{March 18, 2008}   olpc and eee impressions

so I’ve had my XO for… over a week now. haven’t had much time to play with it, though. tonight there was a vanlug meeting specifically about the olpc, so I showed up and learnt quite a bit.

when I first got the olpc, I intentionally avoided looking anything up online. I wanted to play around on my own for a while and see how hard it was to figure things out. some things I got right away, some I still don’t get. just this evening I found out that turning the brightness all the way down puts it into black&white mode. I appear to have a “break my desktop” key (top row, second from the right) that often just does nothing… not sure what that’s about, but it isn’t on hte keyboard shortcuts page. I’ve certainly gotten over the size of the olpc; it seems big and heavy now. I swear the darn thing has *grown* :P

at the meeting there were about six other XOs, and one Eee. my most important discovery was that everyone else there had upgraded their xo: I was running old software, and most of my issues had already been fixed. :) yay. there was one XO running xfce there; the rest were all using the annoying sugar interface. (yes, it is annoying. it’s innovative and interesting, but still damn annoying. I want my right-click back!)

I was concerned about the lack of suspend/hibernate, and no apparent lid switch (when the laptop was closed I could see the screen’s light coming out the cracks) – but those seem to be fixed in the latest software. wireless strength isn’t as good as my lovely asus m5n, but nothing is as good as that laptop when it comes to wireless. I love the screen flipping, but the arrow buttons beside the screen don’t rotate with the screen, so left is down and it hurts my brain… but I expect that’s fixable, so I’ll have to report it.

the keyboard is a little… quirky. if you press keys left to right it works as expected, but right to left you have to release one key before hitting the next (sorta – it’s hard to explain without a demo in tamtamjam) so I keep typing “tset” instead of “test”. I don’t have much of an issue with the size, though – I have small hands. :) I just wish the fn key was on the right, so that I could pgup more easily… oh, but this evening someone showed me that the game buttons are actually pgup, pgdn, home and end – so maybe that won’t be so annoying after all. :) I do wish the touchpad had tapping and scrolling, though. I hope that’s something software can change. as for battery life, it seems to be a couple of hours – certainly better than this old laptop (lasts less than 45 minutes these days).

the only real concern that remained in my mind after the meeting was the durability. this thing has been advertised as being able to survive a fair amount of abuse and weather, but I see little cracks between the pieces of plastic that make up the case, and some of them kinda move a bit if I press on them. I love the rubber keyboard ’cause I won’t get crumbs or dog hair in it, but that rubber seems to have a tiny gap where it meets the rest of the case, so I think that it wouldn’t fare much better than any other laptop if a glass of juice were dropped on it. I certainly wouldn’t want my XO being caught out in the rain, or taken to the beach where sand could get in the cracks. it does at least look like it could survive being dropped on the floor – unlike the eee. :)

as for the Eee, I did get to spend a while looking at it… it was smaller and lighter than the XO. someone had installed xfce on that too (I thought it was gnome when I first saw it) because he didn’t like the xandros kde-based interface (I saw a glimpse of this interface, and it did look kinda lame). the speakers weren’t bad, the general design reminded me of my lovely m5n (I like asus design) and the feel of the keyboard was much better, even if it was doomed to collect crumbs. the guy showing it off told me that the reliability of the eee wasn’t great, though. the spacebar on the keyboard wasn’t quite straight, little things like that… and of course it’s more fragile.

so, in general the eee beat the XO at being shiny, and it has more resources for less weight, but the XO wins in terms of cool hardware. flipping the screen around is still fun, and that handle is useful given how often I walk around with a laptop balanced on my hand (hey, at least I’m not the one balancing it on my chin ;) now I just have to find the time to install kde4 on this thing so that I can actually do useful stuff with it…

{March 17, 2008}   activity switching committed

after a bit more bugfixing and cleanup, I committed the code I was blogging about the other day. there hasn’t been any UI change, but if you kquitapp plasma and edit your plasma-appletsrc to contain a second desktop containment (just copy&paste, remember to change the UID), you’ll be able to zoom out and switch between the two. :)
next up: a button for adding new ones.

