Reaffirmed on the Kubuntu Council

I’d like to thank all the Kubuntu members who just voted to re-affirm me on the Kubuntu Council.

Scott Kitterman’s blog post has a juicy details of the unprecedented and astonishing move by the Ubuntu Community Council asking me to step down as Kubuntu leader.  I’ve never claimed to be a leader and never used or been given any such title so it’s a strange request without foundation and without following the normal channels documented of consultation or Code of Conduct reference.

I hope and expect Kubuntu will continue and plan to keep working on the 15.10 release along with the rest of the community who I love dearly.

 

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Protocols Plugfest Europe 2015

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at Protocols Plugfest Europe 2015.  It was really good to get out of the bubble of free software desktops where the community love makes it tempting to think we’re the most important thing in the world and experience the wider industry where of course we are only a small player.

This conferences, and its namesakes in the US, are sponsored by Microsoft among others and there’s obviously a decent amount of money in it, the venue is a professional conference venue and there’s a team of people making sure small but important details are taken care of like printed signposts to the venue.

What’s it all About?

In 2008 Microsoft lost an EU antitrust case because they had abused their monopoly position in operating systems.  This required them to document their file formats such as MS Office and protocols such as SMB.  This conference is part of that EU requirement meaning they have to work with anyone who wants to use their formats and protocols.  They have a website where you can file a request for information on any of their documents and protocols and everyone said they were very responsive in assigning engineers getting answers.

Since 2008 Microsoft have lost a lot of ground in new areas in the industry such as mobile and cloud.  Because they’re not the dominant player here they realise they have to use formats and protocols others can use too otherwise they lock themselves out.

The Talks

I spoke about Interoperability on the Linux Desktop which seemed well received, the reason Linux desktop hasn’t taken off is there are many other systems we need to interoperate with and many of them don’t want to interoperate with us. (Of course there are financial reasons too.) It was well received with many people thanking me for a good talk.

I went to talks by people working on Samba, LibreOffice and Kolab which all gave pleasing insight into how these project work and what they have to do to workaround complex proprietary protocols and formats.  LibreOffice explained how they work with OpenDocument, they add feature and for any feature added they submit a request for it to be added to the standard.  It’s a realistic best practice alternative.

I went to a bunch of Microsoft talks too about changes in their file formats, protocols and use of their cloud service Azure.

The inter-talks

It was great meeting some people from the free software and MS worlds at the conference.  I spoke to Christopher about how he had been hired to document SMB for MS, to Dan about taking over the world, to Miklos about LibreOffice and many others.  On the MS side I spoke to Tom about file formats, Darryl about working with Linux, to Jingyu about developing in MS.

I hope I won’t offend anyone to say that there’s a notable culture difference between the open source and the MS sides.  Open Source people really do dress scruffy and act socially awkward.  MS people reminded me of the bosses in Walter Mitty, strong handshakes, strong smiles and neat dress.

culture difference

One part of the culture that depressingly wasn’t difference was the gender ratio, there was only half a dozen women there and half of those were organising staff.

The Microsoft people seemed pretty pleased at how they were open and documented their protocols and formats, but it never occurred to them to use existing standards.  When I asked why they invented OOXML instread of using OpenDocument I was told it was “MS Office’s standard”.  When I asked if Skype protocols were open they seemed not to know.  It probably doesn’t come under the EU court requirements so it doesn’t interest them, but then all their talk of openness is for nothing.  When I suggested Skype should talk XMPP so we can use it with Telepathy I was given largely blank faces in return.

Talking to Samba people and OpenChange people about my opinion that their products should be stop gaps until a better open protocol can be used was met with the reasonable argument that in many cases there are no better open protocols.  Which is a shame.

I went into the MS testing lab to test some basic file sharing with Samba and reminded myself about the problems in Kubuntu and discovered some problems in Windows.  They had to turn off firewalls and twiddle permissions just to be able to share files, which was something I always thought Windows was very good at.  Even then it only worked with IP address and not browsing.  They had no idea why but the Samba dudes knew straight away that name browsing had been disabled a while ago and a DNS server was needed for that.  Interesting the MS interoperability staff aren’t great at their own protocols.

Zaragoza

I had a great time in Zaragoza, only spoiled by travellers flu on the last day meaning I couldn’t go to the closing drinks.  It’s on the site of a 2008 world fair expo which feels like one of those legacy projects that get left to rot, 2008 wasn’t a great year to be trying to initiate legacy I think.  But the tapas was special and the vermut sweet.  The conference timetable was genius, first day starts at 9:00 next at 10:00 and final at 11:00.  The Zentyal staff who organised it was very friendly and they are doing incredible stuff reimplementing exchange.  It’s lovely to see MS want to talk to all of us but they’ve a way to go yet before they learn that interoperability should be about an even playing field not only on their terms.

