Ocean Warrior

The Ocean Warrior
The Ocean Warrior

The Ocean Warrior, the newest vessel in Sea Shepherd‘s fleet docked in Amsterdam before beginning its voyage to the Southern Ocean around Antarctica to prevent poachers from killing whales. Sea Shepherd is a marine conservation society that employs direct action to protect marine wildlife. The Ocean Warrior is a 54m custom-built vessel, hosting a crew of 16. It’s very fast, reaching almost 30 knots at top speed. It is powered by 4 3000 horse power engines, and features an open deck at the stern with a hefty water cannon.

Inspecting the bridge
Inspecting the bridge

The Ocean Warrior is an incredibly slick and strictly functional master-piece of ship engineering.  Its solid build makes it a tool suitable for the extreme conditions around Antarctica.

View towards the stern from the bridge
View towards the stern from the bridge
Powerful water cannon to keep poachers at bay
Powerful water cannon to keep poachers at bay

Its unusually high top-speed will give the Sea Shepherd fleet a huge strategic advantage in the vast wideness of the Southern Ocean.

Stern deck
Stern deck

 

Plasma at QtCon

QtCon opening keynote
QtCon opening keynote

QtCon 2016 is a special event: it co-hosts KDE’s Akademy, the Qt Contributor summit, the FSFE summit, the VideoLan dev days and KDAB’s training day into one big conference. As such, the conference is buzzing with developers and Free software people (often both traits combined in one person).

Naturally, the Plasma team is there with agenda’s filled to the brim: We want to tell more people about what Plasma has to offer, answer their questions, listen to their feedback and rope them in to work with us on Plasma. We have also planned a bunch of sessions to discuss important topics, let me give some examples:

  • Release Schedule — Our current schedule was based on the needs of a freshly released “dot oh” version (Plasma 5.0), Plasma 5 is now way more mature. Do we want to adjust our release schedule of 4 major versions a year to that?
  • Convergence — How can we improve integration of touch-friendly UIs in our workflows?
  • What are our biggest quality problems right now, and what are we going to do about it?
  • How do we make Plasma Mobile available on more devices, what are our next milestones?
  • How can we improve the Plasma session start?
  • What’s left to make Plasma on Wayland ready for prime-time?
  • How can we improve performance further?
  • etc.

You see, we’re going to be really busy here. You won’t see results of this next week, but this kind of meeting is important to flesh out our development for the next months and years.

All good
All good? – All good!

facelift

I’ve done a facelift to my website. The new version is more mobile-friendly, modern-looking and quite a departure visually from its original look. I’ve chosen for a newpaper-like, typography-based responsive layout. My site finally also supports SSL, thanks to let’s encrypt.

Going to Akademy
Next week, I’ll be going to Akademy, which is co-hosted with QtCon. As usual, my focus will be around Plasma-related topics. I’ll also hold a presentation about a KDE software store.

Inside the Particle Accelerator

IMG_20160311_164446We visited the CMS today, the Compact Muon Solenoid, one of the “experiments” that are part of the LHC, the large hadron collider, which is a research project aiming to find out more about the basic structures that make up our universe, like how gravity works, which particles make up our universe, and so on.

In order to do that, researchers accelerate elementary particles to almost the speed of light, make them crash into each other and record this process. There’s a 27km long circular tunnel 100m below the ground near Geneva, Switzerland (the tunnel actually extends into France, so the CMS experiment is located in France).

IMG_20160311_175655

As we’re currently at a KDE Plasma sprint at CERN, the European Research center for nuclear energie, we were invited to a tour through the CMS. We got to learn a lot about physics and also descended down into the chamber holding the giant CMS machine. (It’s switched off currently, since energy costs during winter are too high to run it — it takes a lot of power to accelerate particles to almost the speed of light, in the range of 200 Megawatt). There’s some maintenance work going on right now before this monster is switched on again towards the end of the month.

CERN staff were friendly and patient and answered all our questions. The tour was interesting and a lot of fun.

Here are some more pictures I took during the visit. You may notice that some of the computers in the control room are running Plasma on their desktops.
IMG_20160311_171423
IMG_20160311_165658

More photos of my visit can be found here.

