Here’s a list of news feeds I’m following that fall into what I generally call the NGO/public-good/nonprofit space. Essentially, that means open source / open data efforts that cover education, medicine, humanitarian needs, civic involvement, and just a whole bunch of other things that don’t revolve around sales, software engineering itself, or Internet infrastructure. They’re only partially sorted.
Did I leave any off? Send me an email, or post a comment, if the robot-filter is feeling friendly today.
It seems like there ought to be more, but for some reason a lot of the groups that are active in this space FAIL dramatically at RSS. Take Open Source Ecology (http://opensourceecology.org/), for example. They do some amazing stuff with construction and tooling for economically-struggling communities. You’d think they’d want to publish their news, but their “blog” page (*their* name for it, mind you) has no RSS or Atom feed of any kind.
I’d suggest you write to them and say “hey, I’d really like to follow your organization, but your news site offers me no way to do that. What gives?” Except that I’ve already done that, and they didn’t even reply, much less fix the site. On the plus side, the Freedom Of The Press Foundation was in exactly the same situation up until a few days ago (well, the same except for the added irony); when I notified them via Twitter, they also did not reply, but they did silently fix their site.
Anyway, I hope you’ll find some interesting sites and projects on this list. I may re-post to add to it later if I get a significant chunk of new feeds. But it’s a refreshing set of content to browse through, since all of it is focused on helping people, one way or another.
[ed. note: I did try making this available as a "Google Reader bundle" which is a new feature, but sharing it is tightly bound to keeping it inside of Google Reader itself, which kills most of the value]
Flaunting some Olympic-caliber procrastination, I’d now like to provide a brief recap of my visit to A Coruña, Spain for GUADEC 2012, at the end of July. GUADEC is an annual conference for GNOME developers and users; I definitely fall into the latter category, but I was somehow lucky enough to still con the GNOME Foundation into providing travel assistance so I could be there and give a talk about font development and font repair. But more about that in a separate post.
For starters, if you don’t feel like reading any further, I’d have to say that the conference was great by any measure. As a journalist, I spend a lot of time in touch with open source developers but I’m hardly “in” any projects—and certainly not any large & organized ones like GNOME. So it’s always both eye-opening and entertaining to get to spend a lot of time around developers who are there to develop, and who believe in what they are doing. In GNOME’s case, this happens to be the 15th anniversary of the project, so they’ve been “doing” for quite a long time.
The program by the sea
I arrived early, on Monday evening, because I needed to keep a regular writing and editing schedule for my work with LWN, which publishes on Wednesday evenings. I’ve attempted to go to events where I’m en route on a Tuesday, and it just doesn’t work. The first half of the week, there were no talks, but there were plenty of GNOME people around: there were Foundation meetings, hackathons, and various other cabals, many situated at the local Igalia offices. The sessions themselves lasted from Thursday through Sunday—and by that, I almost mean literally. They started early and they ran late. Which it turns out is perfectly practical, since restaurants in the area don’t even open until 8:30pm. I have no idea what else you would do between 6:00pm and then, although the hotel (which was situated under a cliff in the mountains) did have an espresso bar (1 euro; I have no idea what that is in regular money, but it certainly beats instant coffee).
Over the course of the session days, I went to every talk I could get to, barring the two morning sessions I had to skip in order to file paperwork reporting that I had a camera lens stolen from my checked luggage on the flight in (in case you were wondering, it was on American, with the final leg handled by their oneworld partner Iberian, and both have been precisely as helpful as you would expect a giant faceless corporation to be. Meaning they appear to be making no effort to even investigate, and they only contact you via emails with no-reply-accepted return addresses. So kids, if you’re going to pursue a career in crime, it sounds like baggage theft is the way to go—no risk of getting caught. But I digress….).
Anyway, there were a lot of talks about new, weird, and unexpected projects, including Colin Walters’ OSTree (which is akin to a mashup of Git, OBS, overlayfs, and a package manager), SkelTrack (which is a framework for identifying the person in a Kinect-style depth image), and Dawati (which is a usability testing tool that records webcam video and desktop screencasts, then combines them into one video stream for analysis). There were also lots of talks about new and improved GNOME components like Boxes, Folks, and GOA, and a large swath of design and interaction talks—nine or ten of which seemed to be given by Allan Day. Seriously; I’m pretty sure there was one slot where he was giving two talks at the same time, in different rooms.