 

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Canoe Polo in Spain

polo

Last weekend I played my first match of polo in Spain.  We won a game, and draw a couple more which got us into the second round where we lost wonderfully.  I really enjoyed it.  It was run a little differently from the matches in Scotland, the obvious difference being it was outside in the sun which I fear would be difficult to recreate in Scotland. Here’s a list of other differences I noticed incase any are useful:

  • They are super strict on the rules.  We missed the first match last month because a player dropped out and we could not add a substitute because she wasn’t on the list.  The addition would need to be approved by the other teams on the day and it was too much hassle to go to with a risk that we wouldn’t be able to play.
  • They have a nice big timer board which lets you see the current score and current time.
  • All the teams need to wear identical coloured uniforms and captains must be clearly identified with an arm band.
  • They play the 60 second possession rule, for which there is another big timer display and person on duty to check.  If your team has possession for 40 seconds a bell sounds (which I found confusing and so did other people occationally), and 20 seconds later the refs sound their whistle to give the other team the ball.
  • The refereeing is done by 1 team and takes 6 people, 2 on the table, two refing on each side and 2 as linesmen sitting at the ends with flags to signal for clean start, goals and off balls.
  • After each match the team captain is given a sheet with goals and penalties and signs off as an accurate record (or puts in a protest).
  • The goals a hung from a line across the pool but with an additional tail from the goal to the end of the pool behind it which stops a lot of the swaying
  • Parking cones on the side mark the half way and 6 metre lines
  • The weekend is done as a weekend tournament rather than a series of league days with 3 rounds including a final winner.  It means 1 poor team goes home after the first day which is pretty unsatisfying (and this is Spain wide which is geographically and politically similar to having UK wide matches which is a heck of a long drive in most cases, this is because the crisis has ment there’s only enough teams for 2 leagues).
  • People like to moan about the SCA being bad at communication but as long as you find the Facebook page the polo stuff is pretty well communicated.  With the Real Federación Española de Piragüismo there’s no information anywhere online and no groups to discuss anything in.
  • Loudspeakers are up so announcements can be made
  • A printer seems to be somewhere around so current scores are printed off a couple times a day
  • There are 4 weekends in the year and they are all at different locations. The organisation is done by a club rather than the federation committee, this is because there are enough clubs with the complete facilities available.  Clubs get a bit grumpy at having to give the proceeds to the federation.
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Ubuntu Online Summit | ubuntu-community-team mailing list

Ubuntu Online Summit is starting today and Kubuntu have shuffled about their timezones in an attempt to fit in.  Tomorrow we have two sessions, at 18:00UTC we have the Plasma 5 demo showing the lovely new desktop we are using.  An hour later at 19:00UTC we have Kubuntu Kickoff to discuss the To Do items for the next cycle.  You can join in on the IRC channel and at some point we’ll work out how to invite people to the Google hangout.


Every community needs a way to discuss itself but until recently the Ubuntu community has lacked one, especially after the end of Ubuntu Developer Summit meetings.  The ubuntu-community-team list was set up to provide that and I encourage all Ubuntu members to join it.  Currently there’s a heated discussion about an incompatibility in Canonical’s IP policy with the Ubuntu promise, you don’t want to miss it.

 

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Voted SNP in Edinburgh South

My postal vote has been sent off for the UK general election which is on Thursday.

What’s going on?

The UK parliament and the government it forms is up for election.

What happened to independence?

In the last week of the referendum on Scottish independence last year the UK government threw everything it could think of.  Scare stories were all around about how it would destroy the economy, the English would keep our shared currency, the banks would move out of Scotland and the supermarkets would raise prices.  A back bench opposition MP called Gordon Brown gave a Vow about giving more powers to Scotland.

The day after the no vote the prime minister instead of doing as he promised to work with Scotland instead promised to withdraw Scottish MPs voting rights at Westminster on English only matters.  Fair enough you might think but the Scottish budget is defined by these English matters so there are no English only laws.  The promised new powers for Scotland were consulted on and nothing very interesting or useful was promised in the end.

So there’s a feeling of annoyance at the lack of respect for Scots.  With the population suddenly very interested in politics (85% turnout compared to 65% for a UK election) people have noticed.  The membership of the nationalist parties has quadrupled and the current UK election has many people wondering what’s in it for Scotland.

What’s in it for Scotland?

There are 3 major London based parties and they are showing none of the optimism shown by the Yes side in the referendum campaign.  Almost exclusively they talk down Scotland continuing to say it’s too small and too poor to manage its own affairs.  So the opinion polls have shown people prefer an optimistic message as the SNP gives and they have been forecast to go from 6 seats in Scotland to every single of the 59 seats.

With England equally split between the Tory and Labour parties it seems likely the deciding vote for approval of government business will be from the SNP.  The English media have gone a bit nuts at this and started querying if this is legitimate and a valid part of the constitutional setup.  Which makes Scottish voters wonder what happened to all those promises of wanting to work together during the referendum.

Edinburgh South?

