Archive for September, 2009

Whither FrOSCon?

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

While I was having a weekend meeting — over a week ago now in Frankfurt — there was FrOSCon going on just one or two ICE stops down the line. The overall programme seems (seemed?) pretty interesting, and Michael had a good time (you mean Rainer will let people try to drive his car!?), but there seems to have been very little report out of the conference.

From a research point of view (i.e. the hat I put down when I left the university) I’m somewhat curious about the PHP Quality Assurance Tools and The State of Test in Open Source talks. Writing enough tests is always tough, unless the culture of a project really encourages it; that’s basically where discipline and a desire to write the very best code have to win out over “let’s get it out there quick.” (Note that this is a use of “Open Source” that I’m not going to complain about: it’s about a development model which offers source for viewing — which enables the creation of tests, but does not necessarily enable any of the other Freedoms.) Of course, within a quality measurement framework (yes, I’m talking about the EBN which is in dire need of some hobby-time love from me) processing large amounts of data is important, so I suppose large scale analysis tools would be interesting as well.

Turning to legal issues (my work hat), I’m pleased to see a Free Software conference with an explicit legal track. One of the more interesting talks (from a licensing perspective) wasn’t filed under legal, though: Freie Software und SaaS, which seems to have talked about the AGPL. That’s interesting because the AGPL tries to close the “distribution” loophole in the GPL — for those authors who feel that that is a loophole that they do not want their code to pass through. Patents and e-mail regulation show up in the legal track as well — remember that business communication needs to be stored and tracked. The most intriguing talk of them all is the Opensource in der Praxis talk, where Open Source as a term is used badly, but let’s let that go.

I’ve got to admire a talk with slides made in TeX. Absolutely.

Unfortunately, my German isn’t good enough to construct a coherent talk based on just the slides, and the talk seems to have touched on a couple of potential issues when it comes to the applicability of Free Software licenses in Germany; that’s a topic I like to think is well-understood, so I’m curious if anyone who attended the talk can give me a summary — or put me in touch with the author (yay lazyweb!).

The human face of the FSFE

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is an organization that does a lot of behind-the-scenes things, mostly policy and legal, which can be a little hard to see at times. Of course we are always happy to support Free Software projects manage the legal and organizational aspects of, um, projecthood — that means supporting copyright consolidation (or supporting copyright management, don’t let me suggest that consolidation is necessary in all situations), asset management (as a project you have a domain and a name and possibly a brand and trademark, make sure those are protected), and other fiddly bits that aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

After all, in the long list of contributors to Free Software projects: artist, translator, coder, writer, supporter, forumista you rarely see “legal” except when it comes to the largest of projects. As a consequence, the FSFE’s work is often a little bit hidden. The FSFE newsletter (under the general news part of the site) gives a view of what the association is doing in an official capacity.

The human face of the FSFE — the people behind it, as it were — are members of the Fellowship of FSFE, supporting the work of the FSFE financially as well as organizationally (e.g. booths) and doing fun stuff at the same time (e.g. fellowship meetings, get-togethers of Free Software people who work on different projects, different places). Some of the Fellowship groups are not all that active — here in the Netherlands we’re largely dormant, even though we live fairly close together and I even think we could agree on a pub to meet at.

There is an interview series with Fellows — Smári McCarthy, Timo Jyrinki, Myriam Schweingruber are the last three — that illustrates really well the range of people involved in Free Software across Europe.

The person who does most (all?) of the interviews is Stian Rødven Eide, who can’t exacly interview himself to talk about the cool things he does, so I’ll just point to his own blog and in particular the entry on Gnutiken, the Free Software boutique. Basically a cafe that caters to the Free Software crowd, it seems, with a hardware and consulting business co-located. I hope that’s a good description, anyway.

This kind of boutique strikes me as a kind of ideal sprint location, bringing together a relaxed atmosphere with fanatical devotion to results. I used to fantasize about buying an orchard in the middle of Sweden and converting it to a campground / chalet-huts area for Free Software development, hacking and relaxation, but that never went farther than surfing some real-estate sites. There’s the Linux Hotel which can provide that. Most of the sprints I have been to — KDE sprints, that is — were short, just a (long) weekend, and I wonder what would be achieved if we could hold a group together for an entire week, working not only on new features but also putting concrete effort into “papercuts” type fixes and stability improvements.

Anyway, the human face of FSFE: the fellows. See the Berlin group on the 10th of September, Wien or Helsinki or one of the other groups — or start one up yourself. Heck, I’m going to have to arrange something in the Netherlands now. How does October 28th sound?

A look into the past

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

At the university of Nijmegen I was an inveterate collector of all-things-strange. The old sciences building was cnducive to that behavior, since it had lots and lots of storerooms with 40 years of accumulated junk, most of which were poorly secured or just left unlocked. So wandering through the basements looking for neat stuff was a good student-lunchtime activity. The building was knocked down a few years back, replaced by a shiny green glass-and-steel contraption that is much nicer to work in, but which has a great deal less charm. I still vaguely regret not nicking the elevator maintainence notebook the week before the old building was chained shut. One thing I did pick up was a notebook labeled “ARGS-Logbook” from the computer graphics department. Kept in meticulous handwriting from july 1981 to july 1985, it is full of notes that are both typically WTF and reminiscent of the problems anyone might have when dealing with machine-language programming.

July 1981 It seems impossible to pass parameters as subroutine arguments. Some “arbitrary” value is taken when referencing to such and argument. Strange is however that RET with a non-zero offset does work. (Solved middle of dec ’81). July 1981 The instructions to turn the scanner on/off works the wother way round, i.e. X is 0 for on and 1 for off!! (Doc adapted). September 1981 The conditional branche does not work properly. CMP followed by BRALT results in a branch if greater than! So the neg/pos bit seems to be set wrong (OK after middle of dec ’81). December 1981 Z Status Register instruction can only be used in a specific way. (after partitioning pictures across planes a new partitioning has to be preceded by an INI instruction = reset).

It seems that this was a machine with hardware for image manipulation (with instructions like ARF, area fill), which got a hardware upgrade at the end of 1981. I’ve left out all the complaints about the monitor which also mostlye went away at the end of that year. New issues show up, though:

August 1982 TST instruction does not work correctly (ok now, november 1982, error in cross-assembler). November 1983 Area fill problem. When pixel value at xset, yset = boundary value, the ARFO instruction hangs. February 1985 Recording screen on video impossible because of 60Hz frequency sync. (For changing video frequency, set switches E11, F11 and G11 in graphics store slot 4, need 33 msec refresh at 50Hz, set to 0011 0011)

The last entry in the logbook is the nicest: 18 July 1985 Key of monitor missing. Solution? (Lock turned 90 degrees so key is not needed).