So I spent a chunk of time over the last day or so looking at prior art – the efforts of others to solve the same problem. (I’m using “prior art” pretty loosely. I’m not by any means filing patent claims.)
Prior Art Round-up
The Hedera Project
Hedera is a Thunderbird extension, and probably the most direct solution to the Thunderbird and Ubuntu One integration problem. With Hedera, all contacts in all address books are sent off to Ubuntu One, with metadata to keep the contacts in the right address books. Metadata is also included to keep contacts distinct from one Thunderbird profile to the next (if you’re one of the rare users of profiles).
As of late, the extension has gotten a bit dusty – the author, James Tait, is currently working at Canonical, and hasn’t had much time to maintain it.
Despite that, it still does the job pretty well. I was successfully able to synchronize my contacts to Ubuntu One, which made me fist-pump. Great work, James!
However, after examining the code, I have a few concerns:
- The first one that jumps out at me is the reliance upon a shell script to determine the DesktopCouch server port, as well as obtain access credentials. While effective, I think a more direct approach would be more appropriate. Perhaps I could develop a DesktopCouch XPCOM service that returns these values?
- Contacts that are not branded with “Thunderbird” metadata are ignored. This means that contacts created from the Ubuntu One web interface are not brought into Thunderbird, unless the metadata can somehow be added there. I didn’t immediately see a way to do this. This also means that contacts from other applications (I’m looking at you, Evolution) don’t get brought into Thunderbird.
- Since the contacts are also given profile metadata, it means that I only get those contacts if I share the same profile. This is problematic if I drop my computer in the river, get a new one, and fire up a copy of Thunderbird: my profile will be different, so my contacts won’t come in. They’ll still exist in Ubuntu One’s storage, but won’t come into my Thunderbird profile, unless I modify my profile string to match my old one.
Funambol Mozilla Sync Client
Funambol develops open-source mobile communications sync software, and it looks like Canonical is using Funambol to power their mobile sync services.
Users install the Funambol Mozilla Sync Client, which then syncs contacts with Ubuntu One over the mobile sync service.
It’s not a bad solution, and is the one advocated by the Ubuntu Support pages.
Here are my concerns:
- According to the support pages, only Thunderbird 2.x is currently supported. Thunderbird 3.1.9 is the current version in the Ubuntu packages, and the Mozilla Messaging team is working like crazy people on 3.3 (where did 3.2 go? long story). Supporting Thunderbird 3 is a BFD.
- This approach assumes that you’ve got the $3.99 US per month mobile Ubuntu One service.
Now, with respect to that last point, I’m not against paying for stuff. Money lets companies like Canonical, Funambol (and Mozilla Messaging, for that matter) survive. But I do think it’s a little silly that Thunderbird needs to pretend to be a mobile phone, and communicate through the mobile sync service. That’s why I said Hedera was the more direct solution.
If I got any of that wrong, I’m sure someone from Funambol will comment and correct me. 🙂
Bindwood is an extension that allows Mozilla Firefox to synchronize bookmarks via Ubuntu One. The reason I’m putting this up, is because a lot of good code has been written here to communicate with the DesktopCouch service. If I resolve a few licensing issues, it might be possible for me to leverage some of that code to make the Thunderbird + Ubuntu One project move faster.
Evolution-CouchDB creates a new address book called “Ubuntu One” for every user. Any contacts that go into that address book are sync’d with Ubuntu One, and any contacts that get added to Ubuntu One get loaded into that address book.
It’s an elegant solution, and addresses the issues I brought up with Hedera.
If I were to implement a similar solution for Thunderbird, it would mean that contacts between Evolution would be seamlessly imported into Thunderbird. The behaviour would be exactly the same. Consistency is good. Consistency means happy users.
Unless I hear compelling argument for something else, I think this the behaviour I’m going to implement.
Mac OSX’s Address Book
Mac OSX has it’s own internal address book, and many Mac-based Thunderbird users were crying out for integration. A developer named Peter Van der Beken karate-kicked the bug (and may have collected a bug bounty on it…unsure), and now we have OSX address book integration.
