Couple of weeks ago, my Thunderbird mail client stopped connecting to Yahoo Mail. It would log in to the service, start downloading Message 1 of X — and hang. When it snapped back to normal, it reported there was no mail to download. Hmm…
After a few false starts, I found an old MozillaZine forum post that pointed to the Mail Summary File as the culprit. The MSF generates the list of emails on your Inbox, with date, time and read/unread status. The forum post said Go to your profile and find any files with an *.msf extension. Delete them, it said. So I did.
This turned out half-right. See, I like to think I’m pretty well-organized, with a bunch of topic-based folders and filters that move mail into those folders. Thunderbird (rightly) produces MSF files for each of these folders. When you delete them all, Thunderbird has trouble downloading into possibly nonexistent folders and it complains intensely.
For this reason, more recent versions of Thunderbird has a Repair function in the Properties of each folder. This tool reconstructs the Mail Summary File without having to drop the original. How do you do that?
Right-click your Inbox and choose Properties from the menu.
Click Repair Folder. The folder display switches to the cover page while the Repair tool is active. Depending on the size of the folder (and/or what the problem might be), this can take some time. Don’t try clicking on the folder until the repair is done.
When the repair is complete, you’ll return to the message list, with the proper number of Unread messages counted on the left side. You can then click OK to close out the Folder Properties table.
If you still have trouble with downloading mail, or processing filters, try running this Repair tool on other folders.
Since we’ve written several posts recently about open source communities, let’s highlight one more example of community members seeing a problem and trying to solve it.
KDE is the oldest graphical desktop environment for Linux, and I’ve used it since the day I installed Corel Linux in 2001 (forgive me if I’ve offered those two facts a hundred times before). It’s a big, complicated software collection (with 300+ software repositories), now undergoing its third major overhaul to KDE Frameworks 5 providing the technical underpinnings of the accompanying Plasma 5 Desktop. In all that time, there are going to be bugs that remain unsolved, and applications that grow stale.
Enter the gardeners
Spanish KDE developer Albert Astals Cid came to the annual Akademy conference with an idea: Put together a team to name and find people to fix longstanding bugs and important, but unmaintained projects. What became the KDE Gardening Team.
The Gardeners are different from the project’s quality assurance team, though it chooses a “Bug of the Month” that needs some attention. It’s really kind of a triage or rescue squad for KDE applications. As described in both Cid’s introductory blog post and the Gardening Team’s main page:
The mandate of the team is to:
Find *really* important bugs and ping people to fix them
Find stale reviewboards and ping people to review them
Those bugs often raise endless discussions from frustrated users about how KDE developers do not care. The truth is, most developers are not even aware of them, because the issues do not happen on their system.
The current “Bug of the Month” is a fun one, dating back to 2011, with 65 comments: “When I opened my laptop from sleep, and … logged in and saw my desktop this crash report was there.”
First sign of progress: K3B has a new update
The Gardeners’ first “love project” revived the venerable CD manager, K3b. Version 2.0 was originally released in 2010, and v2.0.2 came out a relatively short time after that. Since then, developers had worked on v2.1, fixing some bugs plaguing existing users, but never getting released.
After the Gardeners’ applied some love to the project, K3b v2.0.3 came out a few days ago!
Next in line for some love is KRecipes. This recipe manager works pretty well by all reports, but was last released in November 2010. Incidentally for any technical writers reading this: the KRecipes Handbook (user guide) is not yet complete for the KDE 4 version of the software. Should you be inclined to help, see the current text here.
Once this project makes progress, KTorrent is likely the leading candidate for the next Love Project.
I’d like to spotlight other communities’ smart activities here at Notes from the Metaverse in the future. If you’re participating in something cool, or know of a similar project to the KDE Gardeners, let me know, either by email, or commenting on this post.
It’s one of the mantras of free and open source software (FOSS): Software is born when one developer tries to solve their own personal problem. That is, the developer is “scratching an itch,” not being assigned to code something after some corporate marketing department spends weeks/months/years trying to figure out what the world (or at least a significant market share) needs or wants.
