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Social Networking

f__kbookThere is something wrong when a third party obliges me to open an account to access the personal content of a friend who wants to share it with me. The other way around, I will never willfully accept that an entity keeps my content hostage to its interest (commercial or other) and obliges my friends to open an account. I don’t care how popular that entity or business is. If it can’t respect my ownership, access, and privacy rights, I’ll take my content and my personal data elsewhere.

And I don’t mind my friends calling me a brontosaurus or other  names for staying out of the “social web”. The real social network is not behind the keyboard, anyway.

I found this funny colorful account (warning: graphic language) of somebody who tried to quit f**kbook.

Photo credits: flickr/Greg O’Connell CC-BY-2.0, edited. I was so lacking time and so in need to put out this statement that I quickly searched for an appropriate image that I could use to go with this short text.

Response

The whole purpose of this blog is to generate a response chain – feedback of any kind into the hugin project, primarily volunteers to spend time on different aspects of the project: the code, the bugs, the graphics, the documentation, the building and packaging. But any kind of response counts.

Ten months ago I started publishing on this site snapshot Windows installers for download. My installers have been popular – installed over 35.000 times. What response rate have we got from Windows users?

Type Of Response Kind

One minute donated to hugin is one minute of very valuable time, no matter if it is for a critical bug fix or a simple user support post to a mailing list. The time spent to advance the hugin project is all equally valid and good response, as are donations, in-kind or financial. For the purpose of this analysis, all response is equal.

Response Rate

Response rate is the number of responses in proportion to the total number of exposures. The total number of exposures is 35.000 – that’s how many times my Windows installer has been used, until I took it down.

Precision

I may have counted multiple downloads by the same person. This makes the response rate seem smaller. It is difficult to separate Windows users from the rest. This make the response seem larger. I have used conservative estimates. some of the feedback may go to other Open Source projects and can’t be measured, as pointed out by Leo Sutic.

Comparability

Return rates can be measured for many types of exposures. A response rate of 0.0005% is excellent for spam but very bad for targeted ads. Similarly one can not expect the same response rate for shareware and for free open source software.

Polls

Two weeks ago I started a usage poll. As of today, 65% of those who have seen the poll have voted. This is a good response rate.

At 40% the merchandising poll has attracted less response – it is obviously less relevant to the readers of this blog. A further off-topic question will attract even less response.

The usage poll indicate how high interest for the installers is. At the cut-off time to write this article 45% of respondents used hugin weekly or daily; 33% used it monthly; 17% used it seldom and 5% never used it. Adjusting for the 35% who did not bother to vote and assuming the worse case (i.e. that they never use hugin), we end up with:

  • weekly or daily: 29%
  • monthly: 21%
  • seldom or never: 50%

Windows Users

The above break-down applies across all readers. It is assumed that Windows readers do not differ from other readers. This means that of the 35.000 Windows users who have used my installer

  • 10.150 use hugin at least weekly
  •   7.350 use hugin at least monthly
  • 17.500 never really bothered and are probably just curious or are hunter-gatherers.

Added value

What is the added value of my installer for them? Commercial software with a comparable feature set fetch prices of 99 EUR and above. One could argue that I’ve been giving away a value of 3.500.000 EUR in the name of the project; and that 1.750.000 EUR was a waste (because it is not being used). That’s not exactly true: the price influences the quantity. But it is undeniable that 10.150 users find enough value added in hugin.

Imagine for a moment if they would put in 10 cents for every week that they use hugin? that’s 5 EUR per year and user – much less than the 25 EUR per year that PTgui users pay to stay current with updates. 50.750 EUR per year would be enough to pay a junior engineer for an 80% job – not full time, but a lot more resources than the project has currently available. Dream on…

Expected Response Rate

So what kind of response rate can I expect? The right answer is none, because Open Source is a give economy, not a take economy. I can only influence what I give, not what I get. I can come to the conclusion that what I give cost me more than what it is actually worth, and stop giving it.

