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Thank You, Automattic

When I found out last month that the Automattic crew was going to be in the area, I knew I had to do it. I wanted to give them something back as a token of gratitude for the beautiful code they set Free (as in Free speech) under the GPL; and the excellent service with outstanding support that they give for free (as in free beer) to lazy people like me who do not bother to run their own WordPress.org install (actually I used to, but WordPress.com is too convenient). So I offered them a Free (as in speech and as in beer) little planet photo shooting. They accepted! They kindly made a little time slot in their busy schedule and off we went.

This was one of the best photo shooting days I had this year. In fact, it was one of the best photo shooting days ever. I enjoyed every single minute of it. A crowd of smart, articulate and interesting people with a varied and interesting international background. Stimulating company. Too little time.

In the same spirit as WordPress, the result of that hour is Free. Pending clearance of the model release forms (which are somewhere in the mail), the images on this post will be released under a Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike (CC-BY-SA) license. Exactly like WordPress, they are Free. You can make what you want with: coffee mugs, T-shirts, screensavers, WordPress themes, wall clocks (requires a modern browser to display). And you can also sell them: CC-BY-SA, like the GPL, is a commerce friendly license. It just restricts downstream distributors with the “copyleft” clause that forbids taking things private.

If you distribute a derivative of these images, you must attribute them to “Yuval Levy http://www.photopla.net/ and you must release your derivative works under the same conditions, i.e. make them Freely available to the public. Which does not mean you can’t charge for them. It only means that you have to give your sources and allow unlimited copying.

The first image is the one that has been chosen by the Automattic crew. It is also the “official” little planet. Click to enlarge.

091014wp03

Beam yourself in the middle of the action!

The next one is Matt at work, directing his crew to stand for a more traditional group picture. Can you see Matt on the Southern hemisphere? At seven o’clock. In the interactive version you can pan to the point of interest with the mouse and zoom in and out of i twith the SHIFT and CTRL keys.

091014wp04m

And the last planet is my favorite. The Automattic crew all lined up for an official group photo. Difficult to keep opened eyes and a relaxed smile against the sun, but that’s the direction of the slope and the crew is growing. I understand it is an Automattic tradition to take a group picture at every meet up and to hang it in the corporate lounge. How will they solve this in the next years, as the company goes the traditional hockey stick slope of successful startups?

091014wp5pHugin is the solution! There is plenty of space in the picture below, about three times wider than traditional wide angle lenses can capture. It’s a Panini view, extracted from the same equirectangular that was used to produce the above little planet. Have I lost you with all of these technical terms? Check out some Hugin tutorials. Or feel free to ask.

091014wp05pan

Thank you, Automattic. WordPress.com rocks!

Digital Photo Professional Linux

It’s been a while since I installed Canon Digital Photo Professional on Ubuntu / Wine. In the meantime, there have been upgrades to Ubuntu, Wine, and Digital Photo Professional. The good news is that the installed v.3.2 no longer shows the background quirks.

I’ve tried to upgrade to the most recent DPP update (v.3.7.2) as well as the last one supporting Windows 2000 (v.3.4.1) on Ubuntu 9.10 / Wine 1.1.26.dpp3.7.2_install_errorYou can see the error message above. Given the popularity of my previous post on this topic, I expected it to be known, and I found the bug report in Wine’s bug tracker. Go to the bug report and vote for it to be fixed!

Motors

4strokesEver since my youngest age I was fascinated by motion. At least once a year my father would drive for two hours to take us to the Museum of Transport and I would wander around and dream. Dream of cars, trains, planes. And of space and telecommunication. Space was my favorite. So many good memories.

Almost everything alive needs a motor. No motives, no action. No learning without emotions. And projects need a motor to move forward as well.

Most motors known to me have cycles. Whether it is the four strokes cycle of the arguably most common engine out there – or the magnetic inversion of electric motors, most of them are powered by cycles, even seemingly continuous jet engines.

And Open Source projects have a motor too, and it need to be taken care of. There is a striking resemblance to the four strokes of the internal combustion engine: Intake, Compression, Power, Exhaust.

Intake

Powered by the starter or by the end of the previous cycle, a fresh charge of vaporized fuel/air mixture gets into the cylinder. Similarly, drawn by the dynamics of the project, new feature requests and potential improvement gets on the radar screen of the developers.

Compression

The piston rises, compressing the vaporized fuel/air mixture. Similarly, as the features start to develop in the code repository, the pressure rises from the public for a release with the new potential improvements.

