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[opensuse-gnome] Notes from GCDS 2009
  • From: Federico Mena Quintero <federico@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 22 Jul 2009 15:17:35 -0500
  • Message-id: <1248293855.19568.176.camel@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Notes from the

Gran Canaria Desktop Summit 2009


non-exclusive coverage


Federico Mena Quintero

* Venue

Gran Canaria is a mostly barren, volcanic wasteland of an island,
lined on parts of the coast with hotels and other artifacts of the
"service economy". There seems to be a substantial vestige of
industry, mass housing, and big-box stores along the corridor between
the airport and the hotels. Said corridor is a perpetually busy
superhighway, well on track to becoming a tremendous liability in a
Post-Peak-Oil world.

In attempts to defeat the barren-ness of the soil, the sister island
of Lanzarote, in a feat of brilliance, has built thousands of curved
mini-walls on the windward side of trees planted on steep hills, to
prevent soil erosion. Miniature ecosystems form around the base of
each tree. Soil structure improves. But I digress.

Gran Canaria, the island, was the last stop for Christopher Columbus
(or Cristóbal Colón, as he is known in the Spanish-speaking world)
before the big, uncertain leg of his first trip to the Americas
(where, subsequently, he had absolutely not the faintest clue of where
he was: to him, Florida was Cathay, the banana island republics on
the East of the Gulf of Mexico were somewhere in the Indian ocean, and
to his reasoning he must somehow have passed the islands of Japan,
which were never to be seen).

Gran Canaria is also where Christopher Columbus had his first love.
This probably happened while one of his three carabelas (the swift,
sleek wooden ships that he used) was undergoing repairs, for it had
broken its rudder (in Novell's parlance, this would be a P1 Crit-Sit
shipstopper bug. Ah ha ha ha, shipstopper). The vessel in question
also had its masts rearranged, and had its sails expertly converted
into an even faster combination. Said boat eventually became
Columbus's favorite, "the fastest, most navigable, and most
seaman-worthy", in his own words.

500-odd years after that fateful voyage, conquests, genocides,
cultural fusions, independences, wars, the service economy, and
similar tragedies, we are taken to the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit 2009.

The Alfredo Kraus auditorium, a caprice of postmodern architecture,
and a nominally excellent concert hall, theater, and cultural venue,
is placed on one end of the Playa de las Canteras (beach of the
quarries). The auditorium is close to seaside taperías, restaurants,
bars, and other amenities. It is conveniently reached by foot from
most hotels where attendants had the sense to stay.

Note the key word "conveniently".

Smack in the middle of the conference, the conference itself moved to
an inland university campus, a concrete monstrosity typical of 1970s
anti-riot graduate education, smack in the middle of the barren
volcanic wasteland. The campus has a dearth of cafeterias, which are
limited to sandwiches and university-quality food. It is
inconveniently reached by bus or taxicab from pretty much anwhere you
may be.

Note the key word "inconveniently".

Throughout the island, the local monopoly on coffee and tea products
and artifacts has provided every single eatery with sugar packets
which have a morsel of "dialecto canario" (Canary lingo) printed on one
of their sides. You can learn the local words for an untrustworthy
person, a fat belly, and other archetypes of the human race. This is,
unfortunately, mostly only of interest to Spanish-speaking specimens
of that species.

* Notes from the conference

I arrived on Saturday afternoon, just after lunch, so I missed the
morning keynotes. Enough has been blogged about these.

There was a press conference with members of KDE e.V. and the GNOME
Foundation. We collectively answered the questions from the two or
three members of the press that were there.

* Observation on the spacetime implications of co-located conferences

The schedules of Akademy and GUADEC didn't coincide, that is, the
talks were not scheduled at the same times and they did not have the
same duration. So, one almost never had a chance to see people from
the other project.

The auditorium, a postmodern fantasy where structure does *not* follow
social spaces, had no default central meeting area. People scattered
around to find a place to sit in small groups and converse. Coupled
with the lack of synchronized schedules, this made it really hard to
see people from the other project.

* Parties

There seemed to be a party every day, sponsored by a different company
every time. Alcohol and finger food were mostly inexhaustible. A
good time was had by all.

* More notes from the conference

I attended Owen Taylor's keynote on the state of gnome-shell. Very
interesting stuff, much more fleshed out than during the User
Experience Hackfest last year in Boston.

Seif Lotfy, Thorsten Prante, and myself gave a talk on Zeitgeist, an
implementation of the "journal of your stuff" ideas I presented during
last year's GUADEC. I'm looking forward to integrating this with

* Notes on hubris

This is the first time since we started writing free software (and by
"we" I mean free software at large), where we have the possibility of
doing something that Apple and Microsoft cannot do. We can modify the
source code for applications to really integrate them into something
better than the desktop metaphor. Apple/MS can't, as they don't have
the source code to all the applications they run.

