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GNOME at FOSS North

FOSS North is a nordic free software conference happening annually in Gothenburg, Sweden. I have attended most of them since it started. It is no more than a ferry ride away from me and I also enjoy the conference size. Bastien and Kat coordinated that the event box was sent to my address in good time. Additionally, Nuritzi and Carlos sent additional GNOME stickers which I packed down along with some 20 pairs of GNOME Socks in various sizes.

The Stenaline Ferry. (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

During the conference I was staying with Andreas and had a great time. The first day at FOSS North was just half a day, but on the second day we set up the GNOME booth. As per tradition, we had booth right next to KDE which is always a great opportunity to chat and make jokes on social media. I’m really happy to help GNOME being present even at events which have smaller scale than FOSDEM and I’m looking forward to the next FOSS North already.

The GNOME Booth at FOSS North (CC-BY-SA 4.0)
GNOME Merchandise at FOSS North (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

After FOSS North we went to a User Experience event focusing on people’s attitude towards technologies of the future. I was particularly caught by Sara’s talk where she showed her use of collages to dive into users’ tacit knowledge and desires.

UX Meetup (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

All in all a great trip. It seems that I am carrying lots of GNOME merchandise currently (event box, posters, stickers, leftover shirts, socks..) so if there is any conference where you think it would nice to have GNOME present, let me know and we can look into it!

Reflections on Distractions in Work, Productivity and Time Usage

For the past year or so I have mostly worked at home or remote in my daily life. Currently I’m engaged in my master thesis and need to manage my daily time and energy to work on it. It is no surprise to many of us that working using your internet-connected personal computer at home can make you prone to many distractions. However, managing your own time is not just about whipping and self-discipline. It is about setting yourself up in a structure which rewards you for hard work and gives your mind the breaks it needs. Based on reflections and experimentation with many scheduling systems and tools I finally felt I have achieved a set of principles I really like and that’s what I’ll be sharing with you today.

Identifying the distractions

Here’s a typical scenario I used to experience: I would wake up and often the first thing I do is turn on my computer, check my e-mail, check social media, check the news. I then go eat my breakfast and start working. After a while I would find myself returning to check mail and social media. Not that much important necessarily happened. But it’s fairly easy for me to press “Super” and type “Gea” and press “Enter” (and Geary will show my e-mail inbox). It’s also fairly easy to press “Ctrl+L” to focus the address bar in Firefox and write “f” (and Facebook.com is autocompleted). Firefox is by default so (ironically) helpful to suggest facebook.com. At other times, a distraction can simply be an innocent line of thought that hits you fx. “oh it would be so cool if I started sorting my pictures folder, let me just start on that quickly before I continue my work“.

From speaking with friends I am fairly sure this type of behavior is not uncommon at all. The first step in trying to combat it myself was to identify the scope of it. I don’t blame anyone else for dealing with this – I see this more as an unfortunate design consequence of the way our personal computers are “universal” and isn’t context-aware enough. Afterall, GNOME Shell was just trying to be helpful, Firefox was also just trying to be helpful, although they are also in some aspects making it easier for me to distract myself like that.

Weapons against distractions

Let me start with a few practical suggestions, which helped me initially break the worst patterns (using big hammers).

  • Stylish: using Inspection tools and CSS hacks I remove endless scrolling news feeds, and news content from websites that I might otherwise on reflex open up and read when in a distracted scenario. The CSS hacks are easy to turn off again of course, but it adds an extra step and makes it purposely less appealing for me to do unless it’s for something important.

  • BlockSite: I use BlockSite in “Whitelist mode” and turn it on while I work. This is a big hammer which essentially blocks all of internet except for whitelisted websites I use for work. Knowing that you can’t access anything really had a positive initial psychological effect for me.
  • Minimizing shell notifications: While I don’t have the same big hammer to “block access to my e-mail” here, I decided to change the order of my e-mail inboxes in Geary so my more relevant (and far less activity prone) student e-mail inbox appears first. I also turned off the background e-mail daemon and turned off notification banners in GNOME Shell.
  • Putting Phone in Ultra Battery Saving Mode: I restrict my phone to calls and SMS so that I don’t receive notifications from various chat apps which are irrelevant whilst working. This also saves the battery nicely.

My final weapon is The Work Schedule.This doesn’t sound new or surprising and we probably all tried it, however with more or less success.

..Schedules can be terrible.

