09 December, 2013

Psychopatic encounter

I just had the most curious encounter in a bar. Well, not entirely new - I've met my share of weirdo's over the years, but it has been a while. My problem seems to be that I'm too nice: I smile and nod at people that ramble and complain to me about life, the universe and everything like I enjoy their company. And what can I do? I LIKE being a nice person, it matters to me. Anyway, on to the story and its consequences.

Food in Nürnberg

Around 8 PM I went to the Bar & Grill California for dinner. Looking around for a place to sit, I smiled at a few folk looking back. As soon as I sat down, one of them came to me and asked if I didn't want to drink a beer with him and have a conversation. I didn't really know what to say, other than disappoint him partially by explaining I don't really drink beer. I would eat and drink something, however. He didn't mind and joined.

The conversation started curious: he shared that he had just kicked at the mirror of a police car and asked what I thought of that. I replied that, besides not liking violence in general, I saw little point in doing that. He pointed out that "cops are thieves, just like everybody else". "Well", I said, "some are, perhaps - rotten eggs can be found anywhere. But by an large, society needs a decent police force. And still, how does kicking a mirror help?". He explained that indeed, police is good, but "they have to be kept under control". Somehow, kicking mirrors helped with that, I didn't really get his argument here (if there was one). Besides, he didn't know what else to do: he had been mistreated by cops, he told me. He explained me he had pressed charges but it was "all covered up". Did he go to a lawyer? No, "they are all like puppies. Afraid of the police." I didn't really agree, but the conversation (or rather, he) became hard to follow.

What do you do for a living?

I decided to inquire into what he did for a job. After a few failed attempts he told me he was a doctor, or at least, learning to be one. Most physicians I know are rather less rambling so I inquired further. It turned out that, indeed, 'normal' physicians are actually trying to kill us. Murderers, he said. Especially psychiatrists. I tried to pursue the subject, instead the discussion turned to politics. He said it's bad in Germany. All politics is corrupted, as bad as in the US. I shared my conviction that while there are corrupt politicians for sure, at least in the Netherlands I'm convinced the vast majority of elected representatives honestly wants to do the right thing. He noted, surprisingly on-topic, that they just don't know what they're doing - something I can't disagree with entirely. After all, the world is a complicated place and honestly, most politicians seem under-educated especially in the area of science. I don't think this argument landed, however, he had turned back to the medical world.

He started talking about evil psychiatrists and mind control, and I decided to tell him I'm a psychologist. He moved a bit away from me, telling me he didn't trust psychologists. "They always blame you for everything!" he said. I answered: "Well, I do believe we are responsible for what we do in the world...". He shared that the medicine you're given is to keep you under control. Knowing the side effects of the medical treatments available to psychiatry (especially anti-psychotics) I couldn't really disagree that much. Meanwhile, he seemed to decide he could trust me, at least for now.

Berlin and the New World Order

He switched subjects again, asking where I came from and I told him I live in Berlin but I was Dutch. He was intrigued. "A while ago", he explained, "I met a very interesting guy. He lives in Berlin, but he is family of the Spanish King. Actually, he SHOULD BE the Spanish king, but..." I didn't really understand the reasons behind this, however, he suggested we (him and me?) should do something about this, put him back on his throne.

Before we could dive in details of this revolution, he moved closer to me, so nobody could hear: "Do you support the New World Order?" I told him I had heard the term but didn't know what it meant. He explained: "It will happen, like, 200 years from now. The human population will be reduced to about the size of Berlin". I asked what would happen to all the other people and he told me people would get injections with feminism (yeah, he really said that, I asked him to repeat it twice) and that would reduce the number of children we had. It had already started, that's why the population in Germany was getting smaller. I told him I thought it was scary and I would be against it. He noted he was a bit torn on the subject: on one hand, killing people is bad, but it would be good for the planet, the environment. Well, yes, it would, I suppose. When asked about how it had already started, he explained: "It is done by their leaders". Who? "Osama Bin Laden, others... Obamasama" (he made a bit of a word jumble there). I noted that Osama was dead but that didn't seem to be a problem: "He is the anti-christ!". We made a short detour to religion - he strongly believed in God, I couldn't figure out which one, although he didn't seem impressed with Allah and it wasn't Santa either. He did note that Jesus was a "servant of God, he was not crucified, they tried but you can't kill a servant of God".

At this point, I decided I really would prefer a quiet dinner, and told him that my food was coming and I'd like to eat that alone, but it was a nice conversation. He agreed, we shook hands - and he left. And I was proud of myself for having ended it in a friendly but firm manner... I am learning, too!

Psychotic? Oh yes.

I've had enough contact with people going through a psychotic episode that I can tell he is. The above 'report' is omitting at least half the rambling and hard to follow conversation (if you can call it that): conspiracy after conspiracy is thrown over the table, often clearly connected to things mentioned earlier. For example, the world population will be reduced to the size of Berlin, because - I just mentioned I live there. Once you notice it, it becomes hard to miss. There is logic - but often twisted and coming from certain (utterly insane) axioms. Overall, there's a lot of free association going on - I guess a psychosis would be awesome in a brain storming session. If you could only keep them on topic at least a little.

It is a REAL disease, harming those who have it

Unfortunately, a psychosis gets worse as these diseases are really damaging to the brain, essentially turning chronic if not treated. Compare it to a untreated wound - it isn't going to get any better if you let it fester. And I know that, while not very pleasant, there are decent medications and treatments out there that can really help. Unfortunately, I also know that as long as somebody is not a danger to him/herself or others, and sufficiently lucid to refuse any help (and the paranoia obviously doesn't help), there is little a doctor can do. Judges often simply lack the experience and knowledge to be willing to lock somebody up who doesn't do any harm and can still reasonably convincingly claim to be just fine. Despite believing Elvis is still alive, Aliens do anal probing and Jesus will walk again, soon. Worse, if they don't have friends or family pushing them to a doctor, chances are that they won't even be on the radar anywhere.

I've heard stories and cases like these recently, in Berlin but also in the Netherlands. And it often goes unnoticed. Most people just think him or her to be 'an odd duck' and there's often drugs involved which can be blamed. This good men was convinced beer helped him, taking his inhibitions away. Yes, it does, but I don't think that that is a good thing... At least, beer isn't as bad as the stuff some patients 'self-medicate' with. The thing is: this is a real disease. As real as cancer or a broken leg. It doesn't SEEM like that as you don't see it on the outside, but having your brain out of whack is seriously bad. Not only for them but, indeed, potentially for others too. After all, if you truly believe the police are the agents of the apocalypse and you get your hands on a guy, doesn't it make perfect sense to shoot a few? Exactly.

And then?

Our modern society seems to, on one hand, increase stress and pressure so more people suffer from these (and other) psychological disorders, yet the decaying social fabric means they get less and less social and medical support. And this is just the worst and most obvious side of it - what about all these people who quietly suffer from anxiety disorders, depression? Really, feeling like killing yourself is NOT healthy. There is something wrong and while indeed it can't be cured by a simple pill, there ARE things which can be done.

As society, we need to be more aware of these issues. Only thing I can do here is urge you to not leave people around you alone if they start to become paranoid and ramble like this: this is most likely caused by a real, tangible, curable medical condition, not an actual alien obduction, religious epiphany or government conspiracy. If a friend of you breaks a leg, you do visit them, help them, don't you? Do the same when they develop a psychosis, please...