One build to rule them all! Or, not
The other interesting bit was the repeated discussions surrounding the “GNOME OS” concept. This is something that has come up many times before and is often either mischaracterized or is conflated with other, unrelated concerns. The gist of it is that GNOME is currently 100% dependent on downstream distributions for delivering its software to users. That is to say, whenever there is a GNOME Release … nobody downloads it. Or installs it. And that’s because they can’t, because they depend on their distro’s package management system for their GNOME environment (and which it would be a bad idea to break). Trouble is, this means virtually no one tests GNOME releases, and the project gets no bug reports for ~six months (at which point the release hits downstream distros). Plus, what bug reports they do get are always difficult to triage, since the distributions (essentially Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, and openSUSE) all make their own adjustments and roll their own packages). So GNOME is harder to debug, and thus is harder to maintain.
The proposed solution is to roll up each new release with an installable, runnable OS image. So a GNOME release would be a bootable ISO image that someone—though not everyone—can install and try out, perhaps even use, rather than a set of meta-packages that will gradually trickle down to the neighborhood package repository. Another side effect of this scheme would be that tablet and gadget makers could take the base image and use it as a “known platform” to build an embedded project on, which GNOME would like. Though new, this binary, ROM-like release would not be the only way to get GNOME; distributions and source-compilation-fetishists would still be getting, building, and distributing ye olde traditional GNOME packages, too.
What this concept isnot is GNOME wanting to cast off the chains of the distributions, give the finger to BSD, and try to maintain its own Linux distribution. It should be clear that that would not work anyway (given the cost and personnel required), but people seem to think that about it anyway. Partly this is speakers’ fault; in the first GUADEC talk that brought up the idea the Igalia speaker actually said “distribution” multiple times; if you were in the audience you would think he meant running a distro, too. So some clearer messaging would help a ton here. Perhaps even calling it GNOME ISO or GNOME Live, rather than GNOME OS.
The confusion is also partly due to unhappy users getting the proposal conflated with other criticisms about how GNOME is developed. In recent years, a fair number of people feel like GNOME module maintainers at Red Hat are trying to encroach onto other parts of the OS stack—such as the init process—and are adding hard dependencies on either Linux-only subsystems or on Red Hat products. This is pretty visible with Ubuntu, for example, which uses almost all of the GNOME stack, except for GNOME Shell. But historically GNOME has not mandated things like the init system or the compositor/window manager, so replacing the Shell with Unity would be No Big Whoop. If such components were to become hard requirements, however, that would further separate Ubuntu from the vanilla GNOME platform—and it would do so essentially by a module maintainer’s fiat. That, naturally, aggravates people, and when they’re aggravated, they aggravate GNOME people in response, ad infinitum.
However::: I’m not going to discuss that, because that is not at all what the GNOME OS proposal is about. As I said above. That is an unrelated set of development and technical-goal-setting issues that GNOME, Ubuntu, and Red Hat need to work out somehow. Wilderness retreat or whatever. There were also a few discussions during the week about whether GNOME needs a Technical Board, which sounds like a good idea for other reasons, and might help here, too. In any event, the GNOME OS idea is designed to make GNOME releases easier to test & provide feedback on, which is 100% in the good-things column.
Anyway. Back on track, the word count line at the bottom of this WYSIWYG form is telling me I just passed 60,000 words on this post, so I’m going to try to wrap it up.
All in all, I know how corny it sounds, but the best thing about my week at GUADEC was definitely meeting the people. Multiple times over the week, I met someone, had a moment of mutual where-do-I-know-that-name-from contemplation, and then we realized I had emailed them and written something about their project. And a lot of them said thanks, which doesn’t happen to me a lot. That’s not because I usually write scathing personal attacks or anything, but simply because I usually write form home and not in an office with the people that I interact with. So it was a blast to get to know them in person, since I genuinely like what they do. Into this category I would put Eduardo Lima, who develops the awesome-and-under-the-radar file transport tool FileTea (and who generously put up with my lame questions about Cuba), Joaquim Rocha, who makes the excellent OCRFeeder (in addition to SkelTrack mentioned earlier), and Joanmarie Diggs, who does all the heavy-lifting on accessibility work (and has some good stories to tell about EU immigration law…).
