Canonical Voices

Since every one else is doing it, I thought I’d play with more Ensemble tonight, but instead of firing something up I started working on a formula for summit, the tool we used to schedule UDS.

First Chris Johnston and Michael Hall started an etherpad with the instructions for installing summit (and we’re doing one for the LoCo directory too since we like biting off more than we can chew).

Here’s the first cut of the install script based on those instructions, then I went ahead and ran it in a VM to make sure it worked non-interactively. The documentation recommends that you have a plan before you start. Basically you are scripting an install on a brand new OS installation so you have to think of things you might normally take for granted, like remembering to install bzr or git before you pull something, heh:

When attempting to write a formula, it is beneficial to have a mental plan of what it takes to deploy the software. In our case, you should deploy drupal manually, understand where its configuration information is written, how the first node is deployed, and how further nodes are configured. With respect to this formula, this is the plan.

I did ok until I got to the python syncdb part of summit, which asked me a question, but not bad for the first shot. 

Of course, had I picked something packaged it wouldn’t be so complicated, my install script would just be an apt-get command but I think it’s useful to be able to just fire off an instance of summit right from trunk. 

The ability to just grab whatever you want right from trunk and fire off an instance is pretty powerful, I’m looking forward to seeing James Page’s etherpad-lite formula be ready so anyone can just fire one up for $your-favorite-conference.

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Today Ask Ubuntu celebrates it’s first year in existence. Though publicly launched on the eve of 10.10.10, the site went into private beta one year ago today. At the time Evan Dandrea had seen Area 51 and had proposed an Ubuntu Stack Exchange. 

I was just as confused as everyone else. It wasn’t until I spoke with Evan at Debconf 10 where he explained it to me. In fact, you can probably call this the first time the idea of mercilessly removing horrible content from Ubuntu properties got started in my brain.

His gist was this; like with code, there is just no replacement for peer reviewed content that focuses on quality. That’s basically the mission of the site. So with that, I dove in head first and decided that I was going to help will this site into existence. 

It took us a while (from end of July until October actually) to find our feet. That’s where we honed down our FAQ, what was ontopic and what wasn’t, we narrowly focused what we would be good at, answering people’s questions. We would heavily leverage the existing wiki documentation, bug reports redirected to launchpad, discussion moved to the forums or IRC. No distractions from the mission, ask a question, get an answer; the rest is just furniture.

So how are we doing?

We are currently the 4th largest Stack Exchange according to traffic (behind the original trilogy of Stack Overflow, Super User, and Server Fault). Here’s where you can sort the criteria. During the release of 11.04 we hit around 45k traffic, which is about 50% of Server Fault’s traffic (in less than a year!).

While all that is fine and good, what about user engagement? Well, currently we have about 19,000 registered users, here’s the breakdown by reputation. (Reputation is a measure of how much other user’s trust you).

Stack Exchanges are unique in that priviledges to run the site are earned by the votes from your peers (which is measured in reputation). The more reputation you earn, the more rights you have to edit the content on the site. A user with 20,000 reputation is basically a moderator, but the important one to me is 2,000. This is the level where you no longer need to have someone peer review every edit, and editing is how content stays fresh and relevant. 

I consider everyone with over 2,000 reputation to be a heavily engaged user on AU, someone who has taken a personal interest in making the site succeed. We have 85 people with over 2,000 reputation, meaning we have 85 people continuously improving the site at a high engagement level.

Surprisingly, you’ll see over 18,000 people mostly just consuming the content. This is the userbase we serve the most, but you can see how a relatively small group of people can make something good happen.

And what about the end result? So far our accepted answer rate sits at 81% (which is about the same as the original trilogy sites). We’re constantly looking for ways to improve quality; I sometimes yearn for the day when we could answer 95% of the questions,  but hey, with great size comes great craziness of unanswerable questions.

I have a ton of people to thank, you all know who you are, the first pile numbers at about 85 people. We’ve all been putting in crazy hours to make this work. For me personally it’s been an about one hour before work, most of lunch, and multiple hours after work. (Spouses getting Ph.D’s are good for internet participation!) 

