Communicating freely

Thoughts on how we can all talk a little easier, and how that can make life better.

Day 2 begins

May 20th, 2008

Interestingly enough, I found myself looking forward to using my computer this morning.  Now that my basic training wheels are off, I’m planning to put KDE 4 through an intense day of high pressure productivity.

We have documents to create, we have emails to send, we have stuff to file.

The one thing slightly bothering me is that I cannot quite work out the Plasma desktop thing.  I need to read the manual I guess. 

Click menu, in search type help…help centre opens.  Let’s see…

Ah.  It’s empty.  Completely blank.  That’s not a good sign.

Let’s try the package manager.  Adept.  Click.  Ooh…lots of options.  "kde help" keyword.  Hm.  Nothing.  I need another keyword.  Helpcentre perhaps?  Hm.  Nope.  US spelling then.  Helpcenter.  That worked.  It says KDE 4 helpcenter  is installed.  Well, the application is…but my help files appear to be missing.

Either I am doing something wrong, or there is something wrong.  I go back into the helpcenter.  Contents are blank.  Hm.  I click glossary.  Oh, this might have content. 

No.  It has a list of things, but when I click them I get a blank HTML page with just headline text.  Something is not working here.

OK, deducting some points there.  I can’t work out Plasma desktop and when I try to get help, there is no help.  I think that’s the largest bug I have come across; given that Plasma is a very interesting and powerful new technology, people really need to be told how to use it clearly.  It’s also reasonable to expect that people need to be told through their desktop help system rather than having to wander around the net.

I’m not dead

May 19th, 2008

Goodness me, a complete office day has finished and KDE 4 is chugging along nicely.

What went right?  Well, a lot.  It was smooth, fast and did not crash. I like the interface.  Dolphin is a pleasure (apart from its weird habit of sending error messages after successfully opening files) and I can work out how to change any setting I don’t like.  Performance on average appears to be at least twice that of GNOME 2.22.

What went wrong?  I noticed another slight bug in the interface, this time with Bittorrent downloads.  Some kind of distorted icon thing appeared in the system tray on the taskbar (a download indicator?) but it’s obviously crashed or non-functional, so I have a persistent mess of random pixels in one system tray location.  No doubt this will disappear when I reboot.

My productivity was a little lower than Friday.  Sometimes I would have to spend a couple of seconds working out how to do something with the new interface.  However, I doubt I lost more than five minutes throughout the day.  I don’t expect any productivity reduction at all tomorrow.

Overall, I’m happy. It’s my birthday, so I’ll regard this nice new desktop as a present from KDE.  Let’s see what happens next (I’m such a tough customer).

If this week works out, do we need to create a "Freedom Task Force: Powered by KDE 4" logo?

KDE 4 – a week in action

May 19th, 2008

I have long been impressed by the concepts underlying KDE.  However, at the same time I found myself vaguely annoyed with the amount of screen space taken up by various buttons and menus.  I often wondered "why can’t this be a little tidier?"

The new KDE 4 release appears to have solved quite a few of my grumbles.  There are several elegant new concepts at play in this desktop that make it easier to find things.  The first time I saw KDE 4 in action was when Adriaan compiled it on his laptop.  It had bugs, sure, but it was fast and obviously well thought out.

Now the desktop is getting more stable and moving towards version 4.1, a release for the general market.   In honour of that – and in honour of all the times I said "I like KDE and I want to use it more" – I have decided to trial KDE 4 as my primary desktop for this working week.

Day one has begun. 

My first impressions are that I like the Dolphin file manager, I can’t quite work out how to use the new Plasma desktop (why won’t my files delete and why can’t I drag and drop into applications?), and everything runs at a nice speed.

 Oh, one slight bug.  When I clicked a text file in Dolphin it opened the document in an editor called KATE and also opened a little window saying "KDEInit could not launch ‘/usr/lib/kde4/bin/kate’."

Strange, that.

Building pan-European networks

October 23rd, 2007

"So," asks the interested party, "what have you been up to?"

It’s a good question.  One that deserves a clear and sensible answer.  I can provide one, even if to the casual listener it might sound rather far-fetched.

"Oh, I’ve been building pan-European Free Software legal and technical networks."

As you can imagine, this is quite a challenging task.  It’s also extremely rewarding.  Free Software is maturing rapidly. 

In Europe there is a lot of engagement in the development of effective channels of communication.  The stakeholders include lawyers from commercial and non-commercial entities, researchers and technical experts. 

