For the last few Novembers, I’ve been posting at a feverish pace (for me, anyway) as part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). The goal is to post every day this month as a way to jump-start your writing and building an audience.
So this year, I’ve got too much going on, I’m afraid. Got some projects that may soon come to fruition, and I’ll be able to talk about them when we get there.
Tomorrow, I’ll be downloading a fresh copy of openSUSE Linux, now called openSUSE Leap 42.1, which I’m really excited about. I’m tidying up my current copy in breathless anticipation. This follows the (coincidental) installation of Firefox v42 today. As I tweeted earlier today (with the unforgivable error of getting Douglas Adams’ name wrong):
The spirit of Scott Adams must be smiling: Firefox 42 released today, openSUSE Leap 42 tomorrow. The answers r here!
It’s a common lament: I wish I had more time to blog. What really bums me out is that I get a real good rhythm going during NaBloPoMo, and then I lose that momentum over the holidays. So I’m going to try something different this year, though I don’t really know what that will be yet.
Just because I’m not doing it, it’s not too late for you to start! November is a great time to start (or kick-start) your blogging habit. Click here to register. There are prizes!
If you participate, drop a link in the comments below.
A reasonable amount of planning went into the posts for National Blog Post Month this year. Since some of them didn’t quite get done, we’ve got some good stuff in the pipeline to share in the coming weeks. As a way to shamelessly beg to keep all my new readers around, here’s what’s coming up soon at Notes from the Metaverse:
What’s Next for Firefox? This weekend, Frederic Lardinois at TechCrunch asked this question. From one outsider to another, I’ve got some thoughts on this.
A more complete review of Firefox Developer Edition, following up on my earlier quick look.
Biosgraphy and ello: Two newcomers to the social/blogging arena.
Playing withtext editors: Text editors are a religious matter for some developers. After using the programmable text editor Atom for a bit, I hope to have some useful things to say about it.
The new crop of electronic magazines covering Linux: Linux Voice, the
I’ll still look for more community-based efforts (like the KDE Gardeners) to make free software better.
If my ambition to use all seven openSUSE Desktop Environment actually happens, I’ll surely write about it.
Usual disclaimers apply: Forward looking statements are not hard commitments. Other topics may intervene in the meantime. Also check MichaelMcCallister.com for posts about writing, building author platforms and the like.
And so we come to the end of National Blog Post Month ). For the second year in a row, I (nearly) managed to post something here every day in November. Technically, this is Post #29 — there’s another one coming before the end of the day., where I commit to covering some of the technical topics I touched on this month. Last year, I finished the month with some lessons I learned; I’m going to do the same here. It’s not worth completing a challenge if you don’t learn something from it.
By the way, if you’ve participated in NaBloPoMo, especially for the first time, I humbly suggest looking at that link to last year’s post. There’s some good stuff in there.
When choosing topics, social media is your friend
I did a little more planning of topics this year (even though November snuck up on me again), but some of the better posts came as a result of reading other people’s stuff in my RSS feed and email. I even wrote one post that described my process, which was equal parts planning and serendipity.
While both BlogHer and WordPress.com offered topic prompts every day, I didn’t want to stray too far from the typical topics here just to complete a post. I’ll pat myself on the back, and declare that a good decision.
Y’all were interested in what I wrote
As with last year, NaBloPoMo raised the general interest in Notes from the Metaverse. The most popular posts from the last 30 days remained the technical ones:
Just one of these posts was not written this month. My Installing openSUSE 12.1 post from a while back is still pretty useful for v13.2, and I hope those who read it agree! All of these could be considered “technical,” and nearly all about open source software (though I don’t think the comet-lander was running KDE Plasma Desktop).
I also made some new friends this month. Welcome to all my new followers!
Y’all are too busy to comment
Notes from the Metaverse has always shrived to be an interactive space, where readers can comment on the material they read. It largely fails in that mission, but I understand. People are busy.
I am happy that some of you are getting comfortable with the Like button, though. Using that standard of popularity, here’s what you liked best:
I enjoy most of the process of NaBloPoMo, and will undoubtedly take part again next year. I think you should too. I’ll repeat myself just this once: Last year, I wrote (and stand by):
Congratulations to all those who successfully completed the NaBloPoMo challenge. To those who feel like they fell short: it’s really all about the effort. Life intervenes. But please keep on posting! Writing every day is essential for anyone who considers themselves a writer; blogging offers the opportunity to publish every day too–take advantage of this as often as you can!
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?
For years I’d heard of Scrivener, a piece of software touted as the “ultimate writer’s tool.” Not just a word processor, more than a plain text editor; Scrivener helped you organize all the stuff you wrote, all your research and goodness knows what else. Only problem was the durn thing only ran on Macintosh — the only PC operating system I didn’t know!
That detail changed some years ago, as Scrivener for Windows joined the party. It also runs on Linux via Wine, but that’s for another post. But there was still a small barrier: the $40 price tag. Frugal guy that I am, I wondered what Scrivener could give me that I didn’t get from the free LibreOffice suite.
