Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Session notes/research for Linux Unplugged 63

Interview today for Linux Unplugged 63 which was fun! However we never discussed Kubuntu, which I understood was the subject. I had gotten together facts and links in case they were needed, so I thought I would post them in case anybody needs the information.

Created and supported by community: http://www.kubuntu.org/support
Professional support for users: http://kubuntu.emerge-open.com/buy
Support by Blue Systems to some developers & projects:
Infrastructure support by Ubuntu, KDE, Blue Systems and Debian
Governance: Kubuntu Council https://launchpad.net/~kubuntu-council

How to contact us: kubuntu.org, freenode irc: #kubuntu (-devel), kubuntu-user list, kubuntu-devel list, kubuntuforum
  - Documentation on KDE userbase: http://userbase.kde.org/Kubuntu
  - Kubuntu in the news: http://wire.kubuntu.org/

* our "upstream" KDE is also making big changes, starting by splitting kdelibs into the Frameworks, and basing them on Qt5
  - that work is largely done, although of course each library is being improved as time goes along. Releases monthly.
  - We're writing a KDE Frameworks book; more about that at books.kde.org
  - Developers: apidox at api.kde.org

* KDE has now released Plasma 5, based on those new frameworks
  - that is nearly done, and 5.1 was released 15 Oct.
  - lots of excitement around that, because it looks and works really elegant, smooth and modern
  - Riddell: 14.12 release of KDE Applications will be in December with a mix of Qt 4 and Qt 5 apps, they should both work equally well on your Plasma 4 or 5 desktop and look the same with the classic Oxygen or lovely new Breeze themes

*  so our upstream is up to lots of new wonderful stuff, including using CI too (CI: continuous integration with automated testing)

* meanwhile, bugfixes continue on KDE4:

* Our base for 14.10 (codename Utopic Unicorn) is that stable KDE platform.
* At the same time, we are releasing weekly ISOs of Plasma 5, to make
it easy for people to test
 - Riddell: We're releasing a tech preview of Kubuntu Plasma 5 as part of 14.10 for people to test. I'm using it daily and it's working great but expect testers to be competent enough to check for and report beasties

* we're following along to KDE's CI effort, and doing that with our packages
  - see #kubuntu-ci IRC channel for the reports as they are generated
 - Riddell: gory details at http://kci.pangea.pub/
 - packages built constantly to check for any updates that need changed

* Our new packaging is now in Debian git, so we can share packaging work
  - as time goes on, all our packaging files will be there
  - tooling such as packaging scripts are being updated
  - Debian and Kubuntu packagers will both save time which they can use to improve quality

* moving from LightDM to SDDM (Simple Desktop Display Manager), KDE/Qt default
graphical login program

* moving to systemd replacing upstart along with Debian and Ubuntu at some point in the future

* moving to Wayland when it is ready along with KDE (Kwin); now on xorg windowing system. We do not plan to use Ubuntu's Mir

* Testing until release (please!) on the 23rd:

* Testing Plasma 5:
(fresh install)

* Another way we stay close to KDE is that since Ubuntu stopped inviting community members to participate in face-to-face meetings, we have a Kubuntu Day with Akademy, KDE's annual meeting. Thanks to the Ubuntu Contributors who paid the travel costs for some of us to attend


--
Thanks to Jonathan Riddell for his clarifications and corrections

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Start your Season of KDE engines!

Season of KDE (#SoK2014) was delayed a bit, but we're in business now:

http://heenamahour.blogspot.in/2014/10/season-of-kde-2014.html

Please stop by the ideas page if you need an idea. Otherwise, contact a KDE devel you've worked with before, and propose a project idea.

Once you have something, please head over to the Season of KDE website: https://season.kde.org and jump in. You can begin work as soon as you have a mentor sign off on your plan.

Student application deadline: Oct 31 2014, 12:00 am UTC - so spread the word! #SoK2014

Go go go!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Heroes

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, ages and nationalities.

