadership roles
  • Gentoo has a pretty verbose one which also discusses how not to behave

So where are we going from here? I proposed a couple of possible steps, and after merging in the discussions at the BoF, the following might b e feasable:

  • Encourage people to re-subscribe to debian-devel now that the traffic has been decreasing. Also contact people who take over threads with repeating, frequent messages or with agressiveness privately and request them to stop
  • Be more proactive in moving off-topic threads elsewhere and define on-topicness more sharply (e.g. development matters pertaining to more than one (or a few) packages)
  • Cut down ITPs somewhat by aggregating multiple similar ITPs into one message and using specialised teams (pkg-perl, pkg-games) if appropriate. Maybe also consider creating a new debian-itp mailing list where all ITPs get CCed to as well
  • Update our list (and more?) guidelines with a more steam-lined version, possibly using the GNOME code of conduct as a base

If you have additional ideas or comments, please join the discussion on the debian-project list.

23 Jul 2009 (updated 23 Jul 2009 at 18:55 UTC) »
Debconf9

Tomorrow, I am joining the Debian crowd at Caceres, Spain for Debconf9. The last few days were quite nice in Munich so the projected 35-40 degrees will hopefully not be too much of a shock for me now (even more so now that I just got my brand new summer haircut!).

Apart from looking forward to meet a lot of good friends, I mostly have two Talk-BoFs scheduled (besides the debian-science round-table). They are both rather non-technical, but about topics which I consider important (at least to myself), so I am hoping a lot people attend and (more importantly) participate in the discussions.

Non-English IRC Support

on Day 2, 2009-07-25, 13:00 in the lower talkroom

This session will be about Debian IRC support in general and support for people who do not speak english in particular.

While #debian is working rather well (we think) these days, it is unclear what happens to the people who have to be redirected to language-specific channels because they do not speak english.

I would like to start a discussion about what we should do to make sure those users get helped in those channels and maybe discuss shared guidelines for some channels.

So if you are already doing Debian support in a non-english channel, or interested in making Debian support in general or IRC support in particular better, please come around and discuss/voice your opinions!

(edit: oh, and if somebody wants to discuss #debian itself, we can do that as well, of course, should time permit)

The debian-devel List

on Day 5, 2009-07-28, 10:00 in the lower talkroom

I believe the athmosphere on the main Debian development mailing list has become somewhat better over the last year or so, but there is certainly room for improvement!

So in this session I would like to present some small research I have recently done about other distribution's/major project's mailing lists and how they approach possible issues like flamewars, disruptive persons, off-topic posts etc.

If you are interested in making debian-devel a better place and/or know about particularly good (or bad) examples of development mailing list handling in other projects you think might be applicable (or should be ruled out), join the BoF and its discussion.

The other day, while "travelling Deutsche Bahn", I read an article in the venerable Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. To my slight surprise, it included a link to some government document in form of a tinyurl.com URL - (http://tinyurl.com/cr8qso). As I had no internet acccess at the time I read the article, I had to defer checking out the link to some later time. Then I began to wonder how stable those URLs are compared to the stability of the link they service and of the newspaper article itself. The description of the link would probably allow for some targetted google searching, but is it not the responsibility of the newspaper to allow their readers to research the link in a couple of days, months or maybe years? Does tinyurl.com maybe have an enterprise feature where they guarantee long-living links to newspapers and similar customers?

Over the Easter holidays, I finally did a bit of real programming again, adding some quantum chemistry related C++ code to OpenBabel and Avogadro. I added support for molecular vibrations to the NWChem and Molden file formats, as well as writing support for the MOLPRO input and output formats mostly from scratch. The latter was something I wanted to do for a long time, as I have been almost exclusively using MOLPRO for my Ph.D. over the last couple of years. The event which sparked my interest was the addition of animated vibrations in the Avogadro 0.9.3 release on April 1st, something I considered one of the last missing features in Avogadro in order for it to be useful as a general purpose quantum chemistry visualization app.

Once I had started coding, I decided to also do contribute to the visualization of molecular orbitals in Avogadro. So far, it was required to have formatted Gaussian or Q-Chem checkpoint files (both seem to use the same format, but you do not usually have those around) or Mopac2000 logfiles (Mopac2000 is non-free, unlike Mopac7, which is in Debian). My patch adds support for reading orbitals from MOLPRO logfiles on top of that. It has to be said that rendering molecular orbitals (while a bit unintuitive from a GUI perspective) is really impressive in Avogadro, thanks to the work done by Marcus Hanwell. See for exampe this picture for a Povray rendered molecular orbital exported by Avogadro.

