Older blog entries for oubiwann (starting at number 264)

21 Jun 2011 (updated 24 Jun 2011 at 01:02 UTC) »

txStatsD Preview

Sidnei da Silva (of Plone fame) has recently created a Launchpad project for an async StatsD implementation. He's got code in place for review by any Twisted kingpins who'd like to give it a glance.

statsD was originally created in 2008 as a Perl implementation at Flickr for their statistics counting, timing, and graphing needs. Engineers at Etsy ported this work to Node.js (which Sidnei based his version on). A few months ago a regular Python implementation was created (also based on Node.js).

More than another (excellent) addition to the tx family, txStatsD will provide folks with the luxury of collecting stats using a Python server without having to write any blocking code :-) Sidnei also implemented a graphite protocol and client factory for passing the messages along.

Enjoy, and let him know what you think!

Syndicated 2011-06-21 17:34:00 (Updated 2011-06-24 00:12:03) from Duncan McGreggor

8 Jun 2011 (updated 26 Mar 2012 at 15:02 UTC) »

The Future of Personal Data: A Followup

The Next Step

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the Future of Personal Data as a result of all the ultra large-scale systems reading and exploration I was doing. Google was foremost in my mind when writing that, but Apple has since come into the spotlight here as well.

Recently, Matt Zimmerman has decided to leave Canonical and join forces with Singly, an exciting startup company focused on secure user data storage and the socialization of (and development around) that data. In this blog post, the following core values were given about the software underlying Singly:
  • I own my personal data
  • I want my data to be useful to me
  • I make the decisions to protect or share my
I would like to see the following added:
  • I make the decisions on how my data is used
  • If my data is sold, I should get a return for this
This is not petulance speaking :-) This comes from a historical perspective on social and economic fairness. Witness the changes in individual rights and personal finance since the industrial revolution...

Fair Market Value

There are probably many solvent entities out there who would claim users are already getting a return for the use of their data: free email and office docs from Google, free cloud services from Apple, etc. But I would imagine that there are massive margins being made on user data, and services (as valuable as they may be) are a paltry return for such a gold mine. I cannot help but be reminded of the selling price of Manhattan Island or Alaska (in 2011 values, the Lenape Indians got around $29.61/square mile; the Russians got about $150.77/square mile).

Money makes a good point, but personal data (and this post) isn't about the almighty coin. This is about clearly defining who owns what and ensuring that those who don't want to be taken advantage of, aren't. This is about identifying exploitation, and building something better and longer-lasting in its place.

Who's Going to Pay for What?

In David Pakman's "Disruption" blog post about Singly, he makes the following comment:
"I cannot see consumers getting into the business of selling their data to marketers so they can see personalized advertising. Instead, I believe marketers will be encouraged to offer value to us in exchange for access to our data."
I have to agree with him... but I can only offer a qualified agreement. True, I find it hard to believe that users will be selling their data directly to marketers. From the user-side, the pain of inconvenience would not likely be worth the payoff; at the marketer end, individual data is useless, and munging an in-house-built collection would incur a lot of overhead not part of their core business.

However, users' data stored in lockers, updated regularly, pre-processed, has enormous value in the market. Right now, Apple and Google are making eye-crossing amounts of money from data just like this. Again, I would imagine that this data is only really valuable in large quantities and for interesting, identifiable demographics

If users provide their data, but in exchange only get a "nicer app" or a "useful utility" I'm going to cry "foul!" (unless someone can show me the actual numbers involved and unequivocally prove that fair exchange is occurring).

You Say Disruption, I Say Revolution

Instead, if a service such as Singly, were to offer a co-op style dividend payment system to all of its users, that would seem to be much more fair. Not only that, it would be the beginning of a market revolution. This is not to say that co-ops are some perfect economic model, but rather that the data we, as users, generate is of immense value. The more that Singly has, the greater potential for revenue. The more buzz that builds around Singly users generating revenue from their data, the more users they get. With mass-adoption, a new sub-economy is born.

Perhaps a better model than co-op is that of a mutual fund investment firm. Each Singly user has a portfolio of data. Depending upon each user's preferences, any or all of that data could be used by Singly to generate revenue. Some groups of users will generate more than others, and users in these groups would get greater returns.

