As it should be

Last week I wrote down why I believe the model should not have anything about columns. In .NET many people only ever used DataTables as their models. Because of that they often believe that in .NET the model must contain the columns.

They forget that DataGridView ‘s DataSource doesn’t require a DataTable at all, DataTable just happens to implement what DataSource needs: IList. It’s correct that if the model has all information that .NET’s many databinding components will get all the information they need out of your model. But it ain’t true that this is the only way nor a by-design in .NET. In .NET the by-design is that the view has all this and the model *can* pass it, if it has it, but it doesn’t have to.

In this example I illustrate that in .NET you can do a databinding with a simple .NET array. In .NET simple arrays implement IList. When a column of the DataGridView isn’t ReadOnly the property setter of the instance in the array will be called after the user edited the cell. I’ll illustrate this in the dataGridView1_CellEndEdit method: the property setter of the property Age of the Person instance being edited will be called. The view will as a result of a Refresh fetch the model’s new values. The Changed property will be rendered as True, for the Person that got changed.

People with VS.NET can drag a DataGridView and a Button on a Windows Form, and copypaste the Person class, button1_Click’s and dataGridView1_CellEndEdit’s code over. It’ll work.

// No DataTable, I'm not even importing System.Data, IList is fine
using System;
using System.Windows.Forms;

public partial class Form1 : Form
{
    public Form1() [+]

    private void button1_Click(object sender, EventArgs e) {
        dataGridView1.AutoGenerateColumns = false;

        DataGridViewColumn column;

        column = new DataGridViewTextBoxColumn();

        column.DataPropertyName = "Name";
        column.HeaderText = "The name of the person";
        column.Width = 180;

        // As you can see we are not doing anything on the model
        // to tell the view what the columns are.

        dataGridView1.Columns.Add(column);

        column = new DataGridViewTextBoxColumn();
        column.DataPropertyName = "Age";
        column.HeaderText = "The age";
        column.Width = 70;

        // Let's make this one editable
        column.ReadOnly = false;

        // We're just telling the view about the properties it
        // needs to bind, using the DataPropertyName member of
        // a DataGridViewColumn

        dataGridView1.Columns.Add(column);

        // Let's add a column that will show us that the view
        // will fetch property values at refresh

        column = new DataGridViewTextBoxColumn();
        column.DataPropertyName = "Changed";
        column.HeaderText = "?";
        column.Width = 45;

        dataGridView1.Columns.Add(column);

        // This is a normal array in .NET: it implements IList.
        // An IList is a collection with a known order.

        Person[] people = new Person[2];

        // Let's create two people in this array

        people[0] = new Person();
        people[0].Name = "Jos";
        people[0].Age = 30;
        people[0].Changed = false;

        people[1] = new Person();
        people[1].Name = "Jan";
        people[1].Age = 25;
        people[1].Changed = false;

        // And let's set the model of the view to be that array

        dataGridView1.DataSource = people;
        dataGridView1.CellEndEdit += new DataGridViewCellEventHandler(dataGridView1_CellEndEdit);
    }

    void dataGridView1_CellEndEdit(object sender, DataGridViewCellEventArgs e)
    {
        // This makes the view refresh its currently visible values, by reading
        // them from the model again. This callback happens after the user is
        // done editing a cell.

        dataGridView1.Refresh();
    }
}

public class Person {
    private string name, city;
    private uint age;
    private bool changed;
    public string Name {
        get { return name; }
        set { name = value; }
    }
    public bool Changed {
        get { return changed; }
        set { changed = value; }
    }
    public uint Age {
        get { return age; }
        set {
            age = value;
            Changed = true;
        }
    }
    public string City {
        get { return city; }
        set { city = value; }
    }
}

You can compare a GtkTreeModel with a DataTable in .NET: it’s a model that has its own memory storage and it contains both rows and columns. This means that GtkTreeModel isn’t a generic model, like IList in .NET actually is. With GtkTreeModel you must always represent your data as rows and columns. Even if the data ain’t rows and columns.

I indeed believe that Microsoft got databinding right in their .NET platform, and that Gtk+’s GtkTreeView and GtkTreeModel got it wrong.

Also feel free to have a huge array of Person instances. It’ll only read property values of the visible ones (plus a few more, shouldn’t be much). Fun tip: write something to the console in the property getters of the Person class, and start scrolling. Now you can easily discover yourself how to do lazy loading tricks with MVC in .NET, and make things scale.

TreeModel ZERO, a taste of life as it should be

If bugmasters are allowed to blog wishlists, then developers should also be allowed to write them! Which is why I wrote my wishlist!

Gtk.TreeModel was in my humble opinion designed wrong. In API design should an interface be just one thing.

