Older blog entries for mbanck (starting at number 50)

30 Apr 2010 (updated 30 Apr 2010 at 19:44 UTC) »
Science Track at Debconf10

This year's Debconf will probably have for the first time tracks pertaining to certain subjects. One of the proposed tracks will be "Math and Science and Debian" and I was asked to organize it.

We have some talk proposals already, and we will have a panel discussion about Debian science packaging between the major contributors of the various packaging teams, but more talks are welome! Talks could be about science with/on Debian, or Debian development in scientific fields.

Additionally, I would like to encourage contributions on three types of topics:

  • Success stories about using Debian for scientific research
  • New developments in basic science packages and their packaging policies, like MPI/linear algebra libraries, or Fortran compilers
  • Developing/maintaining scientific software with or in Debian as upstream developers/scientists

Full length talks are not required, we could split up each topic among a number of people depending on interest and submissions.

Talks can be officially submitted until the end of tomorrow (Saturday May 1st, 23h59 UTC), but even afterwards, if you plan to go to Debconf and would like to give a talk about Math, Science and Debian, please contact me and we will see what can be done. Especially contributions to the three topics above can be made later as the events will be registered already.

27 Feb 2010 (updated 1 Mar 2010 at 21:41 UTC) »

This evening, the final decision on which city will host Debconf11 next year will be taken.

For the last half year, mostly Andreas Barth, Jan-Marek Glogowski and I have been working hard to make the Munich bid as good as possible. One thing we wanted to make clear from the beginning was that we would go for a conference in the city center - not some conference center in some nearby village or in an industrial area far away from where the city life happens.

It was not easy, since the german-wide decision, we had to reshuffle venue plans a couple of times.

In the end, thanks to Jan-Marek, we managed to get an excellent venue offer. Our bid consits mostly of:

  • Venue: Computer Science building (recently built) of Munich University for Applied Science, we can get as much as we need, for free. The only thing we would have to pay for is additional security personell during the night.
  • Network: Leibniz Rechenzentrum is the operator of the Munich Research Network (MWN), the venue is connected with at least 1 GBits fibre optics, and the MWN is connected to X-Win at the same speed. This will be free as well.
  • Food: We can either take up the offer from the Studentenwerk, the organisation operating the university restaurants. Of course, the quality is not like in a Michelin-star restaurant, but I have eaten there for several years during my studies and it is on par with previous Debconf offerings. Alternatively, we could look into food catering.
  • Accomodation: We tend to go for hostels, similar to Edinburgh, probably 4-6 bed dorms. Munich is pretty expensive for lodging, so this is something we decided early on to keep the costs reasonable. Again, I think this is in line with previous Debconfs. Of course, hotels at a broad price range are available.

The biggest strong points about Munich are, in my opintion:

  • Our local team has lots of experience with Debian and Debconfs, as well as organizing conferences
  • We have government support via the LiMux-project, and the city mayor of Munich, Christian Ude, has agreed to be the patron of the conference
  • Munich is very easy to get to, both for european (via train or car) or american/asian attendees (via plane). The airport is one of the biggest in europe and has direct connections to e.g. Atlanta, New York, Boston, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo and Tokio.
  • Network connection via LRZ/MWN/X-WIN should be superb, especially to Debian machines hosted at euro

It the end, it seems Banja Luka seems to have the stronger bid, especially due to their 150000 EUR governemnt sponsorship. We will see who wins, I believe we did the best we could.

Application Indicators: A Case of Canonical Upstream Involvement and its Problems

I always thought Canonical could do a bit more to contribute to the GNOME project, so I was happy to see the work on application indicators proposed to GNOME. Application indicators are based on the (originally KDE-driven, I believe) proposed cross-desktop status notifier spec. The idea (as I understand it) is to have a consistent way of interacting with status notifiers and stop the confusing mix of panel applets and systray indicators. This is a very laudable goal as mentioned by Colin Walters:

"First, +5000 that this change is being driven by designers, and +1000 that new useful code is being written. There are definite problems being solved here."

The discussion that followed was very useful, including the comments by Canonical's usability expert Matthew Paul Thomas. Most of the discussion was about the question how this proposal and spec could be best integrated into GTK, the place where most people seemed to agree this belongs (rather than changing all apps to provide this, this should be a service provided by the platform)

However, on the same day, Canonical employee Ted Gould proposed libappindicator as an external dependency. The following thread showed a couple of problems, both technical and otherwise:

  • It is proposed as an external dependency, not as a part of GTK
  • It is unclear how it will integrate with the GNOME3 Shell
  • It requires Canonical's notorious copyright assignment
  • It is licensed under the LGPLv2.1 or 3 specifically, not any later one

What I personally disliked is the way the Cody Russel and Ted Gould are papering over the above issues in the thread that followed. For examples, about point one, Ted Gould writes in the proposal:

Q: Shouldn't this be in GTK+?
A: Apparently not.

while he himself said on the same day, on the same mailing list: "Yes, I think GTK/glib is a good place" and nobody was against it (and in fact most people seemed to favor including this in GTK).

To the question about why libappindicator is not licensed as usual under the LGPL, version 2.1 or later, Canonical employee Cody Russell even replied:

"Because seriously, everything should be this way. None of us should be saying "LGPL 2.1 or later". Ask a lawyer, even one from the FSF, how much sense it makes to license your software that way."

Not everybody has to love the FSF, but proposing code under mandated copyright assignments which a lot of people have opposed and at the same time insinuating that the FSF was not to be trusted on their next revision of the LGPL license seems rather bold to me.

Finally, on the topic of copyright assignments, Ted said:

"Like Clutter for example ;) Seriously though, GNOME already is dependent on projects that require contributor agreements."

It is true that there are (or at least were) GNOME applications which require copyright assignments for contributions (evolution used to be an example, but the requirement was lifted), however, none of the platform modules require this to my knowledge (clutter is an external dependency as well). It seems most people in the GNOME community have the opinion that application indicators should be in GTK at least eventually, so having libappindicator as an external dependency with copyright assignments might work for now but will not be future proof.

In summary, Most of the issues could be dealt with by reimplementing it for GTK when the time comes for this spec to be included, but this would mean (i) duplication of effort, (ii) possibly porting all applications twice and (iii) probably no upstream contribution by Canonical. Furthermore, I am amazed at how the Canonical people approach the community for something this delicate (their first major code drop, as far as I am aware).

To be fair, neither Ted nor Cody posted the above using their company email addresses, but nevertheless the work is sponsored by Canonical, so their posts to desktop-devel-list could be seen as writing with their Canonical hat on. Canonical does not have an outstanding track record on contributing code to GNOME, and at least to me it seems this case is not doing much to improve things, either.

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) »

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.

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