Blinkinlabs Rocks

I’ve liked Blinkytape ever since it came out. Sure, you can hook up LED strips with an arduino or whatever easily, but sometimes having the controller built into the tape just makes things so much easier no wiring, no mounting, just plug and go. I got two strands of their separated pixels to decorate the tree last year (although I coded the lights myself rather than use their paint program, because images and color chases aren’t really what you want on a tree for weeks at a time). If I had an unlimited budget and any sense of sculptural aesthetics at all, I would buy several dozen of their BlinkyTile kits at least.

This year when I went to use PatternPaint again, the only computer I had to run it was the linux laptop, because my desktop mac is too old, and when the macbook is at home it’s generally running minecraft for the 11-year-old. So I followed the download-and-build instructions, which involve QtCreator — a multi-gigabyte monster of a development framework I’ve touched maybe twice before, and SPLAT. Every time I tried to change the paintbrush color from white, the program crashed. Sometimes it crashed QtCreator as well.

So after searching for possible solutions for a day or so, in the spirit of “they might as well know” I opened a new issue on Github. The next day I got a reply from Matthew Mets of Blinkinlabs saying essentially, “I can’t reproduce this on my system, try killing all the files QtCreator has made, re-downloading and see if it works.” Which I thought (being accustomed to typical software support) meant, “Something must be wrong with your system, not our problem, good luck.”

It didn’t. After I posted a reply saying “Did that, still blows up” I got instructions on running QtCreator in debug mode to generate a stack trace, and then — based on the stack traces — not one but two successive new versions of the code intended to beat the linux version of the color picker into submission. I reported late friday night that the second version didn’t blow up, got a reply saturday morning that it had also passed tests on Windows and would be pulled into the main branch of the code. (Oh, and I also found a typo that tickled a case-sensitivity issue in QtCreator; I’m a little proud that I actually figured out how to fix that on my own.)

There were so many reasons a developer could have used to blow off an issue raised by some random user completely unfamiliar with the project’s development tool, reporting an unreproducible bug with a little-used OS version. Matthew didn’t. And I think that’s pretty darn cool.

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