Getting physical

plasma-cernbannerI’ve just finished my travel preparations for this year’s Plasma sprint, which will start tomorrow with the arrival of my fellow hackers in Geneva, CH. Together with a few other groups in KDE and organized by our WikiToLearn friends, we’re honored to be guests at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research where physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. Of course, these scientists and engineers couldn’t do their work without Plasma, so we’re obliged to hold our meeting there. :-)

Topics range from our Wayland support to Plasma Mobile, documentation, how we can improve our desktop experience, and general planning for the next months. I’m also looking forward to some face-time with my fellow hackers, and discussions with the artists and usability experts who are holding a meeting of the visual design group in KDE. Only good stuff can come out of this.

Many thanks go to all the people who support KDE. This support makes meetings like next week’s possible. Please consider supporting us.

Cuba Diving.

Spectacular sunset at Maria la Gorda
Spectacular sunset at Maria la Gorda
I recently went on a vacation to Cuba. As I wanted to go scuba diving there, I researched a bit beforehand. The information I could dig up was spotty at times, so I decided to share my notes in order to add it as anecdotal information when planning their diving trips.

During the 3 week trip to Cuba, I visited three locations in the south-western part of the island. In total, I did 19 dives along the Cuba coast, all of them very enjoyable. On the list were shallow (10-18m) coral reef dives, wall dives, some of them deep. I clocked my max depth at 34.1m. One of the things I wanted to do was a cave dive in a Cenote. Cenotes are underwater cave systems found around the geological area.

General Considerations

Dive boat at Maria la Gorda
Dive boat at Maria la Gorda
Cuba, being a Carribean island has a tropical climate with warm waters around it, and climatically a wet and a dry season. As the wet season may make the sea choppy, reduce visibility and carries the risk of hurricanes, it’s advisable to pick the dry seasons, months from November to May for diving activities. The South coast, which is where I have been diving had warm waters 27°C at the surface, and 26°C as depths down to about 35m. Visibility was generally excellent, commonly around 30m, with sometimes up to 50-60m in calm water. In several spots, there are large and well-preserved coral reefs. The South coast usually has calmer waters than the North coast, so I picked locations in the South-West: Maria La Gorda at the far southwestern point of the island, Playa Girón at the Bay of Pigs, and Playa Ancón near Trinidad. All turned out to be worth visiting and made for some amazing dives. (We also visited Cayo Levisa on Cuba’s Northern shore, which has a nice beach, but was mediocre at best for snorkeling from the shore. Go to Cayo Jutia instead, if you want good snorkeling, or book the boat to go diving at Cayo Levisa.)
Cuba is a communist country, instead of Coca Cola advertisements you’ll find some billboard reminding you that “the revolution is invincible”. Economic trade embargoes make acquiring scuba diving gear a problem (although I haven’t seen any shortcomings in this area myself). There’s usually just one dive center running the diving operations, so not much choice, but on the other hand, you’ll rarely encounter crowded dive sites, or reduced visibility due to other divers silting up the waters.

Touristic activities such as diving are usually possible through government-owned dive centers. There’s a network of official travel agents across the country, which can help you with booking trips and getting in contact with dive centers. Many of them are not easily reachable by phone, but you can sometimes book in advance of your trip online. In my experience, it would have been fine to just show up at the dive center at the right time of the day with your certification card and dive logs to prove your experience, and you’ll be almost good to go. I decided to bring my own gear, regulator, jacket BCD, 3mm wetsuit, fins, mask and torch in order to avoid any annoyances or unsafe situations due to flaky equipment.

My personal experience has been very positive, I loved the different dive sites, guides were generally skilled, and I had a whole bunch of amazing dives in Cuba. Would recommend.