A little bit of history

Many framework designers have repeated this in the past. Two of the best framework designers that we have on this planet, Krysztof Cwalina and Brad Abrams from Microsoft, added the meme to one of their books. It would be unfair to only mention those two guys and not the other people at Microsoft, and before that at the Delphi team at Borland. Brian Pepin notes at page 83 of Framework Design Guidelines: “Another sign that you’ve got a well defined interface is that the interface does exactly one thing. If you have an interface that has a grab bag of functionality, that’s a warning sign.”

The problem

What are the things a Gtk.TreeModel are or represent?

  • It’s something that is iterable
  • It’s something that is an iterator
  • It’s apparently something that has columns, which should have been at the View’s side of the story
  • It’s something that can be a tree
  • It’s something that emits row changes

That’s not one thing, and therefore we have a warning sign. If I count it correctly that’s at least five things, so that’s a big warning sign.

I’m sure I can come up with a few other things that a Gtk.TreeModel actually represents. For example its unref_node and ref_node make me think that it’s a garbage collector or something, too.

This is absolutely not good. I believe it is what makes the interface shockingly complicated. Because none of those five things can be made reusable this way.

What I think would be the right way

A prerequisite for this, and presumably also the reason why Gtk+ developers decided to do Gtk.TreeModel the way they did it a few years ago, is a collection framework.

Sadly is this proposal being ~ignored by the current GLib maintainers. Understandable because everybody is overloaded and busy, but in my opinion it’s nonetheless blocking us from heading in the right direction.

There are by the way quite a lot of other reasons mentioned on the proposal. This is just one of them.

interface GLib.Iterable {
	Iterator iterator();
}

interface GLib.Iterator {
	bool next ();
	object current;
}

Next would be recursive iterators or trees. There are many ways to represent these, but I’ll just take a simple route. Remember that when picking an API design, the most simple idea is often the most right one. But yeah, you can probably improve this.

interface GLib.TreeIterable : GLib.Iterable {
	GLib.TreeIterable get_children ();
	int n_children;
	bool has_child (GLib.TreeIterable e);
	GLib.TreeIterable parent;
}

In Gtk+ we would have the view, of course. It would hold the columns, as it should be.

class Gtk.TreeView {
	int n_columns;
	GLib.Type get_column_type (int n);
	GLib.TreeModel model;
	Gtk.ColumnBinding binding;
	Gtk.TreeView (GLib.TreeModel m);
	GLib.ColumnBinding column_binding;
}

We don’t have guaranteed introspection in Gtk+. To do the binding between a column in the view and a property of an instance in the model we need some code. In Gtk.TreeModel this is the get_value function.

It shouldn’t be part of the Gtk.TreeModel: That way it ain’t reusable and will it require each person implementing a Gtk.TreeModel to reinvent the code.

abstract class GLib.ColumnBinding {
	abstract GLib.Value get_value (GLib.TreeModel model,
	                               GLib.TreeIterable e,
	                               int column);
}

Let’s have some concrete column bindings:

class Gtk.TreeStoreColumnBinding : GLib.ColumnBinding {
}

class Gtk.ListStoreColumnBinding : Gtk.TreeStoreColumnBinding {
}

If we do have introspection we can do the same thing .NET offers: Link up the column number with a property name that can be found in the type of the instances that the model holds.

class GI.IntrospectColumnBinding : GLib.ColumnBinding {
	void add_column (int column, string prop_name);
}

These wouldn’t change at all, except that they implement GLib.TreeModel instead of Gtk.TreeModel

class Gtk.TreeStore : GLib.TreeModel {
}

class Gtk.ListStore : GLib.TreeModel {
}

And then we are at Gtk.TreeModel, of course. Well just take everything that we don’t do yet. That’s the row change emissions, right? Personally I think rows are too specific. A model is something that can be iterated. Being iterable doesn’t mean that you have rows, it just means that you have things that the consumer, the view in a model’s case, can iterate to. Let’s call them nodes.

Gtk.TreePath sounds to me like serializing and deserializing a location. It’s nothing special, just a way to formulate pointing to a node in the tree. It’s the model that exposes this capability.

I’m not sure about flags. Maybe it should just be moved to Gtk.TreeView. I don’t get the point of the flags anyway. Both ITERS_PERSIST and LIST_ONLY sound like an implementation detail to me: not something you want to expose to the API anyway. But fine, for sake of completeness I’ll put it here.

interface GLib.TreeModel : GLib.TreeIterable {
	signal node_changed (GLib.TreeIterable e);
	signal node_inserted (GLib.TreeIterable e);
	signal node_deleted  (GLib.TreeIterable e);
	signal node_reordered (GLib.TreeIterable e);
	GLib.TreeModelFlags flags;
	GLib.TreePath get_path (GLib.TreeIterable e);
	GLib.TreeIterable get_node (GLib.TreePath p);
}

Who’ll start GLib 4.0? Let’s do this stuff while the desktop guys play with GNOME 3.0? Why not?

Async with the mainloop

A technique that we started using in Tracker is utilizing the mainloop to do asynchronous functions. We decided that avoiding threads is often not a bad idea.

