Code-In winners in San Francisco!

Ubuntu took part in the Google Code-in contest as a mentoring organization last December and January. Google Code-In is a contest for 13–17 year old pre-university students who want to learn more about and get involved with open source. With the help of mentors from all participating organizations, the students completed tasks that had been set up by the organization. In the end, both sides win; the students are introduced to the open source communities (and if they win they get a prize trip and many other benefits) and the mentoring organizations get work done.

The contest itself ended in January 2016, and in June it was time for the grand prize winner’s trip to San Francisco, where I represented Ubuntu as a mentor side. I’m sure you are waiting to hear more, so let’s go!

The Trip

Meet & Greet

On Sunday evening, the trip started with a more or less informal Meet & Greet event, where mentors could have the chance to meet the winners for their organization and the other way around. To recap, the winners for the Ubuntu organization where Matthew Allen from Australia and Daniyaal Rasheed from the United States. Congratulations! They, along with the other winners and many more contestants did great work during the contest and I’m eagerly waiting to see more contributions from then in the future!

The event was indeed a great way to start the trip and let people socialize and get to know each other. The winners were also presented with the first surprise; a Nexus phone for everybody (along with other swag given to the students and mentors)!

The Campus

Heading into the new week and first whole day together in San Francisco, we took some buses from the hotel to the Google campus. After the breakfast, we had some talks by mentors and the award ceremony with Christ DiBona, the director of open source in Google – or quoting the man himself, the “special”. Without further ado, here’s a few photos taken from the ceremony by the lovely Jeremy Allison (thanks!).

After the ceremonies, it was lunchtime. During lunch, students not from the US were hooked up with Googlers from their own home country – cool! Following lunch, we heard a bunch of talks from Googlers, some organization presentations by mentors and visited the Google Store (where all the winners got a gift card to spend on more Google swag) as well as the visitor centre.

Finally after dinner the buses headed back to the hotel for everybody to get some rest and prepare for the next day…

San Francisco activities

Tuesday was the fun day in San Francisco! In the morning, winners had two options: either a Segway Tour around the city or a visit to the Exploratorium science museum. I believe everybody had a nice time and nobody riding the Segways got seriously hurt either.

After getting everybody back together, it was time for some lunch again. We had lunch near the Ghirardelli Square and it was the perfect opportunity to get some nice dessert in ice cream and/or chocolate form for those who wanted it.

When we had finished all the eating, it was time to head for the Golden Gate bridge and surrounding areas (or hotel if you wanted some rest). Some of us walked the bridge (some even all the way to the other side and back), some around the parks nearby, guided by the local Googlers. It was definitely a sunny and windy day at the bridge at least!

After all these activities had been done and being rejoined by the people resting at the hotel, the whole group headed for an evening on a yacht! On the yacht we had a delicious dinner and drinks as well as lot of good discussions. Jeremy was on fire again with his cameras and he got some nice shots, including a mentors-only photo!

The Office

On Wednesday, our last day together, we walked to the Google office in San Francisco. After a wonderful breakfast we were up to more talks by Googlers, the last presentations by mentors, of course some more Google swag, lunch at the terrace, mini-tours inside the office, cake, chocolate, more candies and sweets etc.

Most importantly, the winners, mentors and parents alike had the last chance to get some discussions going before most people headed back home or other places to continue their journey.

Afterthoughts

I think it’s a great idea to involve young people to open source communities and get some work done. This contest is not only a contest. It isn’t only about contestants potentially being applied to a great university or an internship at Google later. It also isn’t only about the organizations getting work done by other people.

It’s a great way to get like-minded people communicate with each other, starting from a young age.

It can help young people who might not be socially the most extrovert to find something they like doing.

It can potentially make more open source careers possible through the passion that these young people have.

Whether Ubuntu will apply to be a mentor organization next time depends much on the volunteers. If there are enough mentors who are willing to do the work – figuring out what tasks are suitable for the contestants, registering them and helping the contestants work their way through them – then I don’t see why Ubuntu would not be signing up again.

Personally, I can highly recommend applying again. It’s been a great ride. Thank you everybody, you know who you are!

