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Akademy 2015 – where awesome things happen

Day 0:

Reached La Coruña on Friday 24th evening in time for the pre-registration event to attend my first Akademy. I met a few familiar faces and Jonathan Riddell introduced to many hackers. Later in the night we witnessed the interesting Galician ceremony of calling spirits.

Day 1:

Matthias Kirschner, the vice president of FSFE, delivered his keynote “An endangered species: The computer as universal machine”, offering a perspective on how computers were ‘unrestricted’ tools in the beginning. He started with the picture of man landing on the Moon and then raising his mobile phone to state the fact that this tiny device has more computing power than the computer that helped man land on the Moon. Fast forward to present times, look at how various businesses are trying to restrict that computing power. Trying to build restricting technologies actually takes a lot of manpower, time, effort and incurs cost - consider for instance the example of ‘sim locking’ - phones are manufactured by default to operate with any compatible sim card, but companies put a lot of effort in the software and hardware to restrict and tie down to specific carriers. The talk clearly showed the need for communities defending freedom in the digital age.

“Plasma desktop” by David Edmundson – David argued with the help of survey graphs that desktop usage is not slowing down, nor is the usage of Linux on desktop. He emphasized on the point that Plasma focus on “getting things done” and being “contextually aware” using KActivities etc. David concluded with the notes that Plasma 5 is in an encouraging state, it has a lot of potential for improvement in the short and long term and this is a great time to get involved in shaping its future.

“Plasma mobile” introduction - by Sebastian Kügler and Boudewijn Rempt. This session was quite an interesting event by virtue of announcing Plasma Mobile and demonstrating it running on Nexus 5 phone. Plasma mobile reference implementation is build on top of Kubuntu, using libhybris compatibility layer and KWin as the compositing manager. After the talk, a number of Nexus 5 devices flashed with Plasma mobile were on demo which felt super responsive and stable enough for a fantastic mobile development system.

I then went to the presentation about “Kdenlive” by Jean-Baptiste Mardelle - this video editor is in development for more than 10 years. Jean explained how it uses MLT framework and how important a vision statement for Kdenlive for a bright future of this video editing software.

“KDE Frameworks in use” - by commercial applications, by David Faure. David, being the maintainer of KDELibs and KDE Frameworks libraries, shared his experiences with commercial applications using KDE Frameworks such as KArchive, KIO etc. He mentioned that most companies are happy to upstream the improvements and they get ‘free of cost’ maintenance going forward.

And then we broke for a fantastic lunch sponsored by BlueSystems at the cafeteria.

Next talk was about “Packing C++ structs” by Volker Krause. Volker explained how memory layout of members in a struct are usually sequential and each member occupies size of its type and are aligned to alignment requirements of the type. For example, in x86 systems an int variable occupies 4 bytes and is aligned to 4 byte boundary in memory. He further explained how each individual member of a struct could be rearranged (at definition) to optimize the total size occupied by the struct and eliminate padding which wastes memory space.

Àlex Fiestas explained in his talk how Agile, TDD (test driven development), CI (continuous integration) & CD (continuous delivery) all mean the same and why continuous feedback is essential for successful software development.

Jens Reuterberg then talked on how to deal with different categories of jerks lurk in the community who make people feel “their work is bad and they should feel bad”, and potential strategies assumed against each type.

Next up was “KDevelop” by Milian Wolf. The KF5 port of core platform and some plugins are already completed and it works. The developers are working with CMake upstream for a faster engine. Some old code were removed and with it lost few features but those will make a come back sooner or later. The C++ support improved greatly due to LLVM based kdev-clang.

“Trojitá – a fast IMAP email client” by Jan Kundrát. Jan demonstrated Trojitá on the stage loading many thousands of messages very quickly. The Plasma mobile team expressed their interest to work together with Jan in bringing Trojitá to mobile. Jan later in a casual discussion explained how Trojitá makes use of on-demand and lazy loading to achieve fast response and excellent performance. At first only the IMAP envelops are retrieved from the server and when a message is selected, its header and body are retrieved. He also discussed how lazy loading hurts performance in certain situations.

After the talks, met with and talked to “WikiFM/WikitoLearn developer Riccardo Iaconelli, offered help by some of my friends who work on PHP/JavaScript to improve the WikitoLearn backend system. We had further discussions next days.

Day 2:

Second day started with the keynote on “Evolving KDE” by KDE e.V president Lydia Pintscher. She looked at KDE as a community - where we have been, where do we stand and where do we want to go. She emphasized on the necessity to focus on key areas and products. To the question from an audience member on what concretely means by focusing, Lydia answered - ask questions such as ‘why do we have so many music players’ for instance. There were also opinions expressed that design decisions in a top-down order do not usually work in community based projects and it has to come from ground up where involved parties (users, developers, designers) come together to agree on decisions. More discussions within the community followed during the Evolving KDE BoF session.

Andrew Lake and Thomas Pfeiffer from VDG team talked about “Vision” - the importance of each project to define a vision and strive to achieve it, guarding against diversion such as trying to do everything and ending up not doing anything better. They offered help and BoF session for interested projects to define and refine the vision for those. Many project maintainers later made use of their offer to define and refine vision for their projects.

“QtModeling and meta-modeling” by Sandro Andrade. QtModeling was developed as part of his PhD, which is a tool to define software models such as UML.

