Search Results: "alan"

2 October 2022

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppArmadillo 0.11.4.0.1 on CRAN: Updates

armadillo image Armadillo is a powerful and expressive C++ template library for linear algebra and scientific computing. It aims towards a good balance between speed and ease of use, has a syntax deliberately close to Matlab, and is useful for algorithm development directly in C++, or quick conversion of research code into production environments. RcppArmadillo integrates this library with the R environment and language and is widely used by (currently) 1023 packages other packages on CRAN, downloaded 26.4 million times (per the partial logs from the cloud mirrors of CRAN), and the CSDA paper (preprint / vignette) by Conrad and myself has been cited 497 times according to Google Scholar. This release reflect as new upstream release 11.4.0 Conrad made recently. It turns out that it triggered warnings under g++-12 for about five packages in the fortify mode default for Debian builds. Conrad then kindly addressed this with a few fixes. The full set of changes (since the last CRAN release 0.11.2.4.0) follows.

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.11.4.0.1 (2022-10-01
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 11.4.0 (Ship of Theseus)
    • faster handling of compound expressions by sum()
    • extended pow() with various forms of element-wise power operations
    • added find_nan() to find indices of NaN elements
  • Also applied fixes to avoid g++-12 warnings affecting just a handful of CRAN packages.

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is a diffstat report relative to previous release. More detailed information is on the RcppArmadillo page. Questions, comments etc should go to the rcpp-devel mailing list off the R-Forge page. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can sponsor me at GitHub.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

12 September 2022

Petter Reinholdtsen: Time to translate the Bullseye edition of the Debian Administrator's Handbook

(The picture is of the previous edition.) Almost two years after the previous Norwegian Bokm l translation of the "The Debian Administrator's Handbook" was published, a new edition is finally being prepared. The english text is updated, and it is time to start working on the translations. Around 37 percent of the strings have been updated, one way or another, and the translations starting from a complete Debian Buster edition now need to bring their translation up from 63% to 100%. The complete book is licensed using a Creative Commons license, and has been published in several languages over the years. The translations are done by volunteers to bring Linux in their native tongue. The last time I checked, it complete text was available in English, Norwegian Bokm l, German, Indonesian, Brazil Portuguese and Spanish. In addition, work has been started for Arabic (Morocco), Catalan, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Turkish and Vietnamese. The translation is conducted on the hosted weblate project page. Prospective translators are recommeded to subscribe to the translators mailing list and should also check out the instructions for contributors. I am one of the Norwegian Bokm l translators of this book, and we have just started. Your contribution is most welcome. As usual, if you use Bitcoin and want to show your support of my activities, please send Bitcoin donations to my address 15oWEoG9dUPovwmUL9KWAnYRtNJEkP1u1b.

11 September 2022

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppArmadillo 0.11.2.4.0 on CRAN: Bugfix and Deprecation

armadillo image Armadillo is a powerful and expressive C++ template library for linear algebra and scientific computing. It aims towards a good balance between speed and ease of use, has a syntax deliberately close to Matlab, and is useful for algorithm development directly in C++, or quick conversion of research code into production environments. RcppArmadillo integrates this library with the R environment and language and is widely used by (currently) 1016 packages other packages on CRAN, downloaded 26.2 million times (per the partial logs from the cloud mirrors of CRAN), and the CSDA paper (preprint / vignette) by Conrad and myself has been cited 493 times according to Google Scholar. This new release (made yesterday) brings three changes. First, it updates the release to the upstream 11.2.4 bugfix release made days ago by Conrad. Second, it contains support for the deprecation transition we are managing in issue #391. In short, the (convenient but non-standard) initialization via use of << has been deprecated upstream. Until all packages are updated, we override this in the RcppArmadillo but aim to become compliant . Out of the over 1000 packages, a mere 25 need small adjustments. I reached out email and PRs, and the response has been great. Eight packages are already updated on CRAN, and several others have already in integrated or merged the change. Lastly, Conrad pointed out that the fastLm() example and application can be written more concisely by using arma::dot(). The full set of changes (since the last CRAN release 0.11.2.3.1) follows.

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.11.2.4.0 (2022-09-09)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 11.2.4 (Classic Roast)
    • fix handling of std::move() involving matrices constructed with auxiliary memory
  • In the fastLm() examples, use arma::dot() to compute to the inner product (as proposed by Conrad), plus small edits
  • Support optional #define named RCPPARMADILLO_FORCE_DEPRECATE to suppress use of ARMA_IGNORE_DEPRECATED_MARKER permitting use and development under deprecation

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is a diffstat report relative to previous release. More detailed information is on the RcppArmadillo page. Questions, comments etc should go to the rcpp-devel mailing list off the R-Forge page. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can sponsor me at GitHub.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

Shirish Agarwal: Politics, accessibility, books

Politics I have been reading books, both fiction and non-fiction for a long long time. My first book was a comic most probably when I was down with Malaria when I was a kid. I must be around 4-5 years old. Over the years, books have given me great joy and I continue to find nuggets of useful information, both in fiction as well as non-fiction books. So here s to sharing something and how that can lead you to a rabbit hole. This entry would be a bit NSFW as far as language is concerned. NYPD Red 5 by James Patterson First of all, have no clue as to why James Patterson s popularity has been falling. He used to be right there with Lee Child and others, but not so much now. While I try to be mysterious about books, I would give a bit of heads-up so people know what to expect. This is probably more towards the Adult crowd as there is a bit of sex as well as quite a few grey characters. The NYPD Red is a sort of elite police task force that basically is for celebrities. In the book series, they do a lot of ass-kissing (figuratively more than literally). Now the reason I have always liked fiction is that however wild the assumption or presumption is, it does have somewhere a grain of truth. And each and every time I read a book or two, that gets cemented. One of the statements in the book told something about how 9/11 took a lot of police personnel out of the game. First, there were a number of policemen who were patrolling the Two Towers, so they perished literally during the explosion. Then there were policemen who were given the cases to close the cases (bring the cases to conclusion). When you are investigating your own brethren or even civilians who perished 9/11 they must have experienced emotional trauma and no outlet. Mental health even in cops is the same and given similar help as you and me (i.e. next to none.) But both of these were my assumptions. The only statement that was in the book was they lost a lot of bench strength. Even NYFD (New York Fire Department). This led me to me to With Crime At Record Lows, Should NYC Have Fewer Cops? This is more right-wing sentiment and in fact, there have been calls to defund the police. This led me to https://cbcny.org/ and one specific graph. Unfortunately, this tells the story from 2010-2022 but not before. I was looking for data from around 1999 to 2005 because that will tell whether or not it happened. Then I remembered reading in newspapers the year or two later how 9/11 had led NYC to recession. I looked up online and for sure NY was booming before 9/11. One can argue that NYC could come down and that is pretty much possible, everything that goes up comes down, it s a law of nature but it would have been steady rather than abrupt. And once you are in recession, the first thing to go is personnel. So people both from NYPD and NYFD were let go, even though they were needed the most then. As you can see, a single statement in a book can take you to places & time literally. Edit: Addition 11th September There were quite a few people who also died from New York Port Authority and they also lost quite a number of people directly and indirectly and did a lot of patrolling of the water bodies near NYC. Later on, even in their department, there were a lot of early retirements.

Kosovo A couple of days back I had a look at the Debconf 2023 BOF that was done in Kosovo. One of the interesting things that happened during the BOF is when a woman participant chimed in and asks India to recognize Kosovo. Immediately it triggered me and I opened the Kosovo Wikipedia page to get some understanding of the topic. Reading up on it, came to know Russia didn t agree and doesn t recognize Kosovo. Mr. Modi likes Putin and India imports a lot of its oil from Russia. Unrelatedly, but still useful, we rejected to join IPEF. Earlier, we had rejected China s BRI. India has never been as vulnerable as she is now. Our foreign balance has reached record lows. Now India has been importing quite a bit of Russian crude and has been buying arms and ammunition from them. We are also scheduled to buy a couple of warships and submarines etc. We even took arms and ammunition from them on lease. So we can t afford that they are displeased with India. Even though Russia has more than friendly relations with both China and Pakistan. At the same time, the U.S. is back to aiding Pakistan which the mainstream media in India refuses to even cover. And to top all of this, we have the Chip 4 Alliance but that needs its own article, truth be told but we will do with a paragraph  Edit Addition 11th September Seems Kosovo isn t unique in that situation, there are 3-4 states like that. A brief look at worldpopulationreview tells you there are many more.