The Nobel Peace Prize was inspiring to see this week. A young Pakistani girl who was already known locally for supporting the right of girls to attend school was shot by the Taliban to shut her up. Instead, she now has a world stage, and says that she is determined to work even harder for the right of girls to go to school. I really liked that Malala shares the prize. CNN:
Awarding the Peace Prize to a Pakistani Muslim and an Indian Hindu gives a message to people of love between Pakistan and India, and between different religions, Yousafzai said. The decision sends a message that all people, regardless of language and religion, should fight for the rights of women, children and every human being. - http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/10/world/europe/nobel-peace-prize/index.html

Another of my heroes spoke out this week: Kathy Sierra. Her blog is reprinted on Wired: http://www.wired.com/2014/10/trolls-will-always-win/. After the absolute horror she endured, she continues to speak out, continues to calmly state the facts, continues to lead. And yet the majority lauds her attackers, because they are Bad Boyz! I guess. I don't agree with her that trolls always win, because I can't. Kathy Sierra is still speaking out, so SHE wins, and we all win.

I just finished a lovely book by Cheryl Strayed: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Cheryl isn't my hero, but during her journey she became her own hero, so that's OK. My husband is going to walk that trail next year, and reading her book makes me so thankful that he is preparing and training for the journey! Her honesty about the pain she endured when her mother died, and her marriage ended, brought to mind many memories about the death of my own mother, and the death of another of my heroes, my cousin Carol.

Carol died 11 years ago, and I still painfully miss her. I know that her son grieves her loss even more deeply. I hope your journey has taken you to a place of rest, my dear Carol.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Good Notes

Final lovely quote from Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. Please get the book for yourself if you want to know how to foster creativity in a community or company.
In the very early days of Pixar, John, Andrew, Pete, Lee, and Joe made a promise to one another. No matter what happened, they would always tell each other the truth. They did this because they recognized how important and rare candid feedback is and how, without it, our films would suffer. Then and now, the term we use to describe this kind of constructive criticism is "good notes." 
A good note says what is wrong, what is missing, what isn't clear, what makes no sense. A good note is offered in a timely moment, not too late to fix the problem. A good note doesn't make demands; it doesn't even have to include a proposed fix. But if it does, that fix is offered only to illustrate a potential solution, not to prescribe an answer. Most of all, though, a good note is specific. "I'm writhing with boredom," is not a good note.
Catmull quotes Andrew Stanton at length explaining the difference between criticism, and constructive criticism, ending with: It's more of a challenge. "Isn't this what you want? I want that too!" [103]

I think this bit is the key: good criticism focuses on the common goal: a great product. It inspires, rather than creating defensiveness.

I read Reviewboard feedback in a sort of random way, and see a lot of "good note" behavior. But that timely part is sometimes missing. We have some Reviewboard requests languishing, along with patches in bug reports. Fortunately, the Gardening project has sprung up to improve this part of the community. Help out if you have time! https://mail.kde.org/mailman/listinfo/kde-gardening and https://community.kde.org/Gardening.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Explaining bands of nothing, BASH bugs, and old research

I heard a really interesting little show on the radio tonight, about the man who explained 'bands of nothing.' "Astronomer Daniel Kirkwood... is best known for explaining gaps in the asteroid belt and the rings of Saturn — zones that are clear of the normal debris." http://stardate.org/radio/program/daniel-kirkwood. He taught himself algebra, and used his math background to analyze the work of others, rather than making his own observations. The segment is only 5 minutes; give it a listen.

This reminded me of the how much progress I used to make when I did genealogy research, by looking over the documents I had gotten long ago, in light of facts I more recently uncovered. All of a sudden, I made new discoveries in those old docs. So that has become part of my regular research routine.

And perhaps all of these thoughts were triggered by the BASH bug which I keep hearing about on the news in very vague terms, and in quite specific discussion in IRC and mail lists. Old, stable code can yield new, interesting bugs! Maybe even dangerous vulnerabilities. So it's always worth raking over old ground, to see what comes to the surface.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Overcoming fear

In the last few posts, I've been exploring ideas expressed by Ed Catmull in Creativity, Inc. Everyone likes good ideas! But putting them into practice can be both difficult, and frightening. Change is work, and creating something which has never existed before, is creating the future. The unknown is daunting.

In meetings with the Braintrust, where new film ideas are viewed and judged, Catmull says,
It is natural for people to fear that such an inherently critical environment will feel threatening and unpleasant, like a trip to the dentist. The key is to look at the viewpoints being offered, in any successful feedback group, as additive, not competitive. A competitive approach measures other ideas against your own, turning the discussion into a debate to be won or lost. An additive approach, on the other hand, starts with the understanding that each participant contributes something (even if it's only an idea that fuels the discussion--and ultimately doesn't work). The Braintrust is valuable because it broadens your perspective, allowing you to peer--at least briefly--through other eyes.[101]
Catmull presents an example where the Braintrust found a problem in The Incredibles film. In this case, they knew something was wrong, but failed to correctly diagnose it. Even so, the director was able, with the help of his peers, to ultimately fix the scene. The problem turned out not to be the voices, but the physical scale of the characters on the screen!