07 December, 2013

Summit, Con, Release...

The last weeks before my holiday have been quite crazy for me. SUSECon, openSUSE Summit and of course the openSUSE 13.1 release. Meanwhile, the openSUSE Board Elections have started... I decided to really try and stay away from things for two weeks. I'm not particularly good at that and I did a few thingies but I managed not too shoddy. Saw a museum, did pick up running again, watched some movies...

Now, back to SUSECon, the Summit and the release!

SUSECon,oS Summit

First things first, SUSECon and the openSUSE Summit were awesome. It is always wonderful how much energy these events give - so many enthusiastic people, ideas, plans...

On the press side during SUSECon, I kept myself busy with talking to 7 of the journalists, doing and arranging interviews or finding answers to their questions about openSUSE. And with Robert Schweikert I presented a session (twice) about the collaboration between SUSE and openSUSE. ITWire reported on this talk. We ran a booth at SUSECon as well and it was, as always, great to talk to people there.

On Wednesday was a Pirate Party, Thursday a visit to the Epcot park. I'm not a huge fan of such parks but it was entertaining enough to get food there... And I had great company!

At the Summit I presented two sessions, one about handling a booth and one about building local communities. In both cases, there was a lot of awesome feedback from the room and at the Orlando airport and further during the trip back I worked the suggestions in the presentations for further sharing. Thanks! I also really appreciated the private conversations about these topics which took place later on.

But the most important thing, for me, was meeting old friends again. Andi, Drew, the openSUSE Forms guys, the Greek delegation and many more. And bumping into new people like Navid and Christopher, two guys who run a media production company and want to help out openSUSE with web things. That's where the inspiring conversations happen. There were discussions about how to proceed with the Summit, how to handle community building in the Americas but also the great town hall meeting where I presented the 'Karmafication' idea for our infrastructure. This is something I might blog about later.

After the openSUSE Summit was over, Alex, Stella, Ludwig and myself went for a beach trip, video below. It was fun - although we drove an order of magnitude longer than that we actually spend on the beach ;-)

The release

Then the release, on the day I landed back from the US of A (and yes, they lost my luggage, luckily it is back). I think it went great, and seeing the response from the press I think others agree.

Now, we're debating changes to our development process on the mailing lists. Let's see how that goes!

11 November, 2013

Skype on openSUSE 13.1

Yes, openSUSE 13.1 isn't out yet, but people who've installed RC1 and upgraded via the repositories are very close... So let's call that 13.1_almost, for now. And 13.1_almost has a bit of an issue if you are a Skype user. When starting up Skype you might very well be greated with a very loud and unpleasant sound coming out of the speakers.

Solve it

This is fortunately not hard to solve: start skype from a commandline with the following command:

See this blog for some background information. I am hoping we can get an update in to fix this, but for now - if you suffer from it, use this as a work-around.

Make it permanent

You can change the menu item for Skype so you don't have to start it from the command line, as follows:
Left-click the menu button and choose  "Edit Applications..."

Then, locate the Skype application and add the "PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=60" in front of the command.

Save, done. Easy-peasy, yes?

I'm going to be at SUSECon this week, ending in the awesomeness that will be the openSUSE Summit! If you're there, surprise-hug me if you can ;-)

Have a lot of fun!
(and think of the geekos) 

31 October, 2013

Living in Berlin? The Geeko comes to you!

Geeko is coming to Berlin! Javier Llorente arrived at my place and he is organizing an 'openSUSE meetup' this Saturday at C-Base, Berlin's most awesome Geek Spot. It starts around 17:00 and lasts until about 20:00 - but who knows what else will happen.

We will give an overview of what's new and then it is time for some testing and playing with the new release. We will bring some USB sticks with openSUSE 13.1 RC2, so if you bring a laptop to test it on that'd be awesome!

Even without laptops you're very much welcome - a bunch of Geekos meeting always results in fun, no worries about that. Anybody is welcome, even if you happen to run another distribution...

See you there!

EDIT: yeah, forgot to note that it is SATURDAY, not TODAY :(

We're sorry!!!!!!

25 September, 2013

Communication around Frameworks 5

A while ago I asked help in communicating Frameworks 5 and our releases. I'd like to acknowledge the awesomeness of Howard Chan who stepped forward to first write an article about our evolving release plans and now help publish an overview of what Frameworks 5 brings to Qt developers all around the world.

Howard is 15 and active in the Kubuntu community too. He is also participant in the season of KDE - a typical KDE contributor who's all over the place, if you ask me. And has already stopped listening to my suggestions and has figured out what he wants to write next ;-)

You're my hero, Howard! Great work and I'm glad you plan on sticking around.

20 September, 2013

Giving constructive feedback

Feedback is often equated to 'yelling'. But it doesn't have to be - feedback is, after all, central to learning. And in Free Software, where learning is a major motivation for many participants, proper feedback is very important.

Max the Brown Tabby and Burt the Grey Kitten: Cat Argument

Many of you have seen how Linus can yell at people and unfortunately, some mistake that for effective communication. It is not. But what DOES constitute effective feedback?

Three Rules

Plenty of books have been written on the subject. To save you the reading effort, I'll summarize the most important lessons here: three rules for how to give constructive feedback.

RULE 1: find the right time and place (or don't do it at all)

Both you and the other person should be in the right place, mentally and physically, for the feedback. For example, don't embarrass a person in front of a crowd. Feedback is best given in private, unless of course it is explicitly asked for in a group. But even then, think about what you say.

And have the right attitude towards whatever has to change: everybody makes mistakes. Constructive feedback should be building up, not breaking down. None of us is born as a super coder, we all had to learn. If you and/or the other person are angry, it will be a shouting match. If there is no way for the other person to improve, why frustrate him or her with feedback?

The time element is crucial as well. Feedback should be timely: giving feedback on an event that took place weeks ago, most likely long forgotten by the subject, offers little value. Be sure you have a certain event or action in mind and can be specific about when, where, who was involved and what the results were.

Rule 2: Describe, don't judge or infer

Most important, constructive feedback has to focus on the facts of behavior in a concrete case. And on its consequences, not on the person and who they are. That sounds easier than it is. It is best to follow this format when giving feedback:
    I Don't Know What We're Yelling About!
  • describe the specific behavior/action/code itself
  • describe how it made YOU feel (emotional feedback) or the effect it has on $SUBJECT (technical)

To focus on behavior use adverbs to describe action, rather than adjectives describing qualities. Help the other person understand the impact their actions have.

Let me give some examples:
  • unhelpful: "You were really an asshole in the meeting today" -> personal and pretty darn judging
  • unhelpful: "You were trying to derail the discussion! -> inferring goals
  • helpful: "When you talked so loudly during the discussion you made me feel really anxious"
  • unhelpful: "Your patch sucks" -> not concrete
  • helpful: "If you write code like $EXAMPLE you will break $DESIRED_BEHAVIOR"
  • unhelpful: "You always forget to add comments to the code!" -> generalization
  • helpful: "Yesterday when you checked in the code for X, you did not add comments in $FILE, so it took me a while to figure out how it did fit in"

This also works with compliments:
  • unhelpful: "You're a great coder!" -> unspecific
  • helpful: "When you commented the code with that high level overview you made it easy to understand the flow of the class"

Negative feedback which is too vague just frustrates: there is nothing to improve. But unspecific positive feedback is not that great either: people frequently doubt your motives ("Is she trying to get something from me?") and it even makes some people feel insecure.