My vote is for an MP from Edinburgh.  The current guy is Ian Murray from Labout.  He didn’t bother to turn up to a vote on bombing Iraq.  He accepts donations from the Arab Emirates and PriceWaterhouseCoopers which are straight bribery for his votes, these governments/companies have no interest in Edinburgh’s people. He calls SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon “Miss Sturgeon” despite her being married for years, an example of everyday sexism.

Reviewing the leaflets and watching the video interviews none of the candidates stand out as great parliamentarians so I’ve voted mostly on party and go with the SNP.  The candidate is Neil Hay who’s been criticised for having a Twitter account where it posted to a satirical article, a non-issue as far as I can see.  It’ll be interesting to see who chooses to work with them to be a UK government and who continues to claim that Scottish political wishes are irrelevant.

See you on Friday.

And Catalunya?

We had a voluntary poll here and of course the no voters stayed at home so it was 80% yes.  The Catalan government now says it resign in September and the election resulting will be a referendum on independence.  If more than 50% vote for independence parties they’ll unilaterally declare independence. At which point I expect Spain to send in the troops.

We live in interesting times.

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Plasma 5.4 Kicked Off

I just closed the Plasma 5.4 kickoff meeting. It was well attended with lots of Plasma devs and VDG members there. Here’s the minutes.

The To Do board [public link] has been updated with a load of new cards.

If you’re looking for a way to join the team of beautiful desktop developers (you can read that both ways and be correct) there’s plenty to do now.  For example the VDG have written a nice design document on System Settings which they need someone to help implement.

Plasma 5.4 is scheduled for August, it’ll be a great addition to Kubuntu 15.10.

 

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Grant Property, Latest in a Bad Line of Property Agents who Don’t Look After Their Property

My previous grumpy blog post about property agents who don’t maintain the property they rent out got me a phone call from Click Let.  Weird how a Twitter post will get more of a response then a year’s worth of e-mails.  Was he calling to propose helping with maintaining the property we share? Of course not, he was complaining that I had said they were happy to rent out a property they know doesn’t meet the legal standard.  He said the people living upstairs would fix it.  Or the council.  Or someone else.  But not him.  Which rather confirms what I said.

Weirdly the Click Let man even reported himself to The Scottish Association of Landlords who of course said it was fine not to inspect the property and the repairing standard doesn’t apply to roofs (because the tenant doesn’t have access to them allegedly even though they do if they bother to walk up to it).   Which confirms my fears that this is an industry wide problem where a sense of self entitlement means these companies (like the landlords themselves) consider maintaining the building to be outwith their duties.  So as I say, perfectly happy to rent out buildings regardless of the state they are in.

One of my more useful neighbours has organised some repairs on the roof and the roofers pointed out some crumbling stone that needed further repairs.  The council sent round someone who told me the same a decade ago and with scaffold up it seemed like a chance not to be missed to get them done easily.  I set up a poll of neighbours and asked them to vote on whether they agreed. Slowly votes came in from neighbours but not the majority needed.  Annoyingly the landlord registration doesn’t have useful stuff like phone numbers, I tried to search for some in the phone book and even facebook but without luck.  One of the neighbours we’d never heard from had started renting out their property but of course we’d never heard from him or his agent Grant Propetry.

I called Grant Property but was told the person in charge of repairs was busy and would call me back.  He didn’t so I called him again and hassled him about getting a vote on the question.  He said I shouldn’t hassle him because he was “trying to help me” which showed a complete misunderstanding of the situation.  I was offering to do his job for him and he was blocking me but he thought he was helping me.  Incredible.

He sent an e-mail about being unable to do anything if the landlord doesn’t instruct him and that’s all we heard from.  I did eventually get the vote needed for a majority to be able to go ahead with the works but I’m so saddened and disappointed at yet more people who don’t want to look after their property or the property they rent out and just treat it as a bank account.

Lessons:

  • the repairing standard needs clarified to ensure the roof is included for everyone (which I’m sceptical is not the case already)
  • agents complain when you say they are happy not to have responsibility but then claim they have no responsibility.  insane.
  • agents respond more to an unfavourable Twitter post than they do a direct e-mail.  it makes you mad.
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Forth Canoe Club Boathouse at Fountainbridge, a Lesson in Politics

Many years ago in a move I’m very proud of him for my dad worked with some useful people and organised the dredging of Lochrin Basin at the end of the union canal in Edinburgh.  That then became the home of Forth Canoe club for twenty years during which time hundreds of people were introduced to this fun sport and we made world champion paddlers and Olympiads. After 20 years the rest of the world caught up to the idea that canal regeneration might be a nice idea which would improve the space people live and play in and the millenium project dredged the canal from Edinburgh to Glasgow.  To pay for this British Waterways kicked Forth Canoe Club out of its buildings and replaced one of the best community assets in Edinburgh with tall ugly buildings.

2004-02-union-canal-drained-forth-canoe-club

Forth CC’s buildings bulldozed and tall soulless buildings bring constructed.