These are interesting years in technology.  Free Software is mainstream and it’s working to provide great solutions. 

My part in this big picture is modest.  I’m just lucky enough be able to observe some of the evolution close at hand.  Perhaps some day it’ll fit into a memoir.

In the meantime, I’m still facilitating the networks and doing my usual job as the FTF Coordinator. You might see me at a conference giving a speech.  You might meet me at a training session.  Whatever.  Drop by and say hi. 

Welcoming Marko to the FTF

July 19th, 2007

As already reported in another blog Marko Milenovic is now part of the FSFE team.  I’d like to add to that news and let everyone know that Marko is also helping out at the FTF.

I’m delighted to have Marko on board.  We’ve really been expanding the FTF informal legal and technical networks lately and there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening.  The launch of the FTF consultancy services earlier this month is only the tip of the iceberg.

Amazing art (powered by Free Software)

July 16th, 2007

I recently saw an amazing Free Software-powered art project in Zürich.

This is amazing...these wires are sending signals to rat cells! 

Basically it’s  a series of sensors that connect (via the Internet) with a cybernetic chip containing living cell tissue in a lab.  When people touch the poles they send a signal to individual cells.  These cells return a signal, and that causes noise to come out of a speaker just above the pole.  You can even train each cell to react in a different way.

Close to blade runner

I’ve really never seen anything like this before.  The most amazing thing is that the guys who build this engineered the sound system on a FPGA and built almost everything using Free Software.  I even saw that some circuit boards they had designed were released as copyleft.  The only non-Free software is a bitstream loader for the FPGA.

Kudos to them!

(The pictures here are from the Neuroom website, and reproduced with permission).

Free Software acquisition by governments (another note!)

July 16th, 2007

Stef was recently talking about Free Software acquisition by governments and I wanted to add my two cents.

I agree that increased adoption of Free Software in public administrations requires more support and deployment infrastructure.  Procurement guidelines need to be drafted with an awareness of Free Software.  Purchasing managers need to be trained in the benefits it offers.

It is true that the US government is increasingly supportive of Free Software.  The NSA is putting considerable effort into development efforts, and the Department of Defense is adopting Free Software solutions.  In Europe, the decision in Italy to move various government computers over to Free Software is to be applauded.  It’s a good first step in the right direction.

Let’s not be complacent though.  We still have a long way to go.  We need more advocates.  We need more training.  Outreach efforts are a critically important part of the growth of our movement.

Zurich tales

May 18th, 2007

It’s a lovely afternoon here in Zürich.  Birds are singing outside the office, trams are rolling past, and occasionally the coffee machine is clicking as it keeps the pot warm.

This morning I cycled to work.  It’s a lovely feeling to ride beside the river.  Sometimes working in the technology field means that we lose sight of nature.

Hm.  Do we need organic PCs?

Dinner in Italy

May 15th, 2007

I had intended to post here again during the conference in Italy, but my laptop battery was a bit too low.  The Swiss plugs don’t work in Italy, and I couldn’t find anyone with the same type of laptop cable as me.  

Anyway, that’s life.

On my last night in Italy I was taken out for dinner with Umit and Stefano from Hacklab Cosenza.  They decided to introduce me to some local dishes.  There was chestnut bread, bean and mushroom soup, local sausage, grilled potato and a nice rose wine from the region.  Stunning stuff.  I cannot recommend the Cosenza food highly enough.

The next morning it was a 5am start for the long drive to my airport.  We arrived exactly on time and before I knew it I was in the air.  In the blink of an eye the weather changed from sunny South Italy into a rather gloomy Swiss Spring.  Ah well. 

At the Italian conference on Free Software (day one!)

May 11th, 2007

I’m currently sitting in the main lecture room of the Italian conference on Free Software in Cosenza, Italy.  Stefano is sitting beside me and we’re both being very digital (our laptops are active).  Armijn Hemel of fame is keeping me company on Jabber.  It’s a Free Software family moment.

Speaking of family, at this very second Plussy, the FSFE fellowship logo, is on-screen as a border in a presentation.  A professor who developed a tool to teach programming is speaking.  He’s talking in Italian, but the interpreter is doing a very good job of making sure I know what’s happening.

It’s a very good atmosphere here.  Loads of fellowship people, lots of interesting conversations.  I’m reminded of the dynamics of the FOSDEM conference (which was a ball), though this conference is less technical.  Updates to follow…if my laptop battery holds out…