A more difficult problem is when a project becomes popular, scratching a lot of people’s itches. The software gains features, develops more bugs, attracts more users (each of whom may have their own ideas of what the software should do), and … takes more time to work on. Time that the volunteer developer(s) just don’t have, because they have to pay the rent/mortgage, feed the family, and similar daunting tasks.
We now come to a most interesting potential solution to this problem: John James Jacoby’s Indiegogo project. JJJ (as Jacoby goes by on the Twitterz and elsewhere) has been the lead developer with BuddyPress (a social networking layer over WordPress) and bbPress (WordPress-based forum software) for nigh on to forever. As a result of his talent and skills, he got hired at WordPress’ parent company, Automattic, and worked there for some time. Over time, BuddyPress, bbPress and a sister project, GlotPress (translations for WordPress) begin to suffer from lack of attention.
Making a long story shorter, John believes that with six months of sustained, concentrated attention on these three projects, he can make a difference in these areas:
Query and caching performance improvements to both BuddyPress and bbPress (to help them power the almost 20 million user profiles and the immense amount of activity going into them from all the support forums)
Media & Attachment support in BuddyPress
Per-forum moderation in bbPress to help with plugin & theme moderation on WordPress.org.
WordPress is more community than software, yet the software that powers the community has nobody working on it full time
At WordCamp San Francisco in October, he was encouraged to seek community funding for this project. After some thought and planning, on November 11, the 30-day campaign went live at Indiegogo.
As happens so often with crowdfunding projects, JJJ hit 80% of his $50,000 goal in 48 hours. Since then, it’s been a little slack. Now he’s got another $6000 to go for the full six months.
Valuing open source developers
Just last week (before I knew about this campaign), I wrote about the value of open source communities. Now the WordPress community has the opportunity to prove its value in concrete put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is terms: Can it fund a developer (or more than one) to complete essential tasks without having to sacrifice on his/her standard of living? Can you make a living just scratching your itches?
John James Jacoby lives pretty close to me, and we’ve met a few times at WordPress Meetups and WordCamp Milwaukee. He is a terrific guy, and unquestionably devoted to the success of BuddyPress and WordPress. We should be able to come through for him in the coming days. I also hope that this followup idea from Josh Strebel from Pagely to make this type of crowdfunding project more formal and more permanent makes some headway in the process. Yeah, I’m going to kick in a pittance too, right after payday in 7 days. Maybe you have a payday coming up too? What is WordPress worth to you?
One of the best things about free and open source software (FOSS), and Linux in particular, is the community spirit. Many of the people who use and build these bits of code are genuinely passionate and dedicated to the products and projects they are involved in.
In the FOSS world, a development team is the core of the community, and the symbol of one’s demonstrated ability is the right to commit source code to the core software. Bigger communities, like openSUSE and Ubuntu, have structures for other community contributors.
Goes to show how wired in I am to the world of Ubuntu, but I completely missed Ubuntu Community Appreciation Day yesterday. I’ve been involved with (mostly as an observer) the Ubuntu community for the last year or two, but I’ve played with Ubuntu regularly for much longer.
While I will not suggest for a moment that these communities are electronic Lake Wobegons, peaceful and friendly at all times, I will say that I typically find them helpful places. Then again, occasionally fights break out over issues like systemd (like this one, that ran for over a month!) religious wars between distributions, desktops, and text editors, and whatever else annoys people on a given day.
The routine maintenance that keeps my computer running, and the lawn mowed, and the sinks relatively unclogged, it eats a lot of time. I’m even pretty good at checking off boxes in the average week (my Completed list is pretty sizable, too). But that isn’t the real problem. It’s all the new stuff that software developers and other creative minds keep pumping out that I just have to try out.
Stuff to try
Consider these items in my list:
In the last two weeks, I’ve been invited to two brand new social networks, still in beta.You’ve probably heard of one (ello), but probably not Biosgraphy.
I also got an invitation to Google Inbox, which I’ve experimented with in the last week.
