Biking!

I had occasionally biked around London using their famous Boris Bikes (which should actually be called “Ken Bikes” since he’s the Mayor that developed the idea, but hey), so I thought I knew the drill: lots of buses you’d want to avoid, drivers were mostly OK, it should be fun.

I kept saying to myself that I should get my own bike, but it took me almost two years of procrastination to finally make the move and do it.

And I got a foldable one–a Brompton. It took six weeks to be delivered because I wanted an specific colour AND three gears, and that wasn’t any of the configurations they had in stock so… custom order it was.

When I took it home for the first time, I thought I’d be unable to walk the next day. Ahhh the pain! It’s funny how little attention we pay to some things when we’re pedestrians–that street that you walk without really caring too much about it has actually a bit of a slope. So try biking along that sustained slope when you’re not trained, and your legs will notice.

If taking the bike home the first day had been exhausting, I was totally sure that I wasn’t ready to bike to work, which was a longer way. So what I did was “training” around my neighbourhood on week-ends and some days that I’d work from home (so I’d get some fresh air!). It was also a great chance to practice lifting the folded bike downstairs, unfolding it, and after the ride, folding and lifting it up. I can do that quite fast now, but the first days it was a complete disaster! (Specially the first day–picture me googling “how to unfold a brompton bike” on the street).

Finally one day I thought: that’s it, I’ll bike to work tomorrow!

And I did it.
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Meanwhile, in Mozlandia…

Almost every employee and a good amount of volunteers flew into Portland past week for a sort of “coincidental work week” which also included a few common events, the “All hands”. Since it was held in Portland, home to “Portlandia“, someone started calling this week “Mozlandia” and the name stuck.

I knew it was going to be chaotic and busy and so I not only didn’t make any effort to meet with non-Mozilla-related Portlanders, but actively avoided that. When the day has been all about socialising from breakfast to afternoon, the last thing you want is to speak to more people. Also, I am not sure how to put this, but the fact that I visit some acquaintance’s town doesn’t mean that I am under any obligation to meet them. Sometimes people get angry that I didn’t tell them I was visiting and that’s not cool :-(

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It’s not that you cannot understand this…

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with a bunch of people who I largely didn’t know. One of these in particular was very loud and outspoken about all the topics. I didn’t really have the energy, or the will, to engage in most of them, but one in particular made me “explode”: his proposal that ending with anonymity was the answer to all the online abuse issues that minorities were experiencing.
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Publishing a Firefox add-on without using addons.mozilla.org

A couple of days ago Tom Dale published a post detailing the issues the Ember team are having with getting the Ember Inspector add-on reviewed and approved.

It left me wondering if there would not be any other way to publish add-ons on a different site. Knowing Mozilla, it would be very weird if add-ons were “hardcoded” and tied only and exclusively to a mozilla.org property.

So I asked. And I got answers. The answer is: yes, you can publish your add-on anywhere, and yes your add-on can get the benefit of automatic updates too. There are a couple of things you need to do, but it is entirely feasible.

First, you need to host your add-on using HTTPS or “all sorts of problems will happen”.

Second: the manifest inside the add-on must have a field pointing to an update file. This field is called the updateURL, and here’s an example from the very own Firefox OS simulator source code. Snippet for posterity:

<em:updateURL>@ADDON_UPDATE_URL@</em:updateURL>

You could have some sort of “template” file to generate the actual manifest at build time–you already have some build step that creates the xpi file for the add-on anyway, so it’s a matter of creating this little file.

And you also have to create the update.rdf file which is what the browser will be looking at somewhat periodically to see if there’s an update. Think of that as an RSS feed that the browser subscribes to ;-)

Here’s, again, an example of how an update.rdf file looks like, taken from one of the Firefox OS simulators:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<RDF xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#" xmlns:em="http://www.mozilla.org/2004/em-rdf#">
<Description about="urn:mozilla:extension:fxos_2_2_simulator@mozilla.org">
<em:updates>
<Seq><li>
<Description>
  <em:version>2.2.20141123</em:version>
  <em:targetApplication>
  <Description>
    <em:id>{ec8030f7-c20a-464f-9b0e-13a3a9e97384}</em:id>
    <em:minVersion>19.0</em:minVersion>
    <em:maxVersion>40.*</em:maxVersion>
    <em:updateLink>https://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla.org/labs/fxos-simulator/2.2/mac64/fxos-simulator-2.2.20141123-mac64.xpi</em:updateLink>
  </Description>
  </em:targetApplication>
</Description>
</li></Seq>
</em:updates>
</Description>
</RDF>

And again this file could be generated at build time and perhaps checked in the repo along with the xpi file containing the add-on itself, and served using github pages which do allow serving https.

The Firefox OS simulators are a fine example of add-ons that you can install, get automatic updates for, and are not hosted in addons.mozilla.org.

Hope this helps.

Thanks to Ryan Stinnett and Alex Poirot for their information-rich answers to my questions–they made this post possible!

“Invest in the future, build for the web!”, take 2, at OSOM

I am right now in Cluj-Napoca, in Romania, for OSOM.ro, an small totally non profit volunteer-organised conference. I gave an updated, shorter revised version of the talk I gave at Amsterdam past June. As usual here are the slides and the source for the slides.

It is more or less the same, but better, and I also omitted some sections and spoke a bit about Firefox Developer Edition.

Also I was wearing this Fox-themed sweater which was imbuing me with special powers for sure:

fox sweater

(I found it at H & M past Saturday, there are more animals if foxes aren’t your thing).

There were some good discussions about open source per se, community building and growing. And no, talks were not recorded.

I feel a sort of strange emptiness now, as this has been my last talk for the year, but it won’t be long until other commitments fill that vacuum. Like MozLandia—by this time next week I’ll be travelling to, or already in, Portland, for our work week. And when I’m back I plan to gradually slide into a downward spiral into the idleness. At least until 2015.

Looking forward to meeting some mozillians I haven’t met yet, and also visiting Ground Kontrol again and exploring new coffee shops when we have a break in Portland, though :-)