This could happen because the director and the team let go of fear and defensiveness, and trust that everyone is working for the greater good. I often see us doing this in KDE, but in the Community Working Group cases which come before us, I see this breaking down sometimes. It is human nature to be defensive. It takes healthy community to build trust so we can overcome that fear.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Candor and trust

Catmull uses the term candor in his book Creativity, Inc., because honesty is overloaded with moral overtones. It means forthrightness, frankness, and also indicates a lack of reserve. Of course reserve is sometimes needed, but we want to create a space where complete candor is invited, even if it means scrapping difficult work and starting over. [p. 86] Catmull discusses measures he put into place to institutionalize candor, by explicitly asking for it in some processes. He goes on to discuss the Braintrust which Pixar relies on to push us towards excellence and to root out mediocrity....[It] is our primary delivery system for straight talk.... Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid with one another. [86-7] Does this sound at all familiar?

Naturally the focus is on constructive feedback. The members of such a group must not only trust one another, but see each other as peers. Catmull observes that it is difficult to be candid if you are thinking about not looking like an idiot! [89] He also says that this is crucial in Pixar because, in the beginning, all of our movies suck. [90] I'm not sure this is true with KDE software, but maybe it is. Not until the code is exposed to others, to testing, to accessibility teams, HIG, designers--can it begin to not suck.

I think that we do some of this process in our sprints, on the lists, maybe in IRC and on Reviewboard, but perhaps we can be even more explicit in our calls for review and testing. The key of course is to criticize the product or the process, not the person writing the code or documentation. And on the other side, it can be very difficult to accept criticism of your work even when you trust and admire those giving you that criticism. It is something we must continually learn, in my experience.

Catmull says,
People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process....How do you get a director to address a problem he or she cannot see? ...The process of coming to clarity takes patience and candor. [91] We try to create an environment where people want to hear one another's notes [feedback] even where those notes are challenging, and where everyone has a vested interest in one another's success.[92]
Let me repeat that, because to me, that is the key of a working, creative community: "where everyone has a vested interest in one another's success." I think we in KDE feel that but perhaps do not always live it. So let us ask one another for feedback, criticism, and strive to pay attention to it, and evaluate criticism dispassionately. I think we have missed this bit some times in the past in KDE, and it has come back to bite us. We need to get better.

Catmull makes the point that the Braintrust has no authority, and says this is crucial:
the director does not have to follow any of the specific suggestions given. .... It is up to him or her to figure out how to address the feedback....While problems in a movie are fairly easy to identify, the sources of these problems are often extraordinarily difficult to assess.[93]
He continues,
We do not want the Braintrust to solve a director's problem because we believe that...our solution won't be as good....We believe that ideas....only become great when they are challenged and tested.[93]
 More than once, he discusses instances where big problems led to Pixar's greatest successes, because grappling with these problems brought out their greatest creativity. While problems ... are fairly easy to identify, the sources of these problems are often extraordinarily difficult to assess.[93] How familiar does this sound to us working in software!? So, at Pixar,
the Braintrust's notes ...are intended to bring the true causes of the problems to the surface--not to demand a specific remedy. 
Moreover, we don't want the Braintrust to solve a director's problem because we believe that, in all likelihood, our solution won't be as good as the one the director and his or her creative team comes up with. We believe that ideas--and thus films--only become great when they are challenged and tested.[93]
I've seen that often this last bit is a sticking point. People are willing to criticize a piece of code, or even the design, but want their own solution instead. Naturally, this way of working encounters pushback.

Frank talk, spirited debate, laughter, and love [99] is how Catmull sums up Braintrust meetings. Sound familiar? I've just come from Akademy, which I can sum up the same way. Let's keep doing this in all our meetings, whether they take place in IRC, on the lists, or face to face. Let's remember to not hold back; when we see a problem, have the courage to raise the issue. We can handle problems, and facing them is the only way to solve them, and get better.