Unity Maintenance for Ubuntu “Saucy Salamander”

Once again Canonical has tasked a team with performing maintenance of the Unity (desktop shell) stack for the upcoming Saucy Salamander release of Ubuntu.  Once again, the focus is on user interface polish and bug fixes.  My team was dedicated exclusively to that effort for the Ubuntu 13.04 release cycle and judging from the complaints in the media (and, um, elsewhere involving a naked truth few of us wish to see) about how there was nothing exciting in Unity and it just worked, it was a big success.  Kudos go to Andrea, Brandon, Chris, Marco, Nick, the tireless Sam, to John and Didier, and to the many other faceless members of the Ubuntu community who did what they did to make Unity snappy and smooth.

We shipped Unity 7.0 in Ubuntu 13.04.  The version we’re going to ship in Ubuntu 13.10 is Unity 7.1.


Screenshot of “100 scopes” in action in Saucy Salamander (click to embiggen).

I don’t want to mislead you here:  there is some new functionality coming and in fact has already landed in release previews.  What most people will notice is something we’ve been calling “100 scopes”, which is a greatly expanded set of sources for your searches.  I’m not sure if there are actually one hundred sources or if it’s a good deal more or less, it’s just a name, but it does seem like there are significantly more data sources that are used to satisfy your queries.

One of the other aspects of this “100 scopes” work is that many of the back ends — processes that run in the background performing searches for you so the graphics user interface will continue to operate smoothly — were rewritten to reduce the amount of memory and CPU they consume.

Some of the other upcoming new functions being added include the ability to purchase items from their source directly through the Dash.  In other words, you can search for what you desire using the Dash, select a result, and purchase it directly from, say, Amazon, without even opening up your browser.

Some other changes are going on behind the scenes, mostly related to the exciting mobile-desktop convergence store that’s at the heart of Ubuntu’s future.  That, however, is another story for another day.


The bees are all wrapped snugly in their little home. hive-in-winter I used a modified water heater jacket and the handyman’s secret weapon to give them extra protection from the anticipated cold since it often goes below -30 C here for at least a few days and sometimes weeks here in winter, and the hive is a little bit exposed to the wind.

The snow is added insulation.

The only concern is about moisture inside the hive, especially with the hive entrance buried beneath the snow cover.  We’ll find out in the spring.

Ubuntu Phone and the Ubuntu Desktop

Canonical announced today that there are phones running natively with the Ubuntu experience. I’m excited by this, because I think the Ubuntu experience on the phone is well thought out and coherent. I applaud the teams involved for their hard work and success in getting a working Ubuntu phone into peoples hands for some serious testing.

I’d also like to emphasize that the work that Canonical is doing for the phone form factor will not be affecting the work my team is doing on the Ubuntu desktop, at least not for Raring Ringtail. We have a single common Unity that runs across all the form factors, but part of the expression of Unity is that it works appropriately under different circumstances and what’s appropriate for the desktop is not always appropriate for the phone, and vice-versa. This is not Microsoft Windows 8, we’re not going to try to turn your desktop into a big touch-based phone without the dialy-talky bits. I fully expect improvements and enhancements that are a result of the work done for the phone to make their way onto the desktop over the next few releases, but for 13.04 we’re a team focused on bug fixes and usability enhancements.

But I am very excited about the phone.

Canonical Targets Unity Shell Maintenance for 13.04

Your humble author.

Your humble author working hard at UDS in Copenhagen.

Last October at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Copenhagen Canonical decided it would dedicate a team of developers exclusively to the task of maintaining and enhancing the Unity desktop shell for the next official release, codenamed Raring Ringtail, scheduled for April of 2013.  I was asked to lead that effort.

Over the last several Ubuntu releases I heard and read a lot of comments to the effect that Canonical was always pushing new features into the Unity desktop shell and ignoring the existing problems.  This was not really true, a good deal of effort was devoted to fixing bugs and in fact two squads (an internal organizational unit within Canonical) spent a mini-cycle doing just that for the 12.10 release, but because a whole lot of new features landed the fact that the old features were working better was lost in the noise and dust.

Dedicated Unity Maintenance Team for 13.04

For 13.04 this has all changed.  Oh, there’s still ongoing feature development work, there’s no reason to stop that, but for the first time we have a full team dedicated exclusively to the goal of fixing problems in the existing Unity desktop shell software.  We’re not working on adding new features.  We’re making what’s there work and work better.

Of course, Unity in 13.04 will not be perfect:  there have been hundreds of problems reported and many of them are unreproducible by any of my team and the original reporter may not follow up with additional information when requested.  It’s also a fact that although we are a full and dedicated team we do not have unlimited resources so we have of necessity triaged and prioritized bugs with the desktop and design teams, and there may be someone’s favourite bug that is just going to go unloved for this cycle.  It’s also true that some consider some designed features of Unity to be bugs and we’re not going to “fix” those, so don’t expect Unity to suddenly start working like Microsoft’s Windows XP user interface come next spring.