Power

At the top of the compression stroke, the spark plug fires, igniting the compressed fuel. As the fuel burns it expands, driving the piston downward. Similarly, the difference between the current repository status and the previous release is so intense that it sparks activity – bug fixes and clean up driving a release.

Exhaust

At the end of the cycle exhausted fuel is pushed out of the cylinder to make space for the next fresh charge of vaporized fuel/air mixture. Similarly, at the end of the cycle the software is released and the project get back in neutral state, ready for the next cycle.

And again…

Being aware of these phases, and knowing where one’s skills can contribute, is paramount to successfully integrate and understand an Open Source community. Developers looking for a challenge enjoy particularly the Intake stage – that’s when dreaming is allowed. Early adopters will feel the pressure of the compression stage earlier, and will contribute bug reports and improvement requests. A spark is needed to transform the mixture into power; and to call bug fixers, translators, builders, writers into action. A project has no power without them. Last but not least, everybody is happy when the pressure is released; when the tarball is uploaded on Sourceforge; when they can relax and tap on each other’s back for a job well done.

Hugin-2009.4 has stalled. I will release the third release candidate soon, but we need some more power to fix at least one serious bug. Some more bug fixing. Maybe I was pushing forward too hard. I also had to meet another, private deadline November 2. It seems to have worked. I hope I’ll have a bit more time for Hugin in the coming weeks.

Autopano-SIFT-C 2.5.1 released

Bruno Postle released a source code tarball for autopano-SIFT-C.

Autopano-SIFT-C is one of the control point generators that can be plugged into Hugin to help aligning images.

To use it with Hugin install it on your computer and set the following parameters:

Program: autopano-sift-c
Parameters: –maxmatches %p %o %s

or:

Program: autopano-sift-c
Parameters: –maxmatches %p –projection %f,%v %o %i

To install it you will most likely have to build it from source. Major Linux distribution such as Fedora and Debian do not carry binaries of Autopano-SIFT-C because it is tainted by a patent in some jurisdictions.

Hugin does not yet have its own, patent-free control points generator. Some building blocks have been contributed during Google Summer of Code 2007 and 2008, but more work needs to be done.

7: the Eighth Capital Sin?

windowsMicrosoft launched Windows 7. They must be relieved, they got it out a few days ahead of Ubuntu 9.10. Apple comfortably released OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard at the end of the summer. The line up of mainstream desktop operating system for the autumn 2009 is complete (Ubuntu being a representative for the desktop Linux/BSD).

And how is vintage year 2009? Stagnating, mostly. Sure, it’s nice to see Ubuntu making it easier for users to encrypt their valuable data; but all contenders are still stuck with the windowing metaphor, a 1975 legacy of PARC. Boring.

And when the capital P (as in Product) no longer differentiate the competition, marketing kicks in: Product, price, place, promotion, … and public opinion.

Nobody can beat Ubuntu’s price. Not only it is free (as in: zero price tag), it is Free with a capital F (as in: no vendor lock-in).

Apple and Microsoft played opposed pricing strategies, with Apple offering Snow Leopard at a corrupting low price (probably the cheapest Mac OS ever), and Microsoft going the opposite way, making 7 probably the most expensive Windows desktop OS in human memory and attracting a lot of critique from market analysts.

Place? the Internet is ubiquitous.

So we’re left with promotion. And indeed the marketing budgets seem to have swollen. Users drive Ubuntu for themselves, so marketing is just the measure that the users really need.

Apple’s formidable propaganda machine has a history of making its followers believe all sorts of things. Such as “the PowerPC is more powerful than Intel’s CPUs”. And a few weeks later that “Intel powered Macs are twice as fast as the previously PowerPC powered generation”. There are rumors their next campaign will convert cats to vegetarians. If only they used this skill to promote peace on Earth!

Microsoft’s marketing was traditionally more clumsy. It’s performance is a refreshing surprise. Besides the revamped websites, they copied a few tricks from Apple’s storybook (e.g. retail shops). And like Apple, Microsoft is now aggressively pursuing university students. Get them hooked early. During a limited time U.S. students can buy Windows 7 for only 30 USD. In the U.K. it’s 35 GBP. In France it’s 35 EUR. The offer runs in a dozen countries, Canada included (40 CAD).

I had decided that XP was my last Windows. I’d extend its life until Ubuntu was good enough to replace it for every application. With a few exceptions (video editing!) it works well for me and since four months I’m spending most of my computing time in Ubuntu.