Whichever analogy you prefer, with a little exploration it seems fairly clear that opportunities for a large payout are present. For instance, I like to imagine a world where entities like Apple and Google can't harvest user data, but must go through brokers whom users have given their permission to sell their data for the most profit. I also imagine there's a lot of lawmaking that would have to take place... and even more lobbying.

Even with that, Google and Apple would still make money hand over fist (or they'd become brokers themselves) -- enough to continue providing free services. Yet at the same time, users would be in control of their data; they'd be financing (or financially augmenting) their data-consumption lives with said data.

With the right press coverage, Singly could find themselves not only swamped with a massively growing user base, but at the very center of a new economy. With the right level of negotiation and coordination, businesses could buy into this new paradigm without losing their shirts in the disruption.

A Plea

In summary, I applaud the goals and vision of Singly. I, for one, would deeply appreciate writing applications against their data locker (to any Facebook or any of its dubious applications), where a user's rights are clear and protected. That being said, Sinlgy would have my eternal allegiance if they also took up the cause of rights for user data in the market place; if they helped transform the current nascent data economy into a world economy capable of achieving as-yet unimagined financial heights.

And if not Singly, my loyalty would be given to whomever did do this.


Syndicated 2011-06-08 16:29:00 (Updated 2012-03-26 14:31:02) from Duncan McGreggor

Packt: A Publishing House for the Future

Since I first heard of them several years ago, I've viewed Packt as the underdog in the world of technical book publishing. In the past year or so, Packt seems to have gained greater and greater influence: their catalog continues to grow, they are attracting talented and knowledgeable engineers as authors, and their titles are things that I'm actually interested in.

Two examples of this are the books Expert Python Programming and Zenoss Core Network and System Monitoring. I received a copy of the former and blogged about my take on it. For the Zenoss book, last year I agreed to be a technical reviewer and am currently preparing a blog post on my pre- and post-publishing experiences.

In both cases, I agreed to work with Packt based solely on the technical merits of their works. However, my experience as a technical reviewer with them was so positive (I have had consistently excellent experiences with their staff over extended periods of time and on long-running conversations) that I have not only agreed to review more titles, but have read up on Packt themselves a bit. Here are some highlights from their wikipedia article:
  • They published their first book in 2004 (the same year Ubuntu started!).
  • Packt offers PDF versions of all of their books for download.
  • When a book written on an open source project is sold, Packt pays a royalty directly to that project.
  • As of March 2008, Packt's contributions to open source projects surpassed US $100,000 (I would love an updated stat on this, if anyone has a newer figure).
  • They went DRM-free in March 2009.
  • Packt supports and publishes books on smaller projects and subjects that standard publishing companies cannot make profitable.
  • Their stream-lined business model aims to give authors high royalty rates and the opportunity to write on topics that standard publishers tend to avoid.
  • Bonus: they also run the Open Source Content Management System Award.
These guys have some keys things going for them:
  • They've got what appears to be a lean approach to business.
  • They know how to effectively crowd-source, keeping their overhead low.
  • They are rewarding both the authors as well as the open source projects.
  • Their titles continue to grow in diversity and depth.
  • The have an outstanding staff.
Oh, and I really like the user account management in their website! When I log in, I see a list of owned books, source code links for them, clear/clean UI, very easy to navigate. I can't emphasize this enough to vendors, service providers, etc.: if you want a loyal user base:
  1. make a good product that lasts a long time;
  2. make simple and great tools that enhance the experience of those products, that truly improve the experience of your users.