Instead of instantly falling back to throwing work to a worker thread we try to encapsulate the work into a GSource’s callback, then we let the callback happen until all of the work is done.

An example

You probably know sqlite3’s backup API? If not, it’s fairly simple: you do sqlite3_backup_init, followed by a bunch of sqlite3_backup_step calls, finalizing with sqlite3_backup_finish. How does that work if we don’t want to block the mainloop?

I removed all error handling for keeping the code snippet short. If you want that you can take a look at the original code.

static gboolean
backup_file_step (gpointer user_data)
{
  BackupInfo *info = user_data; int i;
  for (i = 0; i < 100; i++) {
    if ((info->result = sqlite_backup_step(info->backup_db, 5)) != SQLITE_OK)
        return FALSE;
  }
  return TRUE;
}

static void
backup_file_finished (gpointer user_data)
{
  BackupInfo *info = user_data;
  GError *error = NULL;
  if (info->result != SQLITE_DONE) {
    g_set_error (&error, _DB_BACKUP_ERROR,
                 DB_BACKUP_ERROR_UNKNOWN,
                 "%s", sqlite3_errmsg (
                    info->backup_db));
  }
  if (info->finished)
    info->finished (error, info->user_data);
  if (info->destroy)
    info->destroy (info->user_data);
  g_clear_error (&error);
  sqlite3_backup_finish (info->backup);
  sqlite3_close (info->db);
  sqlite3_close (info->backup_db);
  g_free (info);
}

void
my_function_make_backup (const gchar *dbf, OnBackupFinished finished,
                         gpointer user_data, GDestroyNotify destroy)
{
  BackupInfo *info = g_new0(BackupInfo, 1);
  info->user_data = user_data;
  info->destroy = destroy;
  info->finished = finished;
  info->db = db;
  sqlite3_open_v2 (dbf, &info->db, SQLITE_OPEN_READONLY, NULL);
  sqlite3_open ("/tmp/backup.db", &info>backup_db);
  info->backup = sqlite3_backup_init (info->backup_db, "main",
                                      info->db, "main");
  g_idle_add_full (G_PRIORITY_DEFAULT, backup_file_step,
                   info, backup_file_finished);
}

Note that I’m not suggesting to throw away all your threads and GThreadPool uses now.
Note that just like with threads you have to be careful about shared data: this way you’ll allow that other events on the mainloop will interleave your backup procedure. This is async(ish), it’s precisely what you want, of course.

More introduction to RDF and SPARQL

Introduction

I plan to give an introduction to features like COUNT, FILTER REGEX and GROUP BY which are supported by Tracker‘s SPARQL engine. We support more such features but I have to start the introduction somewhere. And overloading people with introductions to all features wont help me much with explaining things.

Since my last introduction to RDF and SPARQL I have added a few relationships and actors to the game.

We have Morrel, Max and Sasha being dogs, Sheeba and Query are cats, Picca is still a parrot, Fred and John are contacts. Fred claims that John is his friend. I changed the ontology to allow friendships between the animals too: Sasha claims that Morrel and Max are her friends. Sheeba claims Query is her friend. John bought Query. Fred being inspired by John decided to also get some pets: Morrel, Sasha and Sheeba.

Ontology

Let’s put this story in Turtle:

<test:Picca> a test:Parrot, test:Pet ;
	test:name "Picca" .

<test:Max> a test:Dog, test:Pet ;
	test:name "Max" .

<test:Morrel> a test:Dog, test:Pet ;
	test:name "Morrel" ;
	test:hasFriend <test:Max> .

<test:Sasha> a test:Dog, test:Pet ;
	test:name "Sasha" ;
	test:hasFriend <test:Morrel> ;
	test:hasFriend <test:Max> .

<test:Sheeba> a test:Cat, test:Pet ;
	test:name "Sheeba" ;
	test:hasFriend <test:Query> .

<test:Query> a test:Cat, test:Pet ;
	test:name "Query" .

<test:John> a test:Contact ;
	test:owns <test:Max> ;
	test:owns <test:Picca> ;
	test:owns <test:Query> ;
	test:name "John" .

<test:Fred> a test:Contact ;
	test:hasFriend <test:John> ;
	test:name "Fred" ;
	test:owns <test:Morrel> ;
	test:owns <test:Sasha> ;
	test:owns <test:Sheeba> .

Querytime!

Let’s first start with all friend relationships:

SELECT ?subject ?friend
WHERE { ?subject test:hasFriend ?friend }

  test:Morrel, test:Max
  test:Sasha, test:Morrel
  test:Sasha, test:Max
  test:Sheeba, test:Query
  test:Fred, test:John

Just counting these is pretty simple. In SPARQL all selectable fields must have a variable name, so we add the “as c” here.

SELECT COUNT (?friend) AS c
WHERE { ?subject test:hasFriend ?friend }

  5

We counted friend relationships, of course. Let’s say we want to count how many friends each subject has. This is a more interesting query than the previous one.