Maria la Gorda

Maria la Gorda's beach
Maria la Gorda’s beach
Maria la Gorda is a bit off the beaten path in Cuba, one of the more remote locations on the main land. We travelled there from Vinales in 3 hours by car. The location itself is comprised of a hotel, two restaurants, and dive centre on a beautiful beach that also makes for some very nice snorkeling, you can basically walk in and enjoy lots of fish, even those not often discovered while scuba diving. Kim spotted barracuda, jacks, parrot fish, a moray and even an octopus just a few meters off the beach.
Diving there is done by boat 3 times a day. Almost all of the diving spots are within a 15min boat ride. The dive boat goes to 3 different sites a day, at 8:30, 11:00 and 15:00. It’s possible to also do a night dive, but has to be arranged with the staff. If you’re doing a day trip from Vinales just for diving, you’ll arrive in time to do two dives before leaving, the dive center does consider day guests. The surface time in between was enough to not dip too deep into nitrogen levels with 3 daily dives, the first two of them deep. Dives are usually limited to 45′ bottom time. If in general, you can’t get enough of scuba diving, that’s a lot of diving there.
The sites I’ve visited were all amazing in their own rights. Beautiful walls littered with coral, dropping down to 2000m right below you, really nice tunnels to dive through, large fan corals, barrel sponges of 3m and more, large groupers, jacks, and the usual variety of coral reef fish (parrot, box fish, angelfish, jacks, butterfly fish, etc.). Fish of more than 50cm in size were no exception, which seems like a sign that at least this part of the Carribean is comparably less overfished than other areas, there and especially in Asian countries.
The procedures on the boat were a bit unclear, I had liked to get better introduction there. Other people were happy to help, so this wasn’t much of a problem. The guides’ briefings were too short for my taste, especially knowing a bit about the navigation planned underwater would help to keep the group together more closely and in the end improves safety. I’ve asked the guide to tell me about the planned route under water, which he did in the following dives. That allowed me to take some responsibility myself (I really like to know under water that everybody who went into the water comes out of it as well). That said, there’s always room for improvement, and it didn’t lead to any dangerous situations. Taking responsibility for your buddies is part of diving, and as long as everybody takes it seriously, no problem.

Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs)

Museum in Playa Giron
Museum in Playa Giron
The Bay of Pigs is historically known for an attempt by the CIA to invade Cuba with US-friendly troops and overthrow the then-young communist government. Lack of political support from the US government, underestimation of the Cuban revolutionary troops and insufficient secrecy lead to an utter failure of the invasion attempt. Nowadays, the bay of pigs is a rather calm area, with excellent scuba diving. Basically, the eastern shore of the bay is lined with a coral reef wall very close to the shore. Commonly, one would do a shore entry here, swim out about 100m and then drop into the wall.
I dove with Ronel’s local dive operation. A tweaked bus would pick us up in the morning, go to the dive center (next to the government run hotel in Playa Giron) to gear up, and then drive up North for 10 – 20 minutes to one of the dive spots along the bay, then do two shore dives from there. We’d return around 1 o’clock in the afternoon, so there’s plenty of time for other activities (which, to be fair there aren’t that many apart from the beach and a “not-quite-neutral” museum about the failed invasion attempt).

The Cenote Dive

Entering the Cenote
Entering the Cenote
Cenotes are sinkholes in the shallow limestone ground near the coast. Small pools filled with fresh surface waters lead to extended cave systems flooded with salt water, so one enters a fresh water pool in the woods, then descends through a haloclyne. This haloclyne is the border between fresh and salt water. The caves were usually filled with salt water seeping in from the sea, but as there are almost no currents, rain water that comes in from above stays on top as fresh water. The haloclyne produces a weird disturbed visual effect when one dives through it, but above and underneath it, visibility is clear. These sink holes are often quite deep, the one we entered was 26m deep at entry point, the deepest points of the cave system went down to 60m. We entered into a tunnel, a vertical crack in the limestone about 1m wide, so wide enough to comfortably swim through. During the dive, we made our way about 350m into the cave to a maximum depth of 32m. As the shape of the cave determines the dive profile, I ended up having to add an extra decompression stop before surfacing.
We went through a lower tunnel into a larger cave, which had some beautiful sunlight shining in through cracks above in blue-green colors. Visibility was excellent, and the sunrays produced an almost magical ray of sunlight in the water of the deeper cave.
Descending into the Cenote
Descending into the Cenote
Through the haloclyne above us, the sunlight was broken by the different densities of air, fresh and salt water until they hit the particles drifting in the water or the walls and bottom and of the cave. This dive was guided by a specialized cave diving guide. Briefings were thorough, and after a first reef dive to check everyone’s buoyancy and general diving skills, we did our second dive of the day in the Cenote. I’ve found this video, which gives an impression how such a dive looks like. If you’re an advanced diver, comfortable with overhead environments and experienced enough, I’d definitely recommend doing a Cenote dive, For me, it’s been an unforgettable experience.