“Welcome to Massachusetts” presentation was changed by the time of presentation to “Welcome to Wayland” as Martin Gräßlin managed to actually make KWin and Plasma work on Wayland. He ran the presentation in his laptop running with Wayland backend. Clearly, Plasma/Kwin on Wayland has made huge progress, but there are still pieces to fall in place and features to be implemented and rough edges to be polished. This certainly was one of the most interesting news from KDE world during Akademy.

I managed to pester Jan Grulich enough to implement the missing network traffic plotter in Plasma Network Manager. He had a prototype in his local branch, but adding the dynamically adapting transfer rate on Y-axis needed more work on the Plotter plasma component. We continued working and testing in the next days.

I missed Dan Vratil’s sandboxing applications talk. But then attended the talk in which Dan Vratil introduced KAsync, an asynchronous event library and its syntax. And then the talk on HiDPI applications by David Edmundson explaining Plasma’s own pixel scaling technique before Qt had the capability and once Qt has, how to not rely on the QT_DEVICE_PIXEL_RATIO.

The day ended with presenting this year’s Akademy awards – Milian Wolf for best application (KDevelop), Jen Reuterberg and VDG team for best non-application, Scarlett Clark for CI/Jenkins and Albert Vacca for kdeconnect.

Akademy-2015-Awards

A bunch of us went to La Coruña city center for dinner, and I found out that Mexican tortilla (the flat bread) and Spanish tortilla (with potato and egg) are two entirely different items; Kai Uwe learned the same at greater expense of nearly starving. But we all had a good laugh at Kai’s expense ;-)

Day 3:

From day 3 onward, it was all about BoF sessions, hacking together, fixing things, implementing new features. I started to fix a long standing annoyance with KCharSelect on displaying characters with large width (such as South Asian scripts), turned out to be trickier than I thought. Later in the night I found the fix committed introduced a regression, planned to consult with David Faure next day.

Attended the “Plasma BoF”. Then attended “VDG BoF”, helped fixing Thomas Pfieffer’s Plasma5 installation and grub. Identified a password entry focus issue with plasma-nm on connecting to a new wifi when Thomas tried to do that; later talked to Jan and he fixed the issue in 2 minutes.

VDG team asked people from different ethnicity to pop in during BoF to make new KDE avatars. Jens Reuterberg took my picture and he is making a KDE avatar out of me ;-)

Day 4:

Attended “Wayland BoF” conducted by Martin Gräßlin.

Continuing with investigating the KCharSelect regression, I was lucky to work with David Faure properly fixing KCharSelect both in kdelibs and in KWidgetAddons framework. We then noticed further issues with KF5 based KCharSelect, investigated and unearthed a Qt4→Qt5 QChar enum issue. More on that in another blog post.

“Solid BoF”. Few people turned up for the Solid discussion, we discussed the general status in hardware support and later Lamarque Souza handed over the maintainership of Plasma Network Manager to Jan Grulich.

Day 5:

Dan Vratil organized the “Containers and Application Sandboxing” BoF. He explained how to define and build runtimes and KDE applications in Fedora using xdg-app. Scarlett Clark’s continuous integration and Phabricator session followed, and Release team BoF afterwards.

I started testing the new plasma-volume-control (later renamed to plasma-pa [pulseaudio]). Built F22 rpms in Copr, F23 has copr build issues. Found a bunch of issues, fixed many of them and David Edmundson reviewed the on the spot which I committed in the repo. Reported rest of the issues to him and left them in his custody ;-)

Missed Valentin Rusu’s talk “Going from graphical dev tools to VIM”.

We then took the day trip to Tower of Hercules and the Aquarium. Climbed up the tower and enjoyed the beautiful view of the sea. Dinner later at a small but expensive restaurant with delicious food – especially fish. I did immaculate pronunciation of an Italian tongue twister, earning high-fives from Marco Martin and Riccardo Iaconelli.

Day 6:

Fixed the mute volume and volume slider issues with plasma-volume-control. Talked to Andrew Lake about a plasma “welcome” screen. Worked with Kai Uwe on improving the Notes taking applet.

To compensate the missed session on vim editor by Valentin Rusu, he gave us an overview again at the hacking area. Amazed to see his vim setup – a full fledged IDE, and he showed many cool tricks using vim and i3 window manager. Even firefox is configured to have vim shortcuts.

Signed the FLA with KDE e.V.

Later in the day went for swimming after many years, which turned out to be harder than I expected.

Day 7:

Flew back to Brussels.

Overall, I met a lot of wonderful people who I am happy to make acquaintance of. I learned many things, contributed a few patches,  fixed some bugs and enjoyed the great atmosphere where people come together, exchange ideas, build new things, fix problems, evolve visions and immerse themselves in creativity.

Thanks a tonne to KDE e.V for sponsoring my attendance. A huge thanks to the organizers, GPUL and Rialta for excellent organization, coordination and facilities.

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Attaching debugger and ptrace_scope

In Fedora 22, if you try to attach debugger to a running process, even if by the same user, gdb will politely refuse with error message:

ptrace: Operation not permitted.

The reason is a newly enabled security feature YAMA to specifically restrict inspecting memory of other programs. See the RH bug 1196825 for original discussion. This information is yet to reflect on the Fedora security features matrix.  On why this restriction is a good thing, read the Linux kernel documentation. Note that this restriction doesn’t affect program started by debugger, such as “gdb myprogram“. To enable debugging running programs, as root do:

echo 0 > /proc/sys/kernel/yama/ptrace_scope
To enable that permanently, do:
echo kernel.yama.ptrace_scope = 0 > /etc/sysctl.d/10-ptrace.conf