BW gave Forth a shed further along the canal at Harrison Park.  It’s very picturesque but it’s 1/5th the size we had before and incredibly they built a wall in the middle of the building along its length to take away a further 2/5ths of that building.  No explanation was given for it but it might have been a walkway to let narrow boaters walk through or it might have been because the wall behind the building was collapsing and BW didn’t want the hassle of fixing it.

Back in 2011 (I think) the city council had a couple of employees who organised a meeting about a canal strategy. It’s the sort of well meaning but mostly unhelpful exercise.  The one ended up with an over-designed PDF that is was large to put on their CMS for several weeks and is now too large for me to want to download and read through.  The consultation was limited to a few meetings which were not well advertised and didn’t use any modern tools like web forums to allow a longer discussion to happen.  Ultimately there’s no money for anything so any nice ideas that did come out of it didn’t happen.

Anyway at this meeting I did manage to ask staff of what was to become a rebranded and devolved quango Scottish Canals whyever they blocked off two fifths of our boathouse.  They came and looked at the boathouse and wondered themselves whyever this happened, clearly whatever original purpose the internal wall had was long since forgotten as civil service office staff move around. A further meeting happened where I was given keys to the corridor but it turned out it was being used as a storage dump by our next door neighbour.  We could share the space the civil servants suggested.  I spent the next few months doing up the corridor around the neighbour’s old rowing boat.  I was told off for moving the rowing boat out of the corridor even though I needed to do this to fix the damage that had been caused by Scottish Canals’ neglect.  One day a lease arrived without warning or explanation in the post. Someone in Scottish Canals had presumably worked out they should support a nice community group making use of the canal not a neighbour who didn’t.  A victory.  But the building is still too small to do what we used to do.

Every time I met with Scottish Canals they wondered if we could move the canoe club to be with the rowing club at Meggetland or maybe at Wester Hails.  I was interested in the idea of a new building with the rowing club at Meggetland and had a few meetings with them about it but the canal is barely wide enough for one rowing boat never mind rowing boats with canoes circling around them so I decided to drop the idea.  I told Scottish Canals I was never interested in moving to Wester Hails at the edge of town, Forth CC works as well as it does because we’re close to the city centre where everyone can get to.  At the launch of the canal strategy, which despite starting canal redevelopment Forth was never invited to, Scottish Canals gave away why they were so interested in us moving out of town.  STV covered them in January 2012 saying

“At Harrison Park, if the Forth Canoe Club relocate to Hailes Park, Harrison Park could become a new focus for residential moorings.”

So for the second time Forth had the prospect of having its buildings bulldozed, quite galling considering what we have done to bring life to the area.  I told them we were not going to move out of the city centre and told the “canal champion” Tim McKay the same and the idea of barges at Harrison Park was quietly dropped.

In February 2012 I went to a meeting of a new community group.  The old brewery at Fountainbridge had been sold to the Bank of Scotland to make a soulless headquarters but the financial crash stopped that happening and a large brownfield site was then bought by the City Council for a new buliding for Boroughmuir school. The Fountainbridge Canalside Initiative was a group of people who thought they should come up with ideas for what to build on the rest of the land before developers come along with more soulless ideas.

I noticed a plot at one end of the site which seemed to be going spare, I wondered if it would be suitable for a new boathouse for Forth which would give us the space we badly needed.

So I set about searching for politicians to help find out if it was a good idea.  Lib Dem councillor Jim Lowrie invited me into his plush office in the City Chambers in the High Street and seemed very interested in the idea.  He said to give him a couple weeks and he’d set up a meeting with the relevant civil servants.  This guy was the planning convener as well as councillor for Fountainbridge so he should know about the plot.  Weeks went by and e-mails I sent went unanswered.  Then an election was on and his leaflets included that he had canal improvements on track including “new premises for Forth Canoe Club”.  Except he was the one blocking any progress by not organising the meeting he had promised me.  I think the real reason for the downfall of the Lib Dems isn’t Nick Clegg but is Jim Lowrie, the other points mentioned on this leaflet weren’t true either.

jim-lowrie

Jim Lowrie lies about helping Forth Canoe Club. A Google search for his name says “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe” which makes me wonder what else he is hiding.

After the election there was a new bunch of councillors to deal with.  But councillors have surgeries where they sit around in a library for an hour hoping someone turns up.  If someone does it’s usually somebody moaning about life.  They’re usually very happy to have someone turn up who had a helpful and realistic idea.  Except for some reason the councillors with the weird title of “canal champion”.  Tim McKey is in the election leaflet above and when I went to see him he kept saying I should go back to my local councillor, but I’m sure Scottish Canals don’t have to go to their local councillor.  I went to see Gordon Munro who got the title after the election but he had a ward in Leith many miles away from the canal and only said he “believed he had that remit” which seems like a failed setup by someone.