SELECT ?subject COUNT (?friend) AS c
WHERE { ?subject test:hasFriend ?friend }
GROUP BY ?subject

  test:Fred, 1
  test:Morrel, 1
  test:Sasha, 2
  test:Sheeba, 1

Actually, we’re only interested in the human friends:

SELECT ?subject COUNT (?friend) AS c
WHERE { ?subject test:hasFriend ?friend .
        ?friend a test:Contact
} GROUP BY ?subject

  test:Fred, 1

No no, we are only interested in friends that are either cats or dogs:

SELECT ?subject COUNT (?friend) AS c
WHERE { ?subject test:hasFriend ?friend .
       ?friend a ?type .
       FILTER ( ?type = test:Dog || ?type = test:Cat)
} GROUP BY ?subject"

  test:Morrel, 1
  test:Sasha, 2
  test:Sheeba, 1

Now we are only interested in friends that are either a cat or a dog, but whose name starts with a ‘S’.

SELECT ?subject COUNT (?friend) as c
WHERE { ?subject test:hasFriend ?friend ;
                 test:name ?n .
       ?friend a ?type .
       FILTER ( ?type = test:Dog || ?type = test:Cat) .
       FILTER REGEX (?n, '^S', 'i')
} GROUP BY ?subject

  test:Sasha, 2
  test:Sheeba, 1

Conclusions

Should we stop talking about ontologies and start talking about searchboxes and user interfaces instead? Although I certainly agree more UI-stuff is needed, I’m not sure yet. RDF and SPARQL are also about relationships and roles. Not just about matching stuff. Whenever we explain the new Tracker to people, most are stuck with ‘matching’ in their mind. They don’t think about a lot of other use-cases.

Such a search is just one use-case starting point: user entered a random search string and gives zero other meaning about what he needs. Many more situations can be starting points: When I select a contact in a user interface designed to show an archive of messages that he once sent to me, the searchbox becomes much more narrow, much more helpful.

As soon as you have RDF and SPARQL, and with Tracker you do, an application developer can start taking into account relationships between resources: The relationship between a contact in Instant Messaging and the attachments in an E-mail that he as a person has sent to you. Why not combine it with friendship relationships synced from online services?

With a populated store you can make the relationship between a friend who joined you on a trip, and photos of a friend of your friend who suggested the holiday location.

With GeoClue integration we could link his photos up with actual location markers. You’d find these photos that came from the friend of your friend, and we could immediately feed the location markers to the GPS software on your phone.

I really hope application developers have more imagination than just global searchboxes.

And this is just a use-case that is technically already possible with today’s high-end phones.

E-mail as a desktop service, this is how it should be done

While developing Tinymail, a library for writing E-mail clients, I was convinced that the storage of the summary was something Tinymail itself must handle. Back then there was, even pragmatically, nothing that could cope with the requirements of E-mail on mobile devices for this task.

Meanwhile I got the opportunity to work on the Tracker project. Using the Nepomuk Ontology, I made sure that the message ontology that Tracker uses can actually handle these requirements. I believe that the adoption of Nepomuk and SPARQL evolved Tracker from something that isn’t useful for E-mail software to something that should be involved when writing a desktop service for E-mail today.

Ryan, a pioneer in experimenting E-mail as a desktop service, advised me to be careful with my bias for RDF and SPARQL. I’ll keep it in mind! However…

I believe such a desktop service for E-mail should:

  • Download metadata by getting and parsing ENVELOPE and BODYSTRUCTURE using the FETCH programme of an IMAP server. As explained in this document.
  • Give priority to downloading metadata of those E-mails nearby the user’s scroll position.
  • Use IMAP’s pipelining. It gives the user the feeling that his technology operates faster than his human brains, even when on high latency connections like GPRS.
  • Cache the information, using Tracker’s Nepomuk Message Ontology as schema.
  • Make it possible to fetch just one particular MIME part and not the entire messages.
  • Enable it to create a new message, consisting of individual MIME parts.
  • Make it possible for those MIME parts to have their source in existing messages on an IMAP server when creating a message. When the IMAP server supports CATENATE, it should be used for this purpose.
  • Make applications use SPARQL with Tracker’s NMO to query metadata about E-mails.
  • Provide a stream API to get access to the the actual data of individual MIME parts. If not cached, the service should download the MIME part on demand. The DBus Stream API should look like GInputStream. Except for read(): I think for the transfer of the chunks of data that Unix Sockets or named pipes are better than using D-Bus.

To this I would like to add that although many people falsely believe that E-mails are like files, E-mails are more like recursive directories (container MIME parts) with items: the E-mail’s MIME parts. Any API that doesn’t admit this, is incorrectly designed.

This goes all the way up to the protocol, where you fetch per MIME part. You don’t fetch entire messages. You can indeed do that but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong. IMAP is not POP3. It’s also better to design for IMAP, than to use IMAP as a POP3 service. Better have hacks to support POP3 in your model (I’m serious).

