Currently showing posts tagged: rants

in partial defense of GitHub’s review system

By , May 12, 2013 12:47 pm

Julien Danjou recently posted a thought-provoking rant about GitHub’s pull request workflow implementation. His main point is essentially that Gerrit provides a more sophisticated review system. Of course I’m not going to disagree with that ;-)

I am generally a big fan of Julien’s work and I’m very excited for the future of OpenStack Ceilometer of which he is the current PTL. However, in this case I think his views are understandably biased towards review workflows on very large projects like OpenStack, and I found the length of the rant slightly disproportionate to the actual substance of the points made within it. Somewhat ironically, AFAICS his blog’s own review process could use some improvement due to comments currently being disabled ;-) So here are my thoughts.

Disclaimer: currently I use GitHub for reviews more regularly than Gerrit, so my views are likely to be biased at least as much as Julien’s, but in the opposite direction ;-)

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music industry learns nothing from the Avid / Sibelius saga?

By , February 25, 2013 11:46 pm

UPDATE 26/02/2013: Daniel has replied to this post, and I have replied to his reply.

As George Santayana famously said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. In light of recent news regarding music notation software, I would add with some disappointment and frustration that those who choose to ignore the past are also condemned to repeat it.

For those of you who don’t already know, Sibelius is a proprietary software product for music notation which has for many years been one of the most popular choices for professional musicians and composers. For many of the more experienced customers in the technology industry who have already been burned in the past, a heavy reliance on a single technology is enough to trigger alarm bells – what if the company providing that technology goes bust, or decides to change direction and cease work on it, or simply does an awful job (*cough* Microsoft *cough*) of maintaining and supporting that technology? Then you’re up a certain creek without the proverbial paddle.

In the IT industry, this is a well-known phenomenon called vendor lock-in. A powerful movement based on Free Software was born in the early eighties to free computer users from this lock-in, and is now used on billions of devices world-wide. You may have never heard of Free Software, but if you own an Android phone or a “broadband” router, or have ever used the Firefox browser or Google Chrome, you have already used it. The vast majority of the largest companies in the world all run Free Software in their datacentres around the world; for example, every time you access Google or Facebook you are (indirectly) using Free Software.

What does any of this have to do with Sibelius? Continue reading 'music industry learns nothing from the Avid / Sibelius saga?'»

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Linux desktop community “outraged” by latest Torvalds comments

By , November 29, 2011 4:40 pm

Once again, users and developers all around the Linux desktop community have been provoked by controversial comments from Linus Torvalds, creator and long-time maintainer of the Linux kernel. Back in October, Linus dubbed GNOME 3 an “unholy mess”, referring to one of the changes as “crazy crap” and demanding “I want my sane interfaces back”. Since then he has gone even further, contending that “for some people, a stable, flexible functional desktop environment is far more important than the latest eye candy or trendy minimalist UI design.”

Reaction from the desktop development community has been swift and mostly unapologetic. Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical, responded “Once again, Linus is underestimating the importance of aesthetics in computing. You only have to look at Apple to see that people place more importance on visual beauty than the kind of efficient work processes that a flexible and reliable desktop environment enable. This is why we’re pushing our new Unity launcher as a mandatory part of Ubuntu. We’re confident that people will quickly overcome the initial shock of everything taking longer to find and access because they’ll be too busy admiring how beautiful it looks.” He then cited the latest 11.10 release as an example of this. “If you look in the release notes for [Oneiric Ocelot], you’ll see a new Alt+Tab switcher at the top of the list of highlights, and below it other radical changes such as renaming ‘Places’ to ‘Lenses’. Frankly, most people lap up this whizzbang shit, and as long as it looks cooler than their friend’s Windows 7 netbook they’ll be willing to tolerate some minor annoyances which are unavoidable when making immature software a critical component of the desktop. Sure, we could prioritise boring bug-fixing over innovation, but that just doesn’t excite the teenagers on the web forums, and we have to think about the next generation of users. Besides, if you want a dumbed down system that mostly works, there’s always Mac OS X.”

Havoc Pennington, a GNOME developer well-known for initiating the war on Linux desktop flexibility by drastically reducing the number of preferences and replacing GNOME’s default window manager, the high-performance scriptable Sawfish, with Metacity, commented: “It’s about achieving the right work/play balance. If your desktop allowed you to get stuff done too quickly, it would just increase your stress levels. Some ‘power’ users think they want to be able to stream-line their workflows, but we know better, so we are doing them a favour by making this customizability harder. After all, everyone needs basically the same things. Rather than trying to be different, these people should instead learn to enjoy the cute visuals and focus more on having fun. Life’s more than just work, work, work, you know.”

