Ubuntu 11.04 (code name: Natty Narwhal) beta 2 was just released and the final
release is right around the corner. Canonical internal policy is that we
upgrade to the latest in-development release as soon as it goes beta, to help
with bug fixing, test, and quality assurance.
Now, I've been running Natty on my primary desktops (my two laptops) since
before alpha 1, and I've been very impressed with the stability of the core
OS. One of my laptops cannot run Unity though, so I've mostly been a classic
desktop user until recently. My other laptop can run Unity, but compiz and
the wireless driver were too unstable to be usable, that is until just before
beta 1. Still, I diligently updated both machines daily and at least on the
classic desktop, Natty was working great. (Now that beta 1 is out, the
wireless and compiz issues have been cleared up and it's working great too.)
The real test is my beefy workstation. This is a Dell Studio XPS 435MT 12GB,
quad-core i7-920, with an ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics card, running
dual-headed into two Dell 20" 1600x1200 flat panel displays. During the
Maverick cycle I was a little too aggressive in upgrading it, because neither
the free nor the proprietary drivers were ready to handle this configuration
yet. I ended up with a system that either couldn't display any graphics, or
didn't support the dual heads. This did eventually all get resolved before
the final release, but it was kind of painful.
So this time, I was a little gun shy and wanted to do more testing before I
committed to upgrading this machine. Just before Natty beta 1, I dutifully
downloaded the daily liveCD ISO, and booted the machine from CD. On the
surface, things seemed promising …
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I know that the Mailman 3 project is not alone in procrastinating getting
out a release of its major rewrite. It's hard work to finish a rewrite on
your own copious spare time. I was just chatting with Thomas Waldmann of the
Moin project on IRC, and he lamented a similar story about the Moin 2
release. Then he said something that really made me sit up straight:
<ThomasWaldmann> 11.11.11 would be a great date for something :)
Yes, it would! We have the 2011 Google Summer of Code happening soon
(students, you have until April 8th to submit your applications) so many
free and open source software projects will get some great code coming soon.
And November is far enough out that we can plan exactly what a "release"
means. Here's what I propose:
Let's make November 11, 2011 the "Great FLOSS Release Day". If you're working
on an open source project undergoing a major new version rewrite, plan on
doing your release on 11.11.11. It can be a beta or final release, but get
off your butts and make it happen! There's nothing like a good deadline to
motivate me, so Mailman 3 will be there. Add a comment here if you want your
project to be part of the event!
For the last couple of days I've been debugging a fun problem in the Ubuntu
tool called Jockey. Jockey is a tool for managing device drivers on Ubuntu.
It actually contains both a command-line and a graphical front-end, and a dbus
backend service that does all the work (with proper authentication, since it
modifies your system). None of that is terribly relevant to the problem,
although the dbus bit will come back to haunt us later.
What is important is that Jockey is a Python application, written using many
Python modules interfacing to low-level tools such as apt and dbus. The
original bug report was mighty confusing. Aside from not being reproducible
by myself and others, the actual exception made no fricken sense! Basically,
it was code like this that was throwing a TypeError:
_actions = 
# _actions gets appended to at various times and later...
for item in _actions[:]:
# do something
Everyone who reported the problem said the TypeError was getting thrown on
the for-statement line. The exception message indicated that Python was
getting some object that it was trying to convert to an integer, but was
failing. How could you possible get that exception when either making a copy
of a list or iterating over that copy? Was the list corrupted? Was it not
actually a list but some list-like object that was somehow returning
non-integers for its min and max indexes?
To make matters worse, this little code snippet was in Python's standard
library, in the subprocess module. A quick search of Python's bug
database did reveal some recent threads about changes here, made to ensure
that popen objects got properly cleaned up by the garbage collector if they
weren't cleaned up explicitly by the program. Note that we're using Python
2.7 here, and after some reading …
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My friends and family often ask me what I do at my job. It's easy to
understand when my one brother says he's a tax accountant, but not so easy
to explain the complex world of open source software development I live in.
Sometimes I say something to the effect: well, you know what Windows is, and
you know what the Mac is right? We're building a third alternative called
Ubuntu that is free, Linux-based and in most cases, much better. Mention
that you won't get viruses and it can easily breathe new life into that old
slow PC you shudder to turn on, and people at least nod their heads
enthusiastically, even if they don't fully get it.