Please don’t make the same mistake nearly every newcomer of E-mail solutions makes. There’s plenty of rubbish already, seriously.

Documentation. Documentation. Documentation!

As I was rereading Ivan Frade’s blog post about the class-signals feature that me and Ivan developed for Tracker last week I got reminded of something I wrote a long time ago:

In my opinion, there’s nothing as important as developer documentation for a framework or library.

Ivan decided to ~ dump our internal planning document on GNOME’s Live wiki service. He didn’t write the document so he’s of course not to blame, but the document was in my opinion not suitable as end user framework documentation. Application developers should not be required to understand what goes on in our team’s minds. So I rewrote this.

You can find the document at the SignalsOnChanges page. Let’s see if starting next week I can convince the other team members to document their new features in a similar way. Many new things in Tracker’s experimental branch could use more clarification and examples.

I happen to believe that undocumented libraries and frameworks aren’t meaningful. That’s because letting it remain undocumented the developer renders his work utterly irrelevant for a serious application developer. I also believe that undocumented infrastructure software is worse than no infrastructure software.

I strongly recommend to application developers to refrain from using any piece of undocumented library or framework. Don’t lower yourself to their standards. Demand documentation by refusing to use undocumented infrastructure. Doing it as free software is no excuse for delivering extremely low quality, like what undocumented infrastructure is (in my opinion).

Thanks to Ivan’s blog post for reminding me of what I once wrote, and today still believe in, myself. While passionately coding new features you sometimes forget about this.

Which is unacceptable.

Tracker’s class signals, live search capabilities

Ivan Frade already blogged this, so that that means that I can keep this one shorter.

But yeah, we have just finished what we decided to call class-signals for Tracker. You are looking at software development taking place as we speak, because we still need to do a peer-review of the branch and then merge it to our experimental branch. This will probably happen in a few minutes.

The new feature means that if the ontology of a rdfs:Class contains a rdfs:Property tracker:notify that is set to true, then Tracker will offer a DBus object for that class. Whenever a subject of that class is added, updated or removed you will receive a signal about it on that DBus object.

Ok, ok, I know. You don’t want to click links and search for it yourself. Here are some “screenshots”:

nmo:FeedMessage a rdfs:Class ;
         tracker:notify true ;
         rdfs:subClassOf nmo:Message .

The DBus API is split per rdfs:Class. That’s because we don’t want that a lot of applications will be listening for each and every change to each and every subject. Now they can instead select the classes that they are interested in. That way they can avoid getting woken up constantly by our damn signal.

This feature is a change signal mechanism. We will eventually implement support for full live-queries.

Supporting full live-queries means that we’ll need to store some state about your session to test whether your SPARQL query requires an update from Tracker to get your client’s previous result list synchronized. It’s quite a bit more tricky, especially if you want to support most of SPARQL to go together with the live-query notifications, and especially if you want to be accurate.

Finally you don’t want the live-query capability to be a huge performance burden each time material becomes updated.

This is why we are now putting in place this feature. We think that for 90% of the applications the capabilities of the class-signals feature will be sufficient for their live update needs.

TrackerClue!

I was just skipping some memes and version control system flames debates when suddenly I bumped on an interesting blog post by Henri Bergius on how he sees integration of the GeoClue project with the desktop.

I’m more into mobile myself, considering a desktop a necessary evil that people don’t really enjoy using. But have to use, because there’s nothing better. Meanwhile is there a trend towards mobile uses. Music players, cameras, in-car entertainment, navigation assistance, movie players, setup boxes. And sooner or later ePaper devices to replace magazines, books and newspapers.

But whenever the desktop’s software gets integrated with a location framework, it wakes me up. That’s because I consider having access to meaningful location clues to be a creator for a large amount of very interesting use-cases for mobile. Use-cases which we might not be seeing yet, today. Because we humans are walking blinded into the future.

Which means that we at the Tracker project must and will welcome such integration. We too want to enable the app developers of tomorrow and today to convert their innovative ideas into elegant solutions. Location clues about events and resources will be very interesting meta information for those apps, indeed.

Such systems can already update the Nepomuk structured meta information that Tracker collects using the SPARQL INSERT, DELETE and UPDATE support that Jürg started working on since a week or so.

It’s actually finished… maybe not sufficiently tested. But isn’t crashing hard pure fun anyway? Gives you a reason to go code and fix it!

Although we are very hard at work to get the indexer working again wont our experimental branch index your documents just yet. We have been testing our query stuff by importing generated Turtle files to be honest.

Nonetheless I kindly invite people to completely break their Tracker install by trying out our experimental stuff. Read a bit about Nepomuk’s ontology and mentally glue that together with the query flexibility SPARQL enables, and you’ll pretty soon grasp how cool it will be.

And yeah, there’s still a lot of hard work to do. But that’s great and a lot of fun.

