Tech Board Nomination

So I’ve been nominated for the Ubuntu Technical Board. Modesty and a touch of impostor syndrome prevent me from strongly endorsing myself. Though if voted in, I would certainly work hard at it. Here’s a bit about where I sit in Ubuntuland for those who are voting, but don’t know me well:

I’ve been involved in Ubuntu for about 5 and half years. I’ve worked in Canonical’s OEM team, as well as the Foundation and Desktop teams and now the Unity team. I’m a core dev and a member of the MIR team (main inclusion reviews, not the Mir display server). I maintain the default Ubuntu backup program (Déjà Dup / duplicity) and the default Ubuntu login screen. Sort of a jack of all trades, master of none kinda guy.

But really, let me talk real quick about the other candidates and why they would be awesome choices.

Martin Pitt is ridiculously talented and a super nice guy; he knows a little bit of everything; he even has his own fan club, for goodness sake. Loïc Minier is equally helpful and experienced, and is nowadays doing great things on the Touch side of things. Adam Conrad has a great eye for detail; I work with him often doing MIR work. Steve Langasek does great work on the Foundations team and always knows where the Ubuntu bodies are buried. Marc Deslauriers is super smart, appropriately cautious, and has a pleasingly big picture view. Kees Cook, Clint Byrum, Stéphane Graber, and Benjamin Drung have all been very helpful and nice when I’ve interacted with them, but I don’t happen to know them personally enough to be able to write a little blurb.

Point is, all of those nominees rock and would be great tech board members.

New Music Sources

This past year, I’ve realized I like finding new music more than I previously realized. I figure it might be interesting to share my own sources for new music and maybe receive some good recommendations from others.

Boing Boing

They only sometimes cover music, but that just means that when they do, it’s usually a notable song.

The Hairpin

This is actually a women’s interest blog. But they have good taste, so I generally like any featured music.

Refinery 29

This is a San Francisco fashion, entertainment, and shopping blog. They post a lot about non-music issues, so I recommend filtering by “This is our Jam”, which is the phrase they use when highlighting a new song.

This Is My Jam

Speaking of which, the site “This Is My Jam” is a neat social media music-sharing site. You point it at a song that you’re into right now (say, on Youtube) and it will add that song to your friends’ feeds. After a week it goes away, and you pick a new jam. I’m user “mterry” on it!

The recommendations here are pretty hit or miss, because people tend to post songs that are interesting to them, not necessarily songs that are likely to be interesting to others. But it’s a lot more personal than the other sites for sure.

Lower Frequencies

An actual, honest-to-goodness music recommendation blog. Daily updates and sometimes a link to the mp3 is provided too. They tend to feature more mellow works.

Reddit: r/ListenToThis

This is a subreddit for music recommendations from fellow redditors. In truth, I haven’t found it to be super useful, but it is eclectic. Lower Frequencies puts all their songs here too.

blocSonic netBlocs

This one isn’t a music recommendation blog, but rather a site that puts out regular compilations of interesting free web music. Quite variable quality but with a good mix of genres. I’ve found some gems here.

Rub Radio

This is a monthly collection of 15 to 20 hip hop songs. Worth the listen.

Best of Bootie

Again, this one isn’t a blog, but rather a yearly collection of the best mashups featured in the weekly San Francisco mashup club event Bootie. If mashups are interesting to you, these are worth downloading.

Radio Paradise

This is my go-to Internet radio station. You can play it right from your browser or they have links to play from your media player.

Universal Emulator Frontend in Ubuntu 12.04

I wanted to set up a system hooked up to my TV that let me play NES or SNES games from the comfort of my couch. It was an interesting project, and I wanted to share my findings.

Setup

I have a spare laptop with an NVIDIA card running Ubuntu 12.04. If you also have an NVIDIA card, I highly recommend using the latest experimental NVIDIA drivers. They really increased the performance of and reduced the heat from my laptop.

Gamepads

I ordered two Logitech wireless F710 gamepads. They have a tiny USB dongle that they talk to wirelessly. They work great out of the box, but note that they must be on different USB socket groups. I first tried plugging them into USB sockets right next to each other and one of the gamepads didn’t work. When I put the USB dongles on different sides of the laptop, both gamepads worked again. ::shrug::

I recommend putting a sticker on gamepad 1 so you know which one it is.

Frontend

I installed XBMC then used it to download an add-on for its Programs section called “ROM Collection Browser”.

Using the ROM add-on, you can scan your ROM collections for each emulator. Be prepared for it to take a long time to download screenshots and covers if you have a lot of ROMs. The best feature is the ability to mark ROMs as “favorites” so if you have a huge collection, you don’t have to browse through all the crap each time.

XBMC lets you change the navigation bindings so you can use your gamepad.

NES Emulator

I’m used to the fceu family of emulators (gfceu, fceux, etc). But they did not support binding the direction buttons on my F710 gamepad. Those buttons send “hat” presses instead of simply button presses.

Looking further, I found an NES emulator I had never heard of. Mednafen not only can handle the “hat” presses on my gamepad but can also emulate GameBoy and a few other systems.

Note that the man page shipped with it is not helpful. You’ll need to browse the online documentation.

Press “ALT+SHIFT+1″ to set up bindings for gamepad 1 and “ALT+SHIFT+2″ to set up bindings for gamepad 2.