Now that the first “ooh ahh” year is out of the way, the next comes the grinding run into the playoffs. There’s no doubt in my mind we can eclipse Server Fault provide better quality for end users, it’s just a matter of time and workin’ hard. 

If you’re feeling intimidated by it just dive in and get started, we’re friendly, and remember that reputation is a measure of trust, not exactly skill (where else would I outnumber Kees Cook in anything by 16,000 units?)

You can earn reputation by asking good questions, submitting edits to make content relevant for today, or by answering questions. Once you have the 15 rep required to vote you can very easily determine the quality of the site by just voting a few times a day. The quality of the content is determined by it’s people, so I’m looking for experts, people who want to be experts, beginners, medium level, and whoever to dive in and help someone out.

Here’s to another year!

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Whoa, almost forgot to send some funds to Novacut, thanks for the pro tip Planet Ubuntu!

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People are talking a lot about Hadoop and Big Data. This is an area where a tool like Ensemble can really help out. Juan Negron has distilled the installation process for Hadoop on Ubuntu into a formula. 

Check out the instructions (1,2) that Mark was reading, and then you can see how Mark took all that Hadoop expertise and just used the Ensemble Formula to dramatically simplify the installation.

There is work going on to make the formulas easier to find and share, right now you pull it from a bzr branch, but the project is moving along at a fast rate, you can find out more about Ensemble on

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andrewsomething pointed out some questions that need love. One sure fire way I’ve noticed that will help get your question answered is to keep improving it. The simple fact is, you can expect the quality of an answer to be proportional to the amount of effort you’ve put into your question. If you don’t provide any detail, no one can really answer your question.

Every once in a while I see on Ask Ubuntu or reddit where the person has given up, and the question starts with “I’ve been trying to find this for 5 hours, halp.” This seems backwards to me, instead of suffering in silence, ask early, and ask often! Let’s apply some Getting Things Done:

  • Google for a solution to a problem for about 2 minutes.  If I can’t find a solution right away, I ask my question before I start to WASTE my own time flailing. If it was obvious I would have found it right away. So, after 2 minutes, clearly I need help, another 3.5 hours probably won’t help me. 
  • Then I post my question and go do something else for a bit, let’s say 5-10 minutes. If I was missing something obvious someone can answer that relatively quickly. If not, then usually, I’m not giving people enough information to help me. 
  • From then on I update my question, with things I’ve tried, things I’ve searched for, and generally the results of my research. As I update my question chances are the new information will help the other person realize what’s going on, and help me solve my problem. Since I’m updating my question as I go along, the next person who comes along doesn’t have to waste their time wading through comment after comment of you flailing, or even worse, waste time reading two paragraphs of your problem to get to an “EDIT: Actually I think the problem is something else.” 

So, the next time you have a question about Ubuntu instead of bottling up your problem, ask early, and ask often, then iterate the hell out of your question with new information as you get it. The more info you have, the more likely it’ll be solved faster. Some questions will invariably be unanswerable, or might be a bug in the software, but you can at least keep improving your queston enough to get an answer.

If you think about it, if you’re solving a complex problem, it would be nearly impossible to write the perfect question in one go, so next time you’re not getting any answers to your questions, start fixing it up!

And if you figure something out, self-document.

Here’s some tips:

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Next week I’m packing up my things and moving to Boca Raton, Florida, home of awesome beaches and retired people who sit around.

It’s going to be a busy Summer, I’ve started working on Ensemble this cycle so you’ll see me talking about that a bunch more — it’s nice to be working with server-type stuff again, especially with something new and exciting.

I look forward to becoming part of the Florida team!

Unfortunately my schedule this summer will mean I won’t be able to go to Debconf and the Desktop Summit this year, which is a bummer as they’ve both become my favorite events with great friends. Not to worry though, Jason Warner has settled in as manager of the Canonical desktop team and will be at the Desktop Summit to buy you beer field any questions you might have.

