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Tuesday, March 17, 2015
How do you upgrade your distro? A tale of two workarounds
Every classic Linuxer would know why it's very handy to dedicate a separate partition for the /home folder of your tree: you could in theory share it between multiple OSs that you installed in your box (which you choose to run when you start your computer).
Now, I'm guessing that many people reading and nodding to the above, will also know that sharing /home/ is one thing, sharing $HOME (/home/yourUserName) is a completely different beast.
For example: you have a stable distro installed in your box; you decide to install a new version of that distro along the old one, in the same box. You run the new distro with a new account tied to the old /home/yourUserName folder: KABOOM!!! Weird things start happening. Among these:
- The newer versions of your desktop or desktop programs don't run properly with the settings saved in your .dotDirectories (they are to blame because they didn't probably have a settings-conversion feature).
- The newer versions of your desktop or desktop programs have a buggy settings-conversion feature; because your program does not run properly, or as well as it would have run if it had been ran for the first time with no settings saved at all.
- The newer versions of your non-buggy desktop or desktop programs convert your settings to a new format. Then when you go back and run your old distro again, your old-versioned programs stop working because they see settings in a new format which they don't understand. (This is impossible to fix, or very hard.) It's very important that this scenario works, because the migration to the new version of your distro may not be immediate, it may take you some days to figure everything out, and until that happens, you want to still be able to run the stable version of your desktop and desktop programs
To workaround these problems, I have a strategy: I use a different /home/ sub-directory for each distro installed in my system. For example, for distro X version A.B I use /home/knocteXAB/, for distro Y version C.D I use /home/knocteYCD/. The advantage about this is that you can migrate your settings manually and at your own pace. But then, you may be asking, how to really take advantage of sharing the /home folder when using this technique?
Easy: I keep non-settings data (mainly the non-dotfiles) in a different /home/ folder with no associated account in any of the distros. For example: /home/knocte/ (no version suffix). Then, from each of the suffixed /home/ subfolders, I setup symlinks to this other folder, setting the appropriate permissions. For instance:
- /home/knocteXAB/Music -> /home/knocte/Music
- /home/knocteXAB/Documents -> /home/knocte/Documents
- /home/knocteYCD/Music -> /home/knocte/Music
- /home/knocteYCD/Documents -> /home/knocte/Documents
- Debugger not stopping on breakpoints.
- Builds breaking with obscure error messages.
- Debugger opening file in the IDE which was already open, duplicating two tabs for the same file.
So I had to use a workaround for my workaround: clone all my projects in $HOME instead of /home/knocte/Documents/Code/OpenSource/ (yah, I'm this organized ;) ).
I've been trying to fix these problems for a while, without much time on my hands.
But the last weeks a magical thing happened: I decided to finally sit down and try to fix the last two remaining, and my patches were all accepted and merged last week! (at least all the ones fixing symlink-related problems), woo!!!
So the lessons to learn here are:
- Even the slickest workarounds have problems. Try to fix or report settings-conversion bugs!!
- Don't ever quit trying to fix a problem. Some day you'll have the solution and you will realize it was simpler than you thought.
- realpath is your friend.
- MonoDevelop (master branch) is now less buggy and as amazing as (or more than) ever (</PUBLIC_SERVICE_ANNOUNCEMENT>).
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Banshee GSoC-2014 projects under Gnome umbrella
This time, Google has given plenty of slots to the GNOME project, so we could accept many participants, including 3 brilliant students to work on the Banshee project. In case they haven't blogged about it, or didn't give much detail, I'll elaborate a bit about what they will be aiming to do these months:
- Nicholas Little will be working on creating a new extension for Bluetooth synchronization, and if time permits, refactoring our MTP support. In regards to the latter, if you have an Android phone you might have experienced some bugs getting it to work with Banshee lately (our MassStorage synchronization support is great, but the latest versions of Android have been deprecating this mode in favour of MTP, which we never supported very well); we have been working hard on fixing them, but Nicholas is going to try to give it that extra push at the end of the summer, which I'm confident he will do very well (he was the developer who brought Symbian support for the masses -or rather, for his Nokia N95 ;) -, on Banshee 2.9.0). And you may be wondering, why do we need Bluetooth sync? Well, we understand that it's much slower than USB or Wifi, but:
- USB can work for the first sync, but whenever you update your library, I never remember to connect my phone again with my cable, or I'm too lazy to do it. Now imagine that whenever your phone is near your computer (and of course if you have Banshee running), they could negotiate together to update the sync without the need of moving a finger!