However Andrew Burns is my local councillor and also leader of the council.  He did organise a meeting with the relevant civil servants from sports and the education department who owned the land.  At the meeting the education dept said they were going to build part of the school on the land and were puzzled why we thought we could use it. They said there might be scope to get the building designed with a canoe club in it if we paid millions of pounds for the privilege.  There was no consideration that the school, despite being 1.5 hectares under the regulation size and wouldn’t have enough space for decent sports facilities would want to use the obvious facility on their doorstep, the canal.  Lesson being: politicians talk the talk but for results get to the civil servants fast to work out what’s really going on.  So the end of that idea. Or was it?

By 2013 there was a meeting set up called the Canal Sounding Board to discuss plans for the old brewery site at Fountainbridge which had land-owners, Scottish Canals, the local community group Fountainbridge Canalside Initiative, politicians and civil servants there.  The plans for the school had changed and the plot was no longer going to be used for a school building.  Could Forth get a building on there instead?  I sounded out some councillors and it seemed a possibility with initial plans for the school now showing a pavilion building on the land I had in mind.  Some queried where the money would come from and I said I hadn’t thought about it since I didn’t even know if the idea was at all possible but we had a track record of getting grants.  There was a consultation on plans for the school and parents who were in the club pointed out that using the canal as a sports facility seemed the obvious thing to do on a site short of sports facilities.  At the next sounding board meeting the plans for the school were revealed.  They included an enlarged playground with a garden area in it.  To compensate the proposed pavilion building in the public park was taken away.  The desire to support canoeing at the school was not relevant as it wasn’t on the syllabus said the plan.

Which brought an end to the idea.  It wasn’t a perfect idea anyway, the canal there is too narrow (although it also narrows on our current site) and it’s on the other side so the towpath would be in the way.  And it would have been a lot of work to fundraise and build the building so I wasn’t interested unless all the pieces fell into place.  Here it was just ignored by the people who could have made it happen, the education department.  It’s a small site and they have lots of competing demands just to get the school built but it’s a shame the government’s desire for active schools is ignored here.

And the current boathouse?  A wall fell down elsewhere in Edinburgh killing someone and suddenly Scottish Canals remembered the one they had neglected to have fixed for a decade and their lawyers sent us a letter to leave the building.  That’s a story for another day…

park
The new Park, no space for a boathouse but somehow an outdoor gym came on the plans, why do civil servants come up with random ideas and not listen to the ones people want?

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Kubuntu Beta 2 is Out

Kubuntu Vivid Beta 2 is out.  This is the first major distro to ship with Plasma 5 so it’ll be the first time many people get to see our lovely new desktop.  Scary.

We have 24 bugs I’ve milestoned and 1 month to go until release, let’s see how low we can go.  Many of the bugs are easy enough to fix and just need twiddling the bits in the packaging.  Some are more complex.  If you want to help out come and join us in #kubuntu-devel we’d appreciate just testing the ISOs for sanity.

Alas upgrade from 14.10 is currently broken due to a bug which is probably in apt , fix soon I hope.

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Plasma Release Scripting

I made the tars for Plasma 5.2.2 yesterday.  I use releaseme, the nice program by KDE hero Harald Sitter.  Previously this took over 4 hours to make all 35 tars now it takes about 1 hour, lovely.  Most of the time is checking out the translations which, to make life simpler for translators, are in a separate Subversion archive.  The update Harald did now was to allow multiple checkouts, lovely.  And with the docs people helping out too we have translations of documentation, Brazil is far ahead in its translations here.

The result was there was time in the day after running it to ponder improving the Plasma specific parts of the scripts so I added automation of a few bits to ensure consistency and make the process smoother.  Making the announcement webpages for bugfix releases is now mostly automatic.  Updating individual tars when problems are found it too.  I finally got round to scripting updates to the version numbers in Bugzilla, it’s crazy there is no API for this. I borrowed Albert’s script for KDE Applications to make better full changelog pages.  And I added some QA tests so I can check if there’s anything missing which should be there.   It was quite a satisfying afternoon.

Now I just need to automate the announcements and the second half of the process will be easy too :)

The amazing Scarlett is busy building them for Kubuntu now

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Kubuntu 15.04 Heating up

Kubuntu 15.04 development is in full swing and it’s looking like our 10th anniversary edition will be a classic.  We’re the first distribution to ship a stable version with Plasma 5, the desktop which is getting tech journalists excited.  My new favourite desktop they say.  A masterpiece  in the making they’re calling it.  The most exciting release in a long time they exclaim.

Kubuntu 15.04 Beta 1 is out and is working well for people wanting to try out Plasma 5.  We’ve deprecated the 14.10 Kubuntu-plasma5 packages, they were only ever tech preview and I’m afraid we don’t have the person-power to keep them updated, if you want Plasma 5 use the 15.04 Beta 1 for released versions or use Kubuntu CI images for Git versions.