There’ll be plenty of Ubuntu people at Debconf as well, hopefully I’ll be able to attend next year.

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Ahmed and I have tagged some Ensemble formula requests as bitesize. The PHP ones will be pretty straight forward, so if you’re deploying in EC2 and want to dive in and share your expertise (and snag some existing formulas for yourself!)

If you’re looking for a Formula for something you’d like to see to be made easy to deploy in EC2 please feel free to file a new bug.

You can find the docs for writing formulas here. If you’re writing an awesome app you’d like to see made easy to deploy in EC2, then let me know and we’ll get started.

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Not a dialog I was expecting this morning.

(Kill me)

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This cycle I’ll be working with the immitable Stuart Langridge on building out a community around the Ubuntu One Developer Programme, which he announced at UDS. The video isn’t up yet (but I’ll blog about it when it is).

Some of the parts are now coming together. You can find the API docs here:

and I’ve started a wiki page of some ideas for applications that people might want to build around Ubuntu One. 

So what does this all mean? Well, at this point we’re getting feedback from people who are idea junkies on what kind of apps people should build. Sometimes I find people with programming skills with nothing to do and they ask me “Ok what needs to get done?” and then I kind of have nothing for them off the top of my head.

However it’s more focused when you can build a quick little plugin for Banshee or a little helper application that helps me sync something I wasn’t able to sync before. Here’s an example of some ideas so far.

As you can see we already have a bunch of ideas. Also, as you can see, the API can be used from any operating system. The Ubuntu One team will concentrate on making the API and the core syncing service and of course, integrating it with the core parts of the OS, but for the rest, there is no limit.  One of the applications that added support early on was Shutter, the (amazing) screenshot program: 

Integration like this is just the beginning. There are tons of devices out there, and while I can pretty much guarantee that no one at Canonical will be working on a Windows Phone 7 application for Ubuntu One, there’s nothing stopping anyone else from writing one, and it’s things like that that will enable that person to use Ubuntu better the day they do decide to try it.

So have a think about the devices you use, and platforms your friends use. I personally would /love/ to stream my Ubuntu One music right in XBMC for example. 

So, this is the start, I’ll be blogging about this more regularly, expect to see updates from Stuart on how the API is progressing and improvements as they happen. Have a think about your developer friends that might be experts in other platforms, and see if they’d be interested in working on this. 

Feel free to just tack on your ideas on the wiki page.

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I was checking out some of the incoming merge proposals from contributors and I noticed a FIXME in a comment and decided to see what’s in the Unity source code that someone might want to check out if they’re looking for something TODO or FIXME. 

Turns out it’s not as bad as you’d think,

I’m going to update this list weeklyish, it’s already found some dead code that Neil was able to just purge from the source tree, so if someone wants to go ahead and start going through these and check for low hanging fruit it’d be a nice project for someone who wants to dig in. If the FIXME or TODO is missing a corresponding number then perhaps filing placeholders for them would be useful as well.

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… and the second I said this sentence to Amber Graner at UDS I followed it up with “in the same way that it’s just an operating system, and it’s just a computer, really, it’s not worth it.”

And that made me feel better after totally thrusting a spear into her chest.

We were about 10 minutes into the “Let’s have someone work on Ubuntu Weekly News and not make them want to kill themselves” session (note: the proper name might have been different.) 

So here’s the relaunch.

I’d like to see people pick this up. Sometimes we have a tendency to chew people up. (Actually Amber blew out her knee at the airport, people will say it’s chance, but I’m going to call the burnout card on this one, mwahahaha).

No really, the team needs help. If 3-5 people joined the team we’d have a nice balanced workload, there’s no reason why we should have people killing themselves over a newsletter …

I am totally playing the “Project Asshole Joker Card” on this one. UWN has been limping along crushing people who have been trying to make it work. We need to have people step up and making it rock before people like Amber quit. 