Playa Ancón

Playa Ancón is the beach village close to Trinidad. It’s a peninsula at about 7km from Trinidad. I’ve found it a bit complicated to book the diving there. Tour operator in Trinidad would tell me that everything’s fully booked, but inquiring at the dive center in Playa Ancon, I was told to just show up before 9am and I should be fine. That’s what I did, and it was indeed no problem to go diving there. We’d enter the boat from the beach and would go out a few hundred meters, just too much to swim there comfortably.
Even with a bit of a choppy sea that day, the diving was excellent. Good guides lead me over an interesting seascape with sandbed-“roads” in between coral fields, and much life in between. Highlights of these dives were a wreck, which lay across two large rocks and created a swimthrough this way, a school of tuna (about 40 fish), and a 1.2m large eagle ray. Water was warm and visibility in the range of 15m (considered quite bad for the location, so expect better when you get there). The dive shop was run professionally, but be prepared for a “laid-back scheduling”, which means depending on the day, two boat dives with a surface interval on shore might run into the early afternoon. (I’m mentioning it here, since every other dive center I dove with in Cuba was exceptionally punctual, contrary to what I had read before.)

Looking back, looking ahead.

Dragon- and Jackfruit, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, chocolate, palm sugar and tahoe from JavaThis year’s general assembly of KDE e.V. during Akademy will be my last one as a member of the KDE e.V.‘s Board of Directors. I had been elected during Akademy 2006 in Dublin, and since then served the KDE community by working on organisational bits necessary to support a Free Software project. We’ve seen times where our environment wildly changed, times of growth, consolidation, growing pains. Looking back fills me with satisfaction how we have developed KDE e.V. as an organisation. I think KDE e.V. is exemplary in many ways for other Free Software, and Free Culture projects. One of the cornerstones here is continuity, we simply had the time to learn a lot, to define and implement necessary processes around administration, fund-raising, legal questions, conference organisation and many more. As it stands today, KDE e.V. is an organisation that provides the continuity necessary for a community to think ahead, and the necessary infrastructure to foster and support those next steps. KDE e.V. is also an organisation that constantly evolves, reacting, but also foreseeing and preparing for the next steps. We have a well-functioning team in place to guide this, and I’m confident that the current and coming board members will keep developing KDE e.V. as an organisation towards its goal of supporting KDE.

The Merapi volcano, as seen from the BorobodurEarlier this year, I had also resigned from my role as one of KDE’s release managers. When I joined the release time, around KDE 3.5 (our software compilation was still called KDE back then), our release process was becoming dysfunctional. In KDE 3 times, coolo (to some known as Stephan Kulow) was the release dude, and it was all in his hands. He did a great job, but, just like in many other areas of KDE, embodied a single point of failure. Not that he, or others we relied on, ever failed, but it’s usually more a matter of statistics than personal skills, attitude and motivation. For critical tasks (and actually releasing all the work of such a community for others to use is a pretty critical one!), you want a team in place that can fall back on each other, both to spread workload and risks. Afin, KDE needed release managers, and after a detour through a more official body (the KDE e.V.-elected Technical Working Group, for those who remember this episode), it became clear that only a self-motivated group of people that want to get the job done will work. In hindsight, this sounds completely natural and closely aligned to KDE’s way of achieving things, but I think this way had to be walked, we have learned from it, and in the end, there’s a competent team in place which can deliver our software in time and quality. As being on the release team is work, and at times quite a lot, I wanted to get rid of this eventually. I managed to pull out, I think without leaving too much of a hole. A few releases have been done without me actively particating. Probably, most people won’t even have noticed. Perfect.

So am I on the way out? Most certainly not! I’ve been consistently shifting from organisational tasks to more technically oriented work, which to me personally, is a good development. I simply get more kicks out of writing code than reading emails. In that regard, I think I’m in good company.