Last week Ubuntu switched over to Systemd for boot system.  It’s complex and faffy but at least we have the same complex and faffy as the rest of the world.  There was a strange issue during the switchover where login manager SDDM suddenly disabled itself from starting.  If you get that just run:

systemctl enable sddm

With a new desktop comes the pleasingly satisfying work of integrating it, it’s not unlike when I first uploaded KDE 3 to Ubuntu.  This time though I’m better placed to put all the fixes upstream directly.  For example I’ve just setup gtkbreeze, a helper tool to set up GTK 2 and 3 themeing to mostly match Breeze.  But the icons don’t work, any help with that welcome.

Scarlett has updated Applications to 14.12.3.  Aaron H has updated the docs and the ubiquity slideshow. I’ve nudged the people and pulled the leavers to get KScreen released and print-manager KF5 happy (mostly thanks to Red Hat that one) and telepathy working nicely with Plasma 5 (Martin K gets bonus points there for the legacy presence applet). Package manager Muon now fits in so well with Plasma 5 it gets released with it thanks to Aleix. User Manager gets an update courtesy of Vishesh.  And Harald took time out from making all of KDE continuously integrate to port About Distro, you just can’t live without that one.

We’re still stuck on getting the new BlueDevil in, something in Ubuntu Touch needs ported to Bluez5 apparently.  Libreoffice is looking nice with Qt 4 Breeze theme but I’ve failed to get the breeze icons properly integrated, hopefully I’ll have a spare day soon for that.

There’s still plenty on the bugs list many of them probably quite easy to fix if you fancy helping out.  Our To Do list has plenty to be done including several that could be classes as junior jobs if you’re wanting to get into free software such as making some new recommended applications for the Muon Discover banner or reviewing the ISO contents to see if anything can be removed and get the size down a little.  We’re in #kubuntu-devel on freenode if you want to say hi.

 

 

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Click-Let Happy to Rent Out Flats it Knows are Illegal, and Some Solutions

I’m reading Lesley Riddoch’s book Blossom which is about her experiences of Scottish democracy and it has an excellent chapter on tenements.  These medium density homes, which make up much of Scottish city housing, create community by forcing people to live together but don’t create ghettos in the way that high density housing of 60s and 70s housing schemes do.  They mean that people live close enough together it is often practical and indeed the easiest form of transport to walk or cycle around town.  They allow for on-street shops.  They are also weirdly rare in England and fail to feature in most modern developments where people prefer houses which take up more land and need cars to me useful.

I love the flat I own in a tenement in Polwarth in Edinburgh for all these reasons, but I continue to be saddened and annoyed by the number of people who rent them out, treating them as a bank account which doesn’t need any maintenance.  It doesn’t occur to these landlords that they have chosen to take on a job which needs active involvement.  And then there’s the agents who are happy to rent out these properties, taking their cut while knowing there is maintenance needing done they don’t get around to helping with.  Today’s grumpy blog post focuses on the agents.

Recently I got into a heated discussion about canoe politics.  Some slalomists had put in motions to get more money from the national association.  They ended up being defeated (if they money doesn’t exist it doesn’t make much sense to requite it to appear) and the slalomist on the board was voted off in favour of a marthon paddler. At the end the guy who had lead much of the online discussion, Stewart, posted a link to a news article about the marathon paddler going to court.  This was a very petty way to treat the losing of an argument and I said so, pointing out it was irrelevant and that he ran an estate agents who were renting out a flat in my tenement while not helping out with any of the repairs needed.  The property has leaks and as I wrote in my previous grumpy blog post it has damp which needs fixed.

Stewart said he would be happy to know of any problems so I added him to the e-mails with the other neighbours.  After some further exchanges among my neighbours about the repairs he asked for his staff member to be added to the e-mails, a chap called Kjartan who had previously ignored any call for help with repairs or stairwell meetings.  Kjartan ignored the issue of course and eventually I had to point out what needed doing, call some contractors, convince enough people to agree, organise the repairs, collect the money.  Kjartan kept giving vauge excuses why that wasn’t enough and when I keep pressing to point out it was his job to make it enough he ended up quoting the Tenement Act 2004 to say why the responsibility was all from his client landlord and not his.

So finally after a year of being stonewalled by Click-Let I got an assurance that indeed they were happy to rent out property, knowing it doesn’t meet The Repairing Standard which is the legal requirement for rentals.  They consider it entirely their landlord client’s problem and they are probably right.

But as I wrote about before the landlords are happy to let long term problems slide just expecting someone else to fix them.  And the tenants go along with this too because it’s not worth the hassle to give them grief or take them to a tribunal, in the worst case they can move out.

Solutions?