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So I’m not sure if this is a Canonical/Ubuntu thing or just a geek thing. But I’ve not taken a vacation in about a year, since I got married. They keep saying that Americans suck at vacations (apparently the Japanese are even more workaholics, but whatever). 

So screw it, for my 1st year anniversary not only did I hit up Florida but I hit up the Bahamas and swam with dolphins. It was expensive, but who cares …

I am convinced I’m getting rid of my cat and adopting Salvador, who is an amazing bottlenose Dolphin. I’m kind of a nature dork, but I did learn that all the noises they make all come out of the blowhole, not the mouth. Even though by looking at them and they do their amazing dolphin-cute things you’d think they’d be making the noises out of their mouths.

But enough about me…

Things I learned about Ubuntu by going on Vacation and then coming back.

  • ~ubuntu-bugcontrol recommends that you contact individuals, this is crap, it should be team based.
  • 90% of my PMs could have been handled by someone asking the same question on a public channel.
  • 90% of my PMs would have been better off as emails so they wouldn’t have been lost in IRC.
  • Florida is amazing, and everything I wanted to know about Florida I found on their team page. (I’m moving to Florida for a year so I wanted to check out how they roll, they apparently roll amazingly).
  • 6 new Unity contributors since 11.04. Tons of bugfixes by the Italian Stallions, but some new folks (more on this later).

And the best lesson learned so far …. no matter how hard you work, it’s all ok if you’re gone for a bit.

This is a good lesson to learn. 

Pretend you decided to just follow your dreams and ride that motorcyle to the ends of the EARTH. How would your coworkers deal? And I don’t mean “coworkers” in the sense of wether you work at Canonical or not, I mean your Ubuntu teammates. 

I’d like to think that no one in the project is irreplaceable. Not because we’re each so individually amazing that we’re arrogant prima donnas, but that we recognize that our teams are stronger by intentionally mentoring folks so that the project continues to be strong even when someone is missing.

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The Ubuntu Advertisements Team is running a user experience survey. You can find it here: 

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At UDS I gave a lightning talk called “I’ve had enough and so have you, a plea for sanity”, where I argue that misinformation on the internet is harming the Ubuntu project and brand.

Here’s the video:

(Direct Link)

So, now that you’re motivated to clean up this mess, I’d like to clear some things up. 

  • This isn’t a carte blanche to delete everything, be smart. You should probably not delete things that belong to other teams unless it’s way out of date.
  • We don’t have anywhere to place old Specs, and they are useful to keep around, so don’t mess with them. 
  • isn’t the same as, there’s a separate workflow for tagging pages as deleteable material.
  • Even so, there are tons of crap you can just get rid of:

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Sean Sosik-Hamor, our group photographer and IS sysadmin, has published the official UDS-O group photos on his blog, along with the details on the setup and equipment. Enjoy!

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Thanks to the tireless work of David Mandala, we’ve got some pretty nice mobile integration this UDS with Guidebook.

Not only do you have the schedule, but there’s a MAP of the venue right in the application as well and even the list of after hour social events.

Thanks also to Michael Hall for integrating support into Summit, which gives us a nice rememberable URL for your friends: and QR codes on the schedule itself.

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I took a trip out to see the folks at the Indiana LoCo team to talk about 11.04. That means ROAD TRIP! (Note how we avoid Ohio):

One thing I totally suck at is remembering to sync my phone with new music before I go on a trip. For the last 6 months or so though I don’t really have to, since we have Ubuntu One Music Streaming

The basic idea is that since I keep all my music in the cloud anyway I can just stream it back to myself, so when I buy a new album it’s just there, so I don’t have to remember to sync my phone or whatever.

But on a 3.5 hour trip with varying network conditions? Surely this won’t work. I’ll have to switch to more conventional ways to rock out for sure. Let’s find out.

The first step to any road trip is preparation:

I have Bluetooth audio support in my car, so the first thing I did was pair my phone, this was pretty straightforward. Then I fired up the application, queued up Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies and hit the road. At this point in my trip I was on 3G.