Note that when giving feedback, people have a tendency to emphasize or even exaggerate. Feedback tends to land much harder than you think, even with people who seem impervious to criticism. It's better to bring it softly and remind people later then to lay it on heavy and make them feel inadequate or not appreciated.

Rule 3: Sandwich it

It matters how you introduce the feedback. If you weren't asked for it, note clearly that you'd like to give some feedback. Perhaps this is a bad time - allow the other to point that out and if so, just let it go.

Then, seek for balance. Certainly there are things to improve, but there is always something that was done well. We tend to focus on the negative. To prevent that, 'sandwich' the negative part with positive feedback: start with something that went well, follow with the part that needs improvement, finish with another part that went well or a silver lining. Not only does this help digest the feedback better, it tends to force you to think about it more as well.

If you can, try to give some tips or hints on how to improve. Share how you dealt with this issue in the past, perhaps. Here, too, be as concrete as you can.

After giving the feedback, let the other talk. It is not unlikely that the recipient will act defensive. Don't take that as meaning the message did not land - most people have trouble admitting mistakes when confronted with them, even if they are brought the Right Way™. Let them respond, say you understand - most importantly, don't pile up more 'evidence'. You've done what you can, it is now their responsibility to take it - or not. If you get no response you might want to ask a open question like: "What do you think".

Note that you can give too much feedback. Improving oneself is a lot of hard work - and one can work only on so many things at once! Recognize progress, even when it is slow, and leave room for mistakes. If a colleague tends to make certain typical mistakes you don't always have to point them out. Give him or her time and opportunity to self-correct, silently accept some of the mistakes and space out the feedback a little.

Feedback 101

There's something to receiving feedback, too, of course. Note that following the rules above isn't always easy and sometimes people are frustrated and do yell. Try not to get angry - feedback, any kind, can help you improve. Even if it is not brought to you in a nice way.

Giving and taking constructive feedback is a hugely useful skill to have - it helps you as well as others to learn and get better. And while most of our communication takes place online, these rules apply as much if not more so. Thanking somebody for a patch, starting by commenting on the good side of it, before you hack and slash in on the less-than-great parts, adding concrete ideas for improvements, and finishing with a high-note in proper sandwich style: it can make the difference between getting an improved patch or never hearing from the contributor again.

If you have comments, feel free to share them ;-)

27 August, 2013

Silverstone FT03mini, Intel Haswell and Linux

I'm a hardware geek. Not really into the gadgets, but I like the tech behind workstation-type systems: CPU's (realworldtech is amazing, so is Anandtech), GPU's and so on. Aside from reading it is of course also nice to build something every now and then. So this summer, just after Intel released their new Haswell CPUs, I decided to build a new desktop system around it in a Silverstone FT03 Mini. Goals were to have it as quiet as possible (cooled by a single 140mm fan) and of course have very decent performance.

FT03 Mini

As you might have guessed from the name, the case isn't very big: mini-ITX. And it is a rather unusual design: a standing tower with a single 140mm fan on the bottom and solid aluminum walls. Quite a beauty, if you ask me. A review here.


I ordered a Core i5 4670 - not a K one as those miss out on some of the new instruction extensions. Yes, that is actually called Product Sabotage. Well, Intel is not a charity and there simply is no competition in the space above the core i3 performance levels so they have to differentiate their products to extract the 'consumer surplus'.

Aside from the CPU, there's a 256GB Samsung 840 Pro SSD (2.5"), 2x 8GB ram and it is all connected to a ASRock Z87E-ITX motherboard. I also have a passively cooled Zotac GeForce GT 640 Zone Edition graphics card, but more on that later.


For cooling I used the recommended all-in-one watercooling - a simple Corsair H60. I contemplated going for a H80 (double-thick cooling block) but that would simply be overkill for the platform and make building it all harder. I've replaced the 140mm silverstone fan with a more quiet Noctua (NF-A14 FLX), which, at its lowest speed, is indeed very quiet. The whirring of the water pump is actually the noisiest thing about the case although it is barely audible.
Going to put it together

Power supply

I'll MAKE it fit!
I did do a few unusual things with the case: I took out the HD cage (I only need one 2.5" SSD) and the slimline DVD player cage to make room for a full ATX modular, Platinum-rated, fully passive Seasonic power supply. The SS-400FL2 required some some creativity in attaching it and the bending of a single metal bar to fit it in - and of course, the tiny space gets even more cramped. But it isn't a huge stretch and it seems Silverstone could easily add a screw hole or two to make this officially supported.


The basics were not hard although this case was the smallest I've ever build and I never played around with AIO water cooling. I didn't yet have the power supply so I used an old one I had still lying around - that's the blue thing on the box in the pic ;-)

Put together - first round, with the passive Zotac
I fired the thing up and lo and behold, it all worked fine. I did play around a bit with the cooling and after some burn-in tests I ended up putting the pump on a variable voltage and the fan on a low, continuous one. That leads to most quietness. Not total silence but I'll survive the noise...

Graphics card - u no fit?

Unfortunately I got in trouble after my new power supply arrived: it didn't fit with the video card. The video card has a huge cooling block and its cooling fins are extruding on the back of the card. Unfortunately, that is where the power supply had to be - the price for not opting for the recommended small form factor variation.

Now I'm stuck with a passive Zotac Geforce GT 640 (anybody interested?). Turns out, the integrated graphics in the i5 are plenty fast for what I need and I don't have to fight with proprietary drivers. So for the time being I'll stick with this... When I decide I want to play more modern games than Warcraft III or have a third screen I'll find a solution that's not only silent but also has no fins on the back ;-)

It's busy in there, yes...
No place for the Zotac card.

Bleh, Broadcom

I did also replace the badly supported Broadcom wireless mini-PCI-express card that came with the motherboard with a decent Intel one (Ultimate-N 6300). I couldn't get the broadcom to work under Linux, the Intel card of course worked out of the box. It is a triple band card but unfortunately I still can't get decent speed out of it - more than 50MB/s won't work and I've got a 100MBIT connection so that's a bit sad. The problem might be that I'd like it to use 5ghz and it is near impossible to find decent antennas for that. The antennas that ASrock included seem to be less than perfect. But honestly, I don't understand antenna tech very well... Maybe I do something wrong.

In the end, I'm fairly happy with the setup. The goal of having only one fan cool the entire case did work out and CPU core temperatures hover consistently between 30 (idle) and 50 (under stress),

Haswel and Linux

Getting the system to work with Linux (that'd be openSUSE, of course) was easy-peasy. After my power supply arrived I had to rely on the integrated graphics and for that, upgrading to the latest kernel from kernel.opensuse.org as well as the latest stable Xorg from the X11:Xorg repo made sure it is now all smooth. Boringly little to say, everything works great and the system is butter smooth - something you'd expect from your new work station.

25 August, 2013

On Distributions, Numbers and Breaking Prism

A week or two ago I noticed the prism-break.org site. It's quite cool to see a site offer some concrete links on how to opt out of the global data surveillance. Granted, I already use Linux and I cryptographically sign (not encrypt) almost all my mails because Kontact makes it so easy. Otherwise, I'm not particularly careful - my main mail account is still GMail (although work mail is on SUSE's servers) and I extensively use Google Plus and to a lesser extend Facebook and Twitter.

What distro is popular and easy to use?