The OSX address book integration is very similar to Evolution’s behaviour: it creates a new address book within Thunderbird, and all contacts from the OSX native address book appear there.
As it stands, this integration is read-only.
Since we’re dealing with OSX, it means Objective-C is the name of the game. Here’s the code.
Except for one thing.
I spent most of yesterday examining this one, and I think I’ve got my head wrapped around it.
So, RDF stands for Resource Description Framework, and it’s a way of representing information in a way so that machines can make useful inferences and queries about that information. That’s a super-simplified definition. Here’s something a little more robust.
What does this have to do with Thunderbird and Ubuntu One?
Well, it turns out that the Thunderbird address book interface uses RDF to query / know about the address books that are available. So, when you pop open the address book manager in Thunderbird, and it populates the list of address books, it’s using RDF to get that information.
So what’s wrong with that? Well, it means that if I want to add a special “Ubuntu One” address book, it has to register itself with the RDF service as an RDFResource.
There’s two issues there:
- Part of RDFResource is not scriptable, which means it’d need to be implemented in C++. So much for leveraging Bindwood / Hedera / Funambol.
- The Thunderbird team knows about the limitations of RDF and are trying to remove it’s usage from Thunderbird. I’d hate to implement all that RDFResource stuff just so it can get tossed out in a few months.
So I might have to really start pushing on RDF removal from the address book. If I go that route, it means that Ubuntu One synchronization would not be available for anything earlier than Thunderbird 3.3. Ugh.
Sounds like it’s time for me to discuss this with my superiors. I’ll let you know what I find out.
Breakfast was yogurt, croissants, and granola, with little cakes. Very tasty. And the weather? Gorgeous as usual.
After breakfast, we were underway. There was lots of talk about features in the upcoming version of Thunderbird. There was a long talk where we batted around ideas on how to reward contributers to Thunderbird.
I got a lot done that day – I’d been having some trouble getting Ubuntu Natty running on my laptop virtual machine, and I finally got it going. I kicked off a Thunderbird debug build, and got the globalmenu extension I was tinkering with compiled. I had a segfault to solve, and I dug into that.
Around five, we broke for dinner. Everybody was going to different places, and I chose an Italian restaurant called Il Lupino with Karen, Gozer, Shane, and Mark Banner. The restaurant was new, and seemed like they were still getting their act together. It seemed like there were a lot of waiters standing around not doing much, and only one or two staff running around doing a whole bunch.
It was a bit of a wait, but they fed us bread. Eventually, dinner arrived, and it was tasty.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel along the beach. It was a nice, cool night. There was a super fine mist in the air, which I gather is the Hawaiian version of a light rain.
When we got back to the hotel, a bunch of people were playing XBox in the meeting room. I watched for a bit, played a few rounds, and eventually called it a night.
I headed up to my hotel room, and started getting ready for bed. As I was brushing my teeth, I noticed something strange about my bathroom.
The bathroom was divided up into two sections. One section had the sink, a big mirror, and a bathtub. The other section was where the toilet and the standup shower were. The sections were divided by a doorway that didn’t have a door to go with.
Or so it seemed. On closer inspection, it turned out there was a door to go with the doorway. It was a sliding door, like one might have to out onto a back patio, and it was recessed into the side of the doorway.
I was curious, so I pulled it out to take a look at it:
The only feature on the door was a little metal plate for sliding it back and forth:
And you’ll notice that in the center of the little metal plate is a white button.
I’m a naturally curious guy, and I wanted to see how the locking mechanism worked. So I closed the door, and pressed the white button.
It only took me a few seconds to realize that there was no way to un-press the white button. I had just trapped myself into the toilet/shower side of the doorway.
At first, I thought this was really funny. What a stupid design for a door! After a few seconds of laughing at myself, the gravity of my situation started to sink in:
- I had no cell phone to call for help. No roommate who’d be coming in.
- Nobody would be looking for me until morning.
- The door didn’t have any hinges for me to take apart. And, because it was a sliding door, it meant that all edges of the door were recessed into the doorframe, which meant no kicking it down.
