Usually I wait until later in the pre-release cycle — a few weeks before Beta on average — before I move to the pre-release of the next Fedora operating system. But for Fedora 19, I’m too excited to see GNOME 3.8 and all the other improvements, so I tried out the Fedora 19 Test Candidate 2 (TC2) during lunch yesterday. I burned it to a USB key and was happy with what I saw. I decided it was time to move over now and fit in with the cool kids.
Getting ready to install
Now, I could have just thrown caution to the wind and installed right away. But since I wanted to move over on my main workhorse laptop, a ThinkPad x220, I really needed to back up my user files first. I hadn’t done that in a month or two (I know, I know!) so this was a must. I figured, if I was going to have a little downtime for the backup, I might as well make it worthwhile and install the Fedora 19 Alpha TC2 while I was at it. Thankfully, this afternoon was free of meetings so it was a good time to be offline for a short while.
I keep my backups in several places, but the easiest one to get to right away, with the fastest write speed, is a portable USB 2.0/FireWire enclosure I keep around for my own backups. It has a 500 GB SATA drive inside and plenty of room for my data. I was already running the Fedora 19 Alpha TC2 using the Live USB. I attached the disk, and of course it was mounted up for my convenience. I used the Disks utility to unlock and mount my home volume from the encrypted hard disk, and used the rsync utility to freshen the backup.
Installing Fedora 19 Alpha TC2
I decided to do a network installation rather than just burning a Live image. There were a bunch of other packages I wanted, and I figured I might as well grab them all during installation; plus, I wanted to see how that process was working. I burned the F19 Alpha TC2 boot.iso to a USB key and booted up.
I was hoping to hold on to my current partitioning setup as part of the installation process. I have a /boot partition on /dev/sda1, and an LVM physical volume with a single volume group, subdivided into separate logical volumes. Some are encrypted, including my /home folder. Unfortunately this is where I ran into my first issue — the current F19 Alpha can’t handle custom partitioning in the installer interface. I don’t believe this is required in the release criteria for an Alpha, so it’s not a huge surprise.
Nor was it a huge impediment; fortunately, the installer GUI is not tied that closely to the OS version or package content anymore. That means I was able to boot off a Fedora 18 boot.iso (written to USB), and simply point to a Fedora 19 mirror as the software source. I used the existing (and working) Fedora 18 installer GUI to do my required custom partitioning, so I could retain my current partition setup. Then I was off to the races, while I worked on other things.
There are some cool interface changes during login. A finished desktop screen expands nicely from the center rather than having elements appear gradually in sequence. There is some work being done on an initial setup routine, kind of like an orientation for new users of GNOME 3. It’s still a bit rough, and there are bugs, but you can see where things are going: it’s definitely a useful feature.
I love the fact that the screensaver reports notifications gathered while the screen was off. This would be useful for things like chat where you might want to know whether someone was looking for you before you decide to log in. I’m thinking of quickly getting on the console to answer IRC pings, but I suppose, reading back, it might just as easily be used to avoid people. Heh. But again, neat improvement. Another nice notification improvement: the larger bar introduced in GNOME 3.6 also now confirms for you that you have no new notifications, a nice added visual cue.
The control center has a smorgasbord of upgrades, from a privacy control, to per-application notification settings, to easier to read layouts for numerous controls including NetworkManager. And the overview search now is easier to read as well. And of course, none of the changes sacrifice my ability to navigate around by keyboard instead of mouse, which I really like.
Are there bugs? Sure, although I haven’t hit any identifiable ones yet. I’ll keep playing with the pre-release over the weekend and file some bugs as I poke around into the corners. But so far, I really like what I see, and I think Fedora 19 is going to be a great release!
This past week I discovered the following awesome things:
I took some time last night to make a couple additional fixes and changes to the irssi-libnotify project I posted about a few days ago.
Among other things, I changed the upstream VCS from Subversion to git, which ended up being pretty simple. I’m much happier keeping the code at Google when I know the entire history resides with me, too. That way, I can move the upstream elsewhere if it becomes necessary. Thankfully, git-svn makes it incredibly easy to migrate, and there’s a helpful wiki page to help with the migration.
I did find that the site docs left out an important part (to me) of the process, which is migrating the authorship information properly. This page was useful to find a quick recipe to use with the SVN log.
For some reason, though, I was still on a hacking (or more precisely, “flailing”) kick. I was happy to have made some fixes to my project, but I’m not a big fan of Perl, so I checked out the current state of irssi-python. This project, as you might expect, provides a Python scripting interface for irssi.