Other blogs

François Revol (Haiku mentor) – a series of blog articles about the trip with even more details

A salute to Luovi bags

This article is a salute to Luovi laptop bags designed by the late Christian Mäkelä. I’ve never really got into writing this article before even if I’ve thought about it many times. Now that I’ve bought my third model, I think it’s due time.

Unfortunately, you can’t find these bags on retail stores any more. I’ve been lucky enough to have bought my first two bags when they were still new and in retail, as well as finding the third one second hand in a color I like for a very reasonable price. I’ve seen a few more around, so getting one is still possible.

General notes

All the bags are handmade in Finland, and each of them has a personal message stitched in them that says who has made the bag. I’ve used the two of my bags for a long time, and neither of them have any broken parts or show any excessive signs of wear.

The design is very clean and minimal without compromising functionality at all. They are sturdy enough to keep their form whether they are full or almost empty. Overall, the bags are aesthetically very pleasing to me.

Luovi 001

The facts

The Luovi 001 model is a compact shoulder bag with the other side being a hard working top and the other side being upholstered. Both the wooden working top and the soft filling are removable and replaceable if they ever go in poor shape. Finally, the shoulder strap is detachable, so you can also carry it in your hand.

For actual carrying purposes, there are two compartments: one big pocket for a laptop and one for documents. The big pocket holds your 17″ laptop. With a smaller laptop, some accessories, like a power cord and a mouse, easily fit in. The document compartment holds a few documents, up to approximately a small newspaper.

The verdict

The hard working top and soft pillowy side make this bag a perfect bag to work comfortably on your laptop on the sofa even for longer periods.

I haven’t used the laptop compartment for carrying my accessories a lot because they get out of place and uncomfortable soon. Instead, I’ve used another bag for those. However, this little shortcoming is easily compensated by the compact size of the bag itself. The documents compartment has been mostly useless for my needs as well; it doesn’t hold many documents at once. Nonetheless, it’s a good addition and does serve it’s purpose very well if you need to take only some documents with you.

The photos

Luovi 003

The facts

The Luovi 003 model is a shoulder bag with enough room for a laptop and accessories. It has a compartment for a laptop and a bigger one for accessories and more. One of the sides has a hard top which can be used as a working space. Technically, there are two more pockets inside which could hold documents, but one of them holds the hard working top and the other one the uphosltering material.

In addition, there is a small ziplock pocket in the main compartment. There is one small open pocket on the outside, which is just big enough to hold a small smartphone.

The verdict

This one is very useful when you want to go light, but need more than just your laptop with you. Since the laptop compartment contracts easily, you will have the whole space usable for your belongings when you are not carrying your laptop with you.

Due to the design, the flap of the big pocket isn’t as sturdy as one could hope. I would also prefer if the outside pocket was closable with velcro; as it is now, I’m not comfortable keeping anything there since it might fall off relativelty easily. While these certainly affect usability, they help keep the design and excess material minimal.

The photos

Luovi 005

The facts

The Luovi 005 model is a backpack, with a big main compartment, two side pockets and a pocket for a rain cover and the shoulder straps for the bag.

The main compartment is split into three major sections: a upholstered pocket for the laptop, a side pocket for documents and a central space for your accessories and more. The central space has two small, different sized ziplocked pockets on the document side for small accessories. The documents section can hold a good bunch of documents. When it doesn’t have any documents, it collapses completely to give all the space for the main section.

The side pockets are big enough to hold a bunch of stuff and are closed with sturdy velcro strips. The pockets keep their shape well and close tightly.

The last pocket holds a rain cover for the back, which you can wrap around the bag to protect your belongings. While the raincoat wraps around the hand-carrying strap, it has another one sowed in it, so you can still carry the bag in your hand. The shoulder straps are detachable from the other end and fit in well in the accessory pocket.

The verdict

This is a wonderful bag. I’ve used this on all imaginable laptop-involving trips from a quick visit on a clients office to a week-long conference trip to Copenhagen.