The KDE camp has been slightly less vociferous, perhaps because it’s old hat for them – back in 2008 they pioneered the concept of intrusive redesigns and ended up the wrong end of one of Linus’ rants as a result. “With KDE 4.0, we did our best to prevent people achieving real work, and I think we largely succeeded”, one of the KDE team leaders recalls. “I mean, there was a significant period of time where neither the KDE3 version of knetworkmanager nor its KDE4 rewrite worked properly, so for many wireless networks, the only way you could connect was to disable NetworkManager and write a shell-script to interface directly with wpa-supplicant and ifup. And that’s just one small example.”

Despite Torvalds’ comments, the move towards form over function has been witnessed elsewhere outside the desktop software space. For example, Apple have introduced the MacWheel, a move so bold that it makes innovations such as Unity and the GNOME Shell look positively conservative. However there is no clear industry-wide consensus; in fact companies such as Ebay and Sony are beginning to experiment with rejecting both form and function, turning conventional wisdom on its head.

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Running Amazon MP3 downloader on 64-bit Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal)

By , September 25, 2011 3:00 pm

Amazon MP3 store – a phenomenonly popular online music store. Ubuntu – a phenomenonly popular version of Linux. 64-bit x86_64 CPUs – been around for years. You’d think this was a good combination, wouldn’t you? Wrong :-( Amazon, along with Spotify and countless others, is dismally failing to support its rapidly growing set of customers who run Linux. As I’ve said elsewhere, even if 2% of your customers use Linux, that can still be a huge number. Hopefully some day these big companies will acquire some common sense.

Anyway, in the mean time a quick google brought up the following solution:

  • (unfortunately this link no longer works)

Unfortunately it doesn’t work – the step which installs the manually downloaded .deb files fails due to broken dependencies. However further googling found a post from 2008 which revealed a technique based on the very useful getlibs utility.

So here’s my solution:

  1. Download the 32-bit Amazon downloader app for Ubuntu 9.10.
  2. Run sudo dpkg -i --force-all AmazonMP3DownloaderInstall.deb
  3. Run sudo apt-get install getlibs if you don’t already have getlibs installed.
  4. Run sudo getlibs /usr/bin/amazonmp3 and answer yes to the confirmation.

At this point if you try to run /usr/bin/amazonmp3 you’ll probably hit Ubuntu bug 781870. The workaround is as follows:

export GDK_PIXBUF_MODULE_FILE=/usr/lib32/gdk-pixbuf-2.0/2.10.0/loaders.cache
/usr/bin/amazonmp3

You’ll still get an error that it’s trying to load the 64-bit version of libgvfsdbus.so thanks to Ubuntu bug 369498. I had hopes that export GIO_EXTRA_MODULES=/usr/lib32/gio/modules would fix this, but it seems that this variable only gets honoured too late. However, apparently this issue doesn’t stop the program working so can be ignored.

Another option is to use Banshee’s built-in Amazon downloader, but even without all the politics surrounding Ubuntu’s version of Banshee this didn’t suit my tastes.

UPDATE: Wow. Just found out Amazon doesn’t support re-downloading stuff you’ve already bought. This is truly pathetic, especially considering their Android app kind of implements a locker service. From now on I’ll be using 7digital whenever I can – unfortunately their selection isn’t as big though. The quest for the perfect music services continues … :-/

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Flying with a (carbon fibre) cello

By , August 1, 2011 10:17 pm

When flying, most cellists are faced with either buying an extra ticket or getting a flight case, paying oversized baggage fees, and praying. Experiences vary widely and are in places well documented and full of useful advice, e.g.

My situation is different because I have a Luis and Clark carbon fiber cello which is incredibly robust and generally does not even go out of tune when checked in as normal baggage and placed in the hold of the aircraft in a normal hard case. My case is a Bam Hightech measuring 54.5 × 21 × 13.75″.  It seems virtually all airlines policies regarding oversized baggage operate in “linear” or total dimensions, which generally means by summing up the 3 separate dimensions together (although in some cases the wording is so confused, even that’s not clear).  This means my case has a linear dimension of 89.25″ which unfortunately is outside the 62″ standard limit, and even just outside Delta’s second tier limit of 80″.  Having said that, so far I have always managed to get it treated as normal sized baggage just by behaving exactly as if it was a normal suitcase, or even need be simply by confidently pointing out that the height is 54.5″ which is under 62″. In my experience, most staff at the check-in gate are not familiar with the exact terms in their airline’s policies, so having the right attitude (confidently knowledgeable and up-front but non-confrontational) can go a long way.

I’ve done some research on the policies of some popular airlines and referenced the relevant extracts below, with one section per airline. The quotes I’ve taken are focused mainly on national flights within the USA, because despite being from the UK, I’m currently flying around the USA a lot. However the policies for international flights seem similar, although sometimes with higher fees.
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