I’m actually not that big a fan of putting microscheduling my life usually. Traditional time schedules are too focused around doing things from timestamp X to timestamp Y. They require that you “judge” how fast you are in working and their structure just feels super inflexible. The truth in real life is that my day never look like how I planned it to be. In fact, I found myself sometimes even more demotivated (and distracted) because I was failing to live up to my own schedule and by the end of the day never really managed to complete that “ideal day”. The traditional time schedule ended up completely missing up what it was supposed to fix and help against.

But on the other hand, working without a schedule often results in:

  • Forgetting to take breaks from work which is unhealthy and kills my productivity later.
  • No sense of progress except from the work itself but if the work is ongoing for longer time this will feel endless and exhausting.
  • Lack of work duration meant that my productivity continued to fluctate between overwork and underwork since it is hard to judge when it is okay to stop.

The resulting system

For the past couple of weeks I have been using a system which is a bit like a “semi-structured time schedule”. To you it might just seem like a list of checkboxes and in some sense it is! However, the simplicity in this system has some important principles behind it I have learned along the way:

  • Checking the checkboxes give a sense of progress as I work throughout my day.
  • The schedule supports adding breaks in-between work sessions and puts my day in an order.
  • The schedule makes no assumptions about “What work” I will be doing or reaching that day. Instead it specifies that I work for 1 hour and this enables me to funnel my energy. I use GNOME Clock’s Timer function and let it count down for 1 hour until there’s a nice simple “ding” to be heard when it finishes. It’s up to you whether you then take the break or continue a bit longer.
  • The schedule makes no assumptions about “When” I will do work and only approximates for how long. In reality I might wake up at 7:00, 8:00 or 9:00 AM and it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that I do as listed and take my breaks in the order presented.
  • If there are aspects of the order I end up changing, the schedule permits it – It is possible to tick off tasks independent of the order.
  • If I get ideas for additional things I need to do (banking, sending an important e-mail, etc) I can add them to the bottom of the list.
  • The list is made the day before. This makes it easier to follow it straight after waking up.
  • I always use the breaks for something which does not involve computers. I use dancing, going for a walk or various house duties (Interestingly house duties become more exciting for me to do as work break items, than as items I do in my free time).
  • In the start you won’t have much feeling for how much work you can manage to make and it is easy to overestimate and get out of breath or unable to complete everything. It works much better for me to underestimate my performance (fx 2 hours of focused work before lunch instead of 3 hours) and feel rewarded that I did everything I had planned and perhaps even more than that.
  • I insert items I want to do in my free time into my scheduling after I finish work. These items are purely there to give additional incentive and motivation to finish.
  • The system is analog on purpose because I’m interested in keeping the list visually present on my desk at all times. I also think it is an advantage that making changes to the list doesn’t interfere with the work context I maintain on the computer.

Lastly, I want to give two additional tips. If you like listening to music while working, consider whether it might affect your productivity. For example, I found music with vocals to be distracting me if I try to immerse myself in reading difficult litterature. I can really recommend Doctor Turtle’s acoustic instrumental music while working though (all free). Secondly, I find that different types of tasks requires different postures. For abstract, high-level or vaguely formulated tasks (fx formulating goals, reviewing something or reflecting), I find interacting with the computer whilst standing up and walking around to really help gather my thoughts. On the other hand with practical tasks or tasks which require immersion (fx programming tasks), I find sitting down to be much more comfortable.

Hopefully my experiences here might be useful or interesting for some of you. Let me know!

Behind the GNOME Booth, FOSDEM 2018

I did catch a cold, but I had a great time at FOSDEM this year! Friday was spent reviewing a branch with Florian which adds a disconnect entry to the context popover in Polari. It has now landed.

Saturday was spent selling lots and lots of socks. I choose this year not to go to any talks and instead hangout with fellow GNOMEies in the booth and have a chat with bypassing users. I’m accumulating many advertising arguments for buying socks including that it allows you to have feet on your feet and that you have an excuse to say “GNOME Socks!” as much as you want, once you own a pair. ;-) Kat brought the awesome hoodies and then we had a big load of leftover t-shirts from GUADEC 2017 which we more or less sold (I think there’s still some 20 left in small). In the end we sold a 160 pairs of socks which is almost half the enormous stock of socks I purchased. When the evening came by and the booth had to close, we went to the GNOME Beer Event in La Bécasse, where I had my annual taste of Lambic Blanc, which is one of the few beers I really enjoy drinking.


420 pairs of lovely GNOME socks ready to warm your feet. (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Sunday went by with more booth-standing and then a GNOME Newcomer Workshop. We tried a new format which involved me matchmaking newcomers with existing GNOME developers from projects each newcomer was interested in. Instead of going big classroom style, the idea is to get more 1-on-1 and pair programming going during workshops. Thanks to Elias, Xaviju, Gwan and Florian for attending the workshop! I hope I’ll get to chat with you in the chatrooms, or who knows maybe meet again at GUADEC 2018?