Actual Response Rate

If these users were exposed to spam the response rate would likely be 0.0005%, or roughly 2 users. And if they were exposed to target ads, it would likely be between 1% and 5%, so between 350 and 1.750 users.

Why comparing with ads? because the installer download is, in a sense, advertisement. The software is given away to advertise a community and attract tester, developer, translators, graphic designer, tutorial writers, and all other sorts of talents and supporters.

The actual response rate to my Windows installer, all type of responses considered, is closer to spam than to targeted ad.

Ads

By now it is safe to assume that most internet users know about the online ad model. I experimented to see if my installer was at least worth a click on an ad. For almost a month, I presented about 13% of those who intended to download it with an ad page. That’s roughly 900 impressions. This was done using a redirect that was already in place against deep-links.

The ad page has a twist: it closely watches user behavior and starts the download only for well behaved user.

I’ve experimented with different kind of observations. The results are discouraging: some users even try to reload the same page a dozen times, expecting that it is an error and that the download they want will come soon. None of them even bothered clicking on the ad.

Conclusion

The feedback I get from Windows user indicates that my installer is not worth the effort, and I may as well spend my time doing other things. Otherwise stated, it seems that every platform attracts a specific type of user. The Mac attracts honest people that are used to pay for what is valuable to them; Linux attract gregarious, social and righteous people that are used to share and help each other. And Windows?

Built To Last

We all build (or rent or buy) a dwelling at some points in life. And we all have different standards for our dwelling depending on its purpose. We choose with greater care the family home for the next few years than the camping spot for the next week. And we are more tolerant of little annoyances such as a water leak in a camping tent that will be disbanded in a day or two, than in a house that is intended to stay solid for decades.

Similar rules apply to software. Building a Windows binary of Hugin is a matter of less than an hour once the toolchain is set up. And if that was it, I could simply put it online and satisfy these calls. But what if it starts to leak? Guess who will take the heat and comments of disappointed users?

Ideally, there is a whole quality assurance process between a build and a distributed package. Commercial companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on quality assurance for small incremental releases and still mess them up sometimes.

So if I want to release a new installer, after building, I take some time to do quality assurance as described here. It’s not perfect, but it is what is reasonable for such a volunteer effort, and it is time that comes at a cost to my other free time activities. It’s a trade-off.

Facing the trade-off between packaging for distribution a release candidate that will change, or building the Google Summer of Code projects of the students that we so carefully selected and that we are grooming to become the next generation of Hugin contributors, what would you do?

I made my choice. I am committed to our students and I owe it to them. If you want something specific from me, contact me and we can discuss your requirements. Often this boils down to an hourly rate and a deadline that fits with my prior commitments.

Allergy

Atchum! Bless you! Summer is allergy season for many people, although for contributors to Open Source projects sometimes allergy season is an all year round thing – namely when people who are not contributing much to the community demand for things to happen. There is a fine line between asking nicely if something is possible and blatantly demanding without giving anything back. What about a Windows binary? try following these instructions and when you succeed give it back to the community.

I personally have other interests at the moment, both for my free time (now that the streak of a month of bad weather has apparently come to an end) and for the part of it that I dedicate to Hugin.

When taking this picture I did not notice that there was a second bug – click on the thumbnail to find out where it his.

Yahoo Unsafe? Or Firefox Wrong?

Those who have upgraded to Firefox 3 have found it a mostly pleasant experience. It loads pages fast, crashes less and overall gives the user a good browsing experience, from site, to site to site. Like travel in the European Union. Until you hit the border. There, it seems that the developers have decided to replicate post-9/11 U.S. Department of Homeland Security worst practices.

Entering the United States has become a complex nightmare. A simple passport is no longer enough – it must be biometrically enhanced (read: expensive). Border agents can search the laptops of any traveler (read: guilty until proven innocent). Foreigners without biometrically enhanced passports must go through fingerprinting. All of this in the name of security. Has it prevented or even reduced illegal border crossing? It has made legitimate travel much less appealing.