I mean, let's go and kick their asses.

* Notes on food

Spanish cuisine is rich and varied, with many different local cuisines
depending on the geographic region where you are. Canarian cuisine
has its own staple dishes, uniformly tasty, and its own liquors,
uniformly alcoholic.

A simple, excellent, fresh salad is thus: slice tomatoes no thicker
than 3mm. Arrange them on a plate. Spread olive oil on them, so that
they are not quite drenched but still half-swimming in it. Add the
juice of one juicy lemon, or even better, one juicy lime. Salt and
pepper to taste. And here's the magic ingredient: grind some cumin
and dust the tomatoes with it.

Enjoy the salad, of course, by accompanying it with hard or soft
manchego cheese (ewe's milk is best), and crusty bread. You can mop
the tasty juices with your bread.

"Arroz caldoso", or rice with broth, is a more liquid version of
paella, which of course is basically rice-and-seafood. The caldo, or
broth, is quite aromatic with cumin and other magic spices to round
out the seafood.

The Canary islands are most definitely not in Europe; they are to the
left of northern Africa, Morocco in particular, and so the local
cuisine has borrowed interesting spices from the continent. Cumin is
used much more profusely than elsewhere in Spanish cuisine.

"Ronmiel", or honey-rum, is rum whose casks get the addition of
honey. It is extremely sweet and goes to your brain quickly. It is a
must-have during dessert.

What about rum? The Canary islands, in the non-barren areas, grow
sugarcane. Fermented cane juice becomes rum. Yo ho ho arrrrr.

* Metadata

GNOME needs a metadata storage engine. The Tracker project seems to
have come out of insanity, finally, and is becoming a reasonable
implementation of a metadata store. It stores RDF triplets; you can
do SPARQL queries on it; it simply borrows the Nepomuk ontology.

(Footnote for the uninformed: RDF triplets look like subject/verb/object,
such as Sorting-and-Searching.pdf/has-author/Donald_Knuth. SPARQL is
a little language to do queries on such data. Nepomuk is a set of
standard types of such triplets, or in W3C wanker parlance, an

(Footnote for the insidious: fortunately we can mostly ignore the W3C
in these matters and just implement something that works.)

I had a long conversation with Ivan Frade, a Nokia guy who works on
Tracker. I told him, "please convince me that Tracker is a good
engine for storing metadata", as I was utterly convinced that Tracker
as a search engine is a totally braindead project. He convinced me,
sure enough, and proved to be reassuring that Tracker is not insane,
at least just for metadata.

There were hints that KDE is considering using Tracker as well, which
would be a major win to avoid duplicated code and databases.

* Why metadata?

Zeitgeist, the journal, and Sebastian Faubel's Organise-FW semantic
file manager need a metadata store. Zeitgeist's journal would like to
show you, "you looked at attachment.txt on July 22, and by the way, it
came on a mail from Your Mom <your@xxxxxxx>". Evidently, this
information like "this file/is an attachment from/a piece of mail"
can be conveniently encoded as an RDF triplet. Other useful bits of
metadata could be "this file/was downloaded from/this website", or
"tomatoes/are excellent with/cumin and lime".

* More Zeitgeist

Collaboration and teamwork. What have my cow-orkers been doing?
Share their Zeitgeist journals across Telepathy. See a Tufte-worthy
visualization of their timelines, in real time, anywhere on the net.

That is called Project Cookie Monster, by the way.

I didn't pick the name. My Egyptian minion did.

Cookie Monster is not vaporware (who do you think we are? Google?);
there is a proof-of-concept implementation which made everyone at the
Zeitgeist BoF squeal with glee.

* Swag

Nokia/Trolltech gave out green towels for the beach.

And that's the best piece of conference swag I've ever seen.

* GNOME Advisory Board meeting

Whole-day, fun in parts, boring in others, as usual.

Nothing was presented there that wasn't also shown during the

GNOME may increase fees to member companies, since fees have been kept
constant while the U.S. dollar is in free-fall.

Lunch at an excellent Persian restaurant.

* Hippie treehuggers BoF

I hosted a BoF, at the beach, for people intersted in architecture,
urbanism, gardening, food production in the city, permaculture, peak
oil, etc.

The BoF had a stellar attendance of 6 or 7 people.

We discussed compost heaps in tropical gardens (Veracruz, Mexico) and
in subpolar forests (outskirts of Boston); seeds which need
hibernation before they know when to sprout; cutting of garlic leaves
so that the plants spend more energy building garlic roots instead of
leaves; herb spirals and miniature ecosystems; the spacetime
implications of co-located conferences; and strategies for rainwater

* A quote I like

"Without communal eating, no human group can hold together." -
Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language.

* Afterword

I probably missed important details in this summary.

* Colophon

This summary was typed in Emacs while eating grapes out of a bowl.

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