You know that my favorite Linux distributions (openSUSE and Ubuntu) released new versions recently.
I’ve even installed the Windows 10 Preview, and ran it … twice.
Today, I read about OSJourno, a version of Fedora Linux specifically designed for journalists, and I’m dying to try it out.
Not too long ago, the folks at GitHub announced a “hackable text editor” called Atom. A couple of weeks ago, they had an alpha version of same for Windows. I’m downloading it now, with the help of a brand-new package manager called Chocolatey. Then I have to check my Linux distros to see if any of them have an Atom build available.
Think I mentioned this before, but to round things out, I’m still learning Scrivener with the help of some videos from the Scrivener Coach.
Stuff to Learn
Then there are the tools and technologies I really should learn more about:
Simplified markup (Asciidoc, Markdown, Textile). I’m told it takes 10 minutes to learn these commands.
Tonight is update night, when I open up all my virtual machines and get all the latest and greatest software. Back in dialup days, I updated my Linux partitions on Saturday mornings. Nobody would call me, and I figured the remote servers (especially the openSUSE servers in Germany) would be less stressed than during the weekday, speeding the download ever so slightly.
One advantage of having a terabyte of storage on my laptop is that setting up new “systems” is incredibly easy. VirtualBox can set up 150GB hard drives in a few seconds, and installing a new Linux OS with a set of default applications on that empty drive takes about a half hour. So I have too many machines, and clearly not enough time to use all of them effectively. Trying to figure out what to keep. Here’s my current list of client operating systems:
openSUSE Tumbleweed (32-bit): This one is my “everyday” Linux system, but not for much longer. When I first created this VM a year or two ago, VirtualBox didn’t support 64-bit client operating systems. Now they do. Another reason to junk this one: Until now, Tumbleweed represented a stable rolling release. With openSUSE 13.2, it remains a rolling release, but with a few more cutting edge apps that may not be quite as stable as the old Tumbleweed.
Ubuntu 14.10 (32-bit): This connects with my Nexus 7 tablet dual-booting Android and Ubuntu Touch.
Kubuntu 13.10 (32-bit): I should try one of the other flavors of Ubuntu, but what can I say? I’m a KDE guy. I originally installed this after the kerfuffle over Canonical not paying Jonathan Riddell to work on Kubuntu anymore. I wrote about that here and here too.
Ubuntu 14.04 Test: I think I broke this one.
openSUSE 13.1 (KDE:Current, 32-bit): This has unstable KDE apps available, but I think I broke this one too.
openSUSE 13.1 (KDE:Current, 64-bit): May become the ‘new’ everyday system
openSUSE 13.1 (KDE Plasma 5 Preview): This is the next version of KDE, not yet ready for prime time. See Post #201 for that history.
Kubuntu KDE Plasma 5 Preview: See above.
openSUSE 13.2:This is a clean install of the latest openSUSE, and is the other candidate for “everyday” system. This version of the distribution supports seven desktop environments. I want to get them all installed and play with them a bit.
Kubuntu 14.10 (64-bit): Did I mention my affinity for KDE?
It’s all fun, and all good. What does your system look like?
Last month, I went to BarCamp Milwaukee 9 for a daylong exercise in stretching my mind. I’ve written a lot about BarCamp over the years (I’ve only missed two of the nine events), and I’ve always found it useful (the attending AND the writing about it). Let me share some of what I learned. These are some notes on the sessions I attended with about 70 folks, a nice crowd.
Open Source Ecology
Some days before BarCamp, I received an invitation to join a new Meetup in Milwaukee called Open Source Ecology. It was the first time I’d heard the term, but as an “open source guy” with an environmental bent, the idea was pretty attractive. I needed to learn more before signing up, so when a group of folks showed up and introduced themselves as from Open Source Ecology, I was very pleased, and said so when it came my turn to introduce myself.
We’re developing open source industrial machines that can be made for a fraction of commercial costs, and sharing our designs online for free. The goal of Open Source Ecology is to create an open source economy – an efficient economy which increases innovation by open collaboration.
