Categories
project

Introducing Dronefly, a Discord bot for naturalists

In the past few years, since first leaving Debian as a free software developer in 2016, I’ve taken up some new hobbies, or more accurately, renewed my interest in some old ones.

Screenshot from Dronefly bot tutorial
Screenshot from Dronefly bot tutorial

During that hiatus, I also quietly un-retired from Debian, anticipating there would be some way to contribute to the project in these new areas of interest. That’s still an idea looking for the right opportunity to present itself, not to mention the available time to get involved again.

With age comes an increasing clamor of complaints from your body when you have a sedentary job in front of a screen, and hobbies that rarely take you away from it. You can’t just plunk down in front of a screen and do computer stuff non-stop & just bounce back again at the start of each new day. So in the past several years, getting outside more started to improve my well-being and address those complaints. That revived an old interest in me: nature photography. That, in turn, landed me at iNaturalist, re-ignited my childhood love of learning about the natural world, & hooked me on a regular habit of making observations & uploading them to iNat ever since.

Second, back in the late nineties, I wrote a little library loans renewal reminder project in Python. Python was a pleasure to work with, but that project never took off and soon was forgotten. Now once again, decades later, Python is a delight to be writing in, with its focus on writing readable code & backed by a strong culture of education.

Where Python came to bear on this new hobby was when the naturalists on the iNaturalist Discord server became a part of my life. Last spring, I stumbled upon this group & started hanging out. On this platform, we share what we are finding, we talk about those findings, and we challenge each other to get better at it. It wasn’t long before the idea to write some code to access the iNaturalist platform directly from our conversations started to take shape.

Now, ideally, what happened next would have been for an open platform, but this is where the community is. In many ways, too, other chat platforms (like irc) are not as capable vs. Discord to support the image-rich chat experience we enjoy. Thus, it seemed that’s where the code had to be. Dronefly, an open source Python bot for naturalists built on the Red DiscordBot bot framework, was born in the summer of 2019.

Dronefly is still alpha stage software, but in the short space of six months, has grown to roughly 3k lines of code and is used used by hundreds of users across 9 different Discord servers. It includes some innovative features requested by our users like the related command to discover the nearest common ancestor of one or more named taxa, and the map command to easily access a range map on the platform for all the named taxa. So far as I know, no equivalent features exist yet on the iNat website or apps for mobile. Commands like these put iNat data directly at users’ fingertips in chat, improving understanding of the material with minimal interruption to the flow of conversation.

This tutorial gives an overview of Dronefly’s features. If you’re intrigued, please look me up on the iNaturalist Discord server following the invite from the tutorial. You can try out the bot there, and I’d be happy to talk to you about our work. Even if this is not your thing, do have a look at iNaturalist itself. Perhaps, like me, you’ll find in this platform a fun, rewarding, & socially significant outlet that gets you outside more, with all the benefits that go along with that.

That’s what has been keeping me busy lately. I hope all my Debian friends are well & finding joy in what you’re doing. Keep up the good work!

Categories
debian development live project

The passing of Debian Live

Debian Live has passed on. And it has done so in not happy circumstances. (You can search the list archives for more if you are confused.) I have reposted here my response to this one thread because it’s all I really want to say, after all of the years of working with the team.

I’d like to add as a postscript, that while the focus of this article was to remain positive in the face of Daniel’s announcement of the closure of his project, that event has left a lot of users confused about the status of live support in Debian going forward. Read my posts here and here addressing that confusion.

On 09/11/15 12:47 PM, Daniel Baumann wrote:
> So long, and thanks for all the fish[7].
>
> Daniel
>
> [7] http://live.debian.net/project/downstream/

Enough bitter words have been said. I don’t want to add any more. So:

I’m proud.

Indeed, that long list of downstreams does speak to the impact you’ve had in inspiring and equipping people to make their own live images. I’m proud to have been a small part of this project.

I’m thankful.

I’m thankful that I was able to, through this project, contribute to something for a while that had a positive impact on many people, and made Debian more awesome.

I remember the good times.

I remember fondly the good times we had in the project’s heyday. I certainly found your enthusiasm and vision for the project, Daniel, personally inspiring. It motivated me to contribute. Debconf10 was a highlight among those experiences, but also I had many good times and made many friendships online, too.

I’m sad.

I’m sad, because although I made some attempts to liaise between Debian Live and the CD and Installer teams, I don’t feel I did an effective job there, and that contributed to the situation we now find ourselves in. If I did you or the project injury in trying to fulfill that role, please forgive me.

I’m hopeful.

I’m hopeful that whichever way we all go from here, that the bitterness will not be forever. That we’ll heal. That we’ll have learned. That we’ll move on to accomplish new things, bigger and better things.

Thank you, Daniel. Thank you, Debian Live team.

Ben

Categories
debian eeepc irc lists management project task todo wiki

Using wiki.debian.org for project management

From the start of the DebianEeePC project, we have used a combination of the irc channel and our wiki site to our great advantage. The DebianEeePC/HowTo/Install document has been actively maintained as we go, serving not only as a good reference for new users, but also for existing users and developers to see where improvements are being made and what is left to work out.

Recently, we’ve started using the wiki for task management as well. Patterned after DebianInstaller/Bugs, we now have DebianEeePC/Bugs where we link to reports on the BTS for packages we maintain and our own usertags on packages we don’t maintain. As well, we are keeping a DebianEeePC/Todo to manage our tasks.

I see from a search through the wiki that lots of other Debian subprojects keep Todo lists, but most of them have little more structure than point-form lists. A few, though, have structured these pages a bit more carefully. For instance, some of these use tables listing who each task is assigned to, when it was assigned, and when it is completed. Our point-form list is a bit more free-form regarding task assignments. Participants can register their interest in a given task and what they are doing as a subpoint of the task. As for state changes over time, we rely on the revision history on “info” page for people to be able to see state changes for particular Todo items. When something is done, it just gets dropped from the list.

I haven’t exhaustively reviewed everyone’s Todo page, but from my brief survey I haven’t seen a couple of things I’ve added to try to help people choose what to do next. The first is to tag items with six difficulty/importance pairs, rating each actionable item from Easy/Urgent to Hard/Wishlist. The second is to state dependencies between items using anchors. It would be nice to see any of you are doing something similar and hear about whether it has worked out well for you.

I’m happy with how the irc/wiki combination has helped with project management. In the past with a different project I’ve made an abortive attempt to use the task management system at Alioth, but it just seemed too cumbersome and nobody ended up using it. With the wiki, it appears barriers to participation in task management are sufficiently lowered that everyone is willing to help keep it up. And with irc, we can keep on top of defining and assigning (or more usually volunteering to do) various tasks, and making sure the wiki is kept completely up to date. It takes a bit of discipline to do, but after the habits are established, it gets easier, and the rewards are well worth it.