Giving feedback

Lucas Rocha shared Seth Godin‘s blog post “the worst feedback is indifferenceon Google+, and I posted a reply.

In the interest of openness and distribution (and actually posting content on my blog), here’s my response:

I was on a call the other day where someone told me that they wouldn’t ever give me negative feedback. I replied: “No! Please give me negative feedback, especially if it’s constructive. Tell me when what I do sucks. If you can, please tell me why it sucks too. If it’s good or great, tell me about that too. Please let me know what you think.”

After working in the FOSS community as a designer for a decade and a half, one must have a thick skin. Us designers often produce highly visible things, sometimes with controversial ideas (sometimes for bad, sometimes for awesome).

I hope all of us in the community can work together and be respectful of each other enough to say when things produced (designs of any sort, code, documentation, etc.) might be good or bad… and also have the courtesy to point out why we hold whatever opinion we may have.

It’s important to have some respect for people when doing this. Even the most awesome people produce the worst ideas sometimes, and that’s fine. It’s all on the path to working together to make things better. We need to foster open communication whenever we can and separate the design from the designer, the code from the coder, the writings from the writer, the managing from the management, etc.

In other words, attack stuff within reason (either with negative feedback or attacks of awesomeness) and elaborate, but be careful not to hurt each other.

Muinshee, for you… thanks to Twitter and the Banshee devs.

Quick background: Muinshee is a special UI (user interface) for Banshee, an open source music player, in the style of Muine, another open source music player. It’s really neat (if you’re a minimalistic Muine fan) because Muinshee is a mashup of Muine’s simple interface backed by Banshee-power.

How it happened: I recently sparked off a nice little tweetversation (a conversation on Twitter) about the old Muinshee teaser blog post. In a few 140-character-max back-and-forths, it went from an “oh yeah, rember that!?” moment… to getting a tip from Gabriel Burt (the guy who made the Muine UI for Banshee) himself… to me quickly tweaking Banshee’s starter script (and crudly adding 64-bit support today, btw)… and then releasing the tiny hack of a script on github‘s gist (which is the paste-and-create git repo service).

Muinshee: it's like a baby Banshee!

Like what you see? Download the Muinshee script (updated: fixed a bug. oops!) and place it in your path somewhere (the bin subdirectory in your home directory should work nicely). After that, just run “muinshee” and you’ll be in minimalistic UI play queue heaven.

Then, of course: Thank Aaron, Gabriel, and hordes of other rockstar developers for their awesomely great music player! (With the best sync’ing support around, excellent Last.fm integration, podcasts, library management, etc.… you may just want to stick with the full-blown Banshee, though! *smile*)

Response to the Skype rants on Planet GNOME

I recently read some ranting regarding Skype via Planet GNOME. In the blog post, it is detailed what Skype does wrong — however, those shortcomings do not stop people from using Skype.

Why do people use Skype, despite all of the issues? It’s the combination of a few simple factors.

  • No need to worry about firewalls or other crazy configuration. It just works. Firewalls, today, are a reality. Nearly everyone on the Internet now is behind a firewall. It wasn’t always this way. Software needs to stop pretending that we live in a world where firewalls are the exception.
  • It is free (or cheap) to use. Compared to a traditional telephone network (or even most VOIP), Skype is cheap, and even free if you’re talking Skype to Skype.
  • It works on nearly everyone’s computer. Mac? Windows? Linux? N800? Yeah, it’s there. One person’s Skype install works with any of the other ports, without fuss.
  • People using Skype can talk to others who don’t even use (or have heard of) the software. Of course, this is by way of the standard phone lines. But still — the software does it, and it’s cheap.
  • Skype is a catchy, simple name (and people can easily convert it into a verb, too).

Yes, Skype is proprietary and the UI isn’t great… but it’s good enough for most people, as it gives people what they want (free/cheap communication to their friends and family). The alternatives are either to use a clunky alternative with lots of set-up and jargon (while worrying about things like firewalls, IP addresses, SIP configuration, etc.) or to use something like the phone networks where calls are expensive (charged by the minute on cell phones, or a bundle per month for land lines) which are all being routed through proprietary networks using mainly proprietary hardware and software anyway.

Despite Skype’s shortcomings (and being closed source), you should understand why normal people — the ones who just want to chat to their friends — use it. It’s all about the computer, as a whole, being a tool that people use instead of a person being a tool the computer controls. This applies to all software and all electronics, proprietary or open source. (It’s really the difference between good and bad software when it comes to the experience.)

