[Sugar-devel] GSoC proposal status

Sam P. sam at sam.today
Sat Feb 20 16:00:01 EST 2016

On Sat, Feb 20, 2016 at 6:00 PM Tony Anderson <tony_anderson at usa.net> wrote:

> Hi, Walter
> I have some concerns about the proposed GSOC tasks as well as some ideas
> for new tasks.
> I agree that the Journal needs rethinking. Below are my thoughts
> (re-thoughts?).
> Specifically,
> The Journal is the file system for Sugar. It does not use directories but
> instead was intended to collect objects by tag (a la Picasa). Currently,
> the user sees
> a scrolled list of objects in chronological order. However, selection is
> by activity or media type, not by a user defined criteria (as represented
> in other systems by the directory).
> The Journal acts as an activity with awkward consequences for the user. On
> the keyboard, the icon for the Journal (a magnifying glass or search icon -
> not the icon shown in the frame) is to the left of the zoom group on the
> keyboard and to the right on the frame. If the Journal is selected, it
> replaces the current activity when the activity key is pressed. It also
> appears as an activity when using alt-tab. The first makes using
> screenshots awkward. Screenshots are given a title by the system of
> 'Screenshot of ....'. The user needs to switch to the Journal to provide a
> meaningful name. However, the user must open the frame and click on the
> activity icon to return to it. If the Journal were viewed as a Sugar
> service, the activity key would return the user to make another screen shot
> or continue whatever the task is. Similarly, it is convenient to present
> the user with instructions to perform a task using a Sugar activity (e.g.
> Write). The instructions can be given by a web page or by a document in a
> different activity. For example, a user could show a flag as an image in
> Image Viewer and try to duplicate the flag with TurtleBlocks. However,
> using alt-tab to switch between the activities requires cycling through the
> irrelevant Journal activity or open the frame to click on the activity icon.
> More importantly, when a Journal object is launched from the Journal
> activity, it is immediately loaded into activity.py. Therefore, any
> subsequent action by the user will be saved and the previous object will be
> overwritten. Suppose I resume the Paint Activity to continue making a
> picture. However, I decide that after some strokes, the original picture
> was better. There is nothing as a user I can do to revert to the original.
> I suspect the reference to git may be intended to address this problem.
> When an object is launched, activity.py should make a clone. The user
> should then have the option to revert to the original or to overwrite it or
> to change it's name so that a new object is created alongside the original.
> I believe an implementation of the 'save/save as' logic of virtually all
> other systems should be provided.

Just my 2c, but this complicates the experience a lot.  Do we show this
temp journal entry to the user?  If so, wouldn't that be confusing?  But it
we hide it, it becomes more complex.  Eg, a user is adding the finishing
touches to a diagram in Paint, and adds it to Write activity, however since
only the old version is visible they don't see the image they expected, and
become confused.  Maybe this could be better served by basic git features
in the journal, one of Martin's project ideas I believe.

> Probably, in the interests of 'reflection' or possibly statistical data,
> the Journal saves every activity instance - by default with the name of the
> activity. Further,
> most activities now implement write_file to create a data file associated
> with the object. This creates clutter in the Journal and takes storage for
> meaningless data files. For example, the Browse activity saves a data file
> containing URLs of open tabs. Aside from the fact that this creates
> spurious error messages if Browse is opened in a different network
> environment, it creates the unnecessary need to save a data file. I believe
> that activities should only save a data file if the user supplies a name
> for it and that activities should save state in the metadata, not in a data
> file. Naturally, it may be desirable for Memorize to save its state so the
> user can resume the game - this can be done by a field in the metadata.
> However, when the Paint Activity saves a file, it is reasonable to assume
> it contains an image (usable, for example, by the Image Viewer).

Browse save files work fine cross network connections.  I made one at home,
and opening it at school I was able to show people all of my tabs.

Using the metadata is also much harder, it is so easy to just chuck the
json in there.  Even if we use metadata for eg, saving memorize, the
metadata will be so activity specific that it is hard to use in a
reflection tool.  I'm not sure what you want by this.