The site has many interesting tools listed but obviously my eye was drawn to the Operating Systems on top. I notice that Ubuntu hasn't made the cut due to some of the stuff they've pulled recently. And I see Fedora appointed as 'most popular' with Linux Mint Debian Edition as 'easiest to use'. I tweeted to Peng Zhong that I find it hard to not disagree with these choices...

Fact or fiction

We all prefer our technology to speak for itself. Yet, better technology often looses out. And I thus feel I should at least try to correct common misconceptions.

Statistics presented at the openSUSE Conference show over twice as many unique IP's connect regularly to the openSUSE update servers compared to Fedora. We know that these numbers are not terribly reliable: a more reliable method has shown the IP addresses to over-estimate our user base by about a factor 10. But both being equally biased, we can assume they are comparable.

That is not to say that Fedora isn't doing awesome stuff - they're the ones pushing a lot of technology like systemd and GNOME Shell. But many end users did pick a more conservative OS like openSUSE. And they probably appreciate our work on improving YaST or technologies One Click Install!

More fiction?

About the ease of use - the recommended distribution there is Mint Debian edition and I would find it hard to argue that it is easier to use than openSUSE (the Mint team talks about 'rough edges' and 'less easy to use'). But I'd leave that to random choice as facts seem to bear very little on what is considered 'easy to use'...

Of course, if you mean with popular "the number of articles on LWN" or a metric like that, well, Fedora and Mint probably win.

19 August, 2013

Basic Usability Testing at Home - notes from the workshop at Akademy 2013

bad usability bad

In the weeks before Akademy 2013 I convinced KDE Usability Guru Björn Balazs (from User Prompt) to lend his experience to a usability workshop I wanted to organize at the conference. The goal was to teach developers how to do 'basic usability testing at home' by guiding users through their application and watching the process. To help developers who didn't make it (and those who did but can use a reminder) I hereby share a description of the process and some tips and notes.

User Application Testing

The goal of this exercise is to get input from a user about the applications being tested. The test works by putting the user in front of the application, giving them a task and letting them execute it, guided by the developer asking questions.


The process works as follows: The user is put in front of the opening screen of the application/tool. The developer or usability expert guiding the process gives them a goal, something like 'play a song from Cold Play' or 'connect to the wireless network'. You can use this nice guide by the Canonical usability team on picking tasks for the users to execute.

Then the following protocol is executed by the person guiding the process, asking the user:
  1. What is your first impression?
  2. What do you think you can do here?
  3. What would you do to reach your goal?
  4. What do you expect to happen when you do it?
  5. Please do it... (let user execute action)
  6. Did it do what you expected?
  7. if not: was it better or worse?
  8. If task is not completed yet, go back to 1 
  • Make clear that the user is ONLY to execute a SINGLE action in step 5. This means that most of the time, you are checking the expectations and ideas of the user instead of watching him/her clicking around.
  • As guide you're not supposed to give any hints as to what button the user should click or what he/she should do, other than perhaps remind him/her of the end goal he/she has been given
  • Despite the above point, there is of course no reason to let the user helplessly waste his/her time. If the user get stuck, help them to get unstuck. 
  • Try to closely stick to the protocol, not skipping questions. Of course, if a user has already answered question two in his answer on question one, there is no need to ask that question again...
If the task is finished, asked what the user thought of it all, discuss improvements etc.

Easy Cheese

Note that this kind of testing is very good to find grave issues in applications; it is not very good at fine tuning the interaction with your application. You also have to be a bit wary of the feedback from a single user: repeat the process at least once with somebody else to make sure that what is an issue for one person is really a problem. Ideally, run the test a few times with various people to increase the reliability of the feedback.
    Extra tip: it is very valuable to record the sessions. Often you see things later on that you were not aware off during the session..


    In practice, it can be a bit hard to stay disciplined, not giving hints or telling the user what to do... And to stick to the protocol instead of just quickly letting the user click to the end. Try to keep to the structure anyway, it works best.

    This process works incredibly well at showing which things are unexpectedly non-obvious for users. For your enjoyment, here is a youtube video of the Network Manager session with myself as subject:
    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    I think the results speak for themselves and you can probably imagine the frustration on the side of the developers.

    I've put the notes of the workshop also on the wiki.

    Thanks to User Prompt for supporting the travel and support of Björn and Heiko Tietze as they were running the actual workshop, I was just there as participant ;-)

    16 August, 2013

    Help KDE Communicate Frameworks 5 and the Future of KDE!

    With the 4.11 release out of the door (yay!) there is more and more focus on what is coming from KDE in the future. The Workspaces (and only the workspaces) are out with a long term support release: for the next two years, the Plasma team will keep churning out bugfix and tiny-feature releases for the Workspaces 4.11 release.

    Meanwhile, the libraries essentially have already been in long term support since their 4.9 version, with only minor changes coming in (with a few exceptions like Nepomuk). Most Platform developers are focusing on Frameworks 5, which will bring some exciting changes to our libraries and the way they are laid out. This will open up our libraries to users outside of the KDE world, potentially widening the 'KDE ecosystem' significantly. And we need to communicate this!

    The applications on the other hand are expected to do couple of more releases before a (probably gradual?) transition to Frameworks 5. And who knows what will happen then?

    How confusing!

    All this means some confusion. We've already seen the first articles where elements of the above are mis-understood. It is time we do some work on clarification and get a dot article out on where we are going. I have made a 'skeleton' article, with the most important facts (like the above!) and links and hints to where to learn more.

    It might sound like a terribly complicated thing, and to some extend - it is. But at the same time, it has all been explained in various places already, most of the writing is just bringing things together. So you don't need to know that much about the whole thing to do a good job! Who feels like doing this? You can contact me (I can't believe my mail address is hard to find on the web, considering how much spam I get :D) or ask on kde-promo@kde.org, our mailing list.

    Who's up for it?

    06 August, 2013

    using software.opensuse.org

    A Frequently-Asked-Question: should I grab packages from software.o.o and should I add the repositories offered by One Click Install? Read on for an explanation of what is going on with One-Click-Install and what is wise.
    software.opensuse.org in action

    What does it all mean?

    A basic explanation of repositories, packages and software.openSUSE.org.

    On Linux, Software usually comes from a central location: your distribution. Apple used this model for its appstore, so did Google with the playstore - they are the same thing, expect that there is a payment system included. Every piece of software comes in a package (.rpm on openSUSE, .apk on Android). Like with Android app stores, there are various locations where you can get 'additional software'. As we all know, Apple prefers to keep you in your golden cage, no additional legal application stores for you there.

    Thanks to the unique Open Build Service, openSUSE has also been offering a central place to get additional software outside the distribution: software.opensuse.org. This web based application store allows you to search not only in the official, released openSUSE packages but also offers access to the numerous (200K+) packages on build.opensuse.org. These are build as part of the process of developing openSUSE (in the 'devel projects', often offering newer versions of official software) or by private users for their own purposes (in their 'home projects', offering newer versions, obscure packages or special builds).

    OBS is not all about obscure or updated software: some software is build by software vendors or otherwise 'officially blessed'; other things are there because they are too big for openSUSE Factory (games for example) or require very frequent updates (some software development tools and libraries).

    The web interface works with openSUSE's One Click Install, a tool which makes it easy to install packages while adding the originating devel- or home projects to your software sources ('repositories').
    Software vendors integrate OBS for official packages
    When your openSUSE checks for updates to your packages, it will not only look in the official openSUSE sources, but also go over these additional repositories added when you installed extra software, making sure you have the latest security, feature and stability updates.