Unfortunately, the project hasn’t kept up with irssi, so it isn’t easy to build. I found a patch for 0.8.15, which applied cleanly and got most of the way there. However, I found for some reason that upstream irssi doesn’t install some of the development header files needed to build irssi-python. I created a patch and a new SRPM that will allow the project to build properly, and also put my work in a git repo with a README file that will help you build it if you’re interested.
Once you install the plugin, you can do the following to experiment so you can build your own scripts:
I was checking out this fabulous new book called Open Advice after seeing a link on a mailing list. The book is a collection of reflections by experienced (and often well-known) free and open source software contributors on things they wish they’d known when they started in FOSS.
I found a particularly wonderful section among a wealth of other wonderful text. In fact, I probably could have opened the book at random and found something just as quotable and insightful. But this piece struck a sympathetic nerve, probably because one of my pet issues is treating each other with kindness. This excerpt is from the chapter called “Good Manners Matter” by the amazing Rich Bowen, and I’ll reproduce it here, thanks to the author’s and editors’ enlightened use of the CC BY-SA 3.0 license:
Well said, Rich. Any of us helping users or newcomers to any endeavor, whether it’s Fedora, some other FOSS project, or a volunteer organization in your town, can learn from Rich’s experience above, assuming that we haven’t already lived it ourselves. Any user can be the contributor of tomorrow. It pays real dividends to extend them a helping hand.
I do highly recommend you check out Open Advice at the website. It’s chock full of insight, anecdotes, and lessons about the powerful, transformational, and exciting journey of free and open source software. The book is a free download, but you can also purchase a copy from Lulu (and, according to the site, from Amazon soon).
I’ve been a little ill for the past few days, but not gravely so; there was no chance I was going to skip FUDCon when it’s in my own home state. So yesterday I had a great drive from home to Blacksburg — the roads were clear, the weather was mostly sunny and 60 F, and of course I was in the swanky new funmobile, so it was a totally enjoyable ride. I picked up Jon Stanley at the Roanoke airport, and since Justin O’Brien happened to be on the same flight, I grabbed him too for the ride to Blacksburg.
We checked in at the Inn, and saw a number of Fedora folks already there, including Spot, Robyn, Kevin Fenzi, and Peter Borsa who flew in from Hungary! I also ran into Red Hat genii Phil Knirsch and Karsten Hopp, in from Germany. I had dinner with Dan Walsh, Bill Nottingham and Eric Paris at a typical collegiate hole in the wall nearby called “Top o’ the Stairs.” It was very nostalgic, between the good barbecue, “unassuming” decor, and beer in plastic cups. Great company and a good time. My navigational skills proved barely adequate to get us back to the hotel but we did make it without disaster, fortunately.
I said hi to many other Fedorans at the hotel when we returned, and since I wanted to get some sleep to conserve health before FUDCon started today, I turned in a little early. (Well, early being relative; I stayed up until midnight catching up with work email and a couple other tasks.)
We’ve started the day on a great (albeit incredibly cold!) note, with temperatures around 25 F here in Blacksburg but a very warm and hospitable environment in McBryde Hall at Virginia Tech. I’m currently sitting in an early session regarding secondary arches with Phil, Karsten, some IBM guys, Garrett Holmstrom, and a smattering of other Red Hat and Fedora folks.
Later today, assuming my voice holds out, which is not a given, I’ll be blundering my way through a session on Drupal internals. Also, I’m going to drop by a “try my keyboard” session that Toshio Kuratomi put together. I brought my new Das Keyboard Model S Silent with me, so it will be one of the models available to try. Looking forward to a great FUDCon!
On Thursday, I’ll be driving to FUDCon in Blacksburg, VA. FUDCon in North America is an event I look forward to attending annually even though I’m not neck-deep in Fedora as often these days. I used to love going to the international FUDCons as well, and I’m thrilled to see those events being planned in advance on a regular basis.
I get to drive to this particular event, because it happened to end up only about 4.5 hours drive from where I live. That suits me fine, because I got a new car (warning: Flash) I can’t wait to take on its first long trip. Weather should be fair for this time of year, I hear. I also got some new vanity plates that will touch the hearts of Linux geeks, but probably elicit only head scratching from others. However, this post is about more than my car, as much as I like that topic!
I wanted to say a couple things about what I’m planning to do at FUDCon. First, I plan to spend some time with the Fedora Insight crew on Friday night and on Sunday morning. I want to see the feature sets the amazing Peter Borsa has been working on, and hopefully we can make some progress on streamlining deployment so other people can help. We’ll also be working on Sunday with a designer (cross fingers!) to design an interface for a project/events calendar. Unfortunately, I’m leaving Sunday afternoon to get home that night, but I will try to provide a ride out of town to the airport for anyone whose schedule matches up.
