Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Curiosity, or How We Go Down the Rabbit Hole

Congratulations to the scientists at the Hadron Collider, who have made this gigantic machine act as a time machine. In an interview (which I can't find on NPR or on the BBC!), one of the scientists defended the large multi-national investment in the collider, and in basic science in general, mentioning that most science is done to satisfy curiosity, without thought to where the findings will lead, or their practical applications. And yet, modern technology is built on the foundation of work wrought by those curious people who followed their interests where they led, even down rabbit holes, across oceans or under them, or out into space.

In Free and Open Source Software, we do the same thing. Of course sometimes both scientific research and programming are done to scratch an itch, or solve a discrete problem. But large projects are done by people with a vision of what they want to create, and the enthusiasm to draw others to help in the programming, documentation, dissemination, and advertising. I've recently gotten involved with Amarok, writing the Handbook and the Insider newsletter. It's been great getting to know the team in IRC, on the mail lists and on the Forum. It was very exciting to participate in the release of 2.3, after seeing all the work that had gone into it.

And yet we continue to hear complaints about the 2.x series not being the "perfect" 1.4! Sometimes in shockingly emotional language. The other day I read the comments on a Reddit.com forum post hating on 2.3 for lack of comment support, and have been digesting them ever since. Post is at http://www.reddit.com/r/linux/comments/bjae6/amarok_2_is_still_after_years_of_waiting_for/, and comments are supported in 2.3, but are not searchable. Some of the verbiage is appalling: "I hate Amarok with almost every fiber of my being," "Amarok 2 is the reason I lost faith in the open source doctrine," and the summation of almost all the criticism, "They screwed up big time when going to 2.x, the forums had all kinds of constructive feedback but they couldn't hear anything and refused to listen with their head up their ass. My faith is lost in them." Hear we hear the longing for Eden, a mythical past when that perfect software created the ultimate music experience. I believe this is why the emotion can run so high.

While I agree that 1.4 was wonderful, it is in the past. It's done, and Eden is myth. If the developers didn't have a vision of an even better music experience, they probably would have moved on to a different project by now, and done bug-fixes only, if that. When you look at popular free projects, that's how it goes! Progress or slow death. This happens with companies, too. Some entrepreneur gets an idea, builds a company around that idea -- and then either becomes Manager in Chief, and stops innovating, or recruits a manager, and moves on to the Next Big Idea. Mark Shuttleworth has recently done that in Canonical, where he handed over the managerial duties to Jane Silber, so he can focus on the parts of the project that he still finds engaging. The Amarok developers have moved on, and I'm grateful they are still interested in creating a perfect music experience.

Those folks who believe Amarok 1.4 *is now* the perfect music experience, have the right to support and extend that. That is what free and open software is all about. I might think they are jumping down a rabbit hole, but what's wrong with that? People are still reading and enjoying Alice in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass. Not everyone is a programmer; I am not, and not interested in learning. I do enjoy technical writing, and helping people solve their problems, and I've made myself a job on the Amarok team. Rather than looking back to a mythical, perfect past, why not find a way to contribute NOW, and create progress and change?

Also posted as a reply to the Reddit.com forum post. -v

Saturday, March 27, 2010

End of the Line

I hope you've discovered RadioLab, either on NPR (National Public Radio) or on the web. If not, check them out. Tonight I heard the most beautiful stories; beautiful and heart-breaking. This one struck me most, because we're at this place with my dad. He broke his hip before Christmas, and now is healed enough in body to move out of the rehab place, but his mind -- well, just listen to the story. He's there, at the end of the line. And I wish the Regency had a bus stop out front.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day

I started this blog a bit too late to blog on AL Day. But I was inspired by many of the great posts I read, and did post http://sydneypadua.com/2dgoggles/lovelace-the-origin-2/ via ping.fm, and have continued to read many inspiring posts. Two of my recent favorites are Magni's: http://magnio.livejournal.com/600864.html and this one about Deb Richardson, Linuxchix founder: http://icanrunsoucantoo.blogspot.com/2010/03/ada-lovelace-day.html, which I saw on http://findingada.com/

Amber Graner posted a wonderful long blog about many of the women in Ubuntu-Women: http://www.ubuntu-user.com/Online/Blogs/Amber-Graner-You-in-Ubuntu/Women-In-Near-and-Around-Ubuntu-Celebrating-Ada-Lovelace-Day-Part-1. I've recently come to know Amber and many of these women, and it was great to read more about them. And here are some of women I've met in KDE and Amarok: http://blog.lydiapintscher.de/2010/03/24/ada-meet-katies-posse/

I definitely plan to blog on Ada Lovelace Day 2011!

IRC - Timewaster or Productive?