The main compartment is big enough to hold all of the accessories I can imagine carrying with me, and more. It’s also proven to be perfect size to carry various board games with me. The ziplocked pockets make sure none of my important small accessories get lost in the huge compartment. I love the freedom the document section gives me; take documents or don’t take documents, there is always the same amount of space available.

The side pockets are perfect for my use. They fit a wallet, some pocket-size Moleskine notebooks and calendars (which I exclusively use) or other similarly sized items. They are in the perfect position to use when you unleash one shoulder strap.

The shoulder straps feel very solid and sturdy and when tightened well, they keep the backpack from tilting or shaking. While I haven’t used the bag lot without the shoulder straps, I value the ability to detach and hide them inside the bag highly; with the straps inside, the bag is a very compact package and does not ravel into anything on your way. Altogether the back is very sturdy and keeps its form well – it isn’t a random piece of carriage even when full of items.

Finally, the built-in rain cover makes tops off the bag as perfect. It’s an invaluable feature when you are on the move, it starts raining and you can’t get inside. Once it has stopped raining or you get inside, you can simply put the rain cover back into the accessory pocket and it will self-dry in a short time.

The photos

Final notes

As you can gather from my comments above, I absolutely love all of the bags and will not be parting with them lightly.

I’m also more or less continuously looking around to find the missing models of the line for purchase – and potentially duplicates of some of the ones I have already. If you have one which you are willing to part with (for whatever reason), send me an email!

Setting up new systems

In May, I bought a new laptop. In this article, I go through a few of the most essential tweaks I set up with the new laptop.

When possible, I like to customize my system to support my workflow and to make working faster. Once you have customized something and got used to it, there’s no going back. This means every time I set up a new system (or an old system again), I have to set up the custom configuration up as well.

Locales

I prefer my interface completely English, but apart from that, I want some locale related things to be set to the Finnish standards.

In ~/.pam_environment, I have the following:

LANG=en_US.UTF-8
LC_TIME=en_DK.UTF-8
LC_NUMERIC=fi_FI.UTF-8
LC_COLLATE=fi_FI.utf8
LC_MONETARY=fi_FI.UTF-8
LC_PAPER=fi_FI.UTF-8
LC_ADDRESS=fi_FI.UTF-8
LC_TELEPHONE=fi_FI.UTF-8
LC_MEASUREMENT=fi_FI.UTF-8
LANGUAGE=en
LC_NAME=fi_FI.UTF-8
LC_IDENTIFICATION=fi_FI.UTF-8
PAPERSIZE=a4

Thunderbird configuration

I use Thunderbird for all of my mail and feed related activities. However, I don’t like the default set of shortcuts. The Keyconfig extension helps me set up my preferred shortcuts and disable shortcuts I don’t want to use at all. The most important shortcuts are as follows:

  • B for Address Book
  • C for Calendar
  • E for Edit As New Message
  • F for Forward
  • W for (Write) New Message

I use the Hide Local Folders and Manually sort folders for some fine-grained control over what is shown on my sidepane – and how. I also use some calendars with Thunderbird. The Lightning (integrated calendar), Lightbird (standalone calendar UI) and Provider for Google Calendar extensions let me sync my calendars easily.

Finally, I have customized the UI with an userChrome.css file, currently holding the following CSS:

/* do not color folders/servers with new messages blue */
#folderTree > treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(isServer-true, biffState-NewMail),
#folderTree > treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(folderNameCol, newMessages-true) {
color: inherit !important;
}

Display sizes for fonts

The laptop sports a 13.3″ screen with a full HD 1920×1080 resolution. This makes some of the text a bit too small and hard to read, and thus I’ve done some adjustments to DPI related stuff.

I’ve set the Xfce desktop DPI to 108.

For Firefox and Thunderbird, setting the value of layout.css.devPixelsPerPx to 1.1 both makes the UI a bit more spacy and the text a bit more readable. I usually like small text though, so you might want to increase the value even more.

Scratching the surface

Ultimately, these tweaks are just scratching the surface of the level of modidfications I have done already. Not to even talk about modifications and custom workflows I’m using on my desktop…

What kind of modifications do you use?