Chip 4 Alliance For almost a decade I have been screaming about this on my blog as well as everywhere that chip fabrication is a national security thing. And for years, most people deny it. And now we have chip 4 alliance. Now to understand this, you have to understand that China for almost a decade, somewhere around 2014 or so came up with something called the big fund . Now one can argue one way or the other how successful the fund has been, but it has, without doubt, created ripples so strong that the U.S., Taiwan, Japan, and probably South Korea will join and try to stem the tide. Interestingly, in this grouping, South Korea is the weakest in the statements and what they have been saying. Within the group itself, there is a lot of tension and China would use that and there are a number of unresolved issues between the three countries that both China & Russia would exploit. For e.g. the Comfort women between South Korea and Japan. Or the 1985 Accord Agreement between Japan and the U.S. Now people need to understand this, this is not just about China but also about us. If China has 5-6x times India s GDP and their research budget is at the very least 100x times what India spends, how do you think we will be self-reliant? Whom are we fooling? Are we not tired of fooling ourselves  In diplomacy, countries use leverage. Sadly, we let go of some of our most experienced negotiators in 2014 and since then have been singing in the wind

Accessibility, Jitsi, IRC, Element-Desktop The Wikipedia page on Accessibility says the following Accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, vehicles, or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design and practice of accessible development ensures both direct access (i.e. unassisted) and indirect access meaning compatibility with a person s assistive technology. Now IRC or Internet Relay Chat has been accessible for a long time. I know of even blind people who have been able to navigate IRC quite effortlessly as there has been a lot of work done to make sure all the joints speak to each other so people with one or more disabilities still can use, and contribute without an issue. It does help that IRC and many clients have been there since the 1970s so most of them have had more than enough time to get all the bugs fixed and both text-to-speech and speech-to-text work brilliantly on IRC. Newer software like Jitsi or for that matter Telegram is lacking those features. A few days ago, discovered on Telegram I was shared that Samsung Voice input is also able to do the same. The Samsung Voice Input works wonder as it translates voice to text, I have not yet tried the text-to-speech but perhaps somebody can and they can share whatever the results can be one way or the other. I have tried element-desktop both on the desktop as well as mobile phone and it has been disappointing, to say the least. On the desktop, it is unruly and freezes once in a while, and is buggy. The mobile version is a little better but that s not saying a lot. I prefer the desktop version as I can use the full-size keyboard. The bug I reported has been there since its Riot days. I had put up a bug report even then. All in all, yesterday was disappointing

6 September 2022

Shirish Agarwal: Debian on Phone

History Before I start, the game I was talking about is called Cell To Singularity. Now I haven t gone much in the game as I have shared but think that the Singularity it refers to is the Technological Singularity that people think will happen. Whether that will happen or not is open to debate to one and all. This is going to be a bit long one. Confession Time :- When I was sharing in the blog post, I had no clue that we actually had sessions on it in this year s Debconf. I just saw the schedule yesterday and then came to know. Then I saw Guido s two talks, one at Debconf as well as one as Froscon. In fact, saw the Froscon talk first, and then the one at Debconf. Both the talks are nearly the same except for a thing here or a thing there. Now because I was not there so my understanding and knowledge would be disadvantageously asymmetrical to Guido and others who were there and could talk and share more. Having a Debian mobile or Debian on the mobile could also make Debian more popular and connectable to the masses, one of the things that were not pointed out in the Debian India BOF sadly. At the same time, there are some facts that are not on the table and hence not thought about. Being a B.Com person, I have been following not just the technical but also how the economics work and smartphone penetration in India is pretty low or historically been very low, say around 3-4% while the majority that people use, almost 90-95% of the market uses what are called non-smartphones or dumbphones. Especially during the pandemic and even after that the dumbphones market actually went up while smartphones stagnated and even came down. There is a lot of inventory at most of the dealers that they can t get rid of. From a dealer perspective, it probably makes more sense to buy and sell dumbphones more in number as the turnaround of capital is much faster and easier than for smartphones. I have seen people spend a number of hours and rightly so in order to make their minds up on a smartphone while for a dumbphone, it is a 10-minute thing. Ask around, figure out who is selling at the cheapest, and just buy. Most of these low-end phones are coming from China. In fact, even in the middle and getting even into smartphones, the Chinese are the masters from whom we buy, even as they have occupied Indian territory. In the top five, Samsung comes at number three of four (sharing about Samsung as a fan and having used them.) even though battery times are atrocious, especially with Android 12L. The only hope that most of the smartphone manufacturers have is lowering the sticker prices and hoping that 5G Adoption picks up and that is what they are betting on but that comes with its own share of drawbacks as can be seen.

GNOME, MATE, memory leaks, Payments FWIW, while I do have GNOME and do use a couple of tools from the GNOME stack, I hate GNOME with a passion. I have been a mate user for almost a decade now and really love the simplicity that mate has vis-a-vis GNOME. And with each release, MATE has only become better. So, it would be nice if we can have MATE on the mobile phone. How adaptive the apps might be on the smaller area, I dunno. It would be interesting to find out if and how people are looking at debugging memory leaks on mobile phones. Although finding memory leaks on any platform is good, finding them and fixing them on a mobile phone is pretty much critical as most phones have fixed & relatively small amounts of memory and it is and can get quickly exhausted. One of the things that were asked in the Q&A was about payments. The interesting thing is both UK and India are the same or markedly similar in regard as far as contactless payments being concerned. What most Indians have or use is basically UPI which is basically backed by your bank. Unlike in some other countries where you have a selection of wallets and even temporary/permanent virtual accounts whereby you can minimize your risks in case your mobile gets stolen or something, here we don t have that. There are three digital wallets that I know Paytm Not used (have heard it s creepy, but don t really know), Google pay (Unfortunately, this is the one I use, they bought multiple features, and in the last couple of years have really taken the game away from Paytm but also creepy.). The last one is Samsung Pay (haven t really used it as their find my phone app. always crashes, dunno how it is supposed to work.) But I do find that the apps. are vulnerable. Every day there is some or other news of fraud happening. Previously, only States like Bihar and Jharkhand used to be infamous for cybercrime as a hub, but now even States like Andhra Pradesh have joined and surpassed them :(. People have lost lakhs and crores, this is just a few days back. Some more info. on UPI can be found here and GitHub has a few implementation examples that anybody could look at and run away with it.

Balancing on three things For any new mobile phone to crack the market, it has to balance three things. One, achieve economies of scale. Unless, that is not taken care of or done, however good or bad the product might be, it remains a niche and dies after some time. While Guido shared about Openmoko and N900, one of the more interesting bits from a user perspective at least was the OLPC project. There are many nuances that the short article didn t go through. While I can t say for other countries, at least in India, no education initiative happens without corruption. And perhaps Nicholas s hands were tied while other manufacturers would and could do to achieve their sales targets. In India, it flopped because there was no way for volunteers to buy or get OLPC unless they were part of a school or college. There was some traction in FOSS communities, but that died down once OLPC did the partnership with MS-Windows, and proverbially broke the camel s back. FWIW, I think the idea, the concept, and even the machine were far ahead of their time. The other two legs are support and Warranty Without going into any details, I can share and tell there were quite a few OLPC type attempts using conventional laptops or using Android and FOSS or others or even using one of the mainstream distributions but the problems have always been polishing, training and support. Guido talked about privacy as a winning feature but fails to take into account that people want to know that their privacy isn t being violated. If a mobile phone answers to Hey Google does it mean it was passively gathering, storing, and sending info to third parties, we just don t know. The mobile phone could be part of the right to repair profile while at the same time it can force us to ask many questions about the way things currently are and going to be. Six months down the line all the flagships of all companies are working on being able to take and share through satellites (Satellite Internet) and perhaps maybe a few non-flagships. Of course, if you are going to use a satellite, then you are going to drain that much more quickly. In all and every event there are always gonna be tradeoffs. The Debian-mobile mailing list doesn t seem to have many takers. The latest I could find there is written by Paul Wise. I am in a similar boat (Samsung; SM-M526B; Lahaina; arm64-v8a) v12. It is difficult to know which release would work on your machine, make sure that the building from the source is not tainted and pristine and needs a way to backup and restore if you need to. I even tried installing GNURoot Debian and the Xserver alternative they had shared but was unable to use the touch interface on the fakeroot instance  . The system talks about a back key but what back key I have no clue.

Precursor Events Debconf 2023 As far as precursor events are concerned before Debconf 23 in India, all the festivals that we have could be used to showcase Debian. In fact, the ongoing Ganesh Chaturthi would have been the perfect way to showcase Debian and apps. according to the audience. Even the festival of Durga Puja, Diwali etc. can be used. When commercial organizations use the same festivals, why can t we? What perhaps we would need to figure out is the funding part as well as getting permissions from Municipal authorities. One of the things for e.g. that we could do is buy either a permanent 24 monitor or a 34 TV and use that to display Debian and apps. The bigger, the better. Something that we could use day to day and also is used for events. This would require significant amounts of energy so we could approach companies, small businesses and individuals both for volunteering as well as helping out with funding. Somebody asked how we could do online stuff and why it is somewhat boring. What could be done for e.g. instead of 4-5 hrs. of things, break it into manageable 45 minute pieces. 4-5 hrs. is long and is gonna fatigue the best of people. Make it into 45-minute negotiable chunks, and intersphere it with jokes, hacks, anecdotes, and war stories. People do not like or want to be talked down to but rather converse. One of the things that I saw many of the artists do is have shows and limit the audience to 20-24 people on zoom call or whatever videoconferencing system you have and play with them. The passive audience enjoys the play between the standup guy and the crowd he works on, some of them may be known to him personally so he can push that envelope a bit more. The same thing can be applied here. Share the passion, and share why we are doing something. For e.g. you could do smem -t -k less and give a whole talk about how memory is used and freed during a session, how are things different on desktop and ARM as far as memory architecture is concerned (if there is). What is being done on the hardware side, what is on the software side and go on and on. Then share about troubleshooting applications. Valgrind is super slow and makes life hell, is there some better app ? Doesn t matter if you are a front-end or a back-end developer you need to know this and figure out the best way to deal with in your app/program. That would have lot of value. And this is just an e.g. to help trigger more ideas from the community. I am sure others probably have more fun ideas as to what can be done. I am stopping here now otherwise would just go on, till later. Feel free to comment, feedback. Hope it generates some more thinking and excitement on the grey cells.