And you should grow a pointy hat, put on a beard, jolt drink cola, and fun the join!

Ok. That’s enough Tracker propaganda for a day. Let’s now check if Nepomuk’s current stuff is good for storing GeoClue’s info.

SPARQL, Nepomuk, StreamAnalyzer and Tracker

We at the Tracker team should in my opinion report more often in our blogs about our progress on things like Tracker’s SPARQL and Nepomuk support.

Let’s start with the awesome SPARQL support that Jürg has been working on. Just a few minutes ago when you made a SPARQL query that had a unknown predicate, Tracker returned an empty array over D-Bus.

dbus-send --print-reply --dest=org.freedesktop.Tracker
   --type=method_call /org/freedesktop/Tracker/Search
   org.freedesktop.Tracker.Search.SparqlQuery
   string:'SELECT ?title WHERE { ?s nie:ttle
      ?title FILTER regex(?title, ".*in.*") . }'

method return sender=:1.66 -> dest=:1.98 reply_serial=2
   array [
   ]

Leaving you in the unknown about your query being in error. Jürg fixed this and now you get something like this instead.

tracker-sparql --query="SELECT ?title WHERE { ?s nie:ttle
      ?title FILTER regex(?title, \".*in.*\") . }"
Could not query search, Unknown property `http://.../nie#ttle'

This way you can fix your query’s error and do something like this instead:

tracker-sparql --query="SELECT ?title WHERE { ?s nie:title
      ?title FILTER regex(?title, \".*in.*\") . }"

  The final metadata solution
  Tracker in gnome bugzilla

Today I migrated the code in Tracker that implements support for the metadata D-Bus API for E-mail to the Nepomuk Message Ontology. Meaning that Tracker will store the metadata it receives from E-mail clients like KMail and Evolution using the NMO ontology and that it’ll make this metadata available to the SPARQL query engine.

Great news that we got informed of this week is that a developer has started implementing the metadata D-Bus API for E-mail in Thunderbird. He left a pointer to his git repository on the wiki-page.

Meanwhile I have implemented the API in KMail. This patch is pending review. We are planning to add support for this in Modest soon too.

Next. We are migrating the indexers and extractors to Nepomuk. These tasks come with all sorts of extra work related to integrating with Nepomuk as ontology.

I have also implemented integration with Strigi’s truly awesome StreamAnalyzer. I have rarely seen such a beautifully designed piece of code that in my opinion outperforms whatever Tracker has at this moment for extracting metadata in several interesting ways.

I don’t know why we shouldn’t join Strigi on making StreamAnalyzer kick ass. I can find no reason why instead of trying to compete with it we shouldn’t integrate with it. I’m pushing our team to consider the integration option and so far they are enthusiastic about it.

StreamAnalyzer needs a migration from Xesam as ontology to Nepomuk. But Evgeny Egorochkin and Jos Vandenoever already told me that they have put this on their agenda. After that, with the integration that I did for Tracker, can StreamAnalyzer become the core analysis code that Tracker uses. Right now the plan is to let StreamAnalyzer be the first to run and then letting Tracker’s own extractors follow up.

Let’s make some more bridges with KDE projects. Why not!

E-mail metadata, “E-mail as a (desktop) service”

Not on the desktop but on mobiles I think the era of E-mail clients will soon be over. Just like the era of filemanagers will be over. A person who’s using a mobile or a phone doesn’t really want to start and stop applications. Those users don’t start and stop applications to receive phonecalls and text messages. Why would they want to start and stop E-mail clients?

Not only that. People also want their text messages, E-mails, history of calls, meetings, contacts and photos to be integrated.

When we search for a meeting, we want to find the photos we took at that meeting. We also want to find the contacts that were at that meeting. We want to find the invitation E-mail and all the replies to the invitation. And when we select a contact, we want to see a tree of E-mail discussions that we once had with the contact.

On a mobile we don’t want one big application that does all this. Instead we want all applications to integrate with all this information. And we want it to be very easy for application developers to integrate with this system. An application framework.

This will be the purpose of Tracker on mobiles.

This means that the concept of an E-mail client will eventually be moved to the background of the mobile device. E-mail must just be there, not started. Something must communicate with the IMAP server whenever needed. Meanwhile all applications on the mobile need to have easy access to the metadata of the E-mails. It must be easy for them to get a MIME part of an E-mail, perhaps as a InputStream?

The combination of E-mail metadata querying and handling of the E-mail’s MIME parts is what I refer to as “E-mail as a service”. Some people in the past tried to explain me that if they would just put JavaMail’s API over D-Bus that this would already solve “E-mail as a service”. I don’t think this is true. Camel, which had its API based on JavaMail, offers a truly weak query interface. It’s for example not possible to ask for MIME parts that are images that have a specific Exif tag set.

That’s of course because it’s not Camel’s purpose to do metadata indexing of the attachments. But that was yesterday. Yesterday was boring.