I also met a lot of great people that I had never talked to even via email before GUADEC, including the Yorba team of Adam Dingle and Jim Nelson (whose Geary application I had reviewed, but without discussing it with them, and who are both way ahead of everybody else when it comes to thinking about funding open source software development, and about eating pulpo), testing guru Spider (who put up with my questions about home automation), and of course the GNOME power couple Jonathan Blandford and Rosanna Yuen (or power trio, if you also count Jonathan’s beard). One of my great surprises was to discover that not only is Jonathan the author of the solitaire app AisleRiot (yeah, I don’t read a lot of “About” screens…), but that he also shares an interest in unusual card games, and secretly built in Aisleriot support for decks of cards with five or more suits—which happens to be a weird hobby of mine. One of my great regrets about the week is that I had to leave at crack-early on Monday morning, so I had to miss out on playing a bizarre card game of Jonathan’s. But that’s on the agenda for next time. As luck would have it, my own talk was scheduled at the exact same time as the talk absolutely everyone most wanted to hear, Owen Taylor’s session on smooth animations. In fact I considered skipping my own talk to hear it, but ultimately I couldn’t find Taylor’s room. Subsequently, Jonathan tracked Owen down and did some sort of arm-twisting (behind closed doors, obviously) so that Owen agreed to meet me at lunchtime and essentially recap the talk and show me the demos. I’m still writing it up for LWN.
It was also good to see folks that I bump into more regularly, like Garrett LeSage and Jakub Steiner, who are both regulars at Libre Graphics Meeting, Guy Lunardi, who I think knows everyone in the software business (and not just open source, either), and Karen Sandler who has always been exceptionally helpful with my press requests (and, I discovered, whose husband Mike is one of those guys who can have conversations about both the Beach Boys and about BIOS). There are clearly a ton of other people that I enjoyed getting to meet at GUADEC 2012, including a lot of Igalia folks, but the bulk of them I need to save for my follow-up post, which will deal with my font talk—and what came out of it.
COMPUTER: Hello, user! Your wireless card isn’t going to work today.
USER: What?? Why not? It worked yesterday. In fact, it worked all last week.
COMPUTER: Tough. Today it won’t.
USER: Well, you can’t trick me. I haven’t touched the configuration since the last time I logged in; everything will be fine.
COMPUTER: No, it won’t. I’ll connect to your AP, but all of your DNS lookups will time out.
USER: Ha! I’ve got you! I’ll change the DNS settings so that the queries are directed to my other box.
COMPUTER: No you won’t. The network settings are hidden.
USER: They aren’t hidden; I’ve done this before, when I set up a DNS server on my other box and my router to handle local hostnames.
COMPUTER: That doesn’t matter. Every six months, all of the system admin tools are changed and replaced by your distribution. Whatever you learned last time is of no value.
USER: Pfft. I’ll still find it.
COMPUTER: You can try, but the names of the applications have changed too. Plus, the desktop environment you use has been revised twice, so none of the system admin apps are available in any menus.
USER: So? I’ll search for them. I guess that’s what I’m supposed to do.
COMPUTER: You can try, but you won’t guess the names. And the descriptions of the apps are not indexed by the search tool back-end.
USER: Now you’re just lying; I’ve read in blog post after blog post that the search framework indexes the descriptions of the applications. I think I even heard it in a talk.
COMPUTER: Knock yourself out, then.
USER: Dammit! What the hell did they describe this thing as?? I’ve tried “network,” “connection,” and “settings” — all it finds is a VPN setup tool and something to configure Twitter accounts! I’m running out of synonyms.
COMPUTER: Don’t feel bad; the app you’re thinking of probably isn’t installed by default anyway.
USER: That’s absurd; of course the system admin apps are installed…. Right? And if it’s not, I’ll install it.
COMPUTER: From where?
USER: Gar. Wait a second; I don’t need to mess with that anyway — I’ll edit /etc/resolv.conf
COMPUTER: Won’t help; you’re using DHCP.
USER: Well, I’ll just edit the DHCP settings…
COMPUTER: In what, the network admin tool?
USER: Dammit! No, no; can’t get out of control — I’ll edit the DHCP configuration files by hand. Let’s see … there appear to be two of them, in /etc/dhcp/ and /etc/dhcp3/ … I wonder which one is the right one?
COMPUTER: You should probably look that up.
USER: Ah; good idea. Let’s open Googl — Dammit!! Not funny!!
COMPUTER: Okay, that was a low blow. But you were getting ahead of yourself.