All of the work we’re doing is fully in public view, managed through Launchpad.  We have ongoing involvement by community contributors and of course we welcome as much help as any of you can give use (there are always more bugs to fix, code to review, automated test cases to write, and interactive testing to do). We’re proud of what we’re doing, and we’re excited to be able to do it.  I’m looking forward to a smooth, better-than-ever Ubuntu desktop in 13.04.

End of summer hive inspection

Went to the LCBO LGBT LCBA (Lanark County Beekeeper’s Association) summer meeting at one of the member’s bee yards today.  The guy from OMAFRA (the official provincial apiarist) was there giving out literature and advice, there was a delicious potluck lunch, and we mingled the way we do (which is generally not at all).  There was plenty of talk about varroa mites and American foulbrood and the newly invasive small hive beetle. All very frightening.

We came home and checked our hive for AFB, since it’s extremely contagious and 100% fatal.  It’s also icky:  the brood turn into a sticky brown slime with “the texture of mucus.”  We’ll have varroa, it’s almost 100% certain, but we need to get some ether or ethylene glycol and kill a few hundred bees just to see how bad it is.  The degree of infestation determines how aggressively you have to treat it before winter otherwise the hive will have reduced chances of a successful overwinter.

Checking the hive is fun.  It was a hot sunny day today (the best kind of day for checking your hive, because the bees are less grumpy).  We fired up the smoker and donned our cunning veiled hats and opened the hive.

Our hive setup is currently a single brood box with a full honey super (the full referring to height).  That means it’s got a really really heavy wooden box sitting on top of and stuck to the box where the queen and the eggs are.  The main thing about beehives is that everything is very sticky, and they’re full of angry buzzing bees that have little pointy bits on their bottoms.  We gave them puffs of smoke, which seems to make them giggle at inane jokes and go start eating honey, pried the top off, and discovered that a full honey super weighs between 50 and 100 pounds.  The little handles on the side of the box don’t give you a lot of grip (did I mention about the buzzing things with the pointy bits?).  Once we had the honey super off, we had to examine each of the ten frames of the brood box, and hope we didn’t squash the queen.


Brood comb with young in all stages of development.

The inside of the hive has oddles of this stick brownish-yellow goop called propolis. You have to pry each frame out with a special tool (called, imaginatively, a “hive tool”) and examine it closely. This is made harder by the fact that you’re wearing many layers of clothes on a hot sunny summer day and you can’t reach under your weil and push your bifocals up on your sweaty nose so you can actually see. The end frames on the brood box were empty. We were warned that that sometimes happens, so it wasn’t a shock. One frame was filled with drone cells, which are big and ugly. The rest had a mixture of grubs, closed cells, and either empty cells or cells with eggs (the eggs are small and pretty much impossible to see under our circumstances.

bess lined up

Workers at the honey factory cafeteria taking a break.

We saw no sign of AFB, and the fact that there were so many grubs and closed cells was a sign of a healthy queen. We couldn’t find the queen, but I kept shaking all the bees off when I pulled the frames so hopefully I had knocker her into the hive box.

After the inspection, we reassembled the hive. The honey super is full. Every frame is filled with honey and sealed. We will need to take some in a month or so to reduce the indcidence of wax moths or other nasties breeding where the bees don’t go in the cold. We left the girls to go about their business once again.

Examining a frame from the honey super.

Making honey.

The Annual Sawfly Infestation

We have a couple of currant bushes, planted about 3 metres apart.

One bears a few white currants but mostly just tries to survive.  Part of it bears variegated leaves like a sport and the whole bush does not grow very high and frequently suffers annual dieback. We try to keep it comfortable, and right now it seems happy in the company of a large number of valerian plants.

The other currant bush bears a massive number of large clusters of red currants.  It seems very healthy, despite the constant attempts of burdock to dominate its space.  Unfortunately, every year we are visited by a plague of sawfly larvae who, in a period of hours, strip all the leaves from the bush leaving nothing but branches, stems, and fruit clusters.

Sawfly larvae munching down on a currant leaf.

Sawfly larvae destroying a currant leaf.

Sawfly larvae destroying a currant leaf.

More damn sawfly larvae.

I hate these guys, they are nasty little beggars. Usually I use the hose to knock them off, but for some reason the wouldn’t reach this year and I had to pick ’em off by hand. OK, the reason why the hose wouldn’t reach has to do with someone leaving the outside faucet turned on a couple of winters ago so the pipe burst and I’m having a hang of a time fixing it, since replacing the pipe requires removing the kitchen counters to get at the internal connection and that’s not on the agenda for a few more years yet.

Anyways, I was gone from Friday afternoon to Sunday noon, and in that time the little beggars munched their way through almost the entire bush. The leaves will grow back, but of course it’s a setback for the plant again this year.

I need to find a more cunning plan for dealing with these guys for next year.