With modern IMAP servers that have the CONVERT capability it will be possible to ask for a converted MIME part of an E-mail. Converted to Exif plain-text data. Meaning that we don’t have to fetch 5MB of JPEG data just to read a few hundred bytes of Exif metadata.

Meanwhile normal IMAP servers already offer ENVELOPE and BODYSTRUCTURE which of course gives us a lot of metadata too.

To assist people who want to write a “E-mail as a service” D-Bus service today I have decided to write a document that explains some of the capabilities of modern IMAP.

I think the future of E-mail “infrastructure” lies in:

  1. Using an RDF store that can be accessed using SPARQL, like Tracker. This stores the ENVELOPEs and BODYSTRUCTUREs of your E-mails next to the attachment’s other metadata triples. The query language can then be used to query against metadata found by analyzers like Tracker’s own extractors and/or Strigi’s StreamAnalyzer as well as metadata coming from IMAP itself.

    People who saw my presentation at FOSDEM already know that we are planning to push Tracker in the direction of SPARQL + Nepomuk as ontology. Meanwhile we are in discussion with the Xesam and Nepomuk people to change the Nepomuk Message Ontology to be suitable for this. As a result Evgeny Egorochkin made this proposal.

  2. Having a small service for dealing with E-mail specific things. Like getting the contents of the MIME parts as streams. Requesting them to be downloaded if they aren’t cached locally yet. Requesting a CONVERTed version of them.

    There are some experiments happening that will implement this capability. It’s all still very early. If I ever start a Tinymail 2.0, I will probably make it focus primarily on this.

I don’t think the conventional E-mail client will survive for very long. Especially not on mobiles where “integration” is far more important for the end-user.

Every (mobile) application can soon become as capable of handling E-mail as what we today call “the E-mail client”. At least from the point of view of the user. In reality a desktop service will solve the hard stuff.

A generic E-mail metadata D-Bus API

A generic E-mail metadata API

You guys remember the Evolution Metadata API? No? I wrote about it a few days ago.

We now want Tracker to integrate with the KDE desktop too. I started implementing the D-Bus API in KMail. I have adapted the specification to become more generic and to split out specific pieces into a shared and a specific part. Like for example the ontology.

QT/C++

Yes, I’m doing some QT/C++ coding after three years of not having to touch a lot of C++. But I’ll manage. I mean, it can’t get worse than Python, PHP or Perl, right? I survived developing with those languages too and it’s not my first time that I had to touch C++ code. Also, I survive GObject without always having Vala available.

Well, QT/C++ is interesting. Firstly I refuse to call it normal C++, it’s not normal C++ at all. That’s not necessarily a bad thing about it, though. Secondly on top of the inhuman quagmire that C++ has become by itself, QT adds almost as much boilerplate and macros as GObject is doing on top of C

That’s not good.

In my opinion C++ is not a nice language at all. It’s a completely inconsistent quagmire in my opinion.

Freedesktop.Org

I’m not immediately proposing it as a Freedesktop.Org standard. My personal experience with F.D.O. is that unless you have a few implementations nothing much will happen with your proposal. At least not for several months. Maybe if I first finish the implementation for KMail while having the one for Evolution ready it’ll speeds things up?

Let’s first implement it for both E-mail clients.

Akonadi

This is a message for specifically Aaron Seigo, because I know he would otherwise be frantic about it.

I have been talking with the KMail developers and because KMail’s Akonadi integration will take too long to be finished we have agreed to start with this D-Bus API. We will most likely integrate Tracker with Akonadi as soon as it starts becoming consumable on people’s KDE desktops.

Birds will sing, the sun will shine. Don’t worry too much and especially don’t start punching the project teams who are actively but pragmatically trying to make things better.

We’ll get there but converting Evolution to use Akonadi is trying to take too large steps and is therefor not a useful proposal at this moment. While for Tracker, Akonadi needs to be ready *now*.

I propose that the Akonadi people develop a CamelProvider that talks with Akonadi, by the way. Then make an EPlugin that overrides the account management to always create such Akonadi accounts and develop working and well tested migration code for the data.

I think even if this is ever started as a project that it would be quite unlikely that this will be finished in time. So not very useful for Tracker right now.

Utilitarianism

Introduction

In a discussion some concluded that technology X is ‘more tied to GNOME’ than technology Y because ‘more [GNOME] people are helped by X’ due to dependencies for Y. Dependencies that might be unacceptable for some people.

This smells like utilitarianism and therefore it’s subject to criticism.

Utilitarianism is probably best described by Jeremy Bentham as:

Ethics at large may be defined, the art of directing men’s actions to the production of the greatest possible quantity of happiness.

— Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

A situational example that, in my opinion, falsifies this:

You are standing near the handle of a railroad switch. Six people are attached to the rails. Five of them at one side of the switch, one at the other side of the switch. Currently the handle is set in such a way that five people will be killed. A train is coming. There’s no time to get help.