- I’d put the “do not disturb” on my door, so I couldn’t count on the cleaning lady to let me in in the morning.
- The space in that section was about the size of two phone-booths combined. If I had to sleep there, it’d be an uncomfortable night.
- It was late, so banging on the walls and making a huge ruckus was probably a last option. And there was no guarantee that any of the rooms near me were occupied.
It was a sticky situation. Not life-threatening by any means, but quite a predicament nonetheless.
So, after thoroughly examining the lock, my first step was to take an inventory of my tools:
- There were towels and toilet paper. I didn’t see how I could use those on the lock.
- The contents of the toilet tank included the floater ball, and a chain for the drain mechanism.
- The shower head was connected to the faucet via a snaky metallic tube that could be disconnected at both ends.
- I was carrying my wallet, which had some paper money, and some coins.
- I was wearing my belt.
- I had shorts on, and the metal tab on my zipper could possibly be used as a screwdriver.
I decided to attack the lock with my belt. I rammed the swing-arm on the belt buckle into the area between the white button and the metal plate, seeing if I could make some room on either side of it. I ended up working away some of the plastic on the button, and was able to make some space.
Ok, so now I could wiggle the button back and forth.
Continuing with my belt, I tried to “scoop” the button out – but the plastic was too slippery, and I didn’t seem to be making and progress. And, at some points, it seemed like the button was going farther in, and I really didn’t want to make my situation any worse.
I switched tools, opened up my change wallet, and pulled out two dimes. My fingers were too big to pinch the button and pull out, so I tried using the dimes.
It was starting to get hot in there.
With one dime pinched in each hand, I worked them like the world’s most awkward tweezers. I grabbed the button, squeezed inwards towards the button, and tried to pull out.
The button was slick, and the dimes kept slipping off. It didn’t look good.
Suddenly, I had a good grip on the button, and the dimes pulled it out.
I fist-pumped, slid the door open, and enjoyed the cool air. I’d been trapped for about 25 minutes. It was good to be out.
And then I took some photos. Here’s a shot of the toilet/shower room just after I escaped:
and here’s a shot of my trusty, if clumsy, tools:
I went to bed pretty exhilarated. I was looking forward to telling everybody about this at breakfast the next morning.
I woke up after a night of fitful dreaming about long airplane rides, dip masquerading as hummus and missing socks.
I only had myself to blame for the socks. Em had awesomely helped me pack two weeks worth of clothes into a carry-on bag, and the socks had been my responsibility. Sigh. Oh well.
It was early at this point. Too early. I glanced at the bedside clock…6 AM. It’d been a long time since I’d been up this early. And yet, strangely, I felt fully rested.
Fully rested, and excited. I was in Hawaii, baby!
I was determined to make the best of the early morning, and watch the sunrise. So, I scrambled around, getting dressed – during which, I got a few shots of the sun starting to rise through my hotel room window.
It was time to hit the pavement. I threw on my sandals, and stepped into the elevator. I tried not to think about my sock problem. I figured I would spend most of my trip in sandals, so the lack of socks really wouldn’t be an issue until later on in the trip.
The hotel was pretty close to the beach, but the sun was coming up fast, and I didn’t want to miss it. I started jogging, flew past the Hilton lagoon, and made it to the beach in time to take these shots:
There was a rock barrier going out into the water. I walked down to the end of it for some shots, and took a video. The rocks were black, volcanic stuff.24-Jan-2011 11:41, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.8, 5.8mm, 0.5 sec, ISO 129
And this video:
It was very peaceful and serene.
Before going back up, I took a few minutes to walk around the hotel. There was a nice decorative fountain near the entrance, as well as a Kona Coffee shop.
I’m not a big coffee drinker, but apparently Kona Coffee is a pretty BFD. Before I left home, my Mom asked me to bring a few bags back. I didn’t have a chance on this morning though – the Kona Coffee shop was closed:
I eventually made it back to my room to grab a quick shower and shave before the 9AM breakfast.