Build something better, easier, nicer, and more compelling than Skype and make it available to everyone… and people will use it. (It worked for Firefox.) You can even pitch in to help an already existing, very promising project with these goals; I’m sure the developers (and eventually all the people using the software) would love the help.

harvesting planets

If you like to read a lot of open source based planets, then check out my aggregation (and uniqification) RSS feed that I cobbled together in Yahoo! Pipes.

Open Source Planets RSS

Currently, it grabs from the following:

  • Planet GNOME
  • Planet KDE
  • Planet SUSE
  • Graphics Planet
  • Gimp Layers
  • Planet Inkscape

Any other good suggestions? (:

If you’re interested, you can also check out the pipe’s page too.

Update: I added the feeds suggested in the comments as pipe sources.

Adventures in git

I’m sure this isn’t news to a lot of you, but git is seriously cool.

I just discovered it this past week (after hearing a little about it once in a while since it started in 2005). I was mostly happy with Subversion (SVN) and CVS (before that)… but git is just way cooler due to its distributed nature, among other nifty things. It’s extremely fast, has easy tagging and branching, features amazing merging and patch management, and the repositories it makes take up very little disk space too. Also, due to being distributed (and having excellent management features), it makes working on a custom branch — even when offline — not only possible, but a total breeze compared to most other SCM / version control software.

People have also made git work pretty well with other software of its kind, most notably CVS and SVN so that one can work in git locally and publish changes to more traditional repositories.

Starting the adventure

My own foray in using git initially started just the other week when Nat was telling me all about it. I decided to take the plunge into git this past Friday.

To familiarize myself with this new version control software, I imported a project I am currently working on into a git repository (building up versions from pieces of snapshots I made at different stages), and worked on learning the basics through some pretty nice tutorials.

Benefits, already!

Using git seriously paid off. Late Friday evening, I upgraded some upstream software I had been using and it broke my project… I knew it must’ve been a simple one line change, but I didn’t know where exactly. This was, of course, right before I left the office for the three-day-weekend.

On Saturday, I wanted to get things working again — including all the new upstream changes (you know, bug fixes and what-not), but I did not have a ‘Net connection. Thankfully, it turns out git came to the rescue, due to its distributed nature.

Essentially, using git meant that I had my own little (very) compact repository with all of my changes, so I could check out old versions of files, examine changes, look at differences between my own tagged “releases”, and commit any change I wanted — all locally, without a centralized server or any sort of network connection.

Voila! I found the problem… it was, indeed, a simple one liner that made assumptions that weren’t true on my system. I fixed it, committed the change, and had everything working once again… all on my laptop, without access to the outside world.

My deciding to play around with this new version control system turned out to be quite fortuitous and timely. I really don’t know how I would’ve tracked down and fixed the simple, hiding show-stopping bug (especially without a network connection) so quickly and easily otherwise.

git more info…

If git sounds interesting to you, I’d suggest you check out the following:

git-ting to the point

It does take a short while to wrap one’s head around git (and make it second nature), especially if you’ve used CVS or SVN for so long, but the benefits make it totally worth investigating and trying out.

It takes YOU to Tango!

This Friday (and every Friday to come) is Tango Friday!

Tango!

The Tango Project “exists to create a consistent user experience for free and Open Source software with graphical user interfaces.” We’re approaching this goal by having a consistant naming spec which can be used anywhere, by any application, on any desktop. Secondly, we are working on providing a default set of icons to fill this need.

For the Tango icons, we have a style guide in place and a lot of icons already.

Even if you want to use other icons, it benefits to have them ported to the icon naming spec which the Tango project has provided. By abiding by that spec, it will make an icon theme work across multiple desktops with minimal effort.

Now you might be asking yourself: What is Tango Friday? Basically, it’s like a hackfest, except with art. Tango Friday is simply a time to join #tango on irc.freenode.net (via IRC) and use your favorite graphic editor (most people use Inkscape) to make really cool Tango-style SVG and PNG icons!

It’s open to everyone interested. You actually don’t even have to be good with graphics. We need people of all sorts, including: developers, documentation experts, fanboys, and all those just plainly interested in what we’re doing. We want people from all parts of the community, from different companies, different desktops, and different operating systems even.

We need people to help us make the stock set of Tango icons, but we also want others to help it get implemented in Xfce, KDE, GNOME, Wine, Java apps, Web software, or anywhere else it may make sense.

We had an unannounced, spontaneous Tango Friday last week, and not only was it was tons of fun, it was quite productive as well.

Make sure to join us this Friday. See you there!