In the evening me, Tobias, David and Julian hung out in the apartment I had arranged where I cooked an oriental lentil soup with flatbread. Coming to GNOME Recipes soon™!


Photos by Julian Sparber, food by me.

GNOME at FOSDEM 2018 – with socks and more!


Sunrise over Hobart seen from Mt Wellington, Tasmania (CC-BY-SA 4.0).

It’s been a while huh? The past six months held me busy traveling and studying abroad in Australia, but I’m back! With renewed energy, and lots and lots of GNOME socks for everyone. Like previous years, I’m helping out in GNOME’s FOSDEM booth at the FOSDEM 2018 conference.


FOSDEM 2016. (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

I have arranged a whopping 420 pairs of GNOME socks produced and hopefully arriving before my departure. baby Socks, ankle socks, regular Socks and even knee socks – maybe I should order an extra suit case to fill up. Even so, I estimate I can probably bring 150 pairs at max (last year my small luggage held 55 pairs..). Because of the large quantity I’ve designed them to be fairly neutral and “simple” (well, actually the pattern is rather complicated).


Sample sock made prior to production.


Breakdown of the horizontally repeatable sock pattern.

I plan to bring them to FOSDEM 2018, Open Source Days in Copenhagen, FOSS North and GUADEC. However, we have also talked about getting some socks shipped to the US or Asia, although a box of 100 socks weigh a lot resulting in expensive shipping. So if anyone is going to any of the aforementioned conferences and can keep some pairs in their luggage, let me know!

Apart from GNOME Booth staffing I am also helping out with organizing small newcomer workshops at FOSDEM! If you are coming to FOSDEM and is interested in mentoring one or two newcomers with your project, let us know on the Newcomer workshop page (more details here too). Most of all, I look forward to meeting fellow GNOME people again as I feel I have been gone quite a long time. I miss you!

GUADEC 17 Day 1

Friday marked the first day of GUADEC and me and Carlos had our talk named “Newcomer Genesis Evolution”. In case you missed, I’ll provide the slides for you here. A video is also coming up later.


Download slideshow

Volunteering at the merchandise table went well and by the end of the day we were all out of GNOME socks. I didn’t work on t-shirts this year but they look nice!


GUADEC 2017 Registration Desk (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

GNOME Socks! (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

I attended the newcomer lunch and got to meet some cool people who were attending GUADEC for the very first time. Later in the afternoon Julita had a talk showing all the events she has been holding to engage newcomers which was great to see.

Julita giving her talk “Different ways of outreaching newcomers” (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

The day ended with a rainy trip to The Wharf with dinner and chat. Onto day 2!

GUADEC Coming up!

My airplane is leaving Thursday afternoon, headed towards a week of friendly faces and fun again. The hand luggage will be full of socks and my mind will be full of feet, as I dive into GUADEC 2017, GNOME’s Annual European Conference in Manchester. Oh, and there will be a newcomers talk!

On Friday 28th July at 12:15 me and Carlos will speak a bit about our efforts on the newcomer guide and discuss with anyone interested the prospects of the project. This is followed by a newcomer workshop on 31st July which you are more than welcome to attend if you’re new to GNOME development and want to try out developing GNOME apps with Builder.

The schedule for this year’s GUADEC look amazing and I look forward to chat with many fellow GNOMEies again. Thank you GNOME Foundation for making my trip possible!

OS2: Danish Municipalities Collaborating in the Open


OS²: The public digitization association. (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

OS² is an association for Danish municipalities to pool together efforts in building a free and open source IT infrastructure. I first heard about it at the LibreOffice conference happening in Aarhus back in 2015 through a talk about “BibOS” and “TING”. The early efforts has since then inspired a formal association for municipalities which hosts a number of open source IT components. The components are developed, installed and supported by external suppliers who are hired by municipalities individually or together. This approach has benefits both for the municipality and the suppliers compared to traditional license-based solutions.

Out of curiosity I decided to attend an open general assembly for OS². Municipalities participating in the association and a number of suppliers were present as well. Rasmus Frey, OS²’s business manager opened up the general assembly, explaining the highlights in OS² of the past year.


Rasmus Frey presenting the past year’s highlights in OS² (CC-BY-SA 4.0).

Efforts has been made over the past year to use a governance model to transform OS² into a platform usable both for playground projects in development as well as for production-ready solutions. The transformation is a step in the process of making the OS² platform a viable alternative for municipalities coming from other systems and solutions.