If I manage to find some more time, I would like to (i) move the basis set and molecular orbital parsing code to OpenBabel, where it rightfully belongs and (ii) enhance and unify the OpenBabel quantum chemistry input file export code, so that they can be used by Avogadro directly. Right now, Avogadro reimplements a GUI and code for exporting an input file for each supported quantum chemistry package (Gaussian, Q-Chem, GAMESS and Mopac2000, currently).

My experience with LapStore's used-ThinkPad warranty repair service

My ThinkPad T40 arrived back from warranty repair today (well, actually yesterday, but I had to run off to the Gnome-2.26 release get-together in Munich so I did not have time to open the box then). I bought it used roughly two years ago at LapStore when my R51 had died. I had bought the R51 new with a one year IBM warranty but unfortunately within two years the graphics chip with got damaged and would freeze the notebook after a couple of minutes. I then decided that I do not really need a new notebook anymore, and opted for a used T4x series (there were no used X40s available at that time).

I chose LapStore because they offered a one-year "Garantie" (guarantee? warranty?), which was rather unusual for used notebooks - at best, you would get a one-year "Gewaehrleistung" which is the promise to fix things which were supposedly broken already by delivery. Even better, one could optionally extend the warranty to two years, which I did. The notebook they sent was in pretty good condition (apparently a business out-of-warranty return) and I put in my R51's hard disk, the ipw2100 WLAN card and the RAM (unfortunately, I realized too late that the keyboard and the CDRW/DVD drive do not fit).

I was pretty happy with it (and LapStore in general, I recommended it to a couple of friends since, and e.g. my current flatmate bought a T42 there a while ago as well) until the fan started dropping out and making weird noises by the end of 2008. So just before the end of warranty, I sent it (after removing hard disk, optical drive and battery) in to LapStore to see how their service is. I also mentioned a clear bright spot on the display (apparently some fatigue, you see it often mentioned in ThinkPad eBay descriptions) and a crack in the palmrest between the cursor-right key and the hard disk slot. When they sent a mail that the ThinkPad had arrived at their site, I also followed-up via mail that the "indestructible" keyboard caps stickers they used to mod a Scandinavian(?) keyboard into a German one were pretty much destroyed by now and would also need servicing.

I assumed that they would service the fan (which looked like a clear-cut warranty issue to me) without arguing, but probably not the display and palmrest (and did not know whether they got the mail about the keyboard stickers), so when they sent another mail two days ago that they sent the notebook back without asking further questions, I became worried about what happened at all.

So, long story short, I was totally positively surprised when I opened the box today and read:

"Aktion: Lüfter, Display, Palmrest und Tastatur getauscht"

(action: fan, display, palmrest and keyboard replaced)

The replacements are still used parts (and the keyboard is still not a real German one, but one with new stickers on it), but they basically changed my almost-totally-broken-will-fall-apart T40 back into a almost-as-good-as-new T40. (not sure whether that is positive or negative, but they also forgot to remove the service-hard disk they put in to test things, I guess I will send it back to them)

So all in all, I am very much impressed by their service. I would have expected this kind of service from IBM/Lenovo if I had a manufacturer warranty, but not from some random sell-used-ThinkPads shops on the net. I can now even more strongly recommend LapStore as the place to buy good notebooks. Certainly you can get cheaper prices at some eBay stores, but you do not get real warranty then and what about the service?

I recommend geting a T42 - I believe the T43 is inferior to it and the T40s and T41s don't have "LapStore Garantie" anymore. You can get them without operating system and can customize the hard disk, memory and optical drives - unfortunately you cannot downgrade those, which is my only gripe with them.

Yesterday evening, I mistyped my GPG passphrase a couple of times. I wasn't very worried back then and didn't try further, after all I was at a pub before and had one or two beers.

Today, I wasn't able to correctly type my GPG passphrase, either. At this point, I got a slight panic. I don't have my GPG passphrase written down anywhere, didn't make up any mnemonics for it and I wouldn't be able to easily write it down anyway - it just flowed naturally through my fingers until today. In fact, I couldn't even tell how many characters/digits there are exactly. Maybe once or twice a month I would make a typo, but always get it right on second attempt. And now, from one day to the other, my fingers just couldn't remember anymore.

I literally tried hundreds of times, with different characters and character combinations, but once I started thinking about what my passphrase might be, I couldn't just type it in sub-consciously anymore. After a while I became really worried - are these the first signs of Alzheimer or something? I even tried doing something else for a while as a distraction and then suddently jumping back at the keyboard, hoping the magic would return into my fingers when they got taken by surprise.

A couple of hours and countless retries later, I suddently typed in the correct passphrase once. Luckily, I was even able to reproduce it after a couple of more retries! However, it took me another five minutes to figure out what was the problem, now that it seemed natural to correctly type my passphrase again. In the end, it turned out my fingers forgot to capitalize a letter.