  • Is it immoral to use the handle and kill one person but save five others?
  • Is it immoral not to use the handle and let five people get killed?

The utilitarianist chooses the first option, right? He must direct his actions to the production of the greatest possible quantity of happiness.

Body of the discussion

Now imagine that you have to throw a person on the rails to save the lives of five others. The person would instantly get killed but the five others would be saved by you sacrificing one other.

A true utilitarianist would pick the first option in both exercises; he would use the handle and he would throw a person on the rails. In both cases he believes his total value of produced happiness is (+3) and he believes that in both situations picking the second option means his total value of produced happiness is (-4) + (+1) = (-3). The person who picks the second option is therefore considered ethically immoral by a true utilitarianist.

For most people that’s not what they meant the first time. Apparently ethics don’t allow you to always say (+4) + (-1) = (+3) about happiness. I’ll explain.

The essence of the discussion

Psychologically, less people will believe that throwing a person on the rails is morally the right thing to do. When we can impersonificate we make it more easy for our brains to handle such a decision. Ethically and morally the situation is the same. People feel filthy when they need to physically touch a person in a way that’ll get him killed. A handle makes it more easy to kill him.

Let’s get back to the Gnome technology discussion … If you consider pure utilitarianism as most ethical, then you should immediately stop developing for GNOME and start working at Microsoft: writing good Windows software at Microsoft would produce a greater possible quantity of happiness.

Please also consider reading criticism and defence of utilitarianism at wikipedia. Wikipedia is not necessarily a good source, but do click on some links on the page and you’ll find some reliable information.

Some scientists claim that we have a moral instinct, which is apparently programmed by our genes into our brains. I too believe that genetics probably explain why we have a moral system.

The developer of X built his case as following: My technology only promotes happiness. The technology doesn’t promote unhappiness.

It was a good attempt but there are multiple fallacies in his defense.

Firstly, in a similar way doesn’t technology Y promote unhappiness either. If this is assumed about X, neither promote unhappiness.

Secondly, how does the developer of X know that his technology promotes no unhappiness at all? Y also promotes some unhappiness and I don’t have to claim that it doesn’t. That’s a silly assumption.

Thirdly, let’s learn by example: downplaying the amount of unhappiness happens to be the exact same thing regimes having control over their media also did whenever they executed military action. The act of downplaying the amount of unhappiness should create a reason for the spectator to question it.

Finally, my opinion is that the very act of claiming that ‘X is more tied to GNOME’, will create unhappiness among the supporters of Y. Making the railroad example applicable anyway.

My conclusion and the reason for writing this

‘More’ and ‘less’ happiness doesn’t mean a lot if both are incommensurable. Valuations like “more tied to GNOME” and “less tied to GNOME” aren’t meaningful to me. That’s because I’m not a utilitarianist. I even believe that pure utilitarianism is dangerous for our species.

To conclude I think we should prevent that the GNOME philosophy is damaged by too much utilitarianism.

Moral indulgence

In the last few days people seemingly implying a descent from superiority of moral highground to me, have called upon me (in private conversations) to decide for my readers if the content that I write is morally acceptable for planet.gnome.org. Their reasoning is that I should feel an implied responsibility for the content of that website.

If I don’t take the responsibility that readers have themselves already, I’m to be considered a coward. That’s because, according to these people, I avoid the moral responsibility to uphold an imaginary highground reputation of the organization behind said website.

It needs no illustration that this is just the opinion of a group within the GNOME community. Not the entire community. Nonetheless this seemingly moral superiority is not to be mistaken with a condescending circus show.

The moral of respect for other opinions is a meme that for the last decades (and I hope in future too) has been a very successful one. I consider this meme to be the most important one humanity ever got convinced of.

Moral superiors do not need to present empirical proof of correctness in their Sophia. The truth of their moral values are unquestionable.

Let’s assume this to be the case: it’s immoral to only assume that your readers will make up their own minds about ideas that appear on websites like planet.gnome.org. Instead, it’s a necessity that each and every author of a blog, from which planet.gnome.org pulls content, is required to have a “responsibility of content”.

I conclude that it isn’t necessary that the audience of that website gets an honest illustration of who we are: human beings who are sometimes geniuses and sometimes idiots.

Instead it’s necessary that we are portrayed as good role models. Concepts such as good and bad are of course defined by the superiors. Those concepts are unquestionable.

Let me be clear that I disagree with this.

I questioned whether only intent can either be good or bad, but that question was refuted as irrelevant. For it’s the beholder who matters. Not the producer.

The reason for this irrelevance being that an audience doesn’t take the responsibility of trying to understand intent. I disagree with this conclusion. I think the audience does understand intent.

I have decided to tag my future posts as “condescending” in case I feel the content might be interpreted as showing superiority. Don’t be surprised if the majority of posts will be tagged as such.

The freedom to choose is morally more important to me than the necessity to mark responsible content. Therefore I ask my audience, and planet maintainers, to decide for themselves.