OS² currently contain 12 different products. For example OS2BorgerPC which is a fork of Ubuntu running on many computers in public libraries or OS2web which is a content management system for municipality websites based on Drupal. The projects are released under the MPL 2.0, giving suppliers a number of ways to build their business.

Rasmus presented the next product in line at the general assembly: OS2cloud. It provides infrastructure that makes it easy for municipalities to deploy the OS² products from a web interface based on Origo. This also makes it easy for municipalities to self-host non-OS² open source software like Piwik for web analytics, instead of relying on external services such as Google Analytics with possible tracking and privacy issues.


Networking at the OS² general assembly (CC-BY-SA 4.0).

The talks at the OS² assembly demonstrated the many benefits of developing IT infrastructure around an open source model. One municipality told that they had found out about incidents of public library computers being key-logged. The perpetrator had done this by inserting USB hardware between the keyboard and the computer which logged user input. In response, the municipality hired a supplier to patch OS2BorgerPC so that library staff would be notified of any insertion or interruption of USB devices. A patch, which every other municipality deploying OS2BorgerPC subsequently would benefit from.

The openness and the fact that the OS² association maintains ownership of the produced code, also means that municipalities have wider range of suppliers to choose from for support and development. Compared to the traditional license-based products, this minimizes the risk of vendor lock-in and shared infrastructure across municipalities. For suppliers this potentially creates opportunities for consistent income, new market possibilities and closer collaboration between municipality and supplier.


Debate panel between suppliers and municipalities (CC-BY-SA 4.0).

The general assembly ended in networking and with a panel debate between suppliers and municipalities. The debate brought up a number of interesting challenges, one being in the transition from the traditional culture of selling software in license form. Concerns are raised in the industry on whether business really can be made on developing open source software and why “the free market can’t be used to solve this” (although IMO, a free market is exactly what open source in this case creates). There is a need for current suppliers in open source to spread awareness in the industry of the new models which business in IT can be built upon. On the other hand, the suppliers raised concerns with the mindset of some municipalities. They asked that the OS² association should emphasize to municipalities that software, being open source, does not mean you get free support the same way you might do with some license-based products. Expenses should be calculated for continuous maintenance and software development.

Initiatives like OS² excite me in many aspects. From a political perspective I think spending tax payers’ money on technology which then is released back to the public under an open license makes a ton of sense. It creates possibilities, not only for creating a fair market, but also for education and labor. The publicly available code enables studying and knowledge sharing for students like me and hobby groups like Open Source Aalborg. From an ethical perspective I further find the transparency which come with public code appealing to address questions of privacy and data collection. Finally, from a broader perspective I believe knowledge-sharing initiatives like OS² can advance technology at a much faster pace.

Open Source Days 2017 Impressions

Open Source Days is an annual conference held in Copenhagen, this time held from the 17th March to the 18th March. Since my successful trip with members of Open Source Aalborg we are keeping a close eye on free software happening in and around Denmark. For all of us, this was the first time we went to the Open Source Days conference.

Day 1: Business Days

First day of the conference was arranged as an opportunity for networking and presentations oriented around open source in corporate setting. We were there, as part of PROSA, a local Danish union organization supporting open source. While Open Source Days is a significantly smaller conference than say FOSDEM, I was still impressed by the variance of local Scandinavian firms present which ranged from firms selling courses and education to firms offering cloud-based services and offering support on self-hosted services.

I had the chance to talk to quite a few around there including FAIR Denmark which is recycling computers with GNOME installed on them to provide education to poor countries. Very interesting!

I also had the chance to meet Jesper, Martin and a few others from last years open source camp. Jesper was presenting about his work on enabling high speed network packet support in the Linux Kernel. Lots of it flew over my head but it was very interesting to hear as the presentation was a continuation the work he presented last year at the camp.

Day 2: Community Days

The second day marked the community days. In spirit of the day, Open Source Aalborg had its own humble booth with hand-drawn flyers, signs and everything. Start small, as they say. :-)

Copenhagen’s hackerspace Labitat was also present and had brought lots of small projects with them such as hacked sewing machines, LED matrix bling-bling and other electronics.

The community day had two tracks with talks. Probably the most interesting was the talk about how Danish municipalities are collaborating on infrastructure based on free and open source software principles called OS2. This model doesn’t mean that the municipalties are developing the project in-house. Rather, they are placing contracts with local danish firms to work for specific periods of time to develop projects further – and one municipality’s work benefit all other 98 municipalities.