By the way, you may want to check out the travel planning page if you need to arrange rides.
The other thing I’m planning is an open workshop on Saturday on Drupal internals. I still haven’t decided whether this is best done as a workshop vs. BarCamp. I’m interested to know how many people really would show up — which means it might be good for me to pitch this at BarCamp. If there’s very little interest, I can spend the day learning instead of blowing hot air. But if it turns out people are interested, I have some books and materials I’m bringing with me that I can recommend too. As usual, I will be taking on the role of “person with meager skills who managed to scramble onto the first plateau with help, and wants to pass it on.” (It worked for PyGTK, maybe it will work here too!) Thankfully Peter will be on hand, and I trust he won’t let me get away with horrible errors.
There’s an enormous list of proposed hackfests and workshops on the wiki page. That’s fantastic, and it means we’re going to have a very content-rich conference as usual. I also see the General Schedule on the wiki is quite bare. I believe the organizers are encouraging talk owners to try to schedule in advance — at least when it comes to the hackfests and workshops. My understanding is that these form an outgrowth of the BarCamp — essentially widening the schedule for Saturday. That means there will be a lot to choose from, so I hope everyone brings not just their thinking caps but also their voices and appropriate input devices to participate. UPDATE: Robyn has a great FUDCon blog post on scheduling. Go read it. Now.
I’m looking forward to seeing a bunch of my Fedora friends there, and of course celebrate at the ever-entertaining FUDPub event. Remember, though, that Sunday starts early, so don’t go overboard! The statute of limitations has expired on my one FUDCon event that was a little too entertaining, so I’m allowed to revert to schoolmarm mode now. But seriously, there’s so much to do and see at FUDCon that I’m sure people will put the priority on content and collaboration as always.
Hope I see you there!
This week was the last enrichment class for my group of fifth graders. As I reported in the last installment, the syllabus ended up changing a bit to adapt for the unexpected difficulty of some of the concepts. Variables in particular were difficult, but eventually the students started to understand them pretty well.
This week built on variables to teach the concepts of conditionals and loops, using the if and while statements in Python. It was at this point that I could tell that most of the students had really grasped the concept. One of our exercises was to follow the logic of a simple counting/printing loop. The kids seemed to like putting themselves in the role of the computer.
It was also at this point that the kids started to understand the power of booleans (True and False). We tried a number of additional comparisons to understand cases where conditions evaluated to each. The emphasis on True and False paid off in the section where we discussed conditionals and loops because we could pay more attention to the actual branching operation, as opposed to getting stuck on figuring out why the branch happened.
This week I also discovered what I think was a good way to increase the idea of collaboration in the class. Obviously there wasn’t time to check every child’s work at every step of the way. But I could make things easier and less pressured on the kids by rotating a “look and see” duty around the class.
Since the class was relatively small (only six kids), I could have all of them gather around one person’s console to see the results of a program or exercise. We could even figure out what went wrong together in some cases. Hopefully this removed a little of the pressure of having the instructor point out something that was wrong — a friend could point it out and even help fix it.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a last class without some bonus for the kids! Thanks to the fine people at the Fedora Project, I had stickers, temporary tattoos, and buttons for the kids, which they loved. They also got to take their Fedora Live USB keys home, which several of them had been waiting for since the first class.
Speaking of keys, I sent home an information sheet for the parents to go with the keys, so they’d understand what was on it, how to use it, and where to find more information and help. The keys also had two complete electronic books (both CC BY-SA licensed, check them out here and here) included that are specifically aimed at teaching Python to kids, so if the kids want to go further they can. A couple of the students demonstrated really serious aptitude, so I think chances were good the class ignited the imagination of a future computer genius!
I’ve posted the last lesson (and miscellaneous resources) in my fedorapeople space, and as with previous lessons, it’s all licensed as CC BY-SA 3.0 so it can be reused by others. I hope you got something out of reading about the class. I had a great time teaching it and I think the kids enjoyed it too. Thanks again to my employer, Red Hat, for lending me a few hours this month to give back to some kids in my community.
I’m sorry I got behind in posting about the enrichment class last week. After week 1 went so well, I thought I’d easily be able to post updates weekly, but alas, it was not to be. However, this wasn’t just because of other workload. The week 2 class actually didn’t go as quickly as the week 1 class. The lesson plan I thought would be light enough to cover in one session has actually taken up the hours for both weeks 2 and 3. I’ve posted the lesson in my Fedora People space.