The Meeting Room
The hotel didn’t want you to forget that either – they were pumping episodes of Hawaii Five-O through some flat-screens near reception, 24/7.
Along with the hotel rooms, the Ilikai was also providing a meeting room for the team for the week. The meeting room was also where breakfast and lunch would be served. It was a pretty awesome arrangement.
Here are some shots of the meeting room.
We’ve got a patio outside too, in case we decide that we need to have a meeting in the sun:
When I got to the meeting room, there were already a bunch of people there, and I went around and said a lot of hello’s. Once again, a lot of names and faces flew by, and it was hard to keep them all straight in my head.
Breakfast was yogurt with granola, and what appeared to be banana bread. Delicious.
After breakfast, David Ascher gave a talk about the mission of Mozilla Messaging, and what we’d accomplished in 2010, and what we were aiming to accomplish in 2011. There was a nice and easy, accessible vibe in the room, and I don’t think it was just because everybody was wearing Hawaiian shirts – the whole crew just seemed to gel that way.
After the talk, we more or less figured out the schedule for the rest of the week. That day, we’d be doing a bunch of demos.
The demos were pretty cool. Blake did one on the account provisioning service that he’s been working on for Thunderbird:
And then showed off some more experimental work that he and a few others been doing on a project called Thunderbird Air. Think of Thunderbird Air as a jam session for ideas about messaging interfaces. It’s pretty cool.
Then, we got a demo of F1, MoMo’s shiny new Firefox add-on that makes sharing stuff easy. It’s pretty badass. Here’s an early video showing off what F1 does:
Afterwards, there was a big talk about mail storage with David Bienvenu – one of the original developers of Thunderbird.
After that, it was lunch break. Salad and sandwiches. Very tasty. There was also some peculiar bread that had a sweet taste and was blue/purple inside. Very interesting.
After lunch, people just hacked on their laptops for a bit, and chatted. Smaller discussions about other projects broke out. People went out onto the patio for sun. Very relaxed and casual. Eventually, someone plugged in the XBox and the Kinect, and we watched David Ascher and Dan Mosedale do some extreme white-water rafting.
Dinner at Uncle Bo’s
Eventually, things wound down. Old habits die hard, and the group started to fold around 5PM. At that point, I packed up my stuff and headed back to my room. I talked to Em on Skype. I got ready for dinner – I’d be meeting the rest of the group downstairs at 6PM.
I showed up at the lobby just in time for Sancus to tell me that we were meeting at 6:30PM instead of 6PM. That gave me just enough time to run around and try to grab a few photos:
I got back to the lobby just in time to meet the group as we started to head to a restaurant called “Uncle Bo’s“. Apparently, it’s pretty well known in Hawaii. The food was eclectic, but tasty. I spent most of dinner talking with James Burke, John Hopkins, Mark Banner and David Sifry about things like British humour, Top Gear, and trolling Nigerian prince scammers. Good times.
Watermelon sorbet for dessert. Delicious.
I didn’t take photos during the dinner (at this point, I still didn’t know everybody, and would have felt weird photographing them), but I know Roland Tanglao did. Here are a few:
Stuffed, we cabbed back home. Some of the team was headed to a patio on the beach, and I tagged along. As some live music played, I talked school and science fiction with Andrew Sutherland and Gozer. I also found out that Gozer is a pool shark, and we decided to find a time to hit a pool hall sometime over the week.
At some point, a wave of exhaustion hit me, and I decided to head back to the hotel.
I made my way back to my room, jotted down my daily notes, and nodded off.
A Delicious Flight
After waking up, cleaning up, and eating, I was more or less ready to go. Blake was stopping by around 11:30AM with the airport taxi, and I had about an hour to myself. I decided that now would be a wonderful opportunity to purchase some flying snacks from the nearby convenience store.
Moments later, I was browsing the shelves. I grabbed some granola bars, and some raisins. On my way out, I saw some flatbread, and was immediately reminded of the time that my friend Doug offered me some flatbread with roasted red pepper hummus on it. And I remembered that it was delicious. Immediately, I was hit by a craving, grabbed the flatbread, and went to go find the hummus.