    Adding repositories or not?

    So, should you use software.opensuse.org and should you add the repositories which One Click Install will offer you? Installing software from software.opensuse.org should be fine as long as you follow the rules below.
    • Add the repo. Yes, you should. Your package gets updated/fixed, giving you security and stability improvements and preventing future system updates from getting stuck on a single obsolete package.
    • Make sure you pick repos for your specific openSUSE version. Don't mix repo's of Factory with 12.2 and 12.3 or such...
    • Pick 'devel projects' over home repos, devel projects are maintained by a group of people and thus safer from a stability and security point of view. Home projects start with 'home:'.
    • When upgrading to a new openSUSE, make sure all repos are modified for the new version or remove those which are not available (yet). Use the Apper or YaST repository management tool for this.
    • Don't use zypper dup after adding repositories unless you keep a very close eye on what is changing repositories and know what it means. Zypper up should service you fine (tools like Apper and YaST are safe by default).
    The biggest potential issue with additional repositories is that besides the package(s) you wanted, they might contain more. And a 'zypper dup', in which zypper will pick the newest updates no matter the repository they're from, can thus break things. That chance is relatively small with special-purpose software sources like the games repository. But in some home projects a wide variety of things is build. The Devel projects for KDE and GNOME are a interesting case: you can indeed grab ONE updated application from there, but usually, it is wise to make it an either/or deal: grab them all or none of them. You can grab them all by doing a 'zypper dup --from REPOSITORY' on the command line and the YaST UI similarly allows you to switch packages to a specific repository.
    What and how to pick on software.o.o
    In the image above, you see the choices presented after clicking 'show other versions' and then 'show unstable packages'. Unstable, here, refers of course to anything not available as official update. Here, the official update is as new as anything and unless you want a testing version (2.7.9XXX) you should stick with it. But IF there were other options, this are the options:
    • KDE:Distro:Factory - Factory is where we develop openSUSE. The packages are often available for older openSUSE releases, but be careful, Factory is usually not very stable!
    • KDE:Release:410 - the KDE team maintains repositories with KDE releases. You can pick one of these and be sure to have quite stable, yet up to date software.
    • KDE:Unstable:Playground - guess... No, it is not very stable, as a matter of fact, this is a checkout directly from the source repositories at KDE - no guarantees, applications might not even start up.
    • KDE:UpdatedApps - this is a repository with updated applications. It is by far the best, safest choice.
    • devel:ARM:AArch64:12.3 - this is where the openSUSE ARM team develops their software. Only interesting if you run ARM hardware!
    • home:XX - these are home projects from individual users. If they are your only choice you should proceed with caution. Note that SOME home projects have tens of thousands of users and are very reliable - it just isn't visible from software.o.o (something we should indeed fix, help is welcome).

    Zypper power

    In dealing with multiple repositories, there are a few more advanced things you can do to keep things from breaking.
    • locking - if a package tends to break often and you want to keep total control over what happens to it, you can lock it. Commandline: "zypper addlock PACKAGENAME"
    • repository priorities - you can set priorities on repositories. "zypper dup" will always prefer packages from the highest priority (lowest number). Commandline: "zypper mr -p PRIORITY REPOSITORY"
    • zypper help - learn more on any command from zypper by typing "zypper help COMMAND"

    You can find more information, as well as some more tips, in this article on news.opensuse.org.

    02 August, 2013

    oSC13, Strategy and Stable

    At the openSUSE conference there were discussions about the future of openSUSE. Last Wednesday I summarized some of the ideas around Factory. Today I blog about the openSUSE releases.

    Note: This is a combination of stuff I heard (not just at oSC but also earlier - even from the first strategy discussion, 3 years ago) and ideas I have. I just attempt to put it into text so it is easier to shoot at, comment upon, think about.

    Stable - big picture

    On the Stable release future, things are much more in the air. In his keynote, Ralf hinted that SUSE has some ideas about how the future of openSUSE should look:
    • Open Governance - SUSE wants openSUSE to be successful and independently strong. Ralf noted that SUSE does not expect or aim to make money on openSUSE directly; other parties however are very much welcome to build a business around openSUSE.
    • Filling the gap - SUSE and openSUSE have a great win-win relationship. But SUSE notices a gap between openSUSE and SLE in the market: SLE is oriented to large enterprises and the current openSUSE has a too wide market to feed, from newbies to hard core developers to professionals.
    This is, from the SUSE side, the big picture; SUSE wants to provide room in the openSUSE ecosystem for initiatives, both from volunteers and from the commercial side. And SUSE would like openSUSE to move up a little, offer solutions for people serious about computing in a professional capacity. But what does this mean exactly?

    Concrete changes

    Let's start again with what came out with the keynote. Ralf essentially summarized some of SUSE and openSUSE's history and talked about our current situation. openSUSE Stable, our final release coming out every 8 months, is a compromise between stability and being-up-to-date. But this compromise was made in a time when far less people used the many repositories on OBS offering more up-to-date software; and before Tumbleweed and Evergreen saw the light of day. It is 2013 now and Ralf hinted at a possible re-evaluation of the choices that were made back then: perhaps, we should limit our scope, improve quality and increase the life cycle of openSUSE?

    Improve quality

    Let's talk about quality first. This is difficult, harder than it seems. Factory has some automated testing and openQA got better thanks to some recent work, but nothing can replace human testing and there is not enough of it. There is room for improving our processes here, but there is also the fact that some people in our community care more about Stable and others more about moving forward with Factory. We need to find a way to service the needs of both. Having Factory more stable, hence more usable on a day-to-day base, would be a great first step here.

    Limit the scope

    If you want to do something well, you should focus on it. It's the Unix philosophy many of us share: do one thing, and do it well. openSUSE is well known for doing everything a bit - making everybody a little happy, but nobody REALLY happy. Part of why this model is still working reasonably well is thanks to OBS - which has grown in this role. Many, many users these days use the openSUSE release as simply a base for their favorite OBS repositories. If we want to improve quality and lengthen the life cycle, we can use this model.

    For example, parts of openSUSE which can be and are maintained longer get in the stable releases; other parts with a shorter life cycle (Firefox for example) stay on OBS. This means that being part of Stable depends on commitment from both upstream and the openSUSE maintainers of the packages; as well as testing capacity and our quality standards.

    Lengthen life cycle

    A portion of the openSUSE users would like to have a longer release cycle - the interest in Evergreen and questions on our mailing lists and forums make that clear. SUSE has dedicated a set amount of resources for maintaining openSUSE releases; checking security and entering bug fixes. The maintenance process is now opened up and some teams in openSUSE are contributing to the maintenance, lowering the load on the SUSE maintenance team. A smaller scope (resulting in a smaller release) would do the same, as Ralf mentioned in his keynote. This will have to be a part of the solution we're looking for to increase our maintenance window.

    In practice

    To put it in perspective, three examples of how we could do this. Keep in mind that sticking to the openSUSE-has-all-and-comes-every-8-months model is of course also an option...

    Rings, rings, and rolling!