All in all, Packt really appear to be leaders in publishing innovation, taking lessons learned from the frontier of open source software and applying that to the older industry of publication production. I would encourage folks to evaluate Packt for themselves: if you like what you see, support them in readership and authorship :-)

I, for one, will continue to review titles that appeal to me personally and that I think others would enjoy as well. I have two books in the queue and three pending blog posts for the following titles:
And who knows, if I feel like writing a technical book at some point, you may see me in the Packt catalog, too ;-)


Syndicated 2011-05-23 14:40:00 (Updated 2011-05-23 20:57:50) from Duncan McGreggor

Call for Testing: nVidia Cards in Ubuntu Natty

I was supposed to write this blog post early yesterday morning, since the first results from community testing are going to be examined today... but we're still going to need on-going data. So not all is lost :-)

We're working very hard with chip vendors to make sure folks are getting the best experience possible running Unity in the forth-coming release of Ubuntu (Natty). Jean-Baptiste Lallement has posted to the QA mail list, asking for committed volunteers to test the nVidia drivers in Unity on a weekly basis. You can read his email here:
Jean-Baptiste links to detailed instructions in his email. The QA Tracker for this effort is here (but please be sure to read his email and follow the instructions that he links to):
We look forward to hearing from you!


Photo Credits: jackyalcine (slightly modified)

Syndicated 2011-03-16 13:33:00 (Updated 2011-03-16 13:36:24) from Duncan McGreggor

Uncle Canonical Wants U!

you and uTouch, that is. And more!

Do you love Ubuntu? Are you an HCI freak? Are you an X hacker, kernel driver maintainer, Linux input enthusiast, Qt or GTK application developer, C/C++ hacker?

Do you enjoy being part of online technical communities? Are you actively involved in open source projects? Do you enjoy advocating for software?

Do you love test-driven development and thirst for high-quality open source software running on devices with touch interfaces?

Does the idea of working from home in your own time-zone, on cutting-edge, strategic projects at Canonical have you sitting on the edge of your seat?

If so, then please send me your resumé/CV! I'm looking for a few brilliant engineers as we grow our Product Strategy teams (DX, Design, and others).

Syndicated 2011-01-21 14:08:00 (Updated 2011-01-21 15:09:28) from Duncan McGreggor

Canonical and Codethink at Bostom GNOME Summit

Today is the second day of the Boston GNOME Summit, and the second day of Canonical providing morning sustenance for the hackers here. Codethink and Canonical coordinated these efforts, with Codethink sponsoring food later today. It warms my heart that we can do this sort of thing.

Yesterday Cody Russell and I held a session about getting a gesture API into GTK 3.x. There were a great many questions about the uTouch framework, how we're handling multi-touch in the absence of MT support in X (coming in XInput 2.1), and what sort of dependencies would be needed (none! if GEIS is present on the system, gesture support will be added at build-time). At the end of the session, there was a consensus for Cody to present his plans to the GTK developers list and then to start getting branches reviewed for merge. We're hoping to make it for GTK 3.2.

In this vein, Cody and I have been hacking on libgrope for GTK compatibility, and this is serving as the sandbox for the GTK 3 gesture API development. My efforts have been focused on creating the GTK 2 Python C extension for grope. Given that the last time I coded C was in 1989 (and then a bit later in the mid-90s, when I had to hack a slackware driver to get ethernet working), this has been quite an effort. However, after a night and morning of hacking, I've got a handle on C extensions and am using the example code I wrote as the basis for pygrope. I've even managed to rope Barry Warsaw into reviewing the C extension code for us, to be sure we're not doing anything too crazy :-)

The Python C extension will be of immediate use to us in our test harness for gestures and exercising the stack. We will be creating a GTK app for recording user gestures for later playback and inclusion in test suites.

Syndicated 2010-11-07 16:54:00 (Updated 2010-11-07 17:19:22) from Duncan McGreggor

Probabilistic Input for uTouch?


Well, it seems to be the season for a flurry of multi-touch posts. Guess that's helped along by the release of uTouch in Maverick and next week's Ubuntu Developer Summit multi-touch buffet :-)

One of the talks that John, Mark and I enjoyed greatly at UIST was Julia Schwartz's presentation on "A Framework for Probabilistic Input". Julia's an HCI PhD student at Carnegie-Mellon and works in their exciting dev lab. The UIST paper was written by Julia, Professor Hudson, Professor Mankoff, and Andrew Wilson (the latter of Microsoft Research).

One of the reasons I was personally so deeply appreciative of the paper was that when we were building the uTouch framework, Henrik Rydberg and Chase Douglas brought up issues around input uncertainty, and started proposing ways that might be employed to counter this. Getting plugged into folks who are working on this actively and thoroughly is phenomenal.