Eventually, I zeroed in on the hummus section. Unfortunately, the tub of roasted red pepper hummus that I found was about the right size for a whole family, and I thought that’d be a bit of a waste (since I wasn’t sure I’d be able to refridgerate it upon landing). So I dug around in the shelves until I found a smaller tub, grabbed it, paid, and left.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Mike – this minutia is really of no interest to me. Am I really going to have to hear about the food you bought and ate? Is this how these posts are going to go?”. Just rest assured, I’m bringing this up for a reason. The hummus comes into play later.
Blake arrived, I hopped into the car, and we were off. We compared snacks: Blake was packing some awesome-looking homemade banana bread with chocolate chips.
It was going to be a delicious flight.
A Newbie Goes Through Security
It’d been a little while since I’d been through airport security, and I had forgotten some of the moves. I did my best to follow Blake’s example – I pulled out my laptop to be screened independently. I tossed down my jacket. I lined it all up all neat and tidy for the little luggage car-wash to scan it.
Soon, it was my turn to walk through the metal detector. In front of me, Blake had sailed through and was already getting his stuff off of the conveyer belt.
I walked through the gate. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP.
“Sir, do you have anything in your pockets?”
Oh yeah. I had everything in my pockets. Wallet, keys, cell-phone, belt, watch, I’d forgotten all of it. So there I am, scrambling to void my pockets of their contents, and tossing them into a little bowl to be scanned.
Security was not impressed.
After an extremely thorough wand-scanning, I was eventually let through. I gathered my stuff up, and hurried over to Blake.
The Storage Seat
We reached our terminal without incident. We had an hour to kill before boarding, and chatted about the upcoming meeting, science fiction, Ricky Gervais, video games. Boarding was a piece of cake.
Although we had booked our tickets seperately, somehow, our seats were in the same row. There was a lone seat in between us. The plane filled up…and filled up…and the seat remained empty. Suddenly it dawned on me: Blake and I were probably about to get a free storage seat between us. Awesome-sauce.
I became so excited about the middle seat that I was starting to sweat everytime someone else came onto the plane. One or two stragglers would saunter on, and I was sure the jig was up. But somehow, someway, it didn’t happen. The storage seat was saved. It immediately became home to a host of overflow items.
It was at this point that the captain came on the horn to tell us that there was a problem. During the safety check, he found out his oxygen mask wasn’t working. Maintenance would be sending a part over, and it’d take somewhere around 30 minutes to get it all sorted.
30 minutes later, we were underway, and hurtling down the tarmac. Eventually, the seatbelt sign was turned off. I reached for my book. It was going to be a long flight (approx 6 hours).
That’s when the flight attendant announced that the water wasn’t running in the front bathroom. So we were down to one bathroom. The girl across the aisle from me groaned audibly.
Moments later, we found out that our in-flight movies were not working. The same girl groaned even louder, whipped out her cellphone, and began texting furiously. I was reminded of this Louis C.K. bit on Conan…
It was an uneventful flight. Blake and I chatted a bit, and then I read, and he listened to music. There was a Mythbusters marathon on the on-board television, so that was entertaining. I learned today that if a diver in one of those old-school scuba suits is down 300 feet, and suddenly has his air supply cut off…the waterpressure is strong enough to compress all of his organs into his helmet like a human meatball. Gross. Thanks Mythbusters.
Landing, and the Hummus Incident
Landing was no biggie. The captain came on the horn again to tell us that they had to cut power the plane in order to get the bridge attached to us. As the lights went out, I could see the light of a cellphone illuminate the face of the girl across the aisle. Texting commenced at a furious pace. I don’t think she was very happy with the flight.
Next, Blake and I meandered our way to U.S. security and customs. Along the way, we helped a mother and daughter find their New Zealand flight. While in the line-up, I realized that I was still carrying a bottle of water that I’d purchased in the Toronto airport. And it was still more or less full.