I guess I really should blog about my olpc now.

I’m working on desktop containment switching. today, despite many distractions, I gained the ability to zoom into different activities! yay! it took very little code; the hard part was wrapping my head around how all the bits and pieces worked so that I could see which little bit of code to tweak.

no screenshot today; I’ll post one when we have an ‘add activity’ button. :)

in other news, having a life again is fun. vancouver continues to be awesome. despite the rain.

{March 13, 2008}   I can has containments?

after aaron’s talk of using different containments for different behaviour, I decided to try making one myself. it’s been pretty easy so far: I did some copy-and-paste, a lot of deleting, then added a few lines and had my very own minimalist desktop. :)

it’s not much to look at, being just a solid colour that matches the plasma theme, so the obligatory screenshot shows it zoomed out, on the left. yes, it also happens to show a few bugs in trunk.

{March 13, 2008}   making sense of plasma

there’s a lot of information about plasma out there. really, there is. the problem is that it’s scattered randomly across teh intarwebs, so finding the information you actually want is really… not feasible. it ends up being far easier to ask people who already know, which sucks up their time, and then they don’t get to code as much (which leads to grumpiness).

so, we decided it’s about time something was done about this. as I was planning stuff in my head, aaron made a post on the mailinglist, and so then I got my act together and set up a wiki page to co-ordinate efforts.

the idea is that anyone who has some free time can come along, pick a month’s worth of data (or some other data they know of that’s not listed), pull out all the useful information, sort it and post it on the wiki. eventually I’m hoping that we’ll end up with a nice pile of data that can be cleaned up into something that might someday resemble documentation, or at least make proper documentation a less painful task. :)

I, uh, kinda got disctracted by code and… didn’t actually *do* any work on gathering data myself… yet… but we have a few people helping out already, yay :) (grundleborg and mmauder, thank you!!)

this kind of work doesn’t require any coding ability. it’s a great way to contribute to plasma. please, help out!

{March 10, 2008}   hangzhou, and home

I’m a bit late in blogging about hangzhou. too busy having fun. :)

I got back to hangzhou wednesday evening, got a room (in the dorm when I used to live) and had yummy korean food. didn’t manage to find any net access that night, but the comparative luxury of having a bathroom 3 feet from my bed was worth it :) I got a room in one of the buildings with new air conditioning too, so the room was all warm and comfortable :)

in the morning I went and got my suitcases, and somehow managed to stuff a few more things into them… I got a chance to check email, realised my flight was half an hour earlier than I thought it was… but didn’t worry too much ’cause I had plenty of time. I was planning to catch either the 12:30 or 1:30 bus to the airport, since it was supposed to take 3 hours, and my flight was at 6.

when I was done repacking and dealing with mail, I had to wait for my friend to finish his shower, then we dragged my suitcases out and found a taxi. I got to the bus station at 12:35, so I had loads of time to wait for the 1:30 bus. since I hadn’t got around to eating yet, some nice guard helped me get instant noodles. yay food-like-things. when the bus driver showed up at 1, he asked me when my flight was, and then got into a long converstaion with some other employee… he wasn’t too happy. thought I might not arrive in time, and kept telling me it was ‘weixian’, which usually translates as ‘dangerous’. he told me several times that I should’ve taken the previous bus… but, zenme ban? :P what can I do about it? it was a bit late for that. he said that the fastest he could go would take 3 1/2 hours, which would mean arriving at 5, but it would probably take longer… I prepared myself for a mad dash through the airport, tried to stay calm despite his nagging, and waited for the bus to leave. Two other people showed up to take the bus, and he got them to warn me some more in broken english. I was hoping that he was exaggerating (chinese people seem to have a tendency to make me worry about things I don’t really need to worry about) and decided that the best thing I could do at this point was have faith in the Armitage luck (something I’ve really been pushing lately).