25 August 2022

Jonathan Dowland: dues (or blues)

After I wrote hledger, I got some good feedback, both from a friend in-person and also on Twitter. My in-person friend asked, frankly, do I really try to manage money like this: tracking every single expense? Which affirms my suspicion, that many people don't, and that it perhaps isn't essential to do so. Combined with the details below, 3/4 of the way through my experiment with using hledger, I'm not convinced that it has been a good idea. I'm quoting my Twitter feedback here in order to respond. The context is handling when I have used the "wrong" card to pay for something: a card affiliated with my family expenses for something personal, or vice versa. With double-entry book-keeping, and one pair of transactions, the destination account can either record the expense category:
2022-08-20  coffee
    family:liabilities:creditcard     -3
    jon:expenses:coffee                3
or the fact it was paid for on the wrong card
2022-08-20  coffee
    family:liabilities:creditcard     -3
    family:liabilities:jon             3 ; jon owes family
but not easily both. https://twitter.com/pranesh/status/1516819846431789058:
When you accidentally use the family CV for personal expenses, credit the account "family:liabilities:creditcard:jon" instead of "family:liabilities:creditcard". That'll allow you to track w/ 2 postings.
This is an interesting idea: create a sub-account underneath the credit card, and I would have a separate balance representing the money I owed. Before:
$ hledger bal -t
              -3  family:liabilities:creditcard
               3  jon:expenses:coffee
transaction
2022-08-20  coffee
    family:liabilities:creditcard:jon     -3
    jon:expenses:coffee                    3
Corresponding balances
$ hledger bal -t
              -3  family:liabilities:creditcard
              -3    jon
               3  jon:expenses:coffee
Great. However, what process would clear the balance on that sub-account? In practice, I don't make a separate, explicit payment to the credit card from my personal accounts. It's paid off in full by direct debit from the family shared account. In practice, such dues are accumulated and settled with one off bank transfers, now and then. Since the sub-account is still part of the credit card heirarchy, I can't just use a set of virtual postings to consolidate that value with other liabilities, or cover it. Any transaction in there which did not correspond to a real transaction on the credit card would make the balance drift away from the real-word credit statements. The only way I could see this working would be if the direct debit that settles the credit card was artificially split to clear the sub-account, and then the amount owed would be lost. https://twitter.com/pranesh/status/1516819846431789058:
Else, add: family:assets:receivable:jon $3
jon:liabilities:family:cc $-3
A "receivable" account would function like the "dues" accounts I described in hledger (except "receivable" is an established account type in double-entry book-keeping). Here I think Pranesh is proposing using these two accounts in addition to the others on a posting. E.g.
2022-08-20  coffee
    family:liabilities:creditcard     -3
    jon:expenses:coffee                3
    family:assets:receivable:jon       3
    jon:liabilities:family            -3
This balances, and we end up with two other accounts, which are tracking the exact same thing. I only owe 3, but if you didn't know that the accounts were "views" onto the same thing, you could mistakenly think I owed 6. I can't see the advantage of this over just using a virtual, unbalanced posting. Dues, Liabilities I'd invented accounts called "dues" to track moneys owed. The more correct term for this in accounting parlance would be "accounts receivable", as in one of the examples above. I could instead be tracking moneys due; this is a classic liability. Liabilities have negative balances.
jon:liabilities:family    -3
This means, I owe the family 3. Liability accounts like that are identical to "dues" accounts. A positive balance in a Liability is a counter-intuitive way of describing moneys owed to me, rather than by me. And, reviewing a lot of the coding I did this year, I've got myself hopelessly confused with the signs, and made lots of errors. Crucially, double-entry has not protected me from making those mistakes: of course, I'm circumventing it by using unbalanced virtual postings in many cases (although I was not consistent in where I did this), but even if I used a pair of accounts as in the last example above, I could still screw it up.

22 August 2022

Jonathan Wiltshire: Team Roles and Tuckman s Model, for Debian teams

When I first moved from being a technical consultant to a manager of other consultants, I took a 5-day course Managing Technical Teams a bootstrap for managing people within organisations, but with a particular focus on technical people. We do have some particular quirks, after all Two elements of that course keep coming to mind when doing Debian work, and they both relate to how teams fit together and get stuff done. Tuckman s four stages model In the mid-1960s Bruce W. Tuckman developed a four-stage descriptive model of the stages a project team goes through in its lifetime. They are:
Resolved disagreements and personality clashes result in greater intimacy, and a spirit of co-operation emerges.
Teams need to understand these stages because a team can regress to earlier stages when its composition or goals change. A new member, the departure of an existing member, changes in supervisor or leadership style can all lead a team to regress to the storming stage and fail to perform for a time. When you see a team member say this, as I observed in an IRC channel recently, you know the team is performing:
nice teamwork these busy days Seen on IRC in the channel of a performing team
Tuckman s model describes a team s performance overall, but how can team members establish what they can contribute and how can they go doing so confidently and effectively? Belbin s Team Roles
The types of behaviour in which people engage are infinite. But the range of useful behaviours, which make an effective contribution to team performance, is finite. These behaviours are grouped into a set number of related clusters, to which the term Team Role is applied. Belbin, R M. Team Roles at Work. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2010
Dr Meredith Belbin s thesis, based on nearly ten years research during the 1970s and 1980s, is that each team has a number of roles which need to be filled at various times, but they re not innate characteristics of the people filling them. People may have attributes which make them more or less suited to each role, and they can consciously take up a role if they recognise its need in the team at a particular time. Belbin s nine team roles are: (adapted from https://www.belbin.com/media/3471/belbin-team-role-descriptions-2022.pdf) A well-balanced team, Belbin asserts, isn t comprised of multiples of nine individuals who fit into one of these roles permanently. Rather, it has a number of people who are comfortable to wear some of these hats as the need arises. It s even useful to use the team roles as language: for example, someone playing a shaper might say the way we ve always done this is holding us back , to which a co-ordinator s could respond Steve, Joanna put on your Plant hats and find some new ideas. Talk to Susan and see if she knows someone who s tackled this before. Present the options to Nigel and he ll help evaluate which ones might work for us. Teams in Debian There are all sort of teams in Debian those which are formally brought into operation by the DPL or the constitution; package maintenance teams; public relations teams; non-technical content teams; special interest teams; and a whole heap of others. Teams can be formal and informal, fleeting or long-lived, two people working together or dozens. But they all have in common the Tuckman stages of their development and the Belbin team roles they need to fill to flourish. At some stage in their existence, they will all experience new or departing team members and a period of re-forming, norming and storming perhaps fleetingly, perhaps not. And at some stage they will all need someone to step into a team role, play the part and get the team one step further towards their goals. Footnote Belbin Associates, the company Meredith Belbin established to promote and continue his work, offers a personalised report with guidance about which roles team members show the strongest preferences for, and how to make best use of them in various settings. They re quick to complete and can also take into account observers , i.e. how others see a team member. All my technical staff go through this process blind shortly after they start, so as not to bias their input, and then we discuss the roles and their report in detail as a one-to-one. There are some teams in Debian for which this process and discussion as a group activity could be invaluable. I have no particular affiliation with Belbin Associates other than having used the reports and the language of team roles for a number of years. If there s sufficient interest for a BoF session at the next DebConf, I could probably be persuaded to lead it.
Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

19 August 2022

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppArmadillo 0.11.2.3.1 on CRAN: Double Update

armadillo image Armadillo is a powerful and expressive C++ template library for linear algebra and scientific computing. It aims towards a good balance between speed and ease of use, has a syntax deliberately close to Matlab, and is useful for algorithm development directly in C++, or quick conversion of research code into production environments. RcppArmadillo integrates this library with the R environment and language and is widely used by (currently) 1005 packages other packages on CRAN (as celebrated in this blog post on passing 1000 packages from just four days ago), downloaded nearly 26 million times (per the partial logs from the cloud mirrors of CRAN), and the CSDA paper (preprint / vignette) by Conrad and myself has been cited 488 times according to Google Scholar. This release brings together two distinct changes. First, it updates the relese from upstream 11.2.0 (and CRAN 0.11.2.0.0 released a few weeks ago) to the now current 11.2.3 release by Conrard (given that more than four weeks have passed so that we do not surpass CRAN s desired cadence of releases no more than once a month ). The changeset includes a few small refinements (see below), it also includedes a deprecation for initialization for which I will need to reach out to a few packages for whom this triggers a deprecation warning. And speaking of deprecation, the other reason for this release is the desire by the Matrix package to phase out a few older conversions (or casts in C/C++ lingo) which we accomodated. The full set of changes (since the last CRAN release 0.11.2.0.0) follows.