Press “F2″ to set up a binding to exit the emulator. This is an important theme! Once XBMC launches an emulator, you need a way to quit it with just the gamepad. When it closes, XBMC comes back. But since you don’t want to use an easy-to-accidentally-hit key or a key that a game is likely to use, you have to be careful. Thankfully, the F710 gamepad has a middle button that normally just turns it on. But once the gamepad is on, the button also sends a normal key press. And no game would need to use this special middle button. So make sure to bind the middle power button to the exit command of mednafen.

Also pass “-fs 1″ at least once to turn on fullscreen mode. The option is saved, so you only need to give it once.

When you add your NES collection in XBMC, note that the path to the mednafen command is “/usr/games/mednafen“.

SNES Emulator

I prefer the zsnes emulator for SNES games.

It doesn’t have any weird gotchas. Press “Esc” to bring up its main menu. Use the “Input” menu to set up the gamepads. Use the “Misc” menu to assign the exit button.

And don’t forget to enable full screen.

When you add your SNES collection in XBMC, the path to the zsnes command is the expected “/usr/bin/zsnes”.

Arcade Emulator

I found that the mame emulator works great for arcade games.

Press “Tab” to bring up its main menu. Under “Input (general)”, you can find the close command that is currently bound to “Esc” and replace it with your middle gamepad button. I found that most games needed me to individually set up “Input (this game)” bindings.

When you add your arcade collection in XBMC, note that the path to the mame command is “/usr/games/mame“.

Using the TV

I did hit one weird problem using the TV. Both mednafen and zsnes, if fullscreen, would switch which monitor was turned on. To stop them from doing that, I had to manually set each emulator’s fullscreen resolution to the size of TV.

Tada!

Anyway, that’s “all” it takes. Now you have an awesome emulator station. You can also use the “Advanced Launcher” XBMC add-on to add launchers for Ubuntu games that work well with gamepads, like Jamestown.

To avoid using the mouse or keyboard at all, you can set your user to automatically log in and add XBMC to your startup applications.

Software Updater Changes in Ubuntu 13.04

Thanks to Matthew Paul Thomas’s specification and work by Dylan McCall and myself, there is a proposed patch to change the Software Updater’s details panel.

I’m excited about the work and just wanted to highlight it here. See the difference for yourself:

Old ViewNew View

This hasn’t landed yet, but there is enough time before 13.04 that I’m confident it will make it.

A bit about what you’re seeing in that new view:

  • The “Backup” text and icon is being pulled from the .desktop file for the app.
  • “Backup” has subitems because there are some updates that only “Backup” depends on.
  • Updates that are not apps but are part of the base system (i.e. “on the CD but no .desktop file”) are under “Ubuntu base”.
  • For flavors, that should intelligently change to “Xubuntu base” or whatever and use the right metapackage.
  • Notice that the package name is no longer shown, so make sure your package descriptions are high quality!

Ubuntu Maintenance Work

I promised myself I would blog more about the work I do on Ubuntu, but I’ve not done anything glamorous enough recently to talk about. So instead I thought it might be interesting to give a top level view at some of the behind-the-scenes maintenance work that an Ubuntu developer like me gets up to.

Most Ubuntu developers will already know this stuff, but for those of you who are curious what kind of high-rolling life we lead, read on.

+1 Team

I recently came off a month rotation on Ubuntu’s +1 Team. This is a shifting group of people that try to keep all packages buildable and installable.

There are two very helpful web reports for this. The FTBFS report (fails to build from source) and the NBS report (not built from source).

When a package can’t be compiled from source (due to changes in libraries it uses, changes in compilers, incompatibility with less common architectures like ARM, etc.), it shows up on the FTBFS report. Typical cases are a missing build dependency or needing a newer version of a library.

The NBS report is for packages that we have to keep in the archive because some other package needs them, but we no longer have the source package in the archive to match it. For example, if libfoo1 becomes libfoo2, the foo source package no longer builds libfoo1, but we still need that package in the archive until all other packages use libfoo2. Usually, this is as simple as a rebuild of affected packages. When there are no more users of libfoo1, an archive admin can drop it from the archive.

This team always likes help, if you’re interested!

MIR Team

The MIR Team is the team responsible for approving packages that need to enter main, usually in order to be included on the Desktop or Server CDs. This additionally means that Canonical is on the hook for support of the package.

This review is largely focused on making sure that the package will be well maintained. That it doesn’t have a terrible history of security flaws. That it doesn’t needlessly duplicate existing main packages (for example, we’d like to have as few XML parsers that the security team has to look after as possible).

This is a relatively small team, since these reviews don’t need to happen often.

Howliday 2011

As is rapidly becoming a new Howliday tradition, I’m posting my Howliday entry super late.

Nothing of super note, just that we decided cookies were the new tradition, based on Meg’s excellent batch.

Clearly, people of old would leave offerings of fresh cookies to supplicate the banshees.  Much as modern children leave the same for Santa, in hopes of having him reconsider that bag of coal.

Can’t Log Into Precise? Here’s Help!

So apparently I helped break the login screen for a lot of non-English speakers in Ubuntu 12.04 recently. Sorry!

The basic symptom is that regardless of your system keyboard layout, you would get a “us” layout. Which likely meant you couldn’t enter your password correctly.

To work around this, change your keyboard layout to be correct in the upper right keyboard indicator in the login screen.

I’ve pushed a fixed version of unity-greeter to the archive (0.2.0-0ubuntu4). So once you do manage to log in and update your system, you shouldn’t hit this problem next login.