One of the nice things that the application automatically does is cache songs for you. That way the next time you want to listen to it you don’t have to hit the network. I told the music app to store 10GB of cached songs. So basically instead of my usual “Sync 10gb of songs to my phone” smartlist I just use these settings. When a song is cached the application shows a little yellow asterisk:

So as I’m listening to the songs the U1 app is caching the next songs for me. While the Alice was cranking I went ahead and queued up more albums. Since the app integrates with you can see what songs I listened to on the way there and on the way back. And since they’re my songs it’s at a nice high bitrate.

The queuing works well, the only interruption was when I was north of Fort Wayne, where I spent a while on a “G” network, which is apparently even worse than edge. I had finally caught up to the queue. This is also where I discovered the “unlimited” setting for caching songs. On longer trips where you know you’ll be far from 3g you probably want to turn this on instead of the default 3 songs.

Other tips:

  • You’ll need power. You have the bluetooth and data radios on, and if you’re using the map, GPS.
  • The phone gets quite warm. It was uncomfortable sitting on my lap, for a longer trip I am mulling a bracket for the dash.
  • All of a sudden I want to replace my car radio with a tablet that runs this.
  • The app has an offline mode, if you’re totally without network it just functions as a music player playing the songs you have cached.

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Well, we’re a week away from 11.04 so I decided that I would collate the information about Unity on the web and put it into one nice page for everyone to find. Got some more tips you’d like to add? Add them in the comments!

Getting Started

Home page

Hardware Requirements

Frequently Asked Questions

Common Questions

Launcher and Quick Lists

Indicators and notification area



For application developers

Contributing to Unity

Am I missing any? Post them in the comments. (I will moderate comments for this post to only allow tips and tricks)

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One of the (great) trends that browsers are doing these days is “getting out of the way”. That is, less “chrome” more space for content. I was curious to how we’ve been improving in this area, so I asked Jason to do some math, and here’s what we came up with.

So, given a desktop that you log in, how many pixels do we consume and how much do we leave for apps? Well, by default here’s how GNOME 2.x, 3.0, and Unity consume your pixels. These are the amount of pixels (broken down by resolution) that these three desktops use:

I measured Unity twice here. By default if there’s nothing in the way, we show you the launcher, if you move a window there or maximize, we get out of the way (the green bar). So, GNOME 2.x takes up a given amount of space no matter what. Unity takes more but gets out of your way once you start using it to about the same level as GNOME 3.0. Notice how both GNOME 3.0 and Unity are already giving the pixels back where they belong, to applications. :)

Next we have how much space we take up when working, for me I maximize my applications.  We maximized the window in GNOME 3.0 by dragging it to the top bar to measure it but didn’t take into account the window decorations and stuff. Still, much better across the board. I only measured Unity once because the launcher in this state goes away.

But wait a minute, doesn’t the application menu belong to the application? Let’s measure how much UI Unity consumes if we give the menu back to the application. So when you maximize an app the only UI Unity uses up is the home button, the window controls, and the indicators. There could still be dead space there in the menu, but that really depends on the length of the menu and per application, and I’m not going to go measure half the archive.

Caveats and Conclusions

a) GNOME 2.x is fat… :)

b) When you use them GNOME 3.0 and Unity are trending towards giving real estate back to applications. (I think this is good)

c) Unity does give the most space back, but remember that’s really all I’m measuring, this doesn’t imply that it’s better (or worse), and it also doesn’t take into account how we actually interact with the desktops, it’s just a raw measurement of pixels. Sorry guys, no flamebait here.

d) We didn’t measure how much space ayatana-scrollbars save you. This would be nice to know.

e) We didn’t take into account overlay-ish things like the dash or the overlay thing that GNOME Shell does. It could very well be that those UI interactions mean that you don’t have to care about those pixels (or care more), but that’s for an expert to figure out, my goal was just to figure out “Is it just me or are desktops following browser chrome trends?

f) We didn’t take into account full screening applications.

Here’s the spreadsheet if you want to mess with it, or add your favorite desktop. (I didn’t measure KDE)

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