Similarly, entering an SSL-secured website with Firefox has become a complex nightmare. The website’s certificate must be signed by an officially recognized Certification Authority (CA) that charges a yearly fee for the process. Every time the user tries to display such an SSL-secured website with a certificate that has not been rubber-stamped by an officially recognized CA or is otherwise not in perfect standing, the border agent appears on screen. In the past, the user could simply dismiss the warning and connect at his own risk. With Firefox 3, a new degrading, time consuming, repetitive, annoying clicking procedure has been introduced.

What for? Where are the benefits? Are the developers aware of the consequences? Gnome developer Federico Mena-Quintero is right when he qualifies this as *** and points to a presentation that clearly show how the certification scheme is broken as designed. And Dave Neary hits the nail when he points right at the consequences: previously it was just “Add exception” or whatever. Now it’s “Next, Next, Add exception, Get certificate, Next”.

The only winner? the doctors that see more RSI patients.

Today I was trying to display a Yahoo website and I got the above screenshot. Despite the Netcraft Anti-Phishing Toolbar clearly showing that the connection is legitimate, I had to go through border security again. Is this new procedure preventing phishing and other SSL-abuse? I doubt it. Is it preventing me from using SSL as intended, to encrypt transmission between the two points? Yes, it does. Add your comments to Mozilla’s bug report and vote for it to get the attention of those who can change this for the better.

What is written on that chalk board?

click on the image to see.

In the civilized world, authors have rights. Their work is protected and they may choose how to make it available, to whom, and for what purpose. Copyright is very restrictive by default, and it is good so. Some authors feel they can give more rights to the audience. So they use Creative Commons or Open Source licenses, and it is good so.

I am making hugin binaries for Windows available for download, and I try to do so in compliance with the moral and legal right of upstream stakeholders. It’s an act of balance, the result of which is what you see in the download section on this site.

Part of that balance is that I state clearly and ask kindly not to deep-link the installer. I enforce this with a deep-link redirect, so deep-links are not functional anyway. Despite this, the statistics on the redirect page show that there are continuously some people who do not seem to bother. They don’t even test if their link work, they just publish deep-links to the installer, thinking that they are doing a favor to their friends. They don’t. Because if authors don’t feel respected, they don’t publish their work that the audience so much want to consume. And this is not good for anyone.

Please, respect author’s moral and legal rights. And if you want to post your own text on the chalk board, do it here.

VR panorama on a Nokia cell phone

panorama on a Nokia 5200A few weeks ago I was forced to buy a new cell phone. I belong to the (minority?) kind of people who use a phone only to make and receive calls. Moreover, I don’t need to fry my brain with extended usage of cellular service. Last but not least, I travel internationally. My requirements boil down to:

  • GSM tri- or quadriband phone, unlocked
  • a local prepaid SIM card
  • lowest possible rates
  • reasonable credit expiration policy
  • simple backup / management from the desktop

I already have my good old Nokia 6310i, that has followed me from Europe to North America. All I need is a simple prepaid SIM card. As others have found out before me, the Canadian wireless industry is useless. The only way to get a decent prepaid SIM card was to buy a phone. Since I must buy a phone, I may as well buy one that fits my requirements. Only one offering met my requirements: 7-Eleven’s Speakout. with the Nokia 5200. There are no 7-Eleven in Québec, so I waited for the next occasion I was in Ottawa ( BSDCan 2008 ) and bought one there. 7-Eleven Speakout is in my opinion the best service currently available to Canadian customers with similar, simple need as me.

This is pretty much a mainstream consumer phone. And since it fulfilled the minimum requirements for Helmut Dersch’s PTviewerME, I decided to give it a try. It works! I will explain in a future post how to make it. I might show the how-to live this weekend in Toronto at the Panoheads meeting hosted by Mark Banas at Autodesk if there is interest.

In the meantime, I can’t do otherwise but rant about Nokia. This will most likely be my last Nokia handset ever. This company is displaying an arrogant attitude on my desktop and in the community of free software.

On my desktop, the Nokia software is an all-or-nothing thing. It hijacks media from my preferred media player (VideoLAN), and it hijacked all of my Java code too! It has that bloated Vista feeling, and is as far as I am concerned a downgrade from the barely acceptable eight year old software that came with my previous Nokia model.