The conference ended with beers and popcorn at Farfar’s as is tradition or so I have been told. Thanks to PROSA for sponsoring this trip to Open Source Days for Open Source Aalborg. I’m definitely attending again next year. :-)

November Bug Squash Redux

Last month GNOME had a Bug Squash Month. Thanks to everyone who participated!

For this initiative I had prototyped a way to gamify things up a bit. I created a high score table and badges for the local open source groups joining in on the bug squashing. I had my own group Open Source Aalborg participating on November the 30th and we had lots of fun!


Open Source Aalborg in the process of bug squashing (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

What made bug squashing a particularly good activity for my local group was the it sets no requirement to do actual coding. I did a small presentation about bug squashing and afterwards everyone could participate regardless of background. Our award system with the badges even meant each could individually set their goal and how much effort to put into it. Want something easy? Look out for obvious obsolete bugs. Want something harder? Try to code up a patch.


Installing Fedora to build run the latest GNOME Apps and reproduce bugs (CC-BY-SA 4.0).

As participants worked out the bug reports, I was keeping the high score table up to date. A projector would then show off the high score table so everyone would know whenever we achieved a new badge.


Small physical rewards in the form of candy to everyone participating (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

As another experiment, I had made actual physical rewards for the participants consisting of candy and buiscuits. When participants managed to squash their first bug they would get something, and when our group managed to get 5 bugs squashed I would give out snacks to everyone. Fun small addition and I particularly liked the idea of rewards to everybody when we as a group met a goal. It reinforces the team spirit!

Some thoughts about what worked and what didnt work:

  • Badges which the event manager can manage live at the event happens also work the best.
  • It varies a lot how much each local group achieves in quantity. I think making badges based on other measurements works best (fx. Spooky Skeleton Award was fun!).
  • Our social media awards were awesome!
  • Good to have share a step by step guide after presentation so people can get started quickly.

I’m definitely up for getting another high score table up and running again for another bug squash sometime. There has been talk in #engagement about making a web app a bit like the Capture the flag websites for these kind of things. Would definitely be cool!

And thanks a lot Alexandre for taking an initative on this!

Whereabouts at the CoreApps Hackfest

For the past three days I have been to the Core Apps Hackfest in Berlin. It’s been nice and cozy! Kinvolk has some nice facilities that we could borrow and it’s been productive for me even if I missed the first day as anticipated.

img_20161127_120240

The upcoming Newcomer Guide Revamp

At the hackfest I met with Carlos Soriano. We discussed Carlos’ experience doing the Bucarest Hackathon with Rares and Razvan. Talked about the issues that the students had and the questions they asked. The most general problem is that there is too much text in the newcomer guide. All information is useful but we need to prioritize what we present first. The students have only so much energy, and our job as guide writers is to ensure that no energy is wasted.

Since the first revamp where GNOME Love turned into the Newcomer Initiative there has also been many projects participating which newcomers can choose between. I’m super excited that so many projects care about getting newcomers but the list is also getting very long again now. We’ll try to address this in the next revamp by introducing highlights and rotate the rest as necessary. Other issues include working with discoverability of newcomer bugs, making all terminal commands copy/paste-able, make sure newcomers get developer docs installed, and maintain consistency between the website of our newcomer apps.

To address these issues I’m experimenting with using less text, using more visuals and gamifying the experience with progress bars. More to come soon.

newcomer-revamp-mockups
work in progress mockup of the newcomer guide.

I made some experiments turning this mockup into reality using Tom’s new custom CSS for the moinmoin wiki. There are still a few things to resolve before we can migrate, but we are getting closer.

LinuxAtUNI

Julita asked me to give a talk about contributing to GNOME Design for her LinuxAtUNI event in Peru. So during the hackfest in Berlin I gave this talk by video conference. I’m super excited for the events there!

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Monday

The hackfest officially ended Sunday but I stayed a day longer with Florian Muellner, working on Polari. Together with Andreas Nilsson I finalized some new iterations of various design ideas I had been playing with and managed to file a bunch of bugs. Here’s some highlights:

room-status-indication
Mockup showing the design for room status indication, error handling for rooms and indicating prolonged waiting for rooms. See bug 775257, bug .

offline-status-rev3
We finalized offline indication through using an infobar in the sidebar. bug 760833.

mockup-use-server-password
Andreas made a mockup of how we could expose server passwords for custom networks. Bug 775225.

Florian worked on moving our soon-to-land roomlist in the join dialog over to a GtkTreeView as we had performance issues with the GtkListBox. We also discussed things like the nickname renaming behavior, how should error messages behave in connection properties dialog and future plans.

Again, thanks to GNOME Foundation for partially sponsoring me, it’s been a great hackfest and I really enjoyed it!

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