USER: Well, it backfired anyway. I just realized I don’t *need* DNS at all; I can look up all of the IP addresses I want to visit on one of my other PCs, then enter them by number in the location bar.
COMPUTER: Actually, you can’t. All this time, you assumed we were having a DNS problem, but in fact all of your traffic is going to time out, even if you enter the addresses by number.
USER: That’s ludicrous. Clearly that indicates a connectivity problem; I’ll log in to the router.
COMPUTER: Heh heh; good luck.
USER: Who needs luck? It’s six feet away, and I’m already connected to it. I can type in 192.168.1.1 and bring up the admin interface … any moment now … oh come on, hurry up … Dammit!!! What the hell is going on here?
COMPUTER: I can’t divulge that.
USER: Well it must be a hardware problem. Everything has been working fine for weeks, I haven’t touched the software or altered the configuration, and it isn’t on the router’s side.
COMPUTER: That’s a possibility; you should check to see if there are known issues related to this.
USER: Okay; I will, from by other box…. Well, my distribution has nothing similar sounding in the issue tracker, and everyone on the forum says it’s probably the DE at fault…. Although everyone on the DE mailing list says my distro changes some of the defaults, so they don’t support it. Unless it’s the browser…. But the browser forum says I’m eleven versions out of date, since they now issue “mandatory” updates every three days; what I’m running through my distro is “unsupported.” And I could download an update and install it manually over the distribution’s repository package, but then they wouldn’t support me if it turned out not to be the browser’s fault … plus I can’t download it anyway, since I have no connectivity. But I’m not sure that helps anyway. Clearly something was working fine yesterday and isn’t today. If it’s not hardware there’s very little else it could be. Apparently everybody in the kernel driver community hates this WiFi chip because of some dust-up in 2007, but I can’t really apply what they say about it on the mailing lists, because they’re all running a development kernel on some distribution that I think they seem to have written from scratch. But it doesn’t matter: it’s hardware; I can verify that by booting into OS X on the other partition.
[ -REBOOT- ]
COMPUTER: Welcome to OS X; everything is running normally.
USER: Dammit. Maybe if I just use OS X for a few days, the problem will go away again all on it’s own.
I just dropped News Cycle 0.4 onto the internets. Right now the deets are all at https://launchpad.net/newscycle/trunk/0.4 — why wait? If you haven’t yet decided to click on that tantalizing new link, I’ll now explain why you should.
First, News Cycle is (of course), my open font revival of the classic ATF News Gothic from 1908. In 1908, News Gothic included the Basic Latin character set, and that’s pretty much it. The previous (0.2) release of News Cycle added to the original via a greatly expanded set of accents and extended character blocks, covering a large swath of Latin Extended-A and Latin Extended-B.
This release continues to expand on the original, and adds two new alphabets: Greek and Cyrillic. There have been proprietary versions of News Gothic released by commercial foundries in the past that included one of these alphabets or the other, but as far as I can tell, News Cycle 0.4 is the first open source News Gothic to provide coverage for them. In theory, they should look unified and coherent when mixed together with Latin. That’s not inherently easy for someone who has very little experience reading Greek & Cyrillic languages, so by all means, if you have feedback, please send it.
I’ve also tried to learn a teensy bit more about OpenType funnery in this development cycle, so version 0.4 also includes “text figures” — aka, Oldstyle numerals. I also updated many of the punctuation and non-alphabetic characters, and just cause I felt like it, added a nice selection of mathematical symbols (although they are limited to the symbols one would use to write in-line equations and expressions; complex and scaled symbols are a bit outside the scope). Plus there are one or two easter eggs which I don’t feel like looking up at the moment, so let them serve as awesome little surprises.
The kerning was done by Igino Marini through his iKern service. Hinting & instructions are autogenerated. It is possible that I’ll be able to use ttfautohint to get better hinting; if so that will be made available in an update. Right now you can download TTFs and OTFs from the Launchpad project page. News Cycle is also provided through Google’s Web Font library, although there will be a delay before the new version is served up there, because the company does rigorous testing.
I’m currently working on bold; more about that in a week or so. Although … if you’re dying of curiosity, I did add the -Bold SFD to the Bazaar repository at Launchpad. Don’t be alarmed when you open it, however — I’m starting with the regular version of each glyph and emboldening them one-by-one. There aren’t that many glyphs done yet.