so, we finally set off, and he was driving fast the whole time, weaving between other cars and trucks. we arrived at the airport at 4:15 – *less* than three hours. :) and that was after he took a small detour to let the other two people off at some hotel. I had plenty of time to sit around and wait for the plane. :)

as for the plane flight… I think I almost *like* flying at this time of year. almost. ;) there were lots of empty seats, so I had two to myself, and the vegetarian meals tasted quite good (partially because I’d had nothing but instant noodles that day, I bet). I alternated between watching movies and unsuccessfully attempting sleep.

it’s still kinda hard to believe I’m back in canada. my first night back I had toast, and grilled cheese :) yay food! every meal I’ve had so far has tasted delicious. I have my bike again, and I have a shiny new olpc to play with, and lots of people to see… I don’t think I’m gonna be online much this week. too busy having fun. :)

{March 5, 2008}   reading chinese menus

I’ve noticed that reading menus is a lot easier these days.

I don’t think it’s that I know more words… most of my vocabulary has nothing to do with food. I’m still usually just looking for dishes that are familiar, and avoiding anything with a meat character. I think the key is that I recognise characters *faster* now, and the one I’m searching for starts to pop out of the page, the way english words do when I’m searching for them. my mind’s starting to make those connections and wire itself up for processing chinese characters as actual language, not pictures.

this reminds me of a language-game idea I had, that I never wrote… a kinda wordsearch-like game where you just show a grid of random characters and the user has to click a certain one as fast as possible. a nice simple little timed game. options could be added to have multiple instances of the character to find, or to find whole words instead, maybe have a pretty svg restaurant theme in the background…

{March 5, 2008}   delay

I seem to remember making some kind of promise about multiple desktop-containments, and getting stuff done this week. whoops.
my brain is fried. I haven’t been sleeping well. I feel like I can’t code my way out of a paper bag right now. I don’t trust my own judgement in general.
so, no shiny desktop improvements from me, at least not this week. sorry. I need to recharge.

{March 4, 2008}   shanghai

[another long post; wrote it last night]

whew. what a day!
I’d forgotten about the lack of central heating in the south. ohhh the cold. I do not like how cold I am. I do not like it, sam-I-am.

I meant to get up early and wander around, but of course that never happens; by the time I’d convinced myself to wake up and leave the relative almost-warmth of bed, then showered and checked email, it was already lunchtime. I wandered out and gawked at things for a while, and evenutally found myself in some underground shopping area – the standard chinese tourist shops with bags, watches, jewellery and other knicknacks.
I looked around for a while, and remembered that my mum wants another watch (I don’t know how she does it but no watch lasts even a year without breaking in some way or another). I was so surprised to find some watches that actually looked good, I bought two of them. at the price the girl was asking; 30 kuai each. I’m sure they can’t have been worth more than ten; in fact, on my way out I caught sight of some similar watches with marked prices – 28 kuai. yep, I’m a sucker. (at least I had my wits about me when I was buying clothing in beijing).

I wandered along the street a bit more, and some chinese guy started chatting with me… he had a standard phishing story about being only 15 years old, running away from home and looking for work – all bullshit I’m sure, but I bought him a cheap lunch anyways ’cause he was fun to talk to.

not long after getting rid of him, two girls came up – their story was that they were students doing an art exhibition. :) I let them pull me along to go see their ‘art’ – the standard scroll paintings that everyone swears they made themselves. they did have some silk paintings I hadn’t seen before, though, and those were pretty. I ended up buying one ofthem for 55 kuai – a ridiculous price I’m sure, but they were asking 50 for the cheapest paper scrolls that I know areworth under 10 kuai, and I made the mistake of saying I’d pay 50 for the nice silk painting not the little paper one… luckily 55 was all I had in my wallet at the time. :) they were fun to chat with, though. everyone’s been fascinated by my water thingummy today – I can never remember what to call those plastic water-sacks with the tube, but I dunno why everyone doesn’t buy them. they really are convenient.