The sun rising over BaliOn a professional level, I’ve been working for Blue Systems on Plasma’s upcoming version for a while now. I’m spending most of my time on Plasma and our Frameworks 5 effort, and enjoy that a lot. It gives me both the time to intimately understand more parts of our codebase, and much opportunity to learn new things and improve and develop existing skills. The work happens entirely within KDE infrastructure and community, and I’ve got a bunch of great colleagues who are equally eager to take big steps, technologically with our codebase. My role has now shifted a bit to also include team coordination tasks, which is an interesting exercise. On the one hand, a geographically spread team is harder to keep track of, but this is offset by the great motivation, skills and attitude of my colleagues (within both Blue Systems and KDE).

Incense in a buddhistic templeLuckily, my life’s not all KDE and the serious business of software development. In May, Kim and me travelled to Indonesia. We spent a few nights in the jungle of Borneo, took a walk with Orang Utans. We planted trees, and slept the nights on the deck of our boat acompanied by jungle noises and clear skies. On Java, we visited the Borobodur, a giant buddhistic temple, one of the 7 wonders of the world, we learnt about the roots (literally and figuratively) of many conveniences such as coffee, rice, tobacco and latex. We climbed up a Volcano. From Java, we set off to Bali, travelled along its North coast and then spent some time on Gili Trawangan, which is part of a group of sandy, tropical islands just off the coast of Lombok. The time in Bali and on the Gilis did my scuba diving skills really well. The area is excellent for diving with warm waters and amazing marine life. My finning technique has improved vastly and I’ve got dehydration under control much better now. During our dives we spotted lots of coral, soft and hard, vast amounts of colourful reef fish, turtles, reef sharks, morays, sea snakes. The abundance of colour and life was enchanting, though fragile.

With all that said, some of you will meet me later this week in Bilbao for Akademy. I will arrive on Wednesday already, going to see Depeche Mode and The Editors at BKK festival. If you want to talk Frameworks5, Plasma2 or anything else which lies in my line of interest: Talk to me.

Tokamak 6 Kicking Off: Why switch graphics stacks?

We (the KDE Plasma Team) are sitting at the SUSE office in Nürnberg, Germany right now, kicking off the already 6th edition of Tokamak, which is the name for (most of) our Plasma meetings. A Tokamak is a container for Plasma, which uses magnetic force to keep the Plasma in one (very hot) place. For the Plasma team, it provides a high-bandwidth setting where we can discuss, design, review and hack on the technology behind the Plasma workspaces. This meeting’s topic is Plasma2, the evolution of Plasma into the Qt5 and Wayland world.

First, we agreed on a bottom line: “Plasma 2 will be at least as good as the current Plasma, and probably better in many aspects.” This means that we’ll have to invest considerable effort and time into stabilization. At this point, where we are probably still a year or so away from a Plasma2-based release, making it part of our planning now will allow us to focus on the things that we think, matter. Among that is making sure the transition to KDE Frameworks 5, Plasma 2 and Wayland will be as seamless as possible, and perceived as an upgrade to our users.

But why are we doing this? Why are we putting so much work into it, what’s the benefit for the user?

Why switch graphics stacks?

In the past years, the landscape of graphics under Linux has changed quite a bit. Many things, like memory management of the graphics stack, rendering of primitives, font rendering, and a few other things involved in the process of “getting pixels onto your screen” have changed, and they’ve changed for the better. With a stack based on Wayland (and in extension Qt5), we are able to utilise modern graphics hardware better, to reduce maintainance effort and hopefully grow the community around the graphics stack, and not at least, to make sure that every frame that ends up on the screen is perfect. In the X11 world, we can’t really control it, since we have no idea when something is painted, in which way it is, where it’s painted, and when the pixels end up on the screen. With Wayland, this process of event processing, rendering and blitting is structured and guaranteed to happen in a certain order. In the end, this transition will enable us to put 60 perfect frames every second on the screen.
The new architecture also allows us to split the rendering into its own thread, so data processing or event handling in the application doesn’t end up delaying rendering. 60 frames per second will make the UI feel smooth as buttery silk, leading to less strain on the eyes and a nicer user experience.