> The XO has limited storage capacity. A freshly installed XO-1 image leaves
> about 300MB free space. A freshly installed image on other models with 4GB
> capacity leaves 1.9GB free space. Today, it is almost impossible to buy a
> USB stick with 2GB storage or less. When the available storage is less than
> 50MB, the user sees a modal dialog saying the Journal is full with the only
> option to look at the Journal. The Journal activity shows the amount of
> available storage which could help a user avoid going below the 50MB limit
> but is no help to correct the problem. Currently Sugar provides no help to
> the user in dealing with this problem. Most deployments I am familiar with
> reflash the laptop when this happens. So much for reflection. Essentially
> this step erases the user's prior work.
> Journal backup, according to James Cameron, is beyond the scope of Sugar.
> The present Sugar-independent (?!?) scheme was developed by Martin Langhoff
> using rsync to create snapshots on the school server. This was a bad
> decision. If a user deletes an object from the Joural on the XO to create
> space, that object is deleted from the backup. The backup should be
> considered the actual repository of Journal entries with effectively
> unlimited space and the backup on the XO should upload new and modified
> objects to that repository. Further the user should have a way to recall
> data files from the repository as needed. In general, the limited storage
> on the XO should be viewed as a cache of the users' data kept on the school
> server.  Consider that OLPC recommends a minimum of 2GB storage on the
> school server (/library/users) per registered laptop. However, at most, the
> user has 1.9GB on the XO (which includes optional Sugar activities and
> optional media and e-book downloads).

I have to agree with you here.  Having a kind of seamless journal that
exists partially locally and fully on the school server would be nice.  But
can a person designing this amuse that the user will have school server
access most of the time?

> The proposed GSOC tasks include statements such as: "This idea needs more
> thought and coding." I believe SugarLabs is responsible for doing the
> thought and proposing the guidelines for implementation. This is not an
> appropriate task for a GSOC participant. One of the obvious problems as a
> Mentor in last years GSOC is that the participants had no experience with
> or understanding of Sugar or how it works on an XO. The development
> environment gives the developer many capabilities not available on an XO
> (fast gpu, large memory, effectively unlimited storage, 24/7 high speed (>
> 1MB/s) access to the internet, 1080p screen resolution and aspect ratio).
> Further, Sugar on the development environment is not available on the XO
> (and vice versa). Asking participants from this environment to design ui
> for users on the other side of the digital divide requires an unreasonable
> expectation of their ability to empathize.
> I would propose these tasks more as follows:
> 1. Brief explanation The Sugar Journal should provide a 'save/save as'
> interface which should enable a user to choose whether to save the current
> document when an activity is closed. The interface should require a name
> change from 'current.activity' to a user supplied name. If the document is
> derived from one currently saved in the Journal, the user should be allowed
> to save (overwrite) or save as (create new document) by giving a new name
> to the document. This could be accomplished by showing a modal dialog at
> close time requesting the user to supply a name or not save the document.
> If the document has a user supplied name, the dialog could request the user
> to save or to provide a new name to create a new document.
> Note: this approach satisfies the needs referenced in the git task. Git is
> a little like a hammer looking for a nail. Using git for this function will
> likely double the size of the data stored in the Journal (based on normal
> experience using git). Unfortunately, we don't have this space on the XOs.
> The standard
> save/save as gives the user the ability to manage versions by using unique
> names.
> 2. Brief explanation
>         The Journal activity is currently implemented as an activity. It
> should be changed to a 'service'. This means the Journal icon on the frame
> should be to the left of the zoom group icons to match the sequence on the
> keyboard. The Journal is always running as a service when the Sugar is
> running. It is accessible by the Journal key on the keyboard and also by
> the Journal button in the frame. When the view is switched to the Journal,
> clicking on the activity view (right most key of the zoom group) should
> switch the screen back to the current activity.
> 3. Brief explanation
>         Sugar provides a method to backup and restore the Journal (one
> method to a USB key and one method to the school server). The Journal also
> provides a select box to enable an action to be taken for all selected
> objects. This mechanism should be sufficient for the USB key case. However,
> the school server backup currently is based on taking a snapshot of the
> current Journal state. This means the size of the objects in a user's
> Journal cannot exceed the available local store on an XO (300MB for an
> XO-1, 1.9GB for other models). A mechanism is needed to save on the school
> server all documents created by the user and to restore a selected object
> to the Journal from the school server. Since many documents may represent
> library objects (e-books, audio, image or video media), the mechanism
> should recognize these and not save them as user documents. However, the
> metadata saved should enable the system to download the library items again
> as needed (and, as available).
>     For example, the mechanism may be to upload Journal documents to an
> OwnCloud repository. The user could then select an item in the OwnCloud
> repository to be downloaded to the Journal. The user could also share any
> item in OwnCloud with other user groups or individuals.
> Note: This would essentially accomplish the intent of the group/buddy
> task. Further, OwnCloud could be provided on a school server or on the
> internet. as appropriate.