Since UIST 2010, the uTouch team has been in contact with Julia, sharing ideas and asking questions. Today we had a call with her and Professor Scott Hudson; as such, we have now started exploring possible avenues of development for probabilistic input support in uTouch. Scott and Professor Jen Mankoff will be attending part of UDS this year, and we've set up a session where they can share their research with us and engage in discussions, Q&A, etc., about it, and explore ways in which we can start moving forward on this in Ubuntu (and Linux in general).

The UIST talk slides and related paper are available here:

Syndicated 2010-10-19 18:10:00 (Updated 2010-10-19 18:42:16) from Duncan McGreggor

A Visit with System76


Earlier today, I had the pleasure of visiting Carl Richell and part of the System76 crew in their Denver offices today. Pictured to the left is their very sweet Starling NetBook. I became an instant fan, due to the sleek good looks, a fantastic keyboard, and a flawless installation of Ubuntu. Carl also showed me the Starling EduBook, which I completely fell in love with. There's a charter school in Colorado that bought a whole mess of these guys, and the kids at school adore them... and how could they not? A rugged, easy-to-use Linux netbook with Edubuntu installed on it? Total win.

Before getting a device, personnel, and facilities tour, Carl and I talked shop: uTouch, the future of multi-touch in Linux, Unity, Ubuntu on a plethora of devices. You know, the usual good stuff. I asked him what he'd like to see in Ubuntu that he feels would be necessary to totally rock out the tablet experience. His list of top picks echoes the sentiments of many people with whom I have had similar conversations. In no particular order, the list goes something like this:
  • fully-working auto-rotate
  • a great on-screen keyboard
  • browser, music, video, photo, and document apps -- all with a user interface designed for touch
  • the ability to deliver and play games
  • a sweet note taking app that integrates with email
  • TV remote control support
Much of this is already scheduled for discussions in UDS sessions next week :-)

Carl's excited about UDS and the continued conversations that will take place there. As am I. But I also can't stop thinking about that Starling NetBook... I'm going to be replacing my ailing AspireOne with System76's gorgeous offering...

Syndicated 2010-10-18 20:04:00 (Updated 2010-10-19 05:17:32) from Duncan McGreggor

16 Oct 2010 (updated 19 Oct 2010 at 02:06 UTC) »

Multitouch and Qt


It's been 11 days since the Qt announcement of new gesture support, and I wanted to blog about it right away... but alas, now will have to do. The folks at Qt have been working on multi-touch support for a while now. They blogged about gestures, multi-touch, Mac support, Windows support, and then at UDS in Brussels (May 2010), they shared their 4.8 plans for multi-touch with the Ubuntu community.

Until recently, there has been no MT stack for Linux. The great news is that the folks at Qt are very interested in getting Qt to work with uTouch. Stephen Bregma has been working on the GEIS API that toolkits will have the option of taking advantage of, and we were delighted to hear from Zeno and Denis that the Qt API they have envisioned and planned is very similar to GEIS, and should make for an excellent match. They are going to be talking with the community about this at UDS two weeks from now, in fact :-)

In support of Qt's commitment to multi-touch and gestures, I wanted to encourage folks to take a look at their post about Qt Quick, Qml, and Gestures. The source code is now available for viewing, and we've started to dive into it ourselves, and it seems that others are as well (I know some GTK guys who are double-checking their own plans by looking at what Qt has done so far).

Also, if you haven't taken Qt Creator for a drive yet, do so; it's an impressive GUI editor/IDE for Qt, and I've really enjoyed it so far. You can enable GUI visual design for Qml projects by going to the "Help" menu and selecting "About Plugins..." after which, you will need to check the box next to "QmlDesigner" (under "Qt Quick"). Also, a nice cherry on top: the Qt Quick design interface looks stunning with the Ambiance theme in Ubuntu -- the color scheme is a perfect match :-)

Syndicated 2010-10-16 20:17:00 (Updated 2010-10-19 01:35:42) from Duncan McGreggor

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