After that I wandered until I reached the small strips of flowers and grass that were marked as a big green area on my map :P I was just turning around to wander back when some people saw me juggling and were quite interested… turns out they were tourists from some other part of china, around my age. it was a while before I convinced myself they really were just tourists and not part of some elaborate plot to part me from more of my money. ;) they were about to go buy tickets for some acrobatics show, and I decided to tag along. unfortunately the tickets cost a bit more than what I hadon me (minus the money tagged as ‘needed for survival’) and there was a charge for using plastic, so one of the guys paid for all four tickets and we headed to an ATM to pay him back. That was kinda.. very stupid. I’d already had to go to three ATMs in beijing to get my card to work. this time we went to… I think four ATMs, and then we went into a bank, where there was a minimum withdrawal of 1000 plus a 30 kuai service fee… which didn’t matter, because there was some kind of error again. I even tried my visa in an ATM, guessing at the pin # (I remember 3 of the 4 digits). we went back to the ticket-selling place and got them to try charging the ticket to either of my cards… while they were fiddling I realised the tickets were nonrefundable, and started to stress out. strange thing was, when they tried my debit card they never asked for my pin and said that the machine said there wasn’t enough money, so they must’ve been outright doing something wrong htere… anyways, they said there was an atm across the street that would surely work – I didn’t believe that, but we went anyways… and it actually worked. I have no fucking clue why, but I finally managed to get money, thank god.

and then one of the guys realised he’d left his bag back at the ticket office. doh. :) he ran back to get it and I headed off to the hostel.

I have a feeling that either my bank is having network issues, or my cards themselves are messed up, because that was pretty fucked up. never again will I buy something with someone else’s money. :P

anyways, I had just enough time to walk back to the hostel, get some food and head to the acrobatics show. I took the subway.. oh god. shanghai subways are madness. utter madness. also, the street maps down there don’t always have north pointing up… anyways, I survived, and even arrived a bit early. no sign of my new friends, though. :/ I sent them an sms and they said they were on their way, but I’m not sure if they ever made it. how odd. in any case, the performance was awesome :) lots of flips and guys standing on shoulders and jumping from one pole to another and swinging around, and girls doing weird ballet-like things, and even motorcycles in a ball… definately worth the money. :)

I’m gonna go collapse now. I have to head back to hangzhou tomorrow – I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that I’m really leaving china. :)

{March 3, 2008}   summer is coming

it’s that time of year again, when young developers’ minds turn towards… well… more coding. :) Summer of Code is revving up for another year. ideas are coming together. sure, it’s not summer yet (it’s bloody cold in shanghai, actually, and I’m hivering as I write this) but preparations are made earlier every year, and anyone who’s serious about SoC knows that the early bird gets the t-shirt. ;)

to the students at the beijing conference who weren’t sure how to get involved (if any of you are reading this): now’s your chance. SoC is all about helping students break into the free software community.

really, all comp sci students should be applying for SoC :) it’s frigging awesome. you get to spend the whole summer hacking, on your own schedule, get paid for it, *and* you get shiny google gear. oh yeah, and something cool to put on your resume. and you get to make friends in whichever corner of the community you contribute to, become a part of that community, and next year have other new developers looking up to you and asking you questions :)

remember, community and communication are incredibly important things. good communication before your application gives you a much better chance of being accepted, because developers who don’t communicate aren’t very useful – especially in larger projects. we’re all in this together; developers help each other out, discuss ideas together, and try to avoid stepping on each others’ toes. a happy, friendly community makes working on the code much more enjoyable. :)

as for myself… I’ve been too busy to think much about SoC yet. haven’t put up any of my ideas for plasma or anything. I’m not even sure whether I should participate as a student, or as a mentor, or just skip this year. I’d like to do another project, and the money would be useful, but I’m not sure if any of my ideas are really project-size, and I have so many, many ideas that I’m not sure I’d like sticking to just one. I also kinda feel like I’d be taking a spot away from potential new students who need the mentoring more than me. it kinda seems like plasma could use another mentor, but I’m not sure I’d be any good at that, and it’d take away from *my* hacking time.

ah well. I still have a couple of weeks to decide.

et cetera