- Wifi could work also for the use case I just explained, but getting Wifi to work, compared to Bluetooth, would involve creating an app for the phone that could talk with Banshee. And we all know what are the problems associated with that: we would need to be cross-platform for at least the 3 main mobile platforms out there (well, iOS wouldn't even work neither with this nor with Bluetooth, because there are no public APIs to integrate with the music database of the OS, sigh iTunes...), and that means a lot of maintenance burden (even if we choose a same-language native platform like Xamarin), and a user experience that is not so seamless (as it would require the user to install an app first).
- Marcin Kolny, which has convinced us that he will do a great job given his great patches and the fact that he's already very involved in opensource (maintainer of C++ bindings to GStreamer if I recall correctly), will be working on integration with AcoustID. To summarize it very bluntly, AcoustID is the open-source alternative to Shazam, so thanks to this, if you have many tracks in your library which didn't get ripped properly with tags, or you got from some friend which is not very metadata-driven ;) then you will be able to fix this situation! We will be likely reusing the MetadataFixer extension that we already have in Banshee, to not reinvent the UI wheel.
- Dmitriy Petukhov, a very motivated Russian student, will be helping us get two extensions in shape, which were developed in the last GSoC (more details about this in my previous blog post), but were not ready for mainstream yet. The FanArt.TV extension, which retrieves artist logos and shows them next to your album icons, needs some caching (we could even violate FanArt.TV service's ToS if we don't do this) and UI polish (our ListView widget doesn't play well with differently-sized images, so we need to modify this custom GTK widget to allow rendering rows with different heights). The SongKick extension works great, but also needs caching, and it especially needs GeoLocation to maybe even work autonomously (imagine, you don't even know what SongKick is, and because you installed the banshee-community-extensions package of your distro, you suddenly get told that one of your favorite bands is soon playing a gig near your city!).
I'm very happy about starting the mentoring of these projects this year. And I'm specially jealous about my students... I became mentor of GSoC myself without being GSoC student first! (Maybe I should switch roles in the future?)
Wish them good luck! It was actually just yesterday when GSoC really started! (gotta love mondays)
UPDATE: Fixed embarrassing typo: I meant AcoustID, not OpenID!
Monday, May 05, 2014
GSoC 2013 with Gnome
In summer 2013, Tomasz Maczynski worked on Banshee as a GSoC student, and he did great work! He developed a SongKick extension, and a FanArt.tv one. Both were worked on in the banshee-community-extensions repository. They work very well but there are a few downsides about this work, which we didn't have time to fix:
- The FanArt.TV extension depended on some Banshee API that hasn't been added yet to mainline. The patch to add it lived in bugzilla for a while, in a bug about a feature request to have images in the artist list. The reason for not committing the patch even if I had already reviewed it was because I was wary about it, since it allowed FanArt.TV to hook its ArtistList widget, but wouldn't be really extension friendly. What I mean is that if there was other extension that wanted to also attach a different ArtistList, it would conflict with FanArt extension when enabled at the same time. The ideal thing would be to expose this functionality as an extension point, so that if more than one extension attached a new kind of ArtistList widget, the user could switch between the two from the UI when both extensions were enabled. When I mentioned this in the bug, awesome Banshee-extension developer Frank Ziegler jumped in and created the extension interface necessary for this. I've been reviewing the patches in the last days (couldn't do it before because I really wanted to release 2.9.1 and 2.6.2 versions before landing this work) and I'll likely commit them this week.