    Presume we will have rings in Factory (see blog from Wednesday)? Let's put them in the distro. There's the core with ring 0 and ring 1 ("everything up to X"). It is released every 2 years and maintained for 3. Then, there is ring 2, with the basic desktops and their devel frameworks. They are maintained 2 years after release (every year). Then, ring 3, the applications and development tools. They are updated from OBS, essentially rolling.
    It would of course be possible to keep ring 3 also stable - for, say, 1 year. Update it when a new release comes out - you can keep the core and desktop from the previous version but have the new apps.

    Split it up in components

    As Robert proposed on the factory ML this week it would be possible to split openSUSE Factory not per-se in rings, but in smaller components, dictated by their dependencies. Some would be one package, others would be multiple. Each component is developed by a team in a factory-like model. Rob states: "Each component advances based on it's own release cycle and the component team decides which release of it's dependent components to build against. Some tooling will be needed to help sort out the combinatorial problem."

    And "when a release approaches,the release team picks a version of the core component that will be the base for the next openSUSE release. This version is used to populate factory and may be the only component that is in factory for a little while." This scheme should make the job of the release team easier but would still allow us to release the same openSUSE. Perhaps faster, perhaps slower - or perhaps in pieces, giving users an unprecedented level of flexibility!

    Core, selection + OBS

    How about we take the core of openSUSE (ring 0 and 1 from Coolo?), add a few components which have a long-term commitment from their teams; and let OBS take care of the rest! So, we'd have, say, the Core, our default desktop with a base set of applications for it, LibreOffice and Firefox. That is the release. The rest you grab off of OBS. The core is maintained for a longer time (this very much depends on community input!) and much more tested than what we ship today.

    To limit the impact of the change and for the convenience of our users, the installer would still be able to offer the same choices as it always has; but besides adding the packages, it also enables the repository they are found in!

    Initially, the release would be a lot smaller than it is today - but in time, as people step up for long(er) term maintenance, it will grow again. The idea is similar to what was proposed on the factory ML this week, but might lead to less clashes between components as there are less of them (much is in the core, presumably).

    The real discussion

    The issue with all the above scenarios is that while we can technically do them (some are harder than others, of course) the choice doesn't just depend on what we can do but also on what we should do. That makes the discussion a lot more interesting. We have to fix some things in our process, adjust to reality, that is clear. But do we want to shift direction, too? What is our real goal?

    Our previous strategy discussion hinted at the fact that most of our users are professionals, people used to computers. We decided not to focus on newbies and making things simple to the expense of flexibility of our distribution. Should we go further on that path, make harder choices to focus on people using computers for a living?


    What I tried to illustrate with the 3 examples is that we can go in various directions. It will be up to some of our core developers as well as the dev teams to comment on what makes most sense, what is the least amount of work for the biggest benefit (to users). But there's also the question of who those users are!

    31 July, 2013

    oSC13, Strategy and Factory

    The openSUSE conference had some chats about strategy. Ralf talked about suggestions from SUSE in his keynote and there were more suggestions discussed in person between various people. I'd like to summarize some of the things I heard. In this blog I will talk about the directions of Factory, what Ralf mentioned as SUSE's ideas from his keynote; later this week I will blog about the openSUSE releases.

    This is a combination of stuff I heard (not just at oSC but also earlier - even from the first strategy discussion, 3 years ago) and ideas I have. I just attempt to put it into text so it is easier to shoot at, comment upon, think about.


    Let's start with talking about Factory.

    Who is it for

    We need to think about who factory is for, how these people are supposed to be using it etcetera. Right now, we have a shared understanding - but it probably isn't always as shared as it seems and it can be good to write things down and talk about them (see my keynote at oSC). Some of these thoughts will come to the mailing lists, I am sure, over the coming months.

    Where should it go

    On the technical side, there are some things I've heard about and seen several times and which will most likely see some form of implementation:
    • more automated testing - the openSUSE team did a openQA sprint but many agree that there is more room for improvement.
    • getting more people involved - As Ralf said, SUSE will commit to more SLE engineers on openSUSE; and the community & the openSUSE team should work more on both growing our dev pool and training people. In a GSOC discussion about this at oSC, this point was made as well: it would be good to use GSOC also for bringing existing contributors to a higher level.
    • Bringing Tumbleweed, Devel projects and Factory in alignment - As Ralf noted in his keynote, not all work on Devel projects and Tumbleweed benefits Factory and openSUSE ultimately - it would be great to unite forces and bring them all in one process!
    • segmenting Factory in rings - which Coolo has been talking about for a while now. It would create a Ring 0 with the bootstrap- and compiler infrastructure, ring 1 with the base system and other rings on top of that. He has been experimenting with this, hinting at some results in this mail. I leave it up to a later post (perhaps by/with Coolo) to be more concrete about this whole thing once the core Factory team has talked to more people and expanded upon it...

    That last point is by far the least concrete - it is an idea which is discussed and toyed with. How much and what exactly will happen - only the Geeko knows ;-)

    Some discussion has started on the mailing list, by the way, with the idea of segmenting Factory in even more 'components' than just the rings. I had a chat with Coolo before this proposal came out and I suggested the same thing. He noted that it would lead to a huge mess of dependency issues, including many circular ones (he gave libpoppler as example). This is already brought into the discussion there, let's see where this goes!

    20 July, 2013

    Akademy and openSUSE Conference

    It's been a insane 7-8 days. Starting with Akademy, where I gave just one talk but still have notes on 5 or 6 sessions to send to the mailing lists, followed up with the openSUSE conference where I give 3 workshops, 3 talks and a keynote, luckily not all unique or alone. The latter is still happening, I just wanted to share some thoughts ;-)


    ... was awesome as always. I really like that the community is moving forward with thinking about the future. The manifesto is of course a first step but there were BoF sessions talking about the position of KDE e.V. and how it relates to other projects which might want to join us or that we work with; and I ran a session with Valorie and Peter on how to deal with the dark side of community - the least fun moments. (I'll mail to the community ML about this)

    Now I am aware that some of these things don't move as quickly as many would like. The manifesto is great but also excluding projects and people many of us actually don't want to exclude. And I bet that beyond that there is even more room for KDE e.V. to play a role, say in helping other FOSS organizations handle GSOC money or even more. Or think about our relationship to Qt...

    Meanwhile, I'm of course still concerned with the Marketing side of things. At my presentation I put forward some strategic thoughts from the KDE Marketing Workgroup in this area and there was some good feedback, also in the BoF session about this. If you're on the promo list you can expect mail some time next week.

    And many thanks to Carl and everybody at Akademy in helping getting articles out on the dot! It was real team work and that does not only lead to better results but is also a whole lot more fun... Awesome!

    openSUSE Conference

    Like Akademy, I spend the first oSC day running around, talking to people. And having a few more hours of meeting-with-the-board than I care for. The keynote by Georg however was a great start of the day (see article on news) and I must say the Greeks have outdone, well, everybody. There is a lot of creativity and fun everywhere - from the beach ball shooting (at the audience...) in the welcoming talk to the small pools outside, the style of the event is just awesome. Lots of fun.

    On the content side, I really enjoyed talk by Alexjan Carraturo. He pointed out many hard issues with promoting Linux in Italy. And he's an excellent speaker, too - his English might be a tad Italian but it is not hard to follow and his presentation and slides are awesome. Most importantly, he brings up a lot of real excellent, interesting issues which the local team bumps into. From political and economical to social. They have found very creative solutions like the 'openSUSE Live USB station' where people can put in a USB stick and get their live openSUSE on it or using bare ARM board to draw people into the booth.