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.11.2.3.1 (2022-08-16)
  • Accomodate upcoming Matrix 1.4-2 deprecation for conversion (Dirk in #387)
  • CRAN release with small upstream changes in Armadillo 11.2.1,2,3 made since the last CRAN release 0.11.2.0.0 (Dirk in #383, #384 and #386)
  • Undefine arma_deprecated warning as it affects a number of CRAN packages which will likely need a small transition

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.11.2.3.0 (2022-07-12) (GitHub Only)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 11.2.3 (Classic Roast)
    • fix Cube::insert_slices() to accept Cube::slice() as input

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.11.2.2.0 (2022-07-04) (GitHub Only)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 11.2.2 (Classic Roast)
    • fix incorrect and/or slow convergence in single-threaded versions of kmeans(), gmm_diag::learn(), gmm_full::learn()

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.11.2.1.0 (2022-06-28) (GitHub Only)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 11.2.1 (Classic Roast)
    • old style matrix initialisation via the << operator will now emit a compile-time deprecation warning
    • use of the old and inactive ARMA_DONT_PRINT_ERRORS option will now emit a compile-time deprecation warning
    • the option ARMA_WARN_LEVEL can be used instead

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is a diffstat report relative to previous release. More detailed information is on the RcppArmadillo page. Questions, comments etc should go to the rcpp-devel mailing list off the R-Forge page. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can sponsor me at GitHub.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

12 August 2022

Shirish Agarwal: Mum and Books

The last day
The first lesson I would like everybody to know and have is to buy two machines, especially a machine to check low blood pressure. I had actually ordered one from Amazon but they never delivered. I hope to sue them in consumer court in due course of time. The other one is a blood sugar machine which I ordered and did get, but the former is more important than the latter, and the reason why will be known soon. Mum had stopped eating solids and was entirely on liquids for the last month of her life. I did try enticing her however I could with aromatic food but failed. Add to that we had weird weather this entire year. June is supposed to be when the weather turns and we have gentle showers, but this whole June it felt like we were in an oven. She asked for liquids whenever and although I hated that she was not eating solids, at least she was having liquids (juices and whatnot) and that s how I pacified myself. I had been repeatedly told by family and extended family to get a full-time nurse but she objected time and again for the same and I had to side with her. Then July 1st came around and part of extended family also came, and they impressed both on me and her to get a nurse so finally, I was able to get her nurse. I was also being pulled in various directions (outside my stuff, mumma s stuff) and doing whatever she needed in terms of supplies. On July 4th, think she had low blood pressure but without a machine, one cannot know. At least that s what I know. If somebody knows anything better, please share, who knows it may save lives. I don t have a blood pressure monitor even to date

There used to be 5-6 doctors in our locality before the Pandemic, but because of the Pandemic and whatever other reasons, almost all doctors had given up attending house calls. And the house where I live is a 100-year-old house so it has narrow passageways and we have no lift. So taking her in and out is a challenge and an ordeal, and something that is not easily done. I had to do some more works so I asked the nurse to stay a bit over 8 p.m. I came and the nurse left for the day. That day I had been distracted for a number of reasons which I don t remember what was but at that point in time, doing those works seemed important. I called out to her but she didn t respond. I remember the night before she had been agitated while sleeping, I slept nearby and kept an eye on her. I had called her a few times to ask whether she needed something but she didn t respond. (this is about the earlier night). That evening, it was raining quite a bit, I called her a few times but she didn t speak. I kissed her on the cheek and realized she is cold. Mumma usually becomes very agitated if she feels cold and shouts at me. I realized she is cold and her body a bit stiff. I was supposed to eat but just couldn t. I dunno what I suspected, I just hired a rickshaw and went around till 9 p.m. and it was a fruitless search for a doctor. I returned home, and again called her but there was no response. Because she was not responding, I became fearful, had a shat, and then dialed the hospital. Asking for the ambulance, it took about an hr. but finally, the ambulance came in. It was now 11 o clock or 2300 hrs. when the ambulance arrived in. It took another half an hr. getting few kids who had come from some movie or something to get them to help mum get down through the passage to the ambulance. We finally reached the hospital at 2330. The people on casualty that day were known to me, and they also knew my hearing problem, so it was much easier to communicate. Half an hour later, they proclaimed her dead. Fortunately or not, I had just bought the newer mobile phone just a few days back. And right now, In India, WhatsApp is one of the most used apps. So I was able to chat with everybody and tell them what was happening or rather what has happened. Of all, mamaji (mother s brother) shared that most members of the family would not be able to come except a cousin sister who lives in Mumbai. I was instructed to get the body refrigerated for a few hrs. It is only then I came to know various ways in which the body is refrigerated and how cruel it would have been towards Atal Bihari Vajpayee s family, but that is politics. I had to go to quite a few places and was back home around 3 a.m. I was supposed to sleep, but sleep was out of the question. I whiled away a few hrs. playing, seeing movies, something or the other to keep myself distracted as literally, I had no idea what to do. Morning came, took a bath, went outside, had some snacks, came home and somewhere then slept. One of my Mausi s (mother s sister) was insisting to get the body burnt in the morning itself but I wanted at least one relative to be there on the last journey. Cousin sister and her husband came to Pune around 4 p.m. I somehow woke, ringing, the vibration I do not know what. I took a short bath, rushed to the place where we had kept the body, got the body and from there where we had asked permission to get the body burned. More than anything else, I felt so sad that except for cousin sister, and me, nobody was with her on the last journey. Even that day, it was raining hard, so people avoided going out. Brother-in-law tried to give me some money, but I brushed it off. I just wanted their company, money is and was never the criteria. So, in the evening we had a meal, my cousin sister, brother-in-law, their two daughters and me. The next day we took the bones and ash to Alandi and did what was needed. I have tried to resurrect the day so many times in my head trying to figure out what I could have done better and am inconclusive. Having a blood pressure monitor for sure would have prevented the tragedy or at least post-phoned for it for a few more days, weeks, years, dunno. I am not medically inclined.

The Books I have to confess, the time they said she is no more, I was hoping that the doctors would say, we have a pill, would you like to take it, it would reunite you with mum. Maybe it wa crazy or whatever, but if such a situation had been, I would have easily gone for it. If I were to go, some people might miss me, but nobody would miss me terribly, and at least I would be with her. There was nothing to look forward to. What saved me from going mad was Michael Crichton s Timeline. It is a fascinating and seductive book. I had actually read it years ago but had forgotten. So many days and nights I was able to sleep hoping that quantum teleportation can be achieved. Anybody in my space would be easily enticed. What joy would it be if I were to meet mum once again. I can tell my other dumb child what to do so she lives for few more years. I could talk to her, just be with her for some time. It is a powerful and seductive idea. I can see so many cults and whatnot that can be formed around it, there may already be, who knows. Another good book that helped me to date has been Through The, Rings Of Fire (Hardcover, J. D. Benedict Thyagarajan). It is an autobiography of Venkat Chalasany (story of an orphan boy who became a successful builder in Pune and the setbacks he had.) While the author has very strong views and I sometimes feel very naive views about things, I was taken a ride of my own city as it was in 1970s and 1980s. I could very well imagine all the different places and people as if they were happening right now. While I have finished the main story, there is still a bit left to read and I read 5-10 minutes every day as it s like a sweet morsel, it s like somebody sharing a tale passed without me having to make an effort. And no lies, the author has been pretty upfront where he has exaggerated or told lies or simply made-up stuff. I was thinking of adding something about movies and some more info or impressions about android but it seems that would have to wait, I do hope, it does work for somebody, even if a single life can be saved from what I shared above, my job is done.

Guido G nther: On a road to Prizren with a Free Software Phone

Since people are sometimes slightly surprised that you can go onto a multi week trip with a smartphone running free sofware so only I wanted to share some impressions from my recent trip to Prizren/Kosovo to attend Debconf 22 using a Librem 5. It's a mix of things that happend and bits that got improved to hopefully make things more fun to use. And, yes, there won't be any big surprises like being stranded without the ability to do phone calls in this read because there weren't and there shouldn't be. After two online versions Debconf 22 (the annual Debian Conference) took place in Prizren / Kosovo this year and I sure wanted to go. Looking for options I settled for a train trip to Vienna, to meet there with friends and continue the trip via bus to Zagreb, then switching to a final 11h direct bus to Prizren. When preparing for the trip and making sure my Librem 5 phone has all the needed documents I noticed that there will be quite some PDFs to show until I arrive in Kosovo: train ticket, bus ticket, hotel reservation, and so on. While that works by tapping unlocking the phone, opening the file browser, navigating to the folder with the PDFs and showing it via evince this looked like a lot of steps to repeat. Can't we have that information on the Phone Shell's lockscreen? This was a good opportunity to see if the upcoming plugin infrastructure for the lock screen (initially meant to allow for a plugin to show upcoming events) was flexible enough, so I used some leisure time on the train to poke at this and just before I reached Vienna I was able to use it for the first time. It was the very last check of that ticket, it also was a bit of cheating since I didn't present the ticket on the phone itself but from phosh (the phones graphical shell) running on my laptop but still. PDF barcode on phosh's lockscreen List of tickets on phosh's lockscreen This was possible since phosh is written in GTK and so I could just leverage evince's EvView. Unfortunately the hotel check in didn't want to see any documents . For the next day I moved the code over to the Librem 5 and (being a bit nervous as the queue to get on the bus was quite long) could happily check into the Flixbus by presenting the barcode to the barcode reader via the Librem 5's lockscreen. When switching to the bus to Prizren I didn't get to use that feature again as we bought the tickets at a counter but we got a nice krem banana after entering the bus - they're not filled with jelly, but krem - a real Kosovo must eat!). Although it was a rather long trip we had frequent breaks and I'd certainly take the same route again. Here's a photo of Prizren taken on the Librem 5 without any additional postprocessing: Prizren What about seeing the conference schedule on the phone? Confy(a conferences schedule viewer using GTK and libhandy) to the rescue: Confy with Debconf's schedule Since Debian's confy maintainer was around too, confy saw a bunch of improvements over the conference. For getting around Puremaps(an application to display maps and show routing instructions) was very helpful, here geolocating me in Prizren via GPS: Puremaps Puremaps currently isn't packaged in Debian but there's work onging to fix that (I used the flatpak for the moment). We got ourselves sim cards for the local phone network. For some reason mine wouldn't work (other sim cards from the same operator worked in my phone but this one just wouldn't). So we went to the sim card shop and the guy there was perfectly able to operate the Librem 5 without further explanation (including making calls, sending USSD codes to query balance, ). The sim card problem turned out to be a problem on the operator side and after a couple of days they got it working. We had nice, sunny weather about all the time. That made me switch between high contrast mode (to read things in bright sunlight) and normal mode (e.g. in conference rooms) on the phone quite often. Thankfully we have a ambient light sensor in the phone so we can make that automatic. Phosh in HighContrast See here for a video. Jathan kicked off a DebianOnMobile sprint during the conference where we were able to improve several aspects of mobile support in Debian and on Friday I had the chance to give a talk about the state of Debian on smartphones. pdf-presenter-console is a great tool for this as it can display the current slide together with additional notes. I needed some hacks to make it fit the phone screen but hopefully we figure out a way to have this by default. Debconf talk Pdf presenter console on a phone I had two great weeks in Prizren. Many thanks to the organizers of Debconf 22 - I really enjoyed the conference.

