Andy Crouch - Code, Technology & Obfuscation ...

Migrating To Manjaro i3

Manjaro I3 Desktop Screenshot

Photo: Andy Crouch

Happy New Year!

The latter part of 2018 was so busy for me that I hardly got to write at all. This year I want to get back to some learning and playing with languages and frameworks. So the new year called for a new approach to my Linux environment.

After many years of using KDE, I switched to Gnome a few years ago but had become frustrated. Extensions are the only way to make it truly useful and they are flaky at best. Relying on your user base to create and maintain functionality that should be in the core code is wrong. Most of them break between major version upgrades. I struggled through the last 6 months with random crashes and resource issues. I was starting to look around and thinking of switching to Deepin or Cinnamon.

Around this time as well I was finding a few stability issues with Antergos. One of the now many Arch Linux spins. For a couple of VM’s I was using, I had switched to Manjaro Gnome edition. I found it to be rock solid in my limited usage and quite polished.

Around the end of 2018 I had a really interesting chat with a designer friend. We discussed how Linux is generally ugly. Out of the box, no environment can really consider itself a worthy contender against Windows or OSX. This is clearly the case as most environments provide a theming mechanism. Yes, I know the choice is good and it’s great that you can personalise your environment how you want. But, not one theme could compete with commercial design. We agreed that this could be one of the reasons desktop Linux has never reached the masses as it should have.

So having decided I was getting grumpy with Gnome and aghast with Antergos I decided to use some of my Christmas downtime to create a new environment. I decided I wanted it:

  • Fast
  • Beautiful
  • Easily Reproducible
  • Focused

So I have decided to move to Manjaro i3. This is a community spin of Manjaro with the i3 Window manager. i3 is a tiling window manager and not a full desktop environment. It is highly configurable and aimed at advanced users and developers. It provides a number of keyboard shortcuts to navigate and work with applications. The Manjaro i3 spin actually uses i3-gaps which is a fork with some additional functionality which can be read up on here.

i3 can be installed in Arch (or most distributions) easily. But the reason that I chose Manjaro’s spin was that it comes with a really nice configuration to start with. You can then use it to create your own configuration and set up.

I have been trying to clean up my dot files for a couple of years and always get so far and then just work with what I have. So this switch will result in sorting out all of my files and configurations. The aim is to create a single repo that I can clone on any image or machine and have my working environment up quickly. As I have written about before, now that I am a time poor family guy, having a good working environment is important. Hours customising and tweaking themes and settings are a thing of the past.

So the next few posts will be related to this switch and how I manage to create a good looking, fast and lightweight environment.

If you you have any tips for i3 worth sharing or want me to cover any specific area’s of using or configuring i3 then message me via twitter or email.

2018 Wrap Up

Festive Decoration

Photo: Joanna Kosinska - Unsplash

So 2018 is almost at an end. For those that read this site with any regularity, you will have noticed I have not been posting as much of late. This is purely down to a major project I am leading with Open Energy Market which has been dominating my time. This will be the last post of the year and I will attempt to get back to writing more in the new year.

2018 has been a massive year on many levels for Open Energy Market. From closing out an investment round to building the company to more than double its size. This was both financially and in people. A new office to set up and fill up and a big push on redefining the core technology we are providing within the market.

Personally, getting to travel more and seeing my son continue to grow and ask interesting questions have been fun. Spending time with my wife is what keeps me sane and I hope to do even more of that next year.

2019 promises to be an interesting year.

Merry Christmas all!

If you would like to connect or exchange Merry Christmas messages then connect with me via twitter or email.

Open Energy Report

Electricity Pylons

Photo: Matthew Henry - Unsplash

Recently the Federation of Small Businesses published a report on modernizing the Energy market. The report entitled “Open Energy - Using data to create a smarter, cheaper and fairer energy market” can be found here. It is a worthy read for any company involved in the Energy market.

The FSB was the organisation in the UK to push for the Open Banking standard back in 2011. It took some years but that standard is now supported by the 9 largest banks in the UK.

The reports main suggestions are

  • The government should give energy customers greater control over their smart meter data.
  • That customers should have easier access to tariffs.
  • That the Energy industry should standardize market price information into machine-readable formats to allow for autonomous comparisons of tariffs.
  • The industry should provide access to smart meter data via an open API.
  • That customer should have the option to delegate contract switching powers to Third party intermediaries.

Combined, the suggestions would form the basis of the Open Energy standard. The aim from the FSB’s point of view is to increase the number of customers switching tariffs to save money. They also see it as an opportunity for “ innovative uses of data, including for demand-management purposes that could increase the proportion of the total energy mix from renewables.”

The current state of data availability and exchange in the Energy Industry is terrible. There is no common data exchange format. Powered by FTP, suppliers silo their data in badly designed and isolated portals. The recommendations in this report are what Open Energy Market has been pushing for. In order for Customers to take control back of their energy data, suppliers need to be made to embrace these recommendations. Open and well governed API’s, customers owning their data and having access to it on demand. I suspect it will take significant time and involvement from Ofgem to make it a reality. But, look at Open Banking and the innovation that is occurring there thanks to the standard.