- The FanART.TV extension uses Hyena's ListView widget to show images. This is the main widget that Banshee uses for showing the tracks in the main view. It's a great custom widget because it allows very fast rendering of data coming from an SQLite database, but it wasn't optimized for rendering images. The main disadvantage of it is in the case that images have different heights, because the ListView will just allocate a height for each row equal to the tallest of the images used. This means that the widget shown could be a bit ugly if you have many artists in your library and some of them have very differently sized images. Tomasz worked on this a bit, but couldn't finish it because of lack of time (we have a WIP patch). But fortunately this will be fixed this summer!
- Both SongKick and FanArt.TV don't implement caching yet. This is not only important to save bandwidth from the point of view of the client, but also from the point of view of the server! (We could even violate their ToS if we didn't implement this, IIRC.) Fortunately this will be fixed this summer!
- SongKick extension provides several ways to discover gigs: searching by city, by artist, etc. It even suggests you artists extracted from your library that composed songs which you marked with a high rating! But IMO this is not enough, SongKick extension should even be smarter and query ahead of time looking for your favorite artists *and* near your area (doing the latter via GeoLocation). Fortunately this will be fixed this summer! (and we will use Gnome infrastructure for it)
That is all folks! Stay tuned for the next blog post, which will explain the plan for GSoC 2014 (this year I get to mentor three students!).
Sunday, May 04, 2014
Belated Gnome .NET Hackfest post
- I got my house refurbished in the last months, which has been such a long planning endeavour, and a real stressful PITA while it was being done.
- Before the above started, and after it was finished, I had to move, so that's 2 moves! (I hate moving)
- I've been kind of busy in regards to Gnome-related contributions: we released Banshee 2.6.2, GStreamer-Sharp 0.99.0, Banshee 2.9.1, and a big etcetera (including pre-mentoring for GSoC! more about that in a subsequent post).
- Hylke Bons, sparkleshare creator, Red Hat designer.
- Mirco Bauer, smuxi creator and debian developer (mono packager).
- Jo Shields, debian developer (mono packager), Collabora sysadmin.
- Robert Nordan, Pinta contributor.
- Jared Jennings, Tomboy contributor.
- Stephen Shaw, ex-Novell coworker (build developer), and currently at Xamarin. (Yes, I was Stephen's team-mate when at Novell, but had never met him in person!)
- Stefan Hammer, Tomboy contributor and hackfest local-host.
- Timo Dörr, Tomboy and Banshee contributor, GSoC student.
- Stephan Sundermann, GSoC student for GStreamerSharp and Bindinator.
(BTW I didn't include the awesome Bertrand Lorentz, fellow Banshee co-maintainer and GtkSharp gatekeeper, in the list, because I had already met him before, it wasn't my first time!).
And it was with the latter Stephan (not Stefan) the one I ended up spending more time with, because we decided to work on the new GStreamerSharp bindings since the 2nd day of the hackfest (the 1st day I mainly worked with Bertrand to release Banshee 2.9.0, our first Gtk3 compatible release, which he already blogged about).
So what was special about this work?
- GStreamerSharp 0.10.x releases were not compatible with GStreamer 1.x releases, so this had to be fixed soon. However, much of the architecture of this old version of the bindings used many manually crafted binding code.
- Stephan, by using the new Bindinator (a GObjectIntrospection metadata parser that outputs GAPI metadata, that allows generating .NET bindings, created by Andreia Gaita) in his GSoC, created a better foundation for the new bindings.
- He targetted GI metadata from GStreamer 1.0 and 1.2 versions (the jump from 0.10 to 1.0 was a big and not easy leap, since lots of APIs were modified and deprecated).
- We needed to polish them enough to make Banshee be able to consume them without glitches.
Main kudos should go to him though. I mainly added Banshee expertise, gtk-sharp contributing expertise, and lots of motivation (or at least I thought).
We had a big success: a Banshee playing audio with GStreamerSharp. Unfortunately video playback was freezing. But some months later after the hackfest we fixed it, and we released first GStreamerSharp 1.0 preview, which we called "0.99.0", and we released the first Banshee release that depends on this work: 2.9.1.