And then Nokia wants to teach us business? The market will teach them a lesson: respect! The desktop belongs to the user. Before messing it up, ask for permission. And if the user only needs a part of your software functionality, respect that as well and don’t install bloatware.

Hasta la vista, Nokia, soon comes OpenMoko.

I want my privacy back!

Thumbnail cache are a trade-off. On the upside, they speed up image browsing. On the downside, they use storage space and add clutter. By design, Windows Explorer caches them inside the same folder where the images are located, in a single system file, Thumbs.db. It also has a simple option to disable caching.

Today I found out that in Ubuntu there is a ~/.thumbnails folder in each user’s home folder. This is in my opinion a very bad design decision. Consider the following scenario:

I have some sensitive images on media. I am on the road and I use a guest account on a third party’s computer to access a file on that media. Thumbnails are generated and left behind on the third party computer to be harvested! I wonder how many users are aware of this potential security risk, and if there is a way to prevent it.

I want my time stamps back!

I got this compact flash full of pictures taken over the last week. I want to move them to a permanent storage location on my file server. All I need is simple drag and drop. On the Windows side of the divide, with Windows Explorer:

  1. Enter the card.
  2. Drag the folders from the card to the server.
  3. Start sorting into folders.

Today I tried to do this in Ubuntu, with Nautilus:

  1. Enter the card.
  2. Drag the folders from the card to the server.
  3. Start sorting into folders.

It seemed to work. Until sorting started. My first criterion for sorting is time stamps, which for RAW files that should be read-only is the exact moment when the picture was taken. Since the shots for a panorama are clustered in time, it is easy to blindly sort them – with a script or manually. But my time stamps were gone! I immediately rebooted to Windows.

memory card after Nautilus screwed up my time stamps

Lucky me I had not yet deleted the card and could recover the original files with time stamps.

memory card before Nautilus screwed up my timestamps

I searched the web to see if there was an option to make Nautilus behave the way I want it. After all, this is what I believe most common users need and expect. I found that the issue has already been raised on the Ubuntu mailing list. But I did not find any viable solutions – only workarounds.

I already know a workaround. I can use cp -p or rsync -a – the command line gives me all the control I need. But the workaround for the average user will be: back to Windows!

If this happened to one of my neighbors, his reaction would have been something like:

For those not living in my neighborhood, a short cultural translation.

Deep Links

Update: If despite trying to download from the download page of this blog you still land here, please disable your browser’s or personal firewall referer hiding.

I’ve added a layer of protection against deep links to the distribution snapshots. Some well intentioned people have shared direct links to my hugin snapshot installer with their friends on public forums. This had some unfortunate, unintended consequences.

Older snapshots

  • are unsupported.
  • are removed from the server, resulting in a 404 error if linked.
  • have generally more bugs than newer ones.
  • result in confusing test feedback, wasting the time of both the tester and the developer involved.

The newest packages are always available for download from the download page of this blog. You are welcome to link to the download page. If after clicking the link on the download page you come back here, it is because you need to deactivate referer hiding in your browser or firewall.

I build and distribute regularly Hugin and Enblend-Enfuse binaries for Windows, and they are yours to use. I do this on a voluntary basis, to advance the projects. The main purpose of these snapshot builds is to have the most recent version tested, and to generate feedback about bugs in those snapshots builds. You can join the hugin-ptx mailing list and help the effort too. Every bug report counts.

However note that at the moment the code evolves very rapidly as bugs are fixed and it’s robustness is improved toward a release. These snapshots have a very limited shelf-life. I published one last Thursday and I was going to publish one again on Friday. I did not because a new bug has been introduced to the codebase. I am waiting for the fix and will publish new binaries as soon as possible. As we’re getting closer to release, I intend to publish snapshot builds very frequently, probably nightly.

Sending a friend to an older snapshot is like offering them stale bread to eat. Give your friends fresh bread, send them to the download page instead.