Then a few months ago, the tech deal site, AppSumo, sweetened the pot for me; they cut the price to $20. I snapped this deal up, and now I’m a fan.
What makes Scrivener so cool?
Now I’m not typically crazy about proprietary, closed-source software. I do make room for a few exceptions, though. Scrivener is one of them.
Here’s what Scrivener looks like on Windows.
The main window is the editor, and by default looks just like a typical text editor, but with some basic word processing features; that is you can bold, underline and italicize text if you’re so inclined. Soon you find a Heading style and other word processing features. But that’s the boring part. Where you discover Scrivener’s power is in each of those sidebars.
On the left side is the project binder, where you can collect multiple files: scenes, chapters, journal/diary items — pretty much anything you want to include in a writing project.When the time comes to publish your book, choose what files to include from your binder and export to any of a bunch of file formats:
Word (rich text, DOC and DOCX)
Open Document (OpenOffice/LibreOffice)
PDF or raw PostScript
Web pages (HTML or XHTML)
Final Draft (for scripts)
The binder also holds a Research file, where you can store links to other files, web pages, or just notes to oneself (though you can also use Comments to include reminders).
Decide something is completely not working, and want to cast it aside? Throw the file into the Trash folder in Scrivener. Decide later that you want to salvage it? No problem; just restore it — Trash is just another folder, not the system’s trashcan.
On the right side of the editor, you have your Synopsis file, where you can quickly define what this file is about (a help when you’re organizing your outline, or writing your novel “out-of-order”). The General Meta-Data section is where you can give a file a label, and define its editorial status (what draft you’re on).
A lot of this stuff is customizable, and you really can control so much of your experience and your content while you write.
This is just a description of the editing screen. I haven’t even gotten into the outlining features in the Scrivener Corkboard.
Learn Scrivener Fast
Such a powerful piece of software typically means a learning curve, and the makers of Scrivener (Literature and Latte) offer a tutorial session the first time you launch the application. They also give you access to some free video tutorials in the Help menu too, along with a pretty good PDF manual.
But if you spend any time with Scrivener (or post about it in social media), you’ll also keep hearing about the Scrivener Coach, Joseph Michael, who runs an e-learning video site at LearnScrivenerFast.com. His program is a series of short videos that share his experience with the Scrivener learning curve, and tries to climb that ladder in just a few hours. Let me tell you: he succeeds.
AppSumo also offers a discount on LearnScrivenerFast that appears periodically. You can get lifetime access to his courses for $39. If you’re serious about your writing, and find that Scrivener can make you a more productive writer, Joe can help.
The good news is the folks at AppSumo are offering the same deals that I got for one day only: Black Friday, November 28 (I absolutely hate this term, but whatcha gonna do?). If you’re reading this on that day, you can get Scrivener the software for just US$20, and the Learn Scrivener Fast course for $39 (ordinarily nearly $200). But just for 24 hours, from 12:01 am US Central time Friday to midnight US Central time.
They have a number of other deals during that period, but I can vouch for and recommend both of these. FULL DISCLOSURE: I don’t get any financial benefit from either AppSumo, Literature and Latte, or the Scrivener Coach for these recommendations. As they say, “just a happy customer.”
I would be interested in learning more about other people’s experiences with Scrivener, AppSumo and video e-learning. Drop a comment below if there’s something to share.
Interesting article by Nicholas Carr at the Wall Street Journal this weekend, “Automation Makes Us Dumb.” Carr wants to make the case that, like factory automation in the years after World War II, the increasing sophistication of software to help us do our jobs may be de-skilling even our smartest people.
Worrisome evidence suggests that our own intelligence is withering as we become more dependent on the artificial variety. Rather than lifting us up, smart software seems to be dumbing us down.
I’m not at all sure I buy the argument entirely. The “worrisome evidence” he cites is minimal. The first case involves airline pilots who rely too much on “fly-by-wire” software. If you’ve forgotten (or don’t know) how to fly a plane manually, tricky maneuvers that allow you to safely land in the Hudson River become more difficult when the moment requires it.
The second item is ripped from the headlines, about computerized health systems, and is a little worrisome:
In a recent paper published in the journal Diagnosis, three medical researchers—including Hardeep Singh, director of the health policy, quality and informatics program at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Houston—examined the misdiagnosis of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S., at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. They argue that the digital templates used by the hospital’s clinicians to record patient information probably helped to induce a kind of tunnel vision. “These highly constrained tools,” the researchers write, “are optimized for data capture but at the expense of sacrificing their utility for appropriate triage and diagnosis, leading users to miss the forest for the trees.” Medical software, they write, is no “replacement for basic history-taking, examination skills, and critical thinking.”
Where I agree with Carr almost completely is his solution, which sounds like one of my favorite hobby horses: Doug Engelbart‘s augmented computing, or what Carr calls “human centered automation.”