19 July 2022

Craig Small: Linux Memory Statistics

Pretty much everyone who has spent some time on a command line in Linux would have looked at the free command. This command provides some overall statistics on the memory and how it is used. Typical output looks something like this:
             total        used        free      shared  buff/cache  available
Mem:      32717924     3101156    26950016      143608     2666752  29011928
Swap:      1000444           0     1000444
Memory sits in the first row after the headers then we have the swap statistics. Most of the numbers are directly fetched from the procfs file /proc/meminfo which are scaled and presented to the user. A good example of a simple stat is total, which is just the MemTotal row located in that file. For the rest of this post, I ll make the rows from /proc/meminfo have an amber background. What is Free, and what is Used? While you could say that the free value is also merely the MemFree row, this is where Linux memory statistics start to get odd. While that value is indeed what is found for MemFree and not a calculated field, it can be misleading. Most people would assume that Free means free to use, with the implication that only this amount of memory is free to use and nothing more. That would also mean the used value is really used by something and nothing else can use it. In the early days of free and Linux statistics in general that was how it looked. Used is a calculated field (there is no MemUsed row) and was, initially, Total - Free. The problem was, Used also included Buffers and Cached values. This meant that it looked like Linux was using a lot of memory for something. If you read old messages before 2002 that are talking about excessive memory use, they quite likely are looking at the values printed by free. The thing was, under memory pressure the kernel could release Buffers and Cached for use. Not all of the storage but some of it so it wasn t all used. To counter this, free showed a row between Memory and Swap with Used having Buffers and Cached removed and Free having the same values added:
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:      32717924    6063648   26654276          0     313552    2234436
-/+ buffers/cache:    3515660   29202264
Swap:      1000444          0    1000444
You might notice that this older version of free from around 2001 shows buffers and cached separately and there s no available column (we ll get to Available later.) Shared appears as zero because the old row was labelled MemShared and not Shmem which was changed in Linux 2.6 and I m running a system way past that version. It s not ideal, you can say that the amount of free memory is something above 26654276 and below 29202264 KiB but nothing more accurate. buffers and cached are almost never all-used or all-unused so the real figure is not either of those numbers but something in-between. Cached, just not for Caches That appeared to be an uneasy truce within the Linux memory statistics world for a while. By 2014 we realised that there was a problem with Cached. This field used to have the memory used for a cache for files read from storage. While this value still has that component, it was also being used for tmpfs storage and the use of tmpfs went from an interesting idea to being everywhere. Cheaper memory meant larger tmpfs partitions went from a luxury to something everyone was doing. The problem is with large files put into a tmpfs partition the Free would decrease, but so would Cached meaning the free column in the -/+ row would not change much and understate the impact of files in tmpfs. Lucky enough in Linux 2.6.32 the developers added a Shmem row which was the amount of memory used for shmem and tmpfs. Subtracting that value from Cached gave you the real cached value which we call main_cache and very briefly this is what the cached value would show in free. However, this caused further problems because not all Shem can be reclaimed and reused and probably swapped one set of problematic values for another. It did however prompt the Linux kernel community to have a look at the problem. Enter Available There was increasing awareness of the issues with working out how much memory a system has free within the kernel community. It wasn t just the output of free or the percentage values in top, but load balancer or workload placing systems would have their own view of this value. As memory management and use within the Linux kernel evolved, what was or wasn t free changed and all the userland programs were expected somehow to keep up. The kernel developers realised the best place to get an estimate of the memory not used was in the kernel and they created a new memory statistic called Available. That way if how the memory is used or set to be unreclaimable they could change it and userland programs would go along with it. procps has a fallback for this value and it s a pretty complicated setup.
  1. Find the min_free_kybtes setting in sysfs which is the minimum amount of free memory the kernel will handle
  2. Add a 25% to this value (e.g. if it was 4000 make it 5000), this is the low watermark
  3. To find available, start with MemFree and subtract the low watermark
  4. If half of both Inactive(file) and Active(file) values are greater than the low watermark, add that half value otherwise add the sum of the values minus the low watermark
  5. If half of Slab Claimable is greater than the low watermark, add that half value otherwise add Slab Claimable minus the low watermark
  6. If what you get is less than zero, make available zero
  7. Or, just look at Available in /proc/meminfo
For the free program, we added the Available value and the +/- line was removed. The main_cache value was Cached + Slab while Used was calculated as Total - Free - main_cache - Buffers. This was very close to what the Used column in the +/- line used to show. What s on the Slab? The next issue that came across was the use of slabs. At this point, main_cache was Cached + Slab, but Slab consists of reclaimable and unreclaimable components. One part of Slab can be used elsewhere if needed and the other cannot but the procps tools treated them the same. The Used calculation should not subtract SUnreclaim from the Total because it is actually being used. So in 2015 main_cache was changed to be Cached + SReclaimable. This meant that Used memory was calculated as Total - Free - Cached - SReclaimable - Buffers. Revenge of tmpfs and the return of Available The tmpfs impacting Cached was still an issue. If you added a 10MB file into a tmpfs partition, then Free would reduce by 10MB and Cached would increase by 10MB meaning Used stayed unchanged even though 10MB had gone somewhere. It was time to retire the complex calculation of Used. For procps 4.0.1 onwards, Used now means not available . We take the Total memory and subtract the Available memory. This is not a perfect setup but it is probably going to be the best one we have and testing is giving us much more sensible results. It s also easier for people to understand (take the total value you see in free, then subtract the available value). What does that mean for main_cache which is part of the buff/cache value you see? As this value is no longer in the used memory calculation, it is less important. Should it also be reverted to simply Cached without the reclaimable Slabs? The calculated fields In summary, what this means for the calculated fields in procps at least is: Almost everything else, with the exception of some bounds checking, is what you get out of /proc/meminfo which is straight from the kernel.