It turns out that one of the most difficult things for the kids to grasp has been return values. That is, understanding that when you run a function in Python, a value is often generated as a result. Python can either do something with it, or not. This is deeply tied to understanding the usefulness (if not the concept) of variables as a way of holding on to those results for later use.
This concept is inherently difficult for fifth graders who haven’t yet been exposed to concepts of algebra or the unknown. Math and science up to this point in their education are decidedly concrete, and focus strictly on known quantities. I underestimated the difficulty of introducing the concept of an unknown, indeterminate object like a variable.
Fortunately, Python has made it simple for the kids to try smaller steps on their way to understanding this concept. Python’s particular style of input/output at the interpreter allows them to see how return values are generated. Then it becomes a matter of understanding the concept of variables, and assigning that return value to a variable. This is not as easy as it sounds for fifth-graders, but by the middle of week 3′s class light bulbs were switching on!
Regardless of the difficulty of the class, the students in general have loved the class, and are excited when they show up each day. I wish I had more time with them, but alas, the class only lasts for four weeks.
We have one more class coming up on the Monday afternoon after Thanksgiving. Based on the experience thus far, I expect we’ll spend the majority of the last class on conditionals, and understanding the if statement. Courtesy of the Fedora Project, I have some wonderful swag items to give out which I think the kids will love, like buttons, stickers, and temporary tattoos. Also I plan to give them their Live USB keys, as well as a note for their parents on what the keys contain and information on how to use them.
I will try like mad to have a blog post up sooner after next week’s class!
Yesterday was day 1 of the enrichment class I’m teaching at my daughter’s elementary school. The class is elementary computer programming using Python, and has a total of six students, all fifth-graders. Actually, the first class only had five, because one went home on the bus by accident instead of staying at school for the extra class.
The first day is never the best day, because there are a lot of introductory things to get out of the way. In our case, I needed to show the kids some essentials for how to open programs, write and save files, find them again, and start up the Python program. This might sound really easy to you and me, but for fifth graders one needs to adjust the expectations. Not every child is comfortable with a keyboard, for example, and I couldn’t assume that every child had ever typed a document before just because my child had.
As it turns out, we really needed every minute of class to cover our material, which made me glad I didn’t overschedule the tasks in the class. We started with some basic information about what software is and why it’s important — that without software computers are basically as dumb as a box of hair.
The kids enjoyed this explanation; I demonstrated the difference between instructions for computers and humans by having one of the students walk down to the end of the room and back. I didn’t explain to him, of course, how to get up from his chair step by step, push his chair in, turn to the left, put one foot in front of the other, etc., etc. So that made a great example for how computers have to be told everything explicitly. This made it easier, later in the class, to have the kids understand why the computer gave them an error in certain examples I set up.
I was impressed with how quickly the kids picked up the GNOME 3 interface, even though it’s somewhat different than the computers they’re probably used to. Most of them figured out the overview and how to find applications very quickly — so I had to get them back on track once they found the games! They also had no problem moving, resizing, and closing windows.
The computers in the school lab need to be powered off at night according to school policy. It was a little tricky to show the kids how to shut down the systems, but other than that the transition was pretty smooth for most of them.
One child was uncomfortable enough at the computer that I suspect she hadn’t much experience at all. She seemed worried about doing things wrong or breaking the computer, so I tried to go a little out of my way to give her some positive feedback and tell her she was doing a good job!
We got all the way through the ending exercise, which was to let the kids fire up Python 3 and have the computer do some math problems for them. I even managed to tie into one of the kids’ current math lessons, which is on order of operations. They were really impressed the computer knew how to do their homework for them!
I’ve put the day 1 labs in my Fedora People space in case you’re interested in seeing what we covered. I would also be remiss if I failed to thank my employer, Red Hat, for giving me the flexibility to take on this extramural project.
The global Software Freedom Day was held Saturday, September 17th. However, as with previous years, the SFD organizers landed their event on the same day as Fredericksburg’s downtown Oktoberfest celebration. We love a good party as much as anyone, but we found in previous years that even though we had more foot traffic our SFD event, most passersby were not interested in software as much as beer and bratwursts. (Go figure!)
So this year we decided to move our local event a week later. Personally I think software freedom goes great with beer (and other beverages). If we’re going to man a table all day to promote software freedom, though, we should at least make sure we’re not fighting for audience. This probably means we’re not eligible for whatever “best event” competition is happening for 2011, but at least we believe our event will be more successful educating people this year.
Come by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s Headquarters branch this Saturday (the 24th!) to join the festivities. We’ll give away plenty of goodies and show off some of the best freedom software available.