In “human-centered automation,” the talents of people take precedence. Systems are designed to keep the human operator in what engineers call “the decision loop”—the continuing process of action, feedback and judgment-making. That keeps workers attentive and engaged and promotes the kind of challenging practice that strengthens skills.
In this model, software plays an essential but secondary role. It takes over routine functions that a human operator has already mastered, issues alerts when unexpected situations arise, provides fresh information that expands the operator’s perspective and counters the biases that often distort human thinking. The technology becomes the expert’s partner, not the expert’s replacement.
Something tells me I’ll have to read his referenced books.
The president has declared himself for the “strongest possible form” of net neutrality rules, drawing rule making authority on Title II of the Communications Act. In response, the telecom companies have stepped up the pressure to keep their ability to create “fast lanes” for well-heeled content providers.
The Federal Communications Commission is a bipartisan affair. Two Republicans, two Democrats, and the chair who usually represents the president’s party (but for the last several years has also represented the communications industry in one fashion or another). In today’s Washington, you’ll not be surprised to learn that the current Republican members think Chairman Tom Wheeler’s first fast-lane proposal didn’t go far enough in removing restrictions on whatever the telecom companies want to do.
Until very recently, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has been the most forthright about defending the strongest possible form of net neutrality. Very recently, however, she offered a less explicit defense of net neutrality during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session:
I support a free and open Internet because I want to preserve the openness and innovation that has occurred. I am focused on the consumer and the consumer experience. I want to know what attributes are necessary to keep the Internet free and open. I want to know whether the rules the FCC adopted in 2010, which banned blocking and unreasonable discrimination were the right approach.
Interestingly enough, the Washington Post reported on November 18 that Rev. Jesse Jackson and other traditional civil rights leaders visited the FCC to lobby against Title II regulation. The Post story cites a statement from the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council that buys into the telecom company arguments that “Section 706 regulation would achieve all of the goals of Title II reclassification, but would do so in a way that avoids the uncertainty of forbearance proceedings and without creating disincentives to infrastructure investment. Less investment would translate into less deployment, fewer jobs for our communities, and fewer service options to boost broadband adoption and close the digital divide.”
What the MMTC statement and Clyburn’s AMA comments don’t discuss is that Verizon won its lawsuit against the FCC’s 2010 rules precisely because they relied on Section 706 of the Communications Act, and not Title II. They suggest that telecom companies will stop investing in infrastructure if net neutrality is enforced, yet these companies haven’t exactly been bowling the country over with investment in low-cost, high-speed access.
It’s a shame that advocates for the poor are apparently bowing to the deep pockets that write off contributions to nonprofit organizations, but are not interested in investing in the infrastructure that meet people’s needs. Commissioner Clyburn should get back on the road to real net neutrality.
It’s finally warming up in Milwaukee. After 10 days under 32 degrees, it was a (relatively) warm day here in the mid-40s. Very cloudy, though. My wife said it was a great day to visit Milwaukee’s Holiday Folk Fair, so that’s what we did.
The Folk Fair is a November institution in my home town, and now takes place at State Fair Park, a couple miles from home. This is where greater Milwaukee’s ethnic groups offer traditional crafts, costumes, dances — and food! Yes, food is really the star here. For lunch we had chicken paprikash and wonderful dumplings from Slovakia, Indian samosas, Ugandan sambusas, a Czech pork dish with a different sort of dumplings from the Slovak version, and a variety of cookies and desserts.
We also enjoyed a batch of ethnic music and dancing, from the Philippines, Mexico, China, the Czech Republic, and some pipers from Wales (I think). Wandered around all the exhibits, and chatted with folks from the Friendship Force. We don’t go here every year, but always have a good time in the process.
Seeing the creative process in action
Tonight, after watching the Wisconsin football team escape with a win at Iowa, we had a different sort of musical experience from earlier in the day. We watched the Showtime film Lost Songs: The New Basement Tapes.
Have you heard about this album? T-Bone Burnett was offered a box full of lyrics Bob Dylan had written while hunkered down with The Band at Big Pink in Woodstock, NY (a few years before Woodstock became iconic). The lyrics had never been set to music, but Dylan allowed Burnett to see what he could do with them. So he pulled together a fine collection of performing songwriters into the Capitol Records studio in Los Angeles to finish the songs.
The film offers a fascinating look at the creative, collaborative process among the musicians, that may have also mirrored the process that resulted in the original Basement Tapes, now also newly released. It’s great music, let me tell you. Go see this film if you can.
The film also reminded me of Door County’s Steel Bridge Songfest, where dozens of not-quite-so-well-known performers show up at the Holiday Music Motel on a Sunday night in Sturgeon Bay, are thrown together in a random fashion and expected to have at least one song ready to perform on Friday night. This resulted in one of the most fun weekends I’ve ever spent. You can hear some of the music at SteelBridgeRadio.com
So, as I type, the Wisconsin basketball team is having its way with Boise State, 44-29, early in the second half. Again, a good day.
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.