6 July 2022

Russ Allbery: Review: A Master of Djinn

Review: A Master of Djinn, by P. Dj l Clark
Series: Dead Djinn Universe #1
Publisher: Tordotcom
Copyright: 2021
ISBN: 1-250-26767-6
Format: Kindle
Pages: 391
A Master of Djinn is the first novel in the Dead Djinn Universe, but (as you might guess from the series title) is a direct sequel to the novelette "A Dead Djinn in Cairo". The novelette is not as good as the novel, but I recommend reading it first for the character introductions and some plot elements that carry over. Reading The Haunting of Tram Car 015 first is entirely optional. In 1912 in a mansion in Giza, a secret society of (mostly) British men is meeting. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Al-Jahiz is devoted to unlocking the mysteries of the Soudanese mystic al-Jahiz. In our world, these men would likely be colonialist plunderers. In this world, they still aspire to that role, but they're playing catch-up. Al-Jahiz bored into the Kaf, releasing djinn and magic into the world and making Egypt a world power in its own right. Now, its cities are full of clockwork marvels, djinn walk the streets as citizens, and British rule has been ejected from India and Africa by local magic. This group of still-rich romantics and crackpots hopes to discover the knowledge lost when al-Jahiz disappeared. They have not had much success. This will not save their lives. Fatma el-Sha'arawi is a special investigator for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Her job is sorting out the problems caused by this new magic, such as a couple of young thieves with a bottle full of sleeping djinn whose angry reaction to being unexpectedly woken has very little to do with wishes. She is one of the few female investigators in a ministry that is slowly modernizing with the rest of society (Egyptian women just got the vote). She's also the one called to investigate the murder of a secret society of British men and a couple of Cairenes by a black-robed man in a golden mask. The black-robed man claims to be al-Jahiz returned, and proves to be terrifyingly adept at manipulating crowds and sparking popular dissent. Fatma and the Ministry's first attempt to handle him is a poorly-judged confrontation stymied by hostile crowds, the man's duplicating bodyguard, and his own fighting ability. From there, it's a race between Fatma's pursuit of linear clues and the black-robed man's efforts to destabilize society. This, like the previous short stories, is a police procedural, but it has considerably more room to breathe at novel length. That serves it well, since as with "A Dead Djinn in Cairo" the procedural part is a linear, reactive vehicle for plot exposition. I was more invested in Fatma's relationships with the supporting characters. Since the previous story, she's struck up a romance with Siti, a highly competent follower of the old Egyptian gods (Hathor in particular) and my favorite character in the book. She's also been assigned a new partner, Hadia, a new graduate and another female agent. The slow defeat of Fatma's irritation at not being allowed to work alone by Hadia's cheerful competence and persistence (and willingness to do paperwork) adds a lot to the characterization. The setting felt a bit less atmospheric than The Haunting of Tram Car 015, but we get more details of international politics, and they're a delight. Clark takes obvious (and warranted) glee in showing how the reintroduction of magic has shifted the balance of power away from the colonial empires. Cairo is a bustling steampunk metropolis and capital of a world power, welcoming envoys from West African kingdoms alongside the (still racist and obnoxious but now much less powerful) British and other Europeans. European countries were forced to search their own mythology for possible sources of magic power, which leads to the hilarious scene of the German Kaiser carrying a sleepy goblin on his shoulder to monitor his diplomacy. The magic of the story was less successful for me, although still enjoyable. The angels from "A Dead Djinn in Cairo" make another appearance and again felt like the freshest bit of world-building, but we don't find out much more about them. I liked the djinn and their widely-varied types and magic, but apart from them and a few glimpses of Egypt's older gods, that was the extent of the underlying structure. There is a significant magical artifact, but the characters are essentially handed an instruction manual, use it according to its instructions, and it then does what it was documented to do. It was a bit unsatisfying. I'm the type of fantasy reader who always wants to read the sourcebook for the magic system, but this is not that sort of a book. Instead, it's the kind of book where the investigator steadily follows a linear trail of clues and leads until they reach the final confrontation. Here, the confrontation felt remarkably like cut scenes from a Japanese RPG: sudden vast changes in scale, clockwork constructs, massive monsters, villains standing on mobile platforms, and surprise combat reversals. I could almost hear the fight music and see the dialog boxes pop up. This isn't exactly a complaint I love Japanese RPGs but it did add to the feeling that the plot was on rails and didn't require many decisions from the protagonist. Clark also relies on an overused plot cliche in the climactic battle, which was a minor disappointment. A Master of Djinn won the Nebula for best 2021 novel, I suspect largely on the basis of its setting and refreshingly non-European magical system. I don't entirely agree; the writing is still a bit clunky, with unnecessary sentences and stock phrases showing up here and there, and I think it suffers from the typical deficiencies of SFF writers writing mysteries or police procedurals without the plot sophistication normally found in that genre. But this is good stuff for a first novel, with fun supporting characters (loved the librarian) and some great world-building. I would happily read more in this universe. Rating: 7 out of 10

5 July 2022

Russ Allbery: Review: A Mirror Mended

Review: A Mirror Mended, by Alix E. Harrow
Series: Fractured Fables #2
Publisher: Tordotcom
Copyright: 2022
ISBN: 1-250-76665-6
Format: Kindle
Pages: 129
This is a direct sequel to A Spindle Splintered and will completely spoil that story, so start there rather than here. A Mirror Mended opens with a glimpse at yet another version of the Sleeping Beauty story, this one (delightfully) a Spanish telenovela. Zinnia is world-hopping, something that's lost some of the meaning from A Spindle Splintered and become an escape from other problems. She's about ready to leave this world as well when she sees a face that is not hers in the bathroom mirror, pleading for help. Zinnia assumes this is yet another sleeping beauty, albeit an unusual one. Zinnia is wrong. Readers of A Spindle Splintered are going to groan when I tell you that Zinnia has managed to damage most of the relationships that she made in the first story, which means we get a bit of an episodic reset of unhappiness mixed with an all-new glob of guilt. Not only is this a depressing way to start a new story, it also means there are no snarky text messages and side commentary. Grumble. Harrow is isolating Zinnia to set up a strange and fraught alliance that turns into a great story, but given that Zinnia's friend network was my favorite part of the first novella, the start of this story made me grumpy. Stick with it, though, since Harrow does more than introduce another fairy tale. She also introduces a villain, one who wishes to be more complicated than her story allows and who knows rather more about the structure of the world than she should. This time, the fairy tale goes off the rails in a more directly subversive way that prods at the bones of Harrow's world-building. This may or may not be what you want, and I admit I liked the first story better. A Spindle Splintered took fairy tales just seriously enough to make a plot, but didn't poke at its premises deeply enough to destabilize them. It played off of fairy tales themselves; A Mirror Mended instead plays off of Harrow's previous story by looking directly at the invented metaphysics of parallel worlds playing out fairy tale archetypes. Some of this worked for me: Eva is a great character and the dynamic between her and Zinnia is highly entertaining. Some of it didn't: the impact on universal metaphysics of Zinnia's adventuring is a bit cliched and inadequately explained. A Mirror Mended is a character exploration with a bit more angst and ambiguity, which means it isn't as delightfully balanced and free-wheeling. I will reassure you with the minor spoiler that Zinnia does eventually pull her head out of her ass when she has to, and while there is nowhere near enough Charm in this book for my taste, there is some. In exchange for the relationship screw-ups, we get the Zinnia/Eva dynamic, which I was really enjoying by the end. One of my favorite tropes is accidental empathy, where someone who is being flippant and sarcastic stumbles into a way of truly helping someone else and is wise enough to notice it. There are several great moments of that. I like Zinnia, even this older, more conflicted, and less cavalier version. Recommended if you liked the first story, although be warned that this replaces the earlier magic with some harder relationship work and the payoff is more hinted at than fully shown. Rating: 7 out of 10

16 June 2022

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppArmadillo 0.11.2.0.0 on CRAN: New Upstream

armadillo image Armadillo is a powerful and expressive C++ template library for linear algebra and scientific computing. It aims towards a good balance between speed and ease of use, has a syntax deliberately close to Matlab, and is useful for algorithm development directly in C++, or quick conversion of research code into production environments. RcppArmadillo integrates this library with the R environment and language and is widely used by (currently) 991 other packages on CRAN, downloaded over 25 million times (per the partial logs from the cloud mirrors of CRAN), and the CSDA paper (preprint / vignette) by Conrad and myself has been cited 476 times according to Google Scholar. This release brings a second upstream fix by Conrad in the release series 11.*. We once again tested this very rigorously via a complete reverse-depedency check (for which results are always logged here). It so happens that CRAN then had a spurious error when re-checking on upload, and it took a fews days to square this as everybody remains busy but the release prepared on June 10 is now on CRAN. The full set of changes (since the last CRAN release 0.11.1.1.0) follows.

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.11.2.0.0 (2022-06-10)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 11.2 (Classic Roast)
    • faster handling of sparse submatrix column views by norm(), accu(), nonzeros()
    • extended randu() and randn() to allow specification of distribution parameters
    • internal refactoring, leading to faster compilation times

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is a diffstat report relative to previous release. More detailed information is on the RcppArmadillo page. Questions, comments etc should go to the rcpp-devel mailing list off the R-Forge page. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can sponsor me at GitHub.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

15 May 2022

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppArmadillo 0.11.1.1.0 on CRAN: Updates

armadillo image Armadillo is a powerful and expressive C++ template library for linear algebra and scientific computing. It aims towards a good balance between speed and ease of use, has syntax deliberately close to Matlab and is useful for algorithm development directly in C++, or quick conversion of research code into production environments. RcppArmadillo integrates this library with the R environment and language and is widely used by (currently) 978 other packages on CRAN, downloaded over 24 million times (per the partial logs from the cloud mirrors of CRAN), and the CSDA paper (preprint / vignette) by Conrad and myself has been cited 469 times according to Google Scholar. This release brings a first new upstream fix in the new release series 11.*. In particular, treatment of ill-conditioned matrices is further strengthened. We once again tested this very rigorously via three different RC releases each of which got a full reverse-dependencies run (for which results are always logged here). A minor issue with old g++ compilers was found once 11.1.0 was tagged to this upstream release is now 11.1.1. Also fixed is an OpenMP setup issue where Justin Silverman noticed that we did not propagate the -fopenmp setting correctly. The full set of changes (since the last CRAN release 0.11.0.0.0) follows.

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.11.1.1.0 (2022-05-15)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 11.1.1 (Angry Kitchen Appliance)
    • added inv_opts::no_ugly option to inv() and inv_sympd() to disallow inverses of poorly conditioned matrices
    • more efficient handling of rank-deficient matrices via inv_opts::allow_approx option in inv() and inv_sympd()
    • better detection of rank deficient matrices by solve()
    • faster handling of symmetric and diagonal matrices by cond()
  • The configure script again propagates the'found' case again, thanks to Justin Silverman for the heads-up and suggested fix (Dirk and Justin in #376 and #377 fixing #375).

