Time zones: do we really need them?

While looking at StatusNet’s preferences dialog, I noticed we have a fairly generic but unfriendly timezone selector, done as a drop-down box with a raw list of zone names — this makes you find and select something like “America/Los_Angeles” or “Asia/Tokyo”:

Not only is the list very long and confusingly sorted, but the names are all either English or acronyms, making it hard to internationalize.

It occurs to me that we very rarely actually output formatted dates in the web interface anyway… most of the time we output relative times like “a few seconds ago” or “3 months ago”.

In fact, about the only place I can see that we’re outputting a fully formatted date is on an individual notice like this:

“Brion Vibber (brionv) ‘s status on Friday, 27-Nov-09 19:19:11 UTC”
“Brion Vibber (brionv) ‘s status on Friday, 27-Nov-09 11:19:11 PST”

though we also have tooltips on the approximation eg “about a month ago”: “2009-11-27T11:19:11-08:00”

My own inclination would be to drop the timezone preferences entirely; in the rare cases where we output a formatted local date we can let client-side JavaScript do the actual date formatting with the client system’s actual time zone and language settings, with a UTC/GMT fallback for clients with JS disabled.

This drops an unnecessary and hard-to-select option field from preferences and site administration panels, and avoids inconsistencies when you travel or move and forget to update the timezone.

Any objections or suggestions for further refinement?

Location fuzzing in StatusNet

I had a chat today w/ Craig Andrews & Chris Vollick about StatusNet’s geolocation support and how we might be able to better present how location info will be used, to avoid freaking people out with unexpected maps to their homes. :)

Some notes and this mockup for expanded location setup in preferences are on the wiki.

The main points are:

  • provide context for the browser’s location lookup opt-in (don’t trigger it until you’re poking at your location options)
  • show a sample map in the prefs so you know what other people will see
  • provide a one-click way to disable browser location lookups entirely
  • provide a one-click way to reduce the accuracy to city-level, probably by default

Any thoughts?

Memory leaks and DB_DataObject

As part of my work restructuring the background daemons, I’m starting to do memory profiling on StatusNet… I’d like to get it to the point where we can enable a debug mode that just snapshots out how much memory each class and global takes up while you’re running.

I’ve already found some low-hanging fruit in DB_DataObject. This is a “clever” library that likes to stash a lot of stuff into a global $_DB_DATAOBJECT array, including all your query result data.

Sure you’ve got a free() method, but nobody calls those consistently…

I found I could quite easily drop a destructor onto our Memcached_DataObject intermediate class which calls the free() method when the object is destroyed (explicitly with an unset(), or implicitly by falling out of scope and no longer being referenced).

My queue-handler daemon was able to get through an average of 595 notices on my stress test before croaking on a 32M memory_limit, but jumped up to get through 761 notices simply by adding this one-line destructor. (Average of 5 runs.)

Not bad for a start!

I’ve committed the destructor onto 0.9.x branch.

L10n for StatusNet plugins

Now that we’ve got UI translations going pretty well for StatusNet core via TranslateWiki, I’d like to see if we can get things working for plugins as well before the 0.9 final release.

I’d like some quick feedback from folks before merging into 0.9.x; you can see my work branch here.

In core code, to make a string translatable we wrap it in one of the gettext functions like this, most often the _() shortcut:

 $this->text(_("You have a new message."));

If you’re a plugin though, you need to add your own translations into the mix, and gettext makes you tell it which “domain” you’re pulling from each time…

 // at init time
                dirname(__FILE__) . "/locale");
                         "You have a new message."));

Repeating your plugin name for every string gets old REAL fast!

In my work branch I’ve added a new gettext wrapper function _m() which knows if it’s been called from a plugin, and picks out the right domain for you based on the plugin directory.

So rather than playing around with bindtextdomain() and dgettext() manually, you can just add one character and not worry about the rest:

 $this->text(_m("You have a new message."));

It also knows how many parameters you passed to it, so instead of whipping out ngettext() or dngettext() (or god forbid dnpgettext!) you can just keep using the nice compact _m() when your needs get fancier:


 $this->text(sprintf(_m("You have a new message.",
                        "You have %d new messages.",

Contexts for disambiguation:

 // read vs delete
 $this->text(_m("message-action", "Read"));
 // read vs unread
 $this->text(_m("message-state", "Read"));

Plurals with contexts!


Plugins maintained in the main StatusNet repo shouldn’t need to worry about anything else — the .po file templates and updates via TranslateWiki will be handled through the same workflow as the core. (I’m working with Siebrand at TranslateWiki to make sure we can automate this as much as possible, including adding new plugins.)

scripts/update_po_translations.php can regenerate all (or just core, or just plugin) .po templates for those who want to push them in immediately, though.

As with core, the binary .mo files won’t be included in the git repository to simplify code maintenance. I’ve added a Makefile at the base level which’ll build all the .mo files for folks to test localization in their working copies (or to build a release!)

Confusing Twitter settings

I’ve been getting feedback for some time that this checkbox in StatusNet’s Twitter connect settings is confusing:

Subscribe to my Twitter friends here.

People tend to think this should mean that this’ll pull all your Twitter friends’ updates into your timeline on the SN site… which is actually a separate checkbox, when enabled (sorry, it’s still disabled on identi.ca):

Import my Friends Timeline.

I suspect we could come up with clearer wording for both of these… let’s start the bidding!

  [x] Subscribe to my Twitter friends’ accounts on %%site.name%% automatically.

  [x] Show my friends’ tweets here on %%site.name%%.

Any other ideas?