It needs some legislative fixes to let this tragedy of the commons be fixed:

  • Alter the Tenements Act to make property agents joint liable with owners in meeting The Repairing Standard.  They make lots of money doing nothing economically productive, they should at least be responsible when doing it.
  • The Tenements Act to be altered to make landlords and agents liable for repairs to owners of other flats in the stair as well as their tenants.  Tenements need everyone to look after each other but for some reason the law doesn’t reflect this.
  • The fit and proper test for landlords and agents to be defined and monitored and for them to be struck off the registrar when they don’t meet it
  • The landlord’s register to require an active e-mail address for all landlords as well as their agents.
  • Nobody to be allowed on the landlord register without first answering a questionnaire about what monitoring and maintenance they have done and will continue to do
  • It to be illegal to sell an inhabited tenement which does not meet The Repairing Standard
  • House surveys need to actually inspect the whole building.  The one I read for the tenement which got sold in my previous grumpy blog post said they surveyor had looked at it through binoculars which isn’t going to tell you anything useful.

The council needs to write to every landlord and agent reminding them of their duties.  And the same to the decreasing numbers of owner-occupiers.  It needs to dispell myths like ground floor flats not being responsible for maintaining the stairwell.

Landlord Accreditation Scotland are supposed to ensure landlords follow best practice.  They need to ensure that their agents maintain the properties they rent out.

Only with these changes will we be able to ensure properties like mine get their owners to work together towards maintenance and we can see an end to the sort of tragedy which saw Illegal Jacks restaurant close down.

Amazingly one of the other owner occupiers in the stair has contacted a roofing company and it seems like we may actually get some of the repairs done.  No thanks to Click-Let who are happy to take in money while problems go unfixed.

 

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Planet KDE Theme from Season of KDE

Season KDE is KDE’s annual project to give helpers a more structured way to take part in KDE.  It’s inspired by Summer of Code of course.

Today I had the pleasure of launching the new Planet KDE website theme done by Ranveer Aggarwal.  It looks very lovely and importantly makes the site a pleasure to browse on your phone.  Everyone hug him and do report any bugs to bugzilla.

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What’s happened with Kubuntu recently?

Kubuntu Wire seems to be down due to a server move so here's a Wire post on my blog written by Ilya Kowalewski as part of Google Code in...

Hey there, we’ve got some news for you, here in Kubuntu. Recently, we released Kubuntu 15.04 Alpha 1 (Vivid Vervet) with brand new Plasma 5 onboard and got some essential stuff updated.

Plasma 5, the next generation of KDE Software is still a work in progress, but is stable enough for everyday use and it keeps getting better as new versions drop frequently. The KDE Applications 14.12 includes a bunch of bugfixes and migrations to KDE Frameworks 5.

IT World Covers the 5 distros you need to consider and uses the classic photo above for Kubuntu with Billy Piper.

Softpedia covers the alpha..

This edition of Kubuntu features one of the biggest visual changes in the Ubuntu ecosystem. The change of desktop is a major one and there will probably be some opposition to it. The new KDE Plasma 5 follows the same overall design, but it’s very different from what we were used to seeing.

Linux Veda also reviews the alpha with mixed feelings about Plasma 5..

It is, undoubtedly, a solid and stable desktop environment

We’ve recently got an email from Kubuntu user saying:

Please pardon the interruption but, KUDOS to the whole Kubuntu family.

Unbelievable, running ALL favourite apps off flash card (in USB 2.0 adaptor) on fairly mundane (‘dated’) desktop. So happy from smooth zsync upgrade.

Next, HD install. Stable, and now hooked on Kubuntu’s KDE plasma. Christmas gift, and Happy Holidays, New Year 2015 and beyond to you and yours.

Linux Veda covers things to do after installing Kubuntu, so you might be interested in this, in case if you plan to install Kubuntu.

We also released a new version of KDE Frameworks 5.5.0. KDE Applications 14.12 are arriving in Vivid Vervet, with backports, as soon as we can. For now, we wish you a Happy New Year and recommend you to meet it with new Kubuntu on your PC.

Good luck y Feliz Navidad!  Remember, you know how to get off the naughty list..

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Further Problems with Edinburgh Landlord Property Sharks: Charles Lovatt and LI Components

The Problem

Regular readers will know of my problems with maintaining my property in Edinburgh. It’s a tenement flat building with 11 owners who all need to jointly maintain the communal areas. The problem is nobody except me does, maybe I’m unique in wanting to maintain the most expensive thing I own but only I so much as looks at the roof never mind maintain it.

This year one of the owners, Charles Lovatt, did organise a meeting of all the owners to discuss repairs needing done.  I say organise, it came down to me to point out what his job was and to set up the modern tools like Doodle which make these things possible and set up times and places.

We met and I had to show everyone where the problems were.  When we went into the attic half the owners stayed out and didn’t want to look.  When we were looking for broken tiles on the roof Charles was too scared to even walk near the edge.  When we were looking at leaks in the attic only 1 other person accompanied me to walk around it and look.  When I asked about who put down the mysterious plastic sheeting that was prolonging the damp problems or the even more mysterious insulation that was stopping ventilation issues nobody said anything.  Nobody seemed at all annoyed or amazed that random stuff had appeared in the attic causing thousands of pounds worth of damage which nobody knew about.