It’s an intriguing idea, and begins with what they call the Global Village Construction Set, a set of 50 machines designed to build other industrial machines to reconstruct civilization independent of today’s global capitalist economy.
Here in Milwaukee, they are working to build a machine that can turn buckets of ordinary dirt into bricks that are strong enough to build housing that meets modern building codes. Someday, instead of the old rural barn-raising festivals, we could see brick-house-raising parties for genuine Habitats for Humanity. Community building at its finest!
The Milwaukee group is also trying to partner with local educators to create a course focused on building the LifeTrac tractor, which sure sounds cool!
The discussion focused on the practicality of realizing this idealistic vision of building a new economy beside the existing institutions. Side note: they’re keen on finding better technical writers to help non-engineers build these machines.
These are good folks, and I’ll be following their progress. You can too, on their Facebook page.
Qt on Android and iOS (And windows, mac, linux)
BarCamps are by and for various types of geeks, but inevitably, there are sessions about programming. Sometimes I get attracted by these, despite not being a programmer. I actually tried one session about building a boot loader (software that allows you to run multiple operating systems on different hard drive partitions), but found myself drowning fairly quickly. I wasn’t the only camper who invoked The Law of Two Feet on this session, I’m afraid. This is the BarCamp principle of “if you’re not getting what you need from a session, walk away and find something useful.”
In the next session window (what turned out to be my last of the day), I was excited to learn that someone was giving a talk on using the Qt development framework to build applications for multiple mobile devices. Why get excited? Well, among the mobile devices that has adopted Qt as its default platform is Ubuntu. Technically, I’m writing a book on Ubuntu mobile devices (on hold until such a device appears in the US), and finding what programmers find cool, useful and unique about this framework is very helpful for writing that chapter.
So I watched this talk with keen interest, and learned much about how to work with the Qt Developer integrated developer environment. This young man had written an app to deliver dynamic schedules for Chicago Metra trains using Qt’s QML language (as does Ubuntu), and shared his process. If the book project resumes, I think I’ll be in pretty good shape.
After that session, I was dismayed to learn that I’d developed an ear infection and needed to get home. But BarCamp Milwaukee did help me yet again. I’ve always said that I would not be who I am if not for BarCamp, and look forward to next year!
Depending on your skills and talents, one or both of these events may be right for you. If you’re neither a programmer nor teacher, but you’re not exactly new to FOSS, I’ve got another idea for you to contribute to (keep reading!), but that’s not really what I’m jawing at you about today.
However, there are a number of areas where this interface falls short. The most glaring can be that often the applications lack a description or have one so short as to be nearly useless. Another significant point is the lack of user reviews. Reviews help flesh out things that may be missed in a description, as well as provide tips at a glance on what the new user should expect. I believe reviews would be reasonably easy to implement in the current domain, and getting more robust descriptions should not be terribly difficult.
Yet Another Shopping Cart?
Another problem with the current Download setup is that you have to find and run install packages one at a time. Luedecke believes (and I hope he’s right) that openSUSE could allow users to create a ‘cart’ to select a bunch of packages and then check out. The software would then package everything in the cart, downloading and installing it all with one set of confirmations. This would make installing new stuff from the web as easy as installing packages with the Zypper command line interface, or the YaST software management module.
Good descriptions also simplifies the search for high-quality replacements. If it were up to me, I’d add an “Alternative to” field to the description, so people looking for a Photoshop replacement could easily find The GIMP (perhaps a lame, obvious example, but you know what I mean). The AlternativeTo site could offer a database to pluck from.
Reading through the comments on this post, you’ll find some responses from those resistant to change, but I really hope this happens in a reasonable time frame. Will keep an eye on this in the meantime.
If you’re a Linux user (of any distro): How do you discover and try out new free/open source software? Does your distribution make it easy to get new stuff that meets your changing needs?
If you don’t use Linux now: Do you worry that you won’t be able to find the type of software you need? Have you been frustrated when trying to find a replacement for your favorite application? Anything else holding you back?