Opensync updates

Some time ago, Opensync-0.38 got released, and it is now available in experimental. The evolution-data-server and the Opie plugins are now available again, as well as the new tomboy (in NEW) and a rewritten google-calendar/contacts plugin. The google plugin requires the new libgcal, which I have just uploaded to NEW.

Unfortunately, kitchensync is still not ported to latest Opensync-0.3x (and got dropped for KDE4.2), so one still needs to use the command-line msynctool program. Also not ported are the (KDE3) kdepim and the currently under development Akonadi plugin. Other important plugins missing for 0.38 are the Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Palm and IRMC plugins. I tried to suggest making 0.38.x point releases including more ported plugins, but it seems development is turning towards 0.39 already, and yet some more API changes were done, this time mostly removing unnecessary interfaces, which should be a good thing in the long term. Some other good news is that there are now weekly IRC meetings of the Opensync developers, so there should be steadier progress towards Opensync-0.40 from now on. Unfortunately, I was mostly absent during all of the three meetings so far.

Along with Opensync-0.38, libsyncml saw a new major release 0.5.0 which should fix lots of bugs and provide better support for mobiles. However, lots of problems with syncml were due to bugs in the wbxml2 library. Michael Bell has hopefully found the most critical ones and I have uploaded a new wbxml2-0.9.2 to unstable today which I hope will get into lenny soon. The main problem with wbxml2 over the last year was a unresponsive/MIA upstream; however, recently wbxml2 maintainership got tranferred to the opensync project and moved to its Trac. Michael Bell has been fixing most of the outstanding issues and is currently preparing a 0.10.0 release, so this project should be back on track now.

Systems Expo 2008

As the last years, Debian was offered a booth at last week's Systems expo here in Munich again. However, this year the Free Projects area was not organized by Rosa Riebl from C&L publishing, but by Wolfgang Drotschmann from LinuxTag e.V.. This made some things a bit more difficult, e.g. we did not know our exact booth number until a couple of days before the expo and the small conference programme was made up in an ad-hoc fashion after the expo started, but in the end most things worked out fine in some way or the other. While the booth (a demo-point, really) was as big (or rather small) as last year, there was much more space around the booth this year (something which seemed to apply to all of Systems), so things did not get too crowded even when a handful of visitors approached the booth at once. Also, the visibility was much improved as our demo point was visible by strolling visitors this year (last year, our demo point was just facing the wall).

As nobody else stepped up, I had to organize the booth again. Fewer people than last year were around; only Robert Grimm, Arne Wichmann, Franziska Lichtblau, Johannes Wiedersich, Andreas Barth and I were able to commit to staffing the booth; other people were busy over the week or moved away from Munich since last year, like Robert Lemmen or Wolfgang Lonien. Luckily, we still had the computer the GNOME project donated to us last year, and I took a TFT, keyboard and mouse from the university along. This year, I decided to not show up for the booth build-up the day before Systems starts. On the one hand, I had made the experience that there is not much one can do then anyway, and would have to put the computer/TFT into the central locker room overnight anyway. On the other hand, there was as always a very low attendence in the first few hours of the expo so building up the booth in the morning turned out to be no problem. The Credativ people again provided us with merchandise (due to some miscommunication on my part the package had to arrive directly at the expo, but in the end I was glad about this as I had enough trouble carrying the computer and TFT to the expo). This year, thanks to Credativ, we were able to provide some t-shirts for the first time, something quite some visitors had requested over the years. Besides t-shirts, we had some swirl stickers and the popular Debian keychains provided by Joerg Jaspert through Credativ.

In the end the booth mostly consisted of the computer (demonstrating Lenny most of the time) and some A4 sized Swirls I had printed out the day before. From Wednesday on we were able to provide Lenny Beta2 CDs as well thanks to Johannes Wiedersich who organized them. Initially, I asked ADR whether they would produce some CDs for us again as they did last year, but they did not bring the appropriate hardware this time. But thanks to Johannes we were still able to provide interested visitors with CDs through LSK. In the end, we ran out of most t-shirts at some point on Thursday and managed to sell the two remaining Lady shirts on Friday. All the other merchandise was gone by the end of the show as well so the way back was not that difficult, even more so as Andreas Barth helped me carry the computer to the subway and my car.

The days I was at Systems (first and last day) the attendance was rather low, so not that many interesting discussions happened. Almost everybody who stepped by knew Debian already and the majority was using it themselves as well, at least on their servers. Those people were also really quite happy, we rarely heard much critizism, even after asking people for some. The most frequently asked question was undoubtly "when will Lenny release?", followed by "do you have that cool t-shirt in L or XL as well?". Overall it was a pretty good experience, albeit slightly stressful organizing it. In any case, this was probably the last time I had to do this as the Systems organizers announced they will rethink their concept and there will be no Systems 2009.

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