I've been incredibly fortunate in my professional career, to have been able to
share the software I write with the world for almost 30 years. I started
working for a very cool research lab with the US Federal government while
still in high school. We had a UUCP connection and were on the early
Arpanet, and because we were funded by the US taxpayer, our software was not
subject to copyright. This meant that we could share our code with other
people on Usenet and elsewhere, collaborate with them, accept their
suggestions and improvements, and hopefully make their lives a little better,
just as others around the world did for us. It was free and open source
software before such terms were coined.
I've never had a "real job" in the sense of slaving away in a windowless cube
writing solely proprietary software that would never see the light of day.
Even the closed source shops I've worked at have been invested somehow in
free software, and with varying degrees of persuasion, have both benefited
from and contributed to the …
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Richard Jones is working on a talk for PyCon Australia and asked me
about the history of the Zen of Python, Tim Peters' eternal words of
wisdom, often quoted, on the essential truths of Python. At first, I couldn't
find a reference to the first publication of this list, but then I did a
better search of my archives and found that it was originally sent to the
python-list mailing list on June 4, 1999, under the subject "The Python
Interestingly enough, because I couldn't find that first reference
immediately, I went back into my archives and researched the "this" module.
Did you know that if you type the following at a modern Python interpreter,
you get the Zen of Python?
% python3 -c "import this"
The Zen of Python, by Tim Peters
Beautiful is better than ugly.
Explicit is better than implicit.
Simple is better than complex.
Complex is better than complicated.
Flat is better than nested.
Sparse is better than dense.
Special cases aren't special enough to break the rules.
Although practicality beats purity.
Errors should never pass silently.
Unless explicitly silenced.
In the face of ambiguity, refuse the temptation to guess.
There should be one-- and preferably only one --obvious way to do it.
Although that way may not be obvious at first unless you're Dutch.
Now is better than never.
Although never is often better than *right* now.
If the implementation is hard to explain, it's a bad idea.
If the implementation is easy to explain, it may be a good idea.
Namespaces are one honking great idea -- let's do more of those!
The story behind "import this" is kind of funny, and occurred totally behind
the scenes, so I thought it might be interesting to relate how it happened …
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I'm doing some work these days on trying to get Python 2.7 as the default
Python in the next version of Ubuntu, Maverick Meerkat (10.10). This work
will occasionally require me to break my machine by installing experimental
packages. That's a good and useful thing because I want to test various
potentially disruptive changes before I think about unleashing them on the
world. This is where virtual machines really shine!
To be efficient, I need a really fast turnaround from known good state, to
broken state, back to known good state. In the past, I've used VMware Fusion
on my Mac to create a VM, then take a live snapshot of the disk before making
my changes. It was really easy then to revert to the last known good
snapshot, try something else and iterate.
But lately Fusion has sprouted a nasty habit of freezing the host OS, such
that a hard reboot is necessary. This will inevitably cause havoc on the
host, by losing settings, trashing mail, corrupting VMs, etc. VMware can't
reproduce the problem but it happens every time to me, and it hurts, so I'm
not doing that any more :).
Back to my Lucid host and libvirt/kvm and the sanctuary of FLOSS. It's
really easy to create new VMs, and there are several ways of doing it, from
virt-manager to vmbuilder to straight up kvm (thanks Colin for some
recipes). The problem is that none of these are exactly fast to go from
bare metal to working Maverick VM with all the known good extras I need (like
openssh-server and bzr, plus my comfortable development environment).
I didn't find a really good fit for vmbuilder or the kvm commands, and I'm not
smart enough to use the libvirt command line tools, but I think …
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In the early part of 2010, we started a contest for a new GNU Mailman logo.
Our old logo, donated by the Dragon de Monsyne had served us well for many
years, but it felt like we needed a refresh. Besides, we wanted a nice
scalable graphic that we could use in many more situations. So we solicited
entries and then conducted a poll. Today I am very pleased to announce the
By better than 2-to-1, this submission by Andrija Arsic was voted as best logo
by the Mailman community. Congratulations Andrija!
While we have yet to re-brand the website and software to include the new
logo, we'll start using it immediately. If you'd like to help with any
redesign, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A little bit about Andrija: originally from Trstenik, Serbia and now studying
IT technology in Belgrade, Andrija is a self-employed, part-time graphic
designer, specialising in the fields of corporate identity (logo) design, web
design, print design and branding with the majority of his time spent
designing and implementing marketing promotions for businesses such as logos,
websites, letterhead, business cards, packaging and more. I'm glad that he
also contributes to free software, as I think his winning logo is spectacular.