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.11.0.1.0 (2022-04-14)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 11.0.1 (Creme Brulee)
    • fix miscompilation of inv() and inv_sympd() functions when using inv_opts::allow_approx and inv_opts::tiny options

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is a diffstat report relative to previous release. More detailed information is on the RcppArmadillo page. Questions, comments etc should go to the rcpp-devel mailing list off the R-Forge page. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can sponsor me at GitHub.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

20 April 2022

Russell Coker: Android Without Play

A while ago I was given a few reasonably high-end Android phones to give away. I gave two very nice phones to someone who looks after refugees so a couple of refugee families could make video calls to relatives. The third phone is a Huawei Nova 7i [1] which doesn t have the Google Play Store. The Nova 7i is a ridiculously powerful computer (8G of RAM in a phone!!!) but without the Google Play Store it s not much use to the average phone user. It has the HuaWei App Gallery which isn t as bad as most of the proprietary app stores of small players in the Android world, it has SnapChat, TikTok, Telegram, Alibaba, WeChat, and Grays auction (an app I didn t even know existed) along with many others. It also links to ApkPure (apparently a 3rd party app installer that obtains APK files for major commercial apps) for Facebook among others. The ApkPure thing might be Huawei outsourcing the violation of Facebook terms of service. For the moment I ve decided to only use free software on this phone and use my old phone for non-free stuff (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc). The eventual aim is that I can only carry a phone with free software for normal use and carry a second phone if I m active on LinkedIn or something. My recollection is that when I first got the phone (almost 2 years ago) it didn t have such a range of apps. The first thing to install was f-droid [2] as the app repository. F-droid has a repository of thousands of free software Android apps as well as some apps that are slightly less free which are tagged appropriately. You can install the F-Droid app from the web site. As an aside I had to go to settings and enable force old index format to get the list of packages, I don t know why as other phones had worked without it. Here are the F-Droid apps I installed: Future Plans The current main things I m missing are a calendar, a contact list, and a shared note taking system (like Google Keep). For calendaring and a contact list the CalDAV and CardDAV protocols seem best. The most common implementation on the server side appears to be DAViCal [5]. The Nextcloud system supports CalDAV, CardDAV, web editing of notes and documents (including LibreOffice if you install that plugin) [6]. But it is huge and demands write access to all it s own code (bad for security), and it s not packaged for Debian. Also in my tests it gave me an error 401 when I tried to authenticate to it from the Android Nextcloud client. I ve seen a positive review about Radicale, a simple CalDAV and CardDAV server that doesn t need a database [7]. I prefer the Unix philosophy of keeping things simple with file storage unless there s a real need for anything else. I don t think that anything I ever do with calendaring will require the PostgreSQL database that DAViCal uses. I ll give Radicale a go for CalDAV and CardDAV, but I still need something for shared notes (shopping lists etc). Suggestions welcome. Current Status Lack of a contacts list is a major loss of functionality in a phone. I could store contacts in the phone memory or on the SIM, but I would still have to get all my old contacts in there and also getting something half working reduces motivation for getting it working properly. Lack of a calendar is also a problem, again I could work around that by exporting all my Google calendars as iCal URLs but I d rather get it working correctly. The lack of shared notes may be a harder problem to solve given the failure of Nextcloud. For that I would consider just having the keep.google.com web site always open in Mozilla at least in the short term. At the moment I require two phones, my new Android phone without Google and the old one for my contacts list etc. Hopefully in a week or so I ll have my new phone doing contacts, calendaring, and notes. Then my old phone will just be for proprietary apps which I don t need most of the time and I can leave it at home when I don t need that sort of thing.

14 April 2022

Reproducible Builds: Supporter spotlight: Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC)

The Reproducible Builds project relies on several projects, supporters and sponsors for financial support, but they are also valued as ambassadors who spread the word about the project and the work that we do. This is the third instalment in a series featuring the projects, companies and individuals who support the Reproducible Builds project. If you are a supporter of the Reproducible Builds project (of whatever size) and would like to be featured here, please let get in touch with us at contact@reproducible-builds.org. We started this series by featuring the Civil Infrastructure Platform project and followed this up with a post about the Ford Foundation. Today, however, we ll be talking with Dan Romanchik, Communications Manager at Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC).
Chris Lamb: Hey Dan, it s nice to meet you! So, for someone who has not heard of Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) before, could you tell us what your foundation is about? Dan: Sure! ARDC s mission is to support, promote, and enhance experimentation, education, development, open access, and innovation in amateur radio, digital communication, and information and communication science and technology. We fulfill that mission in two ways:
  1. We administer an allocation of IP addresses that we call 44Net. These IP addresses (in the 44.0.0.0/8 IP range) can only be used for amateur radio applications and experimentation.
  2. We make grants to organizations whose work aligns with our mission. This includes amateur radio clubs as well as other amateur radio-related organizations and activities. Additionally, we support scholarship programs for people who either have an amateur radio license or are pursuing careers in technology, STEM education and open-source software development projects that fit our mission, such as Reproducible Builds.

Chris: How might you relate the importance of amateur radio and similar technologies to someone who is non-technical? Dan: Amateur radio is important in a number of ways. First of all, amateur radio is a public service. In fact, the legal name for amateur radio is the Amateur Radio Service, and one of the primary reasons that amateur radio exists is to provide emergency and public service communications. All over the world, amateur radio operators are prepared to step up and provide emergency communications when disaster strikes or to provide communications for events such as marathons or bicycle tours. Second, amateur radio is important because it helps advance the state of the art. By experimenting with different circuits and communications techniques, amateurs have made significant contributions to communications science and technology. Third, amateur radio plays a big part in technical education. It enables students to experiment with wireless technologies and electronics in ways that aren t possible without a license. Amateur radio has historically been a gateway for young people interested in pursuing a career in engineering or science, such as network or electrical engineering. Fourth and this point is a little less obvious than the first three amateur radio is a way to enhance international goodwill and community. Radio knows no boundaries, of course, and amateurs are therefore ambassadors for their country, reaching out to all around the world. Beyond amateur radio, ARDC also supports and promotes research and innovation in the broader field of digital communication and information and communication science and technology. Information and communication technology plays a big part in our lives, be it for business, education, or personal communications. For example, think of the impact that cell phones have had on our culture. The challenge is that much of this work is proprietary and owned by large corporations. By focusing on open source work in this area, we help open the door to innovation outside of the corporate landscape, which is important to overall technological resiliency.
Chris: Could you briefly outline the history of ARDC? Dan: Nearly forty years ago, a group of visionary hams saw the future possibilities of what was to become the internet and requested an address allocation from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). That allocation included more than sixteen million IPv4 addresses, 44.0.0.0 through 44.255.255.255. These addresses have been used exclusively for amateur radio applications and experimentation with digital communications techniques ever since. In 2011, the informal group of hams administering these addresses incorporated as a nonprofit corporation, Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC). ARDC is recognized by IANA, ARIN and the other Internet Registries as the sole owner of these addresses, which are also known as AMPRNet or 44Net. Over the years, ARDC has assigned addresses to thousands of hams on a long-term loan (essentially acting as a zero-cost lease), allowing them to experiment with digital communications technology. Using these IP addresses, hams have carried out some very interesting and worthwhile research projects and developed practical applications, including TCP/IP connectivity via radio links, digital voice, telemetry and repeater linking. Even so, the amateur radio community never used much more than half the available addresses, and today, less than one third of the address space is assigned and in use. This is one of the reasons that ARDC, in 2019, decided to sell one quarter of the address space (or approximately 4 million IP addresses) and establish an endowment with the proceeds. This endowment now funds ARDC s a suite of grants, including scholarships, research projects, and of course amateur radio projects. Initially, ARDC was restricted to awarding grants to organizations in the United States, but is now able to provide funds to organizations around the world.
Chris: How does the Reproducible Builds effort help ARDC achieve its goals? Dan: Our aspirational goals include: We think that the Reproducible Builds efforts in helping to ensure the safety and security of open source software closely align with those goals.
Chris: Are there any specific success stories that ARDC is particularly proud of? Dan: We are really proud of our grant to the Hoopa Valley Tribe in California. With a population of nearly 2,100, their reservation is the largest in California. Like everywhere else, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the reservation hard, and the lack of broadband internet access meant that 130 children on the reservation were unable to attend school remotely. The ARDC grant allowed the tribe to address the immediate broadband needs in the Hoopa Valley, as well as encourage the use of amateur radio and other two-way communications on the reservation. The first nation was able to deploy a network that provides broadband access to approximately 90% of the residents in the valley. And, in addition to bringing remote education to those 130 children, the Hoopa now use the network for remote medical monitoring and consultation, adult education, and other applications. Other successes include our grants to:
Chris: ARDC supports a number of other existing projects and initiatives, not all of them in the open source world. How much do you feel being a part of the broader free culture movement helps you achieve your aims? Dan: In general, we find it challenging that most digital communications technology is proprietary and closed-source. It s part of our mission to fund open source alternatives. Without them, we are solely reliant, as a society, on corporate interests for our digital communication needs. It makes us vulnerable and it puts us at risk of increased surveillance. Thus, ARDC supports open source software wherever possible, and our grantees must make a commitment to share their work under an open source license or otherwise make it as freely available as possible.
Chris: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us today. Now, if someone wanted to know more about ARDC or to get involved, where might they go to look? To learn more about ARDC in general, please visit our website at https://www.ampr.org. To learn more about 44Net, go to https://wiki.ampr.org/wiki/Main_Page. And, finally, to learn more about our grants program, go to https://www.ampr.org/apply/

For more about the Reproducible Builds project, please see our website at reproducible-builds.org. If you are interested in ensuring the ongoing security of the software that underpins our civilisation and wish to sponsor the Reproducible Builds project, please reach out to the project by emailing contact@reproducible-builds.org.