To avoid embarrassment, I chugged it back. The whole half-litre. Dazed from over-hydration, I tossed all of my gear, pockets and all, upon the security conveyor belt like a boss. I was determined to do this like a pro, and gave Blake the “I know what I’m doing this time” eyebrows.
Shoeless, beltless, pockets emptied, I passed through the metal detector like a marathon runner at the end of a race. Not a sound from the machine. It was glorious.
“Step over this way, sir”.
I was suddenly redirected to security, and told to empty my backpack.
As the security guard rummaged, my hummus fell out, and wobbled onto the table.
Suddenly, all eyes went to the hummus.
“Sir, what is this?”
“No, it’s not.” I looked closer. Damn it, I’d been duped by similar packaging. It was full-blown dip, not hummus. So much for healthy snacking.
“Oh, sorry, it’s dip. Not hummus. Dip.”
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to stay right here.”
I had started to sweat a little. Meanwhile, Blake was getting his shoes on, and was eyeing me curiously.
“It’s the hummus,” I said. He mouthed “Oh”.
3 or 4 minutes later, I was shuttled over to an official looking desk, where an official looking guard was presiding over my very fraudulant hummus.
“I thought it was hummus. You can keep the dip. I don’t want to the dip. You can have the dip.” I kept saying. I was worried that they thought I’d lied to them while calling it hummus. Or was there some sort of dip embargo? What the hell was going on?
“I don’t want the dip,” the tired looking employee said to me. He had a thousand-yard stare going on. This guy was not a fan of his job – at least not today.
“Your boarding pass says that you came in from Toronto. They should have stopped it at security over there”. He jabbed a finger at the dip. “This is over 50 millilitres of liquid. They shouldn’t have let it through.”
I made a weak attempt at humor by mentioning that the dip wasn’t exactly a liquid, and was more like handcream. He didn’t seem amused. I cut the crap and shut my mouth.
He then spent 5 minutes collecting all of my personal identification, and taking photos of me with the security camera. He assured me that I wasn’t in trouble, and that, in fact, Toronto airport security was in trouble. I remarked that I hoped nobody was going to lose their job over this. He grunted, handed me my boarding pass, and wished me a good day.
Dip-less, I walked back to Blake, gathered up all of my stuff, and we started walking towards our departure gate.
A Chance Encounter
We had stopped by a Tim Hortons to grab some food, when Blake nudged me.
“Come this way,” he said. I followed him back to the Tim Hortons line-up
“Mike Conley, meet David Ascher. David Ascher, meet Mike Conley.”
So it turned out that David Ascher, CEO of Mozilla Messaging, and my new boss, was taking the same flight with his wife. We said hello, and chatted a bit, and then headed towards our gate.
We boarded without incident. Blake and I weren’t sitting together on this flight – I was sitting next to some charming older ladies who were slamming back the in-flight alcohol like it was going out of style.
It was a hard leg of the flight. After approximately forever, we landed. This was at about 10PM Hawaii time, or 3AM Toronto time. At this point, I’d been awake for about 19 hours. I was exhausted, groggy, and probably dehydrated.
A section of the airport terminal had no windows. It was warm out, but not uncomfortably so. It was a bit humid. I saw palm trees in the shadows.
Eventually, David, his wife, Blake and myself were able to hail a cab. We whisked through the Hawaiian night. I remember thinking that the outside part Hawaii we were driving through seemed like an interesting mix of industrial and tourist. Kind of like if Niagara Falls and Hamilton were smashed together.
Finally, we pulled up to our hotel. After checking in, my body had pretty much given up.
It’s funny how 19 hours of just sitting still in a chair will exhaust you.
Before reaching the elevators, we ran into a few more members of the team who’d arrived before us. There were quick introductions (too quick – I’d have to ask for names again later on), and then we were up to our rooms.
Inside my room, I dumped by bag, plugged in my laptop, and sent a few e-mails to let people know I had arrived safely. I prepared for bed.
As I rummaged through my luggage, something was bugging me…
“Hm…let’s see…shorts, pants, underwear, shirts…”
My eyes went wide.
I hadn’t brought socks.