Sunday, 16 August 2009

What makes me want to work in the Ubuntu Community?

My beginnings in Linux

In 1995 I was a scientist developing methods for automated visual identification from digital video images. I became aware of something called Linux that a few dedicated hackers were developing. So I built my first PC out of the remains of several broken machines that people had thrown away, and tried out the first distributions; ygdrazil and Slackware. Installing packages was very troublsome because I had to download tarballs at work and split them across many floppy disks. Then I found someone called John Winters who was setting up what he called the Linux Buyers Consortium (LBC) to import linux CDs from the USA into Britain. I joined LBC and got some CDs and installed Debian version 1. At last I had a useable Linux workstation! For the next few years I offered support and advice on the LBC discussion list (email) in Britain.

How I came to Ubuntu

I switched from using Debian to using Ubuntu in 2004 for the simple reason that the development cycles were shorter and so I could keep my computer up-to-date with stable versions much more easily. For the next few years I used Ubuntu for all of my Community Theatre, and Community Circus activities. Script writing and producing all the planning documents for directing in the theatre, using LaTeX. And composing music for physical theatre and contemporary circus, using Lilypond.

My Need to Contribute

This year I began a major film-making project for our circus troupe developing videos for training, and videos of our artistic productions. These needed to be fully professional.

I tried all the video editors I could find which ran on Linux, and was sorely disappointed in what I found. The only one I found which could produce anything matching any of my requirements was kdenlive, which I used to produce my first promotional DVD. However I couldn't get kdenlive to do anything useful with HD video.

Then this summer I found a reference to something being developed very rapidly called OpenShot. I gave this a trial, and very quickly realised it had an enormous potential. Acting on advice from the author of OpenShot, Jonathan Thomas, I wrote and contributed some Project Profiles which allowed me to edit in full HD 1920x1080 resolution, which is what I so desperately needed. OpenShot was still lacking some major functionality, but my experience with contributing my tiny bits made me realise that if I offered to help the team, this would speed up the process of getting what I needed - a fully professional HD non-linear video editor working on Ubuntu.

I explained to Jonathan Thomas that my programming skills were very rusty, but that I could help with documentation and producing a Help Manual using Gnome Help, and also help out with software testing. I was very quickly welcomed onto the OpenShot Development Team.

Since then I have been doing an awful lot of software testing, whilst producing my HD videos for our circus troupe. And doing a lot of bug management and answering questions, and helping with translations. I have been struggling over the production of the Help Manual. Mostly because my best friend died a few weeks ago and this left me feeling less than perfectly creative. The other reasons were that I needed to learn how to produce .deb packages for Ubuntu so I could produce a good openshot-docs package fully compliant with Ubuntu and with the Gnome Documentation Project (GDP), and also I had great difficulty trying to discover how to get my Gnome Help files to be properly indexed by the Gnome Help software yelp. Another problem was that Jonathan was updating OpenShot so fast that my screenshots were becoming out of date before I had even written the annotation for them! :-/

Last week I started to get my creative mood back again. I joined Ubuntu Women. Suddenly I had access to really useful help in solving my problems. The first problem solved was how to get my help files properly indexed by yelp when my openshot-docs package was installed. Without this you couldn't find my help files by searching in Gnome Help. Now I understand the .omf files and what they are for ;-)

I am also getting very useful help from Ubuntu Women on producing .deb packages for Ubuntu, and I have started refining my openshot-docs package, and I am also building a .deb package for the Creative Commons package cc-publisher to submit to Ubuntu. I have also joined wikipedia and I am regularly updating the OpenShot page there.

My next step with Ubuntu will be to try and become a full Ubuntu Member. :-)


  1. Hi Helen
    I'm happy to see that you have open your blog and that i'm the first to post a comment.
    You have realise in the same periode what i have plan todo there is 10 days ago.
    I whish a long life at this bog. Nice story.

  2. Nice story!

    Btw. I am working on getting the Sony PMW-EX1 and/or the Panasonic HMC-150.

    Go OpenShot!

  3. Hello Elijah,

    It is nice when you gradually build up the professional kit you need for your art.

    I have just purchased the portable professional sound recorder, Zoom H4n which I have been saving up for. This will make a big difference to our Contemporary Circus videos. I took delivery this morning, just in time for a circus video job I need to do this afternoon. :-)

    Now to work out how to get the Red One!