My thanks and appreciation to all the artists who contributed logos to the
contest. All the designs are very nice, and in their own way, capture the
spirit of GNU Mailman.
My friend Tim is working on a very cool Bazaar-backed wiki project and he
asked me to package it up for Ubuntu. I'm getting pretty good at packaging
Python projects, but I always like the practice because each time it gets a
little smoother. This one I managed to package in about 10 minutes so I
thought I'd outline the very easy process.
First of all, you want to have a good setup.py, and if you like to cargo
cult, you can start with this one. I highly recommend using
Distribute instead of setuptools, and in fact the former is what Ubuntu gives
you by default. I really like adding the distribute_setup.py which gives
you nice features like being able to do python setup.py test and many other
things. See lines 18 and 19 in the above referenced setup.py file.
The next thing you'll want is Andrew Straw's fine stdeb package, which you
can get on Ubuntu with sudo apt-get install python-stdeb. This package is
going to bootstrap your debian/ directory from your setup.py file.
It's not perfectly suited to the task (yet, Andrew assures me :), but we can
make it work!
These days, I host all of my packages in Bazaar on Launchpad, which is going
to make some of the following steps really easy. If you use a different
hosting site or a different version control system, you will have to build
your Ubuntu package using more traditional means. That's okay, once you have
your debian/ directory, it'll be fairly easy (but not as easy as described
here). If you do use Bazaar, you'll just want to make sure you have the
bzr-builddeb plugin. Just do sudo apt-get install bzr-builddeb on
Ubuntu and you should get everything you need.
Okay, so now you …
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Today I finally swapped my last Gentoo server for an Ubuntu 10.04 LTS
server. Gentoo has served me well over these many years, but with my emerge
updates growing to several pages (meaning, I was waaaay behind on updates with
almost no hope of catching up) it was long past time to switch. I'd moved my
internal server over to Ubuntu during the Karmic cycle, but that was a much
easier switch. This one was tougher because I had several interdependent
externally facing services: web, mail, sftp, and Mailman.
The real trick to making this go smoothly was to set up a virtual machine
in which to install, configure and progressively deploy the new services. My
primary desktop machine is a honkin' big i7-920 quad-core Dell with 12GB of
RAM, so it's perfectly suited for running lots of VMs. In fact, I have
several Ubuntu, Debian and even Windows VMs that I use during my normal
development of Ubuntu and Python. However, once I had the new server ready to
go, I wanted to be able to quickly swap it into the real hardware. So I
purchased a 160GB IDE drive (since the h/w it was going into was too old to
support SATA, but still perfectly good for a simple Linux server!) and a USB
drive enclosure. I dropped the new disk into the enclosure, mounted it on the
Ubuntu desktop and created a virtual machine using the USB drive as its virtio
It was then a pretty simple matter of installing Ubuntu 10.04 on this USB
drive-backed VM, giving the VM an IP address on my local network, and
installing all the services I wanted. I could even register the VM with
Landscape to easily keep it up-to-date as I took my sweet time …
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So I got my new Mac Book Pro, named it "hemispheres" as mentioned in my
previous post. I'm very happy with this machine, and here are my early
The SSD is pure win. It's quiet, cool, and fast. The biggest immediate
downside of course is the cost, but as a refurb, this option was made much
more affordable. It'll be interesting to see how it performs over time as
there are known issues with the long-term use of the technology.
My two biggest concerns were the screen and the keyboard. I absolutely love
my previous generation MBP keyboard, as it's about the only laptop I can
comfortably use for 8 hours a day. The unibody MBPs have a completely
different keyboard, with a different feel, but I hadn't used one for a long
hacking session so I was unsure how it would feel after a few hours under my
hands. I'm very relieved to say that while it has a different feel, it's
still incredibly comfortable to use. Apple seems to know what they're doing.
I have had a few problems hitting the right keys, most notably not quite
getting the shift-2 chord right to produce an @ sign. The reach is a little
bit longer it seems so I often end up just typing a "2", somehow missing the
shift combination. I have a few other common typing errors, but for the most
part I'm getting used to it.
The other big uncertainty was the antiglare screen. I absolutely love the
matte screen on my old MBP and hate hate HATE the glossy screens that seem
to come on most laptops today. Honestly, if the MBP didn't offer a matte
screen as an option, I probably wouldn't have bought it. Of course, now it's
a $50 upcharge, but I …
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