And it was my first time in Austria (and in Vienna). Overall a great experience, and I need to mention our awesome sponsors:
Monday, October 28, 2013
Launchpad pull request
Stop right there! The content of this blog post has been migrated to this question in stackoverflow. Move on, nothing to see here.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Modernizing blam's autotools (or shaving the yak to move out from GoogleReader...)
Yes, I've been victim of Google's cuts too... And I was wondering, where should I move? Feedly? ThingyBob? Well, I shouldn't make the same mistake twice, right?
Actually, some time ago I was using a desktop app to avoid relying on software that I cannot control (yes, vendor lock-in, the most important thing that open source tries to solve, right?): Thunderbird. But somehow the convenience of a web app (that I can access from any computer) and the hassle of using my mail client for RSS reading made me move to the web.
I should be able to find a replacement that no company or individual can "take down", and which feels less clunky than Thunderbird for reading RSS. So, enter blam (in the future I'll figure out how to sync its state between computers, maybe using SparkleShare?, to achieve that same convenience that a web-app provides), that Gnome app that has strangely managed to not catch my eye until now...
Well, maybe because if I install it from debian sid and I try to import my very first RSS feed from my GoogleReader list it doesn't work? Well, apparently it is a bug that is already fixed upstream, thanks to Carlos which has modernized the way that the program deals with XML and serialization.
Then I went ahead and tried to compile master myself... and guess what, the autogen.sh execution fails. Here the yak shaving begins, when I feel like this when trying to fix the autotools stuff:
Fortunately, after some tinkering (and some copy&paste from banshee's build scripts), I managed to fix the problem, and also modernized a bit some things (like using the brand new ".ac" extension instead of ".in" for the configure script, or using properly the AC_INIT and AM_AUTOMAKE_INIT macros,...).
Anyway, the real thing to highlight here is that while I was fixing this stuff and pushing to the repository...
... I saw some really good stuff committed by Carlos: using the new .NET 4.5 C# async patterns to get rid of those ugly callbacks! Kudos to him.
And if you're willing to help more with our autotools housekeeping, please do, I still feel this autogen.sh is way too long and needs some ironing.
* And if you're wondering what's up with GSoC (aka Google Summer of Code):
- I had Nicholas Little lined up to work on Rygel+Banshee integration, but sadly he couldn't apply due to work commitments (hopefully he will still work with me on it in his spare time).
- I had Rashid Khan lined up to work on Cydin+Banshee integration, but sadly there were not enough GSoC spots for him :( (fortuntately he told me he still wanted to work on it with me in his spare time).
- I had Tomasz Maczyński lined up to work on Banshee integration with more REST APIs, and fortunately he was selected! So expect some nice FanArt.TV and SongKick plugins soon!
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
Apple and LastFM can still receive open source love
But contradicting what you may think, open source is still friendly to them.
If you have an Apple device supported by libgpod* and you're an avid user of LastFM's scrobbling feature, you can today configure Banshee to send all the songs that were played on your device to your LastFM account the next time you connect your device while you have Banshee running.
Pretty handy, especially if you own a device that doesn't have internet connection these days (something definitely not on the rise). You should thank our new Banshee developer Phil Trimble for doing an awesome job on implementing this feature (and on resisting to not sending me to hell when I made the patch reviews...).
The next version of Banshee, in the 2.5.x series, should include this feature. Until then, hold on to your seats! (or compile it yourself from master ;) )
* Beware: not the last generation ones! you would have to donate to libgpod project if you want those recognised.
PS: If you're a developer and want to extend this feature to other kind of devices, you should just implement the interface IBatchScrobblerSource in the corresponding Source class of your device. If you want to make it scrobble to a different service than LastFM, just create a Banshee addin (simple sample here) that subscribes to the ServiceManager.SourceManager.SourceAdded event to then later subscribe to the IBatchScrobbleSource.ReadyToScrobble event from it, to later make the corresponding HttpWebRequests to the scrobbling service.