How do you it fulfilling that need?  Are we exposing the owncloud web
interface to children?  I pictured a seemless journal interface that merged
the online storage and the local into one and provided means for pinning
things locally.  I however picture the group task creating a new type of
voulme (or web service) that allows for seemless sharing, not aiming to
provide backup.

> 4. Brief explanation
>     One goal of Sugar is to record information about user sessions. This
> is currently accomplished by creating statistics from the metadata stored
> in the Journal.
> Unfortunately, a consequence is that the Journal view fills with
> essentially meaningless links to this metadata (mine fills with Terminal
> Activity and Log entries).
> This makes it much harder for the user to identify meaningful Journal
> objects (documents, images, items from the library, ...). A mechanism is
> needed to that session data can be logged independently of the Journal view
> (i.e not shown on the screen). This logged information should be
> transferred to a backup repository (e.g. school server or usb drive) as
> soon as possible and deleted from the local store to free up space. The
> available reporting activities should be modified to use this new mechanism.
> 5. Brief explanation
>     The Journal icon provides information the amount of free space in the
> user's store. if this amount is less than 50MB, a dialog is shown requiring
> the user to switch to the Journal view and claiming that the 'Journal is
> Full'. This message is, at best, misleading. The available storage can
> arise from several causes - the fact that an activities 'instance' store
> was not deleted, the space required by installed activities, or space
> required by data files in /home/olpc/Library, or data stored by activities
> in 'data', 'instance' or 'temp'. Currently, Sugar provides no guidance or
> help to enable a user to deal with this problem short of reflashing the
> image. The goal of this task is to provide a quota management system on
> storage with a way for the user (e.g. by a special Sugar activity) to
> analyze the usage of storage and to save by usb key or school server or
> cloud storage large or currently unneeded items and then delete them. The
> system should show the user the size of items and provide updates on how
> much storage has been made free by his/her actions.
> 6. Brief explanation
>     In Sugar's Home View, a click on an activity icon by default resumes
> the most recent instance of the activity. This capability is designed into
> the Journal and is redundant in the Home View. A Sugar activity is a tool
> to enable the user to accomplish some task. If that task is not completed,
> the user can resume it via the Journal. If the tool is to be used on a new
> task, the user can launch it from the Home View. The current Home View
> assumes that the intent of the user is to continue the most recent task
> with that tool.
> This task should set the Home View default to launch a new instance of the
> activity. The Alt key should be set to enable resuming a selected instance
> of the activity.  By serendipity, this also shows the Home View with black
> and white icons. Icons with color signifying a resumable instance use the
> colors associated with the laptop. Unfortunately many of these color
> combinations make the icon much more difficult to distinguish than the
> black and white version.

Ah, hating on the home view ux is fun.  I was actually thinking about this
a while ago, and wrote a blog post.  I'd like to hear your thoughts as it
addresses the same issue:

> 7. Brief explanation.
>      Sugar provides a 'web services' capability. However, these services
> are only available to an XO which has connection to the internet. This is
> not useful to a large number of users who do not have internet access. The
> school server (e.g. XSCE) provides an alternative to the internet for many
> deployments. This task is to provide a capability on the school server to
> support some or all of the Sugar web services (e.g. by OwnCloud or ELGG).
> 8. Brief explanation
>     There are a number of Sugar activities which currently require access
> to the internet (InfoSlicer, GetBooks). These activities should have an
> option to function with the school server. For example, GetBooks could
> access books on the school server and InfoSlicer could create slices from
> Wikipedia on the school server as Journal objects.
> 9. Brief explanation
>     Sugar users are often new to computers and not familiar with other
> operating systems. We need a mechanism to allow users to more quickly
> develop skills in using the capabilities of the XO ('onboarding'). One
> proposal is to develop scripts which lead the user through a series of
> interactive steps illustrating common usage of the XO with Sugar (
> https://www.sam.today/blog/sugar-onboard-design.html). This task is to
> implement an interpretive system that allows
> deployments or experienced users to create an 'onboard' script that guides
> the user to carry out a task. The referenced proposal suggests some user
> tasks where this mechanism could be employed. Since there is no finite list
> of these tasks, an interpretive approach enables the scripts to be created
> as necessary.
> For example, how does a user switch to the Gnome desktop? A script could
> be created guiding the user through the necessary steps. How does the user
> make a screen shot, use Gimp in the gnome desktop to crop and resize, and
> then insert it as an image in a Write document? How does the user initiate
> or join a chat?

I will actually be persuing that feature, and the steps defined on that
page as a feature for 0.110.  Eventually it will have a feature page, but
it is the "onboard" branch of
I invite you to test the patches and provide feedback.

> 10. Brief explanation
>     Sugar is available on the XO and some other platforms. In particular,
> Sugar is available for 64-bit systems with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS installed (
> http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Ubuntu). Unfortunately, this procedure does
> not work with 32-bit systems. There exists an opportunity to deploy Sugar
> with relatively inexpensive or refurbished laptops which do not provide
> 64-bit support. This task is to create a comparable version of Sugar which
> can
> be installed on 32-bit systems as an alternate Ubuntu desktop.
> 11. Brief explanation
>     Many deployments want to protect their XOs against theft. OLPC
> provides an 'activation lease' mechanism in firmware which makes it
> impossible to
> boot an XO once the activation lease has expired, unless the XO has access
> to the key via a removable device. This task is to provide a similar
> mechanism which is not dependent on OLPC. A USB key or network device
> (school server) should have an inventory of XOs identified by serial_number
> (and, perhaps, uuid). if this key is readable by the firmware, the XO
> should boot. If the key is not readable (e.g. reflash), then the XO should
> boot if the key is readable on a removable device or on the connected
> school server. [this suggests the XO can connect to the schoolserver by
> firmware alone - might be difficult].
>     Whenever an XO connects with the network device, the network device
> should confirm the activation lease and extend it by a time specified by
> the deployment (administrative owner of the network device). A report
> should be available to the deployment on the XO inventory and when each was
> last connected to enable detection of 'missing' XOs. Perhaps, the mechanism
> should have a 'blacklist' of serial_numbers of 'missing' laptops. If such a
> laptop is connected, it could be allowed to proceed with a warning to the
> administrator that the 'missing' laptop is in the house. This mechanism
> should be available for optional implementation by a deployment without
> reference to a central organization such as OLPC.
> 12. Brief explanation
>     OLPC firmware in the XO-1 supported a feature called 'nandblaster'.
> This mechanism allowed a 'master' XO to broadcast its image in a loop to
> the XO Lan. Other XOs could then be flashed by the firmware by making a
> copy of each sector as it was broadcast to their local store. Once a cycle
> in the loop was finished, the XO could detach and was ready for reboot with
> the newly installed image. This task is to re-create this capability where
> the 'master' XO image could be on a network device such as a school server
> or another XO. This mechanism should store a new version of firmware (as
> done currently) so that the firmware upgrade can be automatically installed
> on the next boot when connected to an AC adapter.
> 13. Brief explanation
>     The OLPC model is that each user has full possession and is the only
> user of an XO laptop. Therefore, Sugar assumes a 1-1 correspondence between
> users and XO serial numbers. However, Sugar is being used on other
> platforms (e.g. SOAS), where there is no obvious equivalent to a serial
> number. SOAS and James Cameron have created versions of Sugar which do not
> assume the user is 'olpc', but implement a standard username/password login
> system. The users storage is allocated to his/her home directory.
>     This task is to create a Sugar image for the XO which allows for
> user's to login by username and password. The basic task is to move the
> Activities folder
> to a common space so that only one copy is needed per system. This will
> support deployments where one set of laptops are shared across multiple
> classes (and users) or where there one laptop is shared between two
> students - one in a morning shift and the other in an afternoon shift.
> 14. Brief explanation
>     The TuxMath activity is popular with deployments. However, the
> upstream version appears to be abandoned. This task would be to implement a
> sugar-web-activity math game comparable to TuxMath.
> I have some comments on the other tasks:
> "The newer Sugar builds have performance issues on *some old hardware*
> with limited memory. This is keeping some Sugar deployments from upgrading.
> This project is to look into the performance issues and tune Sugar for
> low-memory devices."
> I think this task should be unambiguously focused on the XO-1 (1GB store).
> The majority of deployed XOs are XO-1s with a 1GB store. These deployments
> generally do not have the funds to purchase and deploy an SDHC card for
> these devices (ask Adam about this possibility in Haiti, I was not able to
> get a firm number from Rwanda but I believe they may have deployed more
> than several thousand XO-1s. The cost is not so much the card itself, but
> the logistics cost to prepare the cards with an XO-1 image and to deliver
> the cards to the deployment locations).
> The performance problem is not limited to low-memory (250GB). It is also
> related to no gpu, low persistent store, slower and more limited processor
> and so on.). It is also likely that their are specific limitations on
> executing newer software releases on this hardware. As a minimum, someone
> who takes on this task needs an XO-1 (and possibly access to an XO-1.5 for
> performance comparisons - a task for the mentor?).
> One task could be to identify some significant performance measures (a
> form of benchmark which could be applied to all models and releases to
> obtain
> relative performance measures). The task also requires some analysis to
> determine the bottlenecks limiting performance (processor speed, graphics
> speed, memory usage, storage access times, etc.). This, in turn, requires
> defining important workloads (boot, launch activity, switch activities,
> shut down activity, shut down system, connect to network, effective network
> speed, and so on). I think the community should be able to help with this
> (what are the most significant tasks in Haiti which have unacceptable
> response times on the XO-1?).
> It is likely that one result of this task may be to limit the capabilities
> of Sugar on the XO-1.
> "Now that JavaScript has become a first class citizen in the Sugar
> ecosystem, we must re-design our collaboration model to allow collaboration
> between web activities regardless of the platform."
> I am not sure what is meant here by platform. Except for development
> environments, I am only aware of Sugarizer, SOAS, and Sugar on XO in the
> wild (i.e in use by deployments without any developers or computer
> professionals on site). As I understood it, Sugar has adopted the
> collab-wrapper model for Sugar activities. Is this collab-wrapper usable in
> a Javascript environment? Is is possible for XO users to collaborate in
> this model with users of SOAS or Sugarizer?