Jonathan Dowland: hledger

This year I've decided to bite the bullet and properly try out hledger for personal accounting. It seems I need to commit to it properly if I'm to figure out whether it will work for me or not. Up until now I'd been strictly separating my finances into two buckets: family and personal. I'd been using GNUCash for a couple of years for my personal finances, initially to evaluate it for use for the family, but I had not managed to adopt it for that. I set up a new git repository to track the ledger file, as well as a notes.txt "diary" that documents my planning around its structure and how to use it, and a import.txt which documents what account data I have imported and confirmed that the resulting balances match those reported on monthly statements. For this evaluation, I decided to bite the bullet and track both family and personal finances at the same time. I'm still keeping them conceptually very separate. To reflect that I've organised my account names around that: all accounts relating to family are prefixed family:, and likewise personal jon:.1 Some example accounts:
family:assets:shared    - shared bank account
family:dues:jon         - I owe to family
family:expenses:cat     - budget category for the cat
income                  - where money enters this universe
jon:assets:current      - my personal account
jon:dues:peter          - money Peter owes me
jon:expenses:snacks     - budget category for coffees etc
jon:liabilities:amex    - a personal credit card
I decided to make the calendar year a strict cut-over point: my personal opening balances in hledger are determined by what GNUCash reports. It's possible those will change over this year, as adjustments are made to last year's data: but it's easy enough to go in and update the opening balances in hledger to reflect that. Credit cards are a small exception. January's credit card bills are paid in January but cover transactions from mid-December. I import those transactions into hledger to balance the credit card payment. As a consequence, the "spend per month" view of my data is a bit skewed: All the transactions in December should be thought of as in January since that's when they were paid. I need to explore options to fix this. When I had family and personal managed separately, occasionally something would be paid for on the wrong card and end up in the wrong data. The solution I used last year was to keep an account dues:family to which I posted those and periodically I'd settle it with a real-world bank transfer. I've realised that this doesn't work so well when I manage both together: I can't track both dues and expense categorisation with just one posting. The solution I'm using for now is hledger's unbalanced virtual postings: a third posting for the transaction to the budget category, which is not balanced, e.g.:
2022-01-02 ZTL*RELISH
    family:liabilities:creditcard        -3.00
    family:dues:jon                       3.00
    (jon:expenses:snacks)                 3.00
This works, but it completely side-steps double-entry book keeping, which is the whole point of using a double-entry system. There's also no check and balance that the figure I put in the virtual posting ( 3) matches the figure in the rest of the transaction. I'm therefore open to other ideas.

  1. there are a couple of places in hledger where default account names are used, such as the default place that expenses are posted to during CSV imports: expenses:unknown, that obviously don't fit my family/jon: prefix scheme. The solution is to make sure I specify a default posting-to account in all my CSV import rules.

5 April 2022

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppArmadillo 0.11.0.0.0 on CRAN: Upstream Updates

armadillo image Armadillo is a powerful and expressive C++ template library for linear algebra aiming towards a good balance between speed and ease of use with a syntax deliberately close to a Matlab. RcppArmadillo integrates this library with the R environment and language and is widely used by (currently) 972 other packages on CRAN, downloaded over 24 million times (per the partial logs from the cloud mirrors of CRAN), and the CSDA paper (preprint / vignette) by Conrad and myself has been cited 465 times according to Google Scholar. This release brings a new upstream release 11.0.0. We tested this very rigorously via three different RC release each of which got a full reverse-dependencies run (for which results are always logged here). The full set of changes (since the last CRAN release 0.10.8.1.0) follows.

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.11.0.0 (2022-04-04)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 11.0.0 (Creme Brulee)
    • added variants of inv() and inv_sympd() that provide rcond (reciprocal condition number)
    • expanded inv() and inv_sympd() with options inv_opts::tiny and inv_opts::allow_approx
    • stricter handling of singular matrices by inv() and inv_sympd()
    • stricter handling of non-sympd matrices by inv() and inv_sympd()
    • stricter handling of non-finitie matrices by pinv()
    • more robust handling of rank deficient matrices by solve()
    • faster handling of diagonal matrices by rcond()
    • changed eigs_sym() and eigs_gen() to use higher quality RNG
    • quantile() and median() will now throw an exception if given matrices/vectors have NaN elements
    • workaround for yet another bug in Intel MKL
  • Until May 2022, protect correction to Field behavior via define of RCPP_ARMADILLO_FIX_Field
  • If a LAPACK installation with missing complex routines is found (as e.g. Ubuntu using 3.9.0) then the LAPACK unit test is skipped.

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.10.8.2.0 (2022-02-01)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 10.8.2 (Realm Raider)
    • fix potential speed regression in pinv() and rank()

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is a diffstat report relative to previous release. More detailed information is on the RcppArmadillo page. Questions, comments etc should go to the rcpp-devel mailing list off the R-Forge page. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can sponsor me at GitHub.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

1 April 2022

Russ Allbery: Review: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower

Review: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower, by Tamsyn Muir
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Copyright: 2020
ISBN: 1-59606-992-9
Format: Kindle
Pages: 111
A witch put Princess Floralinda at the top of a forty-flight tower, but it wasn't personal. This is just what witches do, particularly with princesses with butter-coloured curls and sapphire-blue eyes. Princes would come from miles around to battle up the floors of the tower and rescue the princess. The witch even helpfully provided a golden sword, in case a prince didn't care that much about princesses. Floralinda was provided with water and milk, two loaves of bread, and an orange, all of them magically renewing, to sustain her while she waited. In retrospect, the dragon with diamond-encrusted scales on the first floor may have been a mistake. None of the princely endeavors ever saw the second floor. The diary that Floralinda found in her room indicated that she may not be the first princess to have failed to be rescued from this tower. Floralinda finally reaches the rather astonishing conclusion that she might have to venture down the tower herself, despite the goblins she was warned were on the 39th floor (not to mention all the other monsters). The result of that short adventure, after some fast thinking, a great deal of luck, and an unforeseen assist from her magical food, is a surprising number of dead goblins. Also seriously infected hand wounds, because it wouldn't be a Tamsyn Muir story without wasting illness and body horror. That probably would have been the end of Floralinda, except a storm blew a bottom-of-the-garden fairy in through the window, sufficiently injured that she and Floralinda were stuck with each other, at least temporarily. Cobweb, the fairy, is neither kind nor inclined to help Floralinda (particularly given that Floralinda is not a child whose mother is currently in hospital), but it is an amateur chemist and finds both Floralinda's tears and magical food intriguing. Cobweb's magic is also based on wishes, and after a few failed attempts, Floralinda manages to make a wish that takes hold. Whether she'll regret the results is another question. This is a fairly short novella by the same author as Gideon the Ninth, but it's in a different universe and quite different in tone. This summary doesn't capture the writing style, which is a hard-to-describe mix of fairy tale, children's story, and slightly archaic and long-winded sentence construction. This is probably easier to show with a quote:
"You are displaying a very small-minded attitude," said the fairy, who seemed genuinely grieved by this. "Consider the orange-peel, which by itself has many very nice properties. Now, if you had a more educated brain (I cannot consider myself educated; I have only attempted to better my situation) you would have immediately said, 'Why, if I had some liquor, or even very hot water, I could extract some oil from this orange-peel, which as everyone knows is antibacterial; that may well do my hands some good,' and you wouldn't be in such a stupid predicament."
On balance, I think this style worked. It occasionally annoyed me, but it has some charm. About halfway through, I was finding the story lightly entertaining, although I would have preferred a bit less grime, illness, and physical injury. Unfortunately, the rest of the story didn't work for me. The dynamic between Floralinda and Cobweb turns into a sort of D&D progression through monster fights, and while there are some creative twists to those fights, they become all of a sameness. And while I won't spoil the ending, it didn't work for me. I think I see what Muir was trying to do, and I have some intellectual appreciation for the idea, but it wasn't emotionally satisfying. I think my root problem with this story is that Muir sets up a rather interesting world, one in which witches artistically imprison princesses, and particularly bright princesses (with the help of amateur chemist fairies) can use the trappings of a magical tower in ways the witch never intended. I liked that; it has a lot of potential. But I didn't feel like that potential went anywhere satisfying. There is some relationship and characterization work, and it reached some resolution, but it didn't go as far as I wanted. And, most significantly, I found the end point the characters reached in relation to the world to be deeply unsatisfying and vaguely irritating. I wanted to like this more than I did. I think there's a story idea in here that I would have enjoyed more. Unfortunately, it's not the one that Muir wrote, and since so much of my problem is with the ending, I can't provide much guidance on whether someone else would like this story better (and why). But if the idea of taking apart a fairy-tale tower and repurposing the pieces sounds appealing, and if you get along better with Muir's illness motif than I do, you may enjoy this more than I did. Rating: 5 out of 10

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