But we drew up a list of issues to be fixed and Charles noted it all down and we went away to communicate over e-mail.  But Charles didn’t get back to us.  I waited and enquired and he said he was working on writing it up.  I waited some more and enquired and he e-mailed to say he was having problems with his e-mail, a worse lie I can’t imagine.  After waiting in vain some more I went ahead and make a shared document which listed all the items we agreed and sent out an e-mail asking people to organise the repairs.

Of course nobody did.  But I contacted some repair companies and as is usual in these things they need chased up and you need to make some visits and arrange to be at home to show them around.  I got agreement from a majority of owners and told the repair companies to go ahead, which as is expected with these companies needs some chasing up.

Some of these are ongoing and some have been completed.  But now Charles has said he doesn’t want to be included in any of the e-mails discussing it because he’s sold the flat.  Why is it acceptable to sell property knowing it does not meet The Repairing Standard, the legal standard for property rental? Why does nobody else help in any way to repair their property or seem at all concerned or annoyed that nobody else is helping? Yes it’s some some mild bother and yes you need to be persistent to deal with the repair companies but that is the job they have taken on as landlords or the responsibility they have taken on as property owners with a shared building.  Several people have started paying me for the repairs before I have even asked them to, but nobody has started doing any of the organising needed.

The Cause

What is going on here?

One issue is people have grown up without a sense of community, nobody likes to talk to their neighbour or share the gossip which starts the sort of conversations happening to discuss these problems.

Another is there are a large number of middle class middle aged people who having worked hard to pay off their mortgage were able to take advantage of the insane rise in house prices in the years until 2008.  These people bought multiple flats to rent them out and assumed they would pay for themselves, that it was an easy way to make money and allow for an easy retirement.  You can’t blame people for taking advantage of a system I suppose, even if it does result in anyone under the age of 35 being unable to get a property without help, why no politicians are concerned about this is a constant source of annoyance to me.  Anyway these landlords tend to treat their properties as a savings account not a job and don’t bother with maintenance and assume someone else will.  They have plenty of money so they’re typically happy to pay someone else to do it but they don’t feel the need to do it themselves because they’re above such menial tasks.

Which bring me to the third reason, people don’t have the practical skills to maintain the property they own. When I bought my first house the first thing I did was go into the attic and scout around the roof, it was fun as well as normal to be.  When I saw a problem I enjoyed working out how to fix it. When it needed a professional I phoned up the companies to organise them and I kept phoning them when they did the usual practice of forgetting to get back to me.  Maybe I’m unusual, my dad also loves doing this stuff so maybe I just learnt it off him and got the required help when I got stuck.  But it doesn’t say much for society that people are unable to make a few phone calls.

So when I put “property shark” in the blog post title that’s just being provocative because I’m feeling grumpy, I don’t think Charles Lovett is a malicious property shark, I think he’s just a lazy middle aged middle class baby boomer with a sense of self entitlement.  He ran a company LI Components doing electronics and at some point realised it was more profitable to rent out a flat which was done under the ownership of that company presumably so he didn’t have to pay Income Tax on it. Until the crisis came and it stopped increasing in value every year and a neighbout (me) pointed out how he was failing in his job so rather than fixing it he sold it and ran away.  This government press release describes his “interests… include strategy, entrepreneurial marketing and the competitive advantage arising from good governance” but if he isn’t able to call a plumber  I don’t see why he’s suitable to run a quango.

The amazing thing is Charles and Brian are just the worst example I’ve had to deal with because they ran away.  The rest of my neighbours are no help either.  They are usually happy to pay, some do so without me even asking presumably to ease their guilt.  But they don’t help and they don’t seem to understand the need to help.

The Solution

How to fix this?

Edinburgh Council wants to restart the statutory repairs scheme where they just made repairs.  When this was done previous it ended up with corruption because none of the owners of properties they were repairing cared enough to check up on what as happening.  So I don’t think it’s a good idea to start that again.

I tried to sue the previous landlord who failed to help or pay but lost.  Although he has a legal duty to his tenant to keep the property in good order he has no duty to his neighbours, and tenants are often just as lazy and ignorant as the owners.  Enacting a duty to your neighbours to maintain communal property would solve this in a stroke.

Education and communication would help.  E-mailing the landlord registration database to remind everyone of their job and doing a mass leaflet campaign would help. Maybe the council could send round the contact details of all the owners of neighbouring properties.

You already need to register to be a landlord.  Enforcing this would be a good idea as there are at least two flats in my stairwell which are let out but are not on the registrar.  And doing some sort of test for people registering should be required. “Have you checked the roof is not leaking?” would be perfect.  “What have you repaired in the last decade?” would be spot on.

And y’know, maybe the government could make property not a profitable way to get a pension and make it affordable to people under 35.  Higher stamp duty is a start.  More social housing might help.  Higher bands for council tax may help.  It probably wouldn’t help the politicians win votes with middle aged people but it would be the right thing to do after decades of transferring wealth from the young to the old.

 

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