Sugarizer has a different collab model (some js thing) to the rest of
Sugar.  However, SoaS and XO are both running the same Sugar, with the same
collab model powered by Telepathy.  I have use their collaboration before.

> Nutritional Microworld
> relevant tool—one that invites learners to explore fundamental concepts of
> nutrition that are both intrinsic to music yet transcendent of a specific
> discipline.
> I assume the reference to music is a typo.
> At Eurovision 2014, a speaker demonstrated nsound - an alternative to
> csound. The claim is a simpler and more understandable api.
> Turtle Confusion and Turtle Flags.
>     These activities reproduce the Turtle Blocks engine. I think a simpler
> solution is to provide the confusion images and the flag images via html
> and have the user create them using the existing javascript Turtle
> implementation. The user can easily switch screens via alt-tab or the
> frame. For example, the confusion challenges and the flags could be
> presented by an .xol content.
> I'll try to send you some additional task proposals as soon as I can.
> Tony
> On 02/19/2016 05:30 PM, Walter Bender wrote:
> FYI, as per the discussion at this month's SLOB meeting, I submitted an
> application to Google Summer of Code on behalf of Sugar Lbs. Lionel has
> agreed to be the co-admin this summer. We should hear by the end of the
> month as to whether or not we are accepted and how many slots we get.
> It is important that we add some more potential projects to the list in
> the wiki over the next few days as a show of interest from the community.
> Please add your ideas to:
> https://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Summer_of_Code/2016
> Thanks.
> -walter
> --
> Walter Bender
> Sugar Labs
> http://www.sugarlabs.org
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