    Max Huang (sakana) gave a great talk on how things are going in Taiwan - amazingly much better. Where Alexjan brought up the many troubles he and his fellow Geekos (and tuxies and more) run into, Max seems almost exhausted by the many open source events taking place in Taiwan! He showed some impressive numbers and facts about what is going on in Asia - clearly, that's where we, as FOSS community, need to put more focus.

    Before these two ambassadors sharing their experience, Richard and myself spoke about new directions in the ambassador program and merchandising handling. Of course there were many, many more talks but I haven't seen that many and the above did catch my attention mostly because this is the area I care strongly about...

    Currently I'm listening to the openSUSE Board talk about technical directions for openSUSE in response to a question. SUSE has some ideas on that and is sharing those with the community at this event, which is an interesting experience.

    oSC isn't over yet and there is much more to come, I look forward to much of that ;-)

    (edit: fixed some stupidity with names, I wrote this too quickly)

    26 June, 2013

    Debugging a system without desktop

    Sometimes, Linux Desktop bites you in the ass. You just get a command line after booting up. I've ran various bleeding edge distro's over the year, including Cooker, Unstable, Factory, Unmasked stuff; build my own kernels and desktop and more.

    Seeing a request for help today made me decide to write down the steps I go through when my favorite desktop doesn't appear in the morning... I bet there's plenty to improve, tips are welcome!

    General approach

    I try to work quickly from the bottom up: test pieces of the lower stack, go higher until it breaks. While digging through logs can find the issue most likely, I've found that shooting a few quick commands to catch common issues is often faster than immediately going to comb through logs... So, first basic things before diving in logs.

    step 1: common issues

    I usually of course think back to what I recently changed or updated - that's likely the issue. But to keep it generic, let's assume that doesn't tell us anything. Then it's time to look at a few common causes of problems. Log in on a console with the root user name and password.

    disk space

    First up for me are disk space and stuff in tmp. A full disk can lead to the weirdest problems - from an end user perspective, it often makes no sense. So check how much space there is on your devices:
    df -h
    and check the output for 100% full drives:
    Filesystem       Size   Used   Avail   Use%   Mounted on
    devtmpfs         7.7G   8.0K    7.7G     1%   /dev
    tmpfs            7.7G   5.2M    7.7G     1%   /dev/shm
    tmpfs            7.7G   319M    7.4G     5%   /run
    /dev/sda1          2G   704M    1.2G    63%   /boot
    /dev/sda2         20G    14G    5.0G    74%   /
    tmpfs            7.7G      0    7.7G     0%   /sys/fs/cgroup
    tmpfs            7.7G   139M    7.6G     2%   /tmp
    tmpfs            7.7G   319M    7.4G     5%   /var/lock
    tmpfs            7.7G   319M    7.4G     5%   /var/run
    /dev/sda3        213G    74G    139G    35%   /home

    Obviously, if a drive seems full (less than 100 mb free), it's time to clean up. I trust you know enough cd ../cd [directory] and rm -rf [directory]/rm [filename] to get this done...

    Temporary directory

    Looks all good here, so next step then, just to check: if /tmp is not mounted on a temporary ram drive (like in my case), just clear everything in there to make sure nothing is causing issues. rm -rf /tmp/* will do the trick. Yeah, canon, fly, but /tmp should not be used by applications to store important data (hence the name) so this is safe™. Also, check permissions for /tmp, just to be sure:
    ls -la / |grep tmp
    drwxrwxrwt 30 root root 760 26.06.2013 15:37 tmp/

    Yes, /tmp should be readable and writable by anyone, so the permissions string rwxrwxrwt is important. If it is anything else, execute
    chmod +rwxrwxrwt /tmp, remove the contents of /tmp again with rm -rf /tmp/* and try again.

    update the system

    Third, I always quickly do a zypper refresh && zypper update. If an update broke it, let's see if a newer update can fix it ;-)
    Of course, use the commands appropriate to your distribution: apt-get update && apt-get upgrade; pacman -Syu; etcetera.

    Step 2: does X work?

    Second is seeing if the graphical system (X.org/xorg/X11, or just 'X') still works. Type
    startx /usr/bin/xterm
    This will start a simple terminal in the graphical environment and nothing else. As failsafe as it gets... If it works go to step 2, if not, see below.

    X not working?

    Now it's time to check the X.org log file and perhaps the output of the startx command. Any hints there as to what's wrong? If not, look in /var/log/Xorg.0.log (less /var/log/Xorg.0.log will do) and see where you have errors. The Xorg log is long, but has a neat way of showing errors: the codes between parenthesis give hints to what the line represents. Example output:
    [199842.753] (WW) Falling back to old probe method for fbdev
    [199842.753] (II) Loading sub module "fbdevhw"
    [199842.753] (EE) Failed to load module "modesetting" (module does not exist, 0)

    First a timestamp, then the code (WW = warning, II is for your info; Look for EE, meaning error!) and then you can try and solve this. In this case, a module doesn't exist - that looks like xorg didn't upgrade properly or got partially uninstalled. Search your package database for xorg and see if possibly-important packages are missing: zypper se x11
    Loading repository data...
    Reading installed packages...

    S | Name                          | Summary       | Type
    [cut for simplicity]
      | xorg-x11-driver-input         |
    [cut for simplicity] | package
    i | xorg-x11-driver-video         |
    [cut for simplicity] | package
      | xorg-x11-driver-video         |
    [cut for simplicity] | srcpackage
      | xorg-x11-driver-video-nouveau | FOSS
    nVidia driver   | package
    [cut for simplicity]

    You could imagine the input driver might be missing. Or, if you have nvidia hardware and don't use the proprietary driver, well, nouveau is what you need!

    Likely culprit for users of NVidia and AMD hardware is in the proprietary drivers. You're in for a world of pain - I'd just remove them and re-install once your graphical system works again. For NVidia (the only one I have experience with) I usually just remove anything I see with nvidia in it and install the mentioned nouveau driver. Find more Xorg debugging solutions on this excellent Fedora wiki page. Once startx works, I'd reboot.

    Step 3: does the desktop work?

    Third is finding out if your desktop (plasma desktop, GNOME Shell etc) works. Exit the xterm (note that your mouse has to hover the window before you can type in it) and now start startx without the terminal command:
    Because you're root you have a relatively 'clean' user account (you should never daily use the 'root' account for your desktop, we're just testing here). If it doesn't work, you could attempt to remove the desktop user settings in the root user account. For a KDE Plasma Desktop that means:
    rm -rf ~/.kde4
    Note that I again assume you don't USE this account and the settings are inconsequential. Don't do this on a normal user account, you loose lots of settings, recent files and even data!

    If the problem is in user settings, you should by now be on you to your desktop of choice, logged in as root! If that is indeed the case, skip to the next step. If you're not there, let's find out what is wrong.

    Desktop doesn't come up?

    Ok, step back. xterm did work, Plasma/Shell/XFCE don't? Let's see if we can start them FROM a xterm and catch a glimpse of where we get!
    startx xterm
    Now back in the terminal? Ok, let's start Plasma Desktop as example. type
    and observe KDE attempting to start. Now you should see some messages and hopefully you can take it from here - going any deeper doesn't really fit this blog post, google is your friend from here onwards...

    Step 4: User config broken!