But my wife is a student eligible for the discount. Have I committed the eighth capital sin? The download is still running (used wine to run Digital River’s download manager).

Warning. If you use this offer you are downloading from Digital River. Beware. They try to add an extra charge with an extra “service” that bear resemblance with the bad value for money of the extended warranties in electronic shops. Avoid wasting money on that “backup service”. Buy a few empty DVDs for a few cents and make as many backup copies as you want.

And what has public opinion (or politics) to do with all this? Most western countries are running scary budget deficits because of the stimuli introduced to counter the global recession. Money is tight. How about saving some (and creating local jobs) by replacing current systems, most of them based on Microsoft products, with Free systems?

Open Source Reference Manager

Sometimes I feel that Open Source has a critical dependency: the user. And sometimes I feel that users deserve the software they choose to use, and the conditions attached to it. Last week I had one of these days.

01-ms_office_ribbon

A customer asked me to solve a mysterious problem: Microsoft Word 2007 with Reference Manager 12 crashed, and then Reference Manager was completely unavailable, even after re-installing both. This university lab has been a good customer for four years now – server side. Client side, besides the one exception (who runs Windows in VirtualBox), they barely tried Firefox.

Scientist write. They write a lot and they cite a lot. They need a database of references, and they must format them to the specifications of the journal where they will be published. In this lab, Reference Manager is king. A proprietary solution, owned by information technology giant Thompson Reuters (who conveniently also owns “competitor” EndNote).

After a little bit of fiddling, and against every documentation I found on the web, I found that Microsoft Word has an aptly named registry key: Resiliency/DisabledItems. It has decided that it does not work with Reference Manager 12.0.1 and put it on a black list. Forever. The only solution was to delete the registry key!

03-win_registry_hack

Even in light of this obviously intentional bug that handicapped half the lab for two weeks (they tried internal IT before calling me): They still insist using Microsoft Office, because Reference Manager does not work with OpenOffice. And they insist using Reference Manager. Their principal fears are the lack of support and the loss of the database they have built over more than a decade. I was unable to articulate to them that their biggest risk is to have their data locked into a proprietary format.

I’ve searched the web and found a few open sourced reference managers. But I have no experience and also no time to evaluate a migration (unfortunately I could not justify a mandate). Are there any guides out there for users of proprietary Reference Manager to migrate to an open source reference manager? I’m interested to know, and I’ll keep that one on the back burner until the next opportunity to convince the customer to give it a try.

It seems to me that Open Source works best when users and developers are equally IT literate. When there is a too strong asymmetry between developers and users, the users tend to prefer the proprietary model in exchange for perceived support. It’s like with financial consulting: individuals will be happy to pay exorbitant commissions to their broker but will not pay a penny for the buy or sell advice, even if trading is a commodity and the real value added lies in the advice. Pay your Open Source developer and you will see dedicated, passionate support.

My Personal Bug Tracker

bugAn excerpt from the top list of my personal bug tracker. It has not changed for ages.

  1. “The day has only 24 hours” Status: “won’t fix”.
  2. “Discern and accept as a given what I can not influence from what I can influence” Status: “spuriously recurrent. watch out for relapses”.
  3. “Prioritize what I can influence based on its impact. Focus on the few strategically important things and forget the rest”. Status: “my focus tends to stray away when left alone. Watch out for relapses”.

Connection to the office server dropped 48 hours ago. The VoIP infrastructure still works, but plenty of things that were on my todo list will have to wait until Monday/Tuesday; and I don’t know what surprises awaits me when I’m back. But I don’t care. We’re here in Québec-City to baby-sit for friends who are presently at the hospital delivering their second baby. As long as I can keep up the daily 15 minutes music sessions with my one year old toddler, the rest is detail. My only regret is that the camcorder has been in repair for one month. He has started to imitate sequences and is getting more articulate on piano and guitar from day to day. And he never had to read a user manual. We should strive to achieve the same kind of usability with our software. He has a toddler’s keyboard and mouse. The keyboard is great. The mouse is useless (have you ever tried to fight for a toddler’s attention against a colorful, flashing, disco-like light?). And the software? well, most of it leaves a lot to be desired. Most children-software I have come across, Free and non-Free, claims to develop skills, but then exposes the toddlers to so much distraction, which at this age can be detrimental. Not only at this age. I’m digressing. Bug #3. Time to play wooden blocks with him. I’ll articulate my wishes for toddler’s educational software when I’ll solve bug #1.