Customers are back in control and that is spurring competition.

If you would like to discuss the report and how it’s recommendations could be implemented then message me via twitter or email.

Linus Takes A Break From Leading Kernel

Pneguins In The Snow

Photo: Ian Parker - Unsplash

This week, Linus Torvalds has announced that he is stepping back from maintaining the project he founded over 25 years ago.

I haven’t been following the LKML as closely as I used to but I was hardly surprised by the news. A combination of factors have led to this point and have been brewing for many years. Linus is famous for his blunt opinionated emails on LKML. On occasion, he has headed into insulting and personal attacks. This has lead to some high profile maintainers and developers quitting the project. He will be the first to admit that he is not a people person. But, he holds a key position in one of the most visible Open Source projects in the world. More than anyone else in the community his every word and action will be scrutinized. He sets the tone for how other maintainers and contributors behave.

There are a couple of trains of thought about the whole situation.

The first is that the situation is repairable. But, it will take significant time for the changes to propagate. Linus himself is taking time to look at how he acts and interacts with people. He is seeking “professional help” to correct his behaviour. This is commendable and the community should provide the time and support he needs. It’s a massive admission he has made in a very public arena. Tiger Woods, Hugh Grant and Britney Spears have all been allowed to put pasts behind them. We can not tell someone that they are wrong and then not support them when they try to correct the issues. The major issue here is that that behaviour has built a community over 25 years. We have seen since the news broke a range of reactions and suggestions and infighting. Due to his leadership style which the community has followed it is divided and broken. When he returns, Linus will have to spend as much time readdressing the community and pushing new values as he will reviewing code. This will be a lengthy process. Anyone that feels a Code of Conduct will solve this is only very partially right. In fact, the author of the code of conduct could do with being less of an antagonist as a good starting point.

Do I think there will be knee-jerk reactions to this? No, I do not think many developers are going to suddenly leave the project or withdraw code. Perhaps the few developers that are so bothered by the Code of Conduct will leave and that might not be a bad thing. If you need a Code of Conduct in the first place then you probably should follow Linus’s lead and seek some help.

The second train of thought I have is around leadership and building communities. Specifically, the impact that this will have on people starting or wanting to maintain projects. I hope that situations like this do not put anyone off from starting new projects. It takes significant time and effort in growing communities. You need to be sure you want to take on that responsibility. That you want your every action to be reviewed and commented against. That you can build in inclusiveness and openness while keeping the negativity out. It’s a hard role which a few key people such as Jono Bacon have mastered.

It will be an interest few weeks to see how this situation unfolds and to watch the inevitable fallout. I hope that the key community members step up and it will be interesting to watch Linus’s development when he returns.

There will be a range of thoughts on this news so why not share them with me via twitter or email.

Mexico Trip

Sensatori Resort Riviera Swimming Pool

Photo: Andy Crouch

So I have been away from this blog for a month which was due in part to a project I am on and in part due to a trip to Mexico & Dallas.

This post is entirely about the trip and not the project!

This was our first time to Mexico and we stayed in the Sensatori Resort Riviera Cancun. The hotel was right on the beach and is one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in. The staff and their approach to customer service are brilliant. Our room was large, clean and well made every day. They offered a wide range of food throughout the restaurants. They also had Caribbean, Italian and Mexican restaurants on site. We tried the Italian and the Mexican, the latter of which was brilliant. Not only good food but amazing entertainment and waiters.

Sensatori Resort Riviera Beach Walk

Sensatori Resort Riviera Hotel Room

Sensatori Resort Riviera Wildlife

There was one thing which we were aware of before we flew out and that was the seaweed issue along the Caribbean coastline. There is a problem that has been affecting the area on and off for the last few years relating to large amounts of seaweed washing up on the beaches. The hotels attempt to clear it but due to wildlife in the area, it is now a manual process. Which meant that while you could sit and enjoy the beach bar and restaurant you could not swim or even get to the sea. For us, this did not bother us so much as we were happy around the pool (which was large and had plenty of room). But, you do question why the travel operators do not mention it or even acknowledge it when pressed.

Sensatori Resort Riviera Beach Seaweed

Sensatori Resort Riviera Beach Seaweed

On the whole, I would very much recommend Mexico from the experience we had. We are already planning further trips to see more of the country.

On the way home, we stopped in Dallas for 3 days to see a very good friend. Apart from our luggage turning up a day after us (to my wife’s horror!) we had a great time. Dallas is nothing like you imagine and you can instantly see the appeal for the many large companies moving there. We only got to see a fraction of the city but it is a mix of old and very new. The people were extremely friendly. The ladies seemed particularly taken with my son (“An English accent, blue eyes and good looks”). I will plan to return here for a much longer period soon as I felt there was a lot more to explore.

Texas A & M Building

Dallas Book Repository

Deep Ellum

If you have places or experiences in Mexico or Dallas you would recommend then please share them with me via twitter or email.