    Now we know where the problem is, at least, approximately: the graphical system works, the desktop works, so it's in the user settings. Time to dig there. 90% certain the issue is in the configuration of your desktop, although it could be an application somehow botching stuff. Let's start with startx and xterm again. Log in from the command line as your user and type
    startx xterm and then startkde or the equivalent for the desktop you're looking for. Observe the failure, see if it tells you anything. If that doesn't help, next up the Real Hard Work: finding out what setting in your ~/.kde4 configuration folder is the culprit.

    I suggest to back up your config folder:
    cp -R ~/.kde4 kde4-config-backup
    Then go in and randomly nuke files and folders until you get the problem. Ok, random is a bit too bad, I'd start removing ~/.kde4/share/config and if that doesn't solve it put it back and remove ~/.kde/share/config/apps instead. One of these two contains the problem, most likely...


    In the end, you'll have to find and solve the problem with googling and simply some hard work... The above is a guide which I personally follow, essentially a heuristic based on lots of fixing. I bet lots of readers have tips and tricks that are far more helpful and I'll happily update this post to include them...

    Hugs and good luck!

    10 June, 2013

    oSC2013 next!

    After Akademy 2013 in Bilbao, we will fly (via Berlin...) to Thessaloniki, Greece, where the openSUSE Conference will take place. Like I argued for Akademy, oSC is a relevant and useful event for the openSUSE folk.

    History - oSC 10, 11 and 12

    This year oSC takes place in Greece, a fact far more relevant than it might seem. The first three openSUSE Conferences I attended took place in Nürnberg. First in a conference center, the third was the legendary oSC2011 in the Zentrifuge, an old factory building creating an absolutely amazing atmosphere. Both events were largely organized by SUSE employees from the Nürnberg office but oSC11 already had a fair involvement of volunteers and a strong focus on BoF sessions and 'getting stuff done'. We had a lively marketing and ambassador team by then. I vividly remember the day before the event, when I rode a van full of crazy geekos by a few stores, buying everything from carpets and plants to lights to dress up the location. Every day we figured out who would staff the bar, organize stuff in the rooms - and moving the chairs was a matter of asking outside if a few folk would be willing to help out. At this event, there was already talk about doing the openSUSE conference in Greece.
    Hallo with openSUSE, LibreOffice, Gentoo

    First Prague

    But going from doing the event in Nue and by SUSE people (with help) to doing it in Greece by volunteers (with help) seemed a big step and the team also had limitations as to the date and time: the event would have to be in May or June. As it was already September when oSC'11 took place, that was very close.

    There came a different proposal from Michal and others in Prague, and with an office there, we decided it made much more sense to do it there and told Kostas that he'd have his oSC in Thessaloniki, but one year later. I joined Michal in scouting for a location in Prague and discovered a local community was about to organize another Linux event a mere two weeks after the openSUSE Conference! I proposed to merge the two, and the format of oSC'12 was born. Like oSC'10 two years earlier, this event tried to focus on collaboration and bringing communities together. I unfortunately had to scale back my involvement in the conference significantly after LinuxTag Berlin in May 2012 due to health issues and barely could make it to the event itself. Meanwhile, the Greeks had already started preparing the organization of oSC'13 and were present with a large team at oSC'12 to help run the show.

    Greece in 2013

    Feedback from the event did show that the openSUSE community wanted more 'Geeko time', so the Greek team has made sure that there will be a good openSUSE focus at the event. Of course, without compromising our open nature: there will be plenty colors besides green. Naturally, SUSE input will be lower than usual - the Nürnberg can't easily take a afternoon off to visit, even a bus trip is not enough. But we have made sure that many central developers will be there and there is a host of great sessions coming - a post about that on news.opensuse.org is coming soon!

    Due to the internal changes at SUSE, I haven't been as much involved in the event as I would have liked but just seeing the conference team work has been amazing. It isn't just a Greek affair, mind you - for example, the logo and much artwork comes from the other side of the world, by the hands of US citizen Anditosan and Brazilian Carlos Ribeiro! And as with the Prague conference, Izabel Valverde again played a major role in handling travel support and sponsors. And we have Robert Schweikert and Henne Vogelsang, working on the program and website, Matt Barringer building OSEM (!!!) and some others.


    I might be overusing that word - but I really, really think oSC'13 will be awesome. As far as it is up to the Greekos organizing it, there's no doubt! And like with Akademy, if you haven't booked yet - you should...

    Have a lot of fun and see you in Greece ;-)

    PS: note that the above is mostly my memory of How Stuff Happened™. There were plenty more people involved, pushing, making it happen. Thanks to all of them, as we're gonna have a great conference in Greece ;-)

    05 June, 2013

    Akademy for everybody

    About six weeks from now the yearly KDE conference 'Akademy' will kick off in Bilbao, Spain! Looking forward to that. I had to ramble a bit on why I think it's worth going there. And a tip for if you still have to book!

    Have not booked yet?

    Aw, I was late, and I'm paying the price, in terms of money and convenience. There's work and family and in my case a dose of always-lateness with this stuff that got in the way. Probably not different for others. But keep in mind - I never met anybody who who was sorry they went through the trouble of going to Akademy! It's worth it...


    Akademy is relevant, useful and fun above and beyond just another Free Software event. Seriously. Even in a world of Android, KDE still builds major Free Desktop stuff. Think about Krita going places lately. Think about how KDE PIM still is arguably the only serious Free enterprise-ready mail-calendar-etc solution on the market. There is plenty more at the event: KParts might get a successor, we move forwards with new task-centered UI paradigms, we move to new devices and more.


    Akademy is important for setting directions. We don't all agree on where KDE is going and that's why we meet. To SET goals and CHECK expectations. That is hard to do over mailing lists, blogs, social media and all that - so we need to talk in person. We're doing new things and it takes a while, often a long while, to get stuff together. We have to address misconceptions, improve common understanding, find out why we disagree. And this works, we're making progress! Nepomuk is now getting the love it needed and same for KDE PIM, the Plasma team can finally implement their ambitious plans without the technical limitations of old thanks to QMLv2 and openGL etc etc.

    And I'm betting that those who think KDE is doing the wrong thing actually have arguments and reasons for that. Are these reasons so vague and unconvincing that nobody will listen? Or would the KDE folk be so stubborn they wouldn't listen to obvious facts? That is either under-estimating who-ever-disagrees or the 300-odd KDE contributors. And both, I think, are undeserving of that.


    Akademy is about more than listening to talks or giving them. Even if you haven't had time or motivation to contribute, if you didn't agree with one thing or another or got yelled at by (or did yell at) somebody, does that matter? KDE is family: family has plenty of disagreements and fights, yet in the end, you all hug and make it up to each other, yes? Being at Akademy is not just about learning new things and deciding on the future of what we do (and, to a large degree, where Free Software for end users is going) but it is also about meeting, having energizing and inspiring conversations, learning from each other, sharing great ideas. Something we all enjoy, don't we?


    I'm sure there'll be a lot of people at Akademy but I think that should include you... Now, about the booking. It will be hard to get a hotel room, esp if you need space for two people, I'm afraid... I booked the first 3 days (Thursday-Friday-Saturday) for a painfully high price in the Holiday Inn Express Bilbao and the rest in RÍA DE BILBAO which is far cheaper.

    And last but not least, if you're going to Akademy and want to make sure all relevant people are there, be sure to talk to those you'd like to have a chat with, convince them to go! And perhaps add the awesome going to Akademy badges to your blog or website!