Tonight has proven to me that IRC is productive. First the fine folks at #linuxchix helped me get sound working on Anne's old laptop. Then the people in #opensuse-kde helped me prune my somewhat warty repository list, even writing out the commands I would need to remove the extras, such as zypper rr home:wstephenson:branches:KDE:KDE4:UNSTABLE:Desktop.

I had a duplicate, too -- the same repository from two different mirrors. I thought I hadn't gotten anything from it after all that, but yaloki said, "to see whether you have a package from the packman repository installed on your system: rpm -qa --qf='%{NAME}-%{VERSION} %{VENDOR}\n'|grep -i packman." I did, and so removed one but not both. Finally, remur_030 suggested that "afterwards 'zypper dup' so everything has a proper install backed by repositories." That is working away right now in the little laptop next to me.

In short, if you need some technical help, hop on IRC, and ask! Googling is good, thinking is good, and it's also good to hang out and answer questions too. It was a productive night, as I got help in those two channels, and also the suggestion in #amarok that I aggregate this blog on Planet KDE, which I did.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Adventure Begins!

Linux now has its own blog, and I'll begin with the latest. My daughter Anne contributed her old laptop, in which son Thomas installed OpenSuSE. I thought it might be fun to install Amarok and see how a new user sees it, but to my surprise, it's part of the standard install. However, the version was ancient, so an upgrade was in the works. To my delight, Konversation was also installed, so I could hop right onto IRC and ask a few questions in #suse. Unfortunately, they were hating on KDE4 and Amarok2 in there, so not very helpful!

The #opensuse-kde channel (on Freenode IRC) was much more helpful and friendly. This is an old Compaq Windows XP machine, so it was a bit of a challenge to get current software up and running. One of helpful websites was http://software.opensuse.org/search?baseproject=openSUSE:11.2&p=1&q=amarok+2.3, where you can search for any package name, and see what is available in all repositories, even private ones. I was able to find Amarok 2.3 in "unstable," but I'm happy to report that now that all parts are installed, it seems *very* stable. Just getting everything installed took quite awhile, as Open Office decided it wanted updating as well. Plus the Yast/Zypper system is enough like the apt-get system of K/ubuntu to cause me quite a bit of confusion. I tried to copy/paste as much as possible, so as not to mess up command structure.

I guess Kubuntu packagers have spoiled me, though. I found that the backend, which is the part of Amarok that allows the sound to come through the speakers, wasn't included in the base install! When I tried to configure Phonon and make sure the sound card was working, Amarok instantly crashed. So I located the newest Phonon I could find, and phonon-backend-xine, and installed them. What kind of laggard packaging system is this!

Now I could configure my sound system at last, but the sound card test gave no sound, and I recalled that I'd seen a notification on each startup that the sound card was giving up.

So, no sound. Install drivers? I checked the Nvidia website, but they don't have a driver for such an old sound card. The website explained that such drivers are part of the linux kernel, so I don't have to worry about it! OK -- helpful people in Linuxchix (irc://irc.linuxchix.org/linuxchix) helped me test Alsa. sudo alsamixer showed me the channels, and I unmuted the few channels which were muted, such as line, line jac, mic and mic boost. That seemed to make no difference, so the next thing to check was Alsaplayer (not installed) or aplay, but aplay never started.

Next, cat /etc/group. The only group I'm a member of is video, so I had to add myself, sudo vi /etc/group. I usually use Kate, but it wasn't installed, so vi it was. i to insert, arrow keys to move about, escape to return to command mode, :x to write (save) and exit.

Why wasn't I automatically added to these groups when I installed Pulseaudio? Good question. I've never had to edit groups before, and I've been using Linux for ..... over 10 years, I guess. Anyway.

To add myself to the necessary groups, I made the line audio:x:17:pulse into audio:x:17:pulse,valorie, and the same with pulse-access, then escape and :wq to write and quit. Finally, I closed all running programs and restarted the computer. Upon starting up Amarok, and testing Pulsaudio (the sound card no longer shows up as an entry), it worked! SOUND!

Since I've not transferred any of my music tracks to the laptop yet, I used Magnatune, and listened to some beautiful classical music, courtesy of the band Asteria. Thank you to Anne, to Thomas, to OpenSuSE and the fine folks in #opensuse-kde, Christoph Franzen (chf) and the rest of #linuxchix, and the fine developers of Amarok. Finally, thanks to Mackenzie Morgan (maco) for helping me make this entry vi-correct. Vi manpage online: http://ss64.com/bash/vi.html

Ultimately, this old laptop will be available for my grandson Oscar to play Qimo on. I'll put on some of my favorite music